The Pump, The Scale And Other Interferences To Nursing
October 17, 2016 · Posted in Breastfeeding, Feeding, Infant Development · Permalink

pexels-photo-235243Recently I had the chance to see first hand how easily a new mother and her breastfeeding can be undermined. A dear friend’s younger sister Sarah had her first baby two weeks ago. Four days after the birth I received a frantic call from my friend in Connecticut. I arrived to find an exquisite and healthy little girl and a broken down distraught new mother.

“I called the lactation consultant and she was here yesterday with her her scale. She watched Eliza eat and said she wasn’t an ‘efficient sucker’. She told me to feed her for 5 minutes on one side and then she weighed her. She said she wasn’t getting enough and that I had to increase my milk production. I am supposed to feed her until she falls asleep – then wake her and supplement with formula and then pump as much as I can.” Tears streaming down her face she sobbed, “Look at my nipples, they are shredded.”

I hate this story and unfortunately we are hearing ones like it more and more over the past few years. Breast feeding is the process of a mother and her baby’s bodies, newly separated at birth, learning to get back in sync in a new way. It is a process that takes time, patience and faith. Ideally new mothers will be supported by veteran breast feeders who, rather than focusing on milk production and weight gain, will help them tolerate and accept the often painful and slow process.

“We are going to forget about everything you’ve heard so far and start from scratch, so get those boobs out and let’s start,” I said.

For the next four hours I had the pleasure of tending to Sarah, bringing her warm compresses and lots of water as we dished over family gossip and carefully watched Eliza. I taught Sarah the critical importance of recognizing signs of hunger and of fullness. As simple as this sounds it is the key ingredient in the healthy feeding of your child. During this time she had two feedings with 3 hours of sleep and big blue-eyed wakeful periods in between. Sarah was amazed that her baby was full after only ten minutes of nursing and really did not need to eat for another three hours. Yes, she needed attention: rocking, swaddling, pacifier and even to be left alone and to sleep. Turns out Eliza is a very efficient sucker. What her mother needed was reassurance that the two of them together had everything they needed. We banished the pump and the scale. I taught Sarah to not read every squeak and squirm as a sign of hunger. Two weeks later mother and baby are thriving and Sarah owes me big time – just kidding.

In our fast-paced, product-oriented society, nursing a baby has become yet another human process that is driven by perfectionistic anxiety. Because so many new mothers are alone and isolated from other women, the practice of calling on professionals to help has become the norm. Unfortunately, it is hit or miss as to whether the consultant supports or intrudes and so derails the unfolding process with it’s inevitable pain and the leap of faith it takes to trust your body. (We know how easy that is for women!)

This article first appeared in A Child Grows in Brooklyn

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  1. Ivonne
    May 12th, 2009 | 1:45 pm

    Thank you for this! It is disheartening and disappointing to hear so many women in Manhattan cite “insufficient milk” as the reason they stopped breastfeeding when in fact this condition only affects about 1% of the population. More patient and nurturing care like this could help change that!

  2. Kevin
    May 12th, 2009 | 9:46 pm

    Holy, smoke.

    I had no idea something so naturally simple could be so dangerously overcomplicated.

  3. Michal
    May 13th, 2009 | 5:26 pm

    I had almost the exact same thing happen to me. And now, five months later, I am so happy I hung in there and had someone to sit with me and show me that there was nothing wrong with me. After the first two weeks, my daughter and I became totally in sync and breastfeeding became an awesome experience for both of us.

  4. Pam
    May 14th, 2009 | 1:30 pm

    What a frustrating experience! It is true that breastfeeding often doesn’t come easily. It is actually a skill that has to be learned. But it doesn’t help to turn the process into a mechanized mess. Sometimes the focus is so much on breasts, breastfeeding and breast milk, that we forget that so much of what is so important about nursing is about the whole mom nurturing and nourishing her baby.

  5. Kerry
    May 14th, 2009 | 2:56 pm

    Unfortunately, this happened to me but I never had another support person that helped me through. I just thought there was something wrong with either my nipples or my baby’s mouth. After crying all of the time because we couldn’t “get it right” I gave up and started feeding her my pumped milk from bottles exclusively. I was very disappointed about it because I really wanted to nurse her. Just when I was confident and calm enough to try nursing again, my baby developed an intolerance to a food I was eating and became very ill. We never could figure out what it was so now she is on a special formula. I am really sad about it and I have often wondered where we’d be if I had a better start with the nursing. I suppose she would have developed the intolerance anyway but at least I would have had those first weeks of nursing. It’s unfortunate that nursing has become so mechanical but until our society becomes more comfortable with nursing most women won’t have natural “teachers” in their mothers, sisters or friends so some of us have no one to turn to but the professionals.

  6. Carolina T
    June 3rd, 2009 | 7:00 pm

    You are right. Don’t be so hard on yourself!

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