October 17, 2016 · Posted in Breastfeeding, Feeding, Infant Development · Permalink
Recently 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