Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Posted by Maggie May
*This is not a particularly good shot- it's not flattering, it's from a month or more ago, the elements weren't arranged to be aesthetically pleasing- but it is beautiful and important because it illustrates a perfectly working breastfeeding relationship between mother and baby. Myself and Ever.
I am not an activist. I breastfed my son when I had him at nineteen because it never occured to me NOT to, something that I attribute to the action not words attitudes of the women in my family. My mother breastfed my sister and I, and I grew up watching my Aunt E extended nurse both of her boys. No one told me how to do it. This could have backfired- if the baby hadn't latched on properly and I wasn't sure how to teach him to- but he did latch on properly, and because no one had told me any different I nursed him whenever my guts told me to nurse him, which it turned out was about every 45 minutes. Or when he got scared, because he told me that's what he wanted. And no one told me I was wrong. No one told me that my instincts were wrong.
This, above all else, is why I'm writing you tonight. As a young woman, I thought women didn't breastfeed just because they didn't want to. And sometimes, that is true. It's also true that many times a mother wants to breastfeed her baby- or at least try it- and she ends up bottle feeding. Why is that? I read this amazing essay at The Feminist Breeder and as I took in her words about women being told how much and often to nurse I had the strange, visceral experience of the voices of mothers I've known echoing in my mind in one, long stream I tried to nurse him but I didn't make enough milk I wanted to nurse her but she was too fussy every time I tried I nursed him but not for long because he still cried too much
and in the sound of those voices I realized that I was hearing the political become personal.
At Ever's one month checkup her pediatrician marveled at Ever's weight, her beautiful fatty fat self. You must make a lot of milk, she said. Sure, I shrugged. Only afterward did I stop to think why my pediatrician thought it notable to comment on how much milk I made. Ever is a perfectly normal weight and I make just the right amount of milk for her. In order to 'successfully breastfeed' there exists a symbiosis between mother and baby that is not created in rule books, guidelines and recommendations, but in the baby's cues to the mother, and the mother's trust in her instinct and in her baby's ability to communicate what he or she needs. Not what a book says the baby should need, or what you should insist on so that the baby doesn't end up clingy/underfed/overfed/demanding/lacking in Vit D/unable to cope etc, etc, etc.
This cue based relationship between the mother and baby begins the moment the baby is born. A baby who is placed, immediately, naked onto his or her mother's chest has a greater chance of successfully breastfeeding. The stimulation of the mother's skin, scent and heartbeat against the baby's is important for both the mother and baby. All kinds of studies have been done to prove what common sense will tell you: babies and mothers do better in a myriad of ways when pressed against each other, as soon and often as possible after birth.
After Dakota, Lola and Ever were born, all of them were immediately placed with me- Ever wasn't placed naked on me because she was the sole CSection baby, but I insisted on having her in my arms as soon as they wrapped her, and immediately let her latch on, as they were stitching me up. This begins the connection of skin on skin that probably sends signals to our brains that we don't even understand yet- a most primal of acts in a society removed from our primal selves, an act that biology made workable for the continuation of our species.
After Dakota was born I saw that he was fussy, and I held him. He still fussed. So I rocked him. He still fussed, so even though he had just nursed 20 minutes ago, I placed him again to nurse, and his face relaxed, his little body relaxed against me, and as I smiled down at him I knew that I had made him feel happy and safe. Dakota was a colic baby, for reasons I didn't understand at the time, and he still cried often and I still often felt crazy and impotent and frustrated. But I watched him- his mouth, if his head was rooting, if he moved his arms and legs a certain way, and the look on his face that all of my babies seem to get when they want nothing more than to breastfeed- a certain far away longing that ends with closed eyes and mouth open and then a look around that is saying where is my booby? Not every baby acts this way. The point is that is what this particular baby needed, and no one was telling me it was wrong, so I did it. If I had done a scheduled feeding with Dakota I would have thought breastfeeding was 'not working' and I 'wasn't good at it' and given up.
Because I nursed him whenever he asked me to, I made milk- a lot of milk. This is one of the most crucial steps in successful breastfeeding. I've watched many an episode of A Baby Story since I went on maternity leave, and seen too many women stick carefully and diligently to a 2 or 3 hour lapse feeding schedule and then wonder why it's not working. The last one I saw was a week or so ago, and the mommy really wanted to breastfeed, had been excited and waiting for it, and cried when deciding to give up. It broke my heart! It was obvious to me that the reason the baby was fussy when nursing was because she was waiting way too long for the infant to nurse, and by the time the little guy got there, he was too miserable and hungry to properly latch, and her breasts weren't making enough milk because the nipple/milk ducts weren't being stimulated enough.
I had a C-Section with Ever, and again this could have been a situation where I gave up on my body and bottle fed. No one explained to me that after a C-Section it is common to have a delay of milk production. Ever was fussy and irritable and my milk wasn't coming in. It was because I have a deep sense of trust in my bodies ability to do it's job that I let her continue nursing, often every half hour, until my milk did come in. And because she kept nursing so frequently, it finally built up to a solid supply; so I went from milk-'deficient' to Ever's pediatrician saying I made ' a ton of milk '. I didn't add a bottle of formula just in case, and if I had, statistics show that our chance of successfully breastfeeding would have been greatly reduced.
Of course sometimes women don't make milk. I have a friend who just didn't make more than a slow, paltry trickle even after trying and trying. BUT. And it's a big but. This is not a commonly naturally occuring problem, although so many women are under the impression that it is. Every other woman I personally know ( who I talked to regularly and saw nursing ) who believed they weren't making enough milk were doing one of these things:
1 Scheduled feedings
2 Supplementing with formula
3 Not holding the baby skin to skin
These reasons are much more likely to be the culprit behind a failed breastfeeding relationship between a newborn and his or her mother. And this is why, when I heard the voices of these women I've known in my head, that the 'political' became 'personal'. Having faith in our bodies and our instincts and our babies communicating what they need is a key component for women feeling confident that they can and will successfully breastfeed their babies.
*this is a repost from Flux's archives in honor of World Breastfeeding Week