Sunday, March 6, 2011

Successfully Breastfeeding Newborn Babies

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

nd 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.
Unknown said...

Preach on! I don't know how many times I've told my mommy friends to do what THEY think is best instead of listening to their doctors say they breastfeed too much. That is just crazy talk to me!

Therese said...

LOVE THIS!! I feel SO passionately about breastfeeding and I can't even watch shows like A Baby Story because they make me crazy with frustration, sadness and EXASPERATION! It is just so hard for some people to hold on to any of their own power - it seems that if you wear a white coat your word is The Word... The medical community too often pushes their own system-centred and political ideals onto new mother's and plays on their greatest vulnerability - their desire to do what is best for their babe. UGH!

Thanks so much for highlighting the key areas that interfere with healthy breastfeeding relationships.

Speaking as someone who didn't grow up around breastfeeding women, I found I needed a lot of support to help me manage some big challenges in the beginning. I think another important point is for women to feel confident in creating their own community of support that they choose for themselves. My doula was invaluable to me and I trusted my own research and intuition when chose to hire one. Then she encouraged me to trust in my body and my own wisdom when I first experienced breastfeeding challenges. Invaluable!

Thanks for talking about this :)

MissBuckle said...

It fascinates me that a lot of people have such a sexualised image of breasts that it's forgotten what they are made for.

In Norway it is completely natural to breastfeed your baby to the degree that mums who don't get stigmatised.

You can whip your boob out in almost any restaurant without the people at the next table flinching.

And you get up to a years paid maternity (or parent) leave. Ten weeks are reserved for the dad, and are lost if he doesn't use them.

When you go back to work you get an hour a day of breastfeeding off. Also paid.

Jos said...

I'm saving this to read and reread when I have a baby someday. Thank you Maggie!

Carrie said...

Love it! I'm so glad nobody told me that c-sections can cause problems with nursing - I just stuck my little guy on my boob and went for it and we too had a fantastic nursing relationship. It can be tough for some of us to listen to our gut, or even know that you're allowed to...I know I felt very sneaky in the hospital for nursing him as much as I did, and even got scolded by a nurse for letting him nurse for "too long"!

Ha! My verification word is "Suckslo"!

Caroline said...

I was nursing Oliver when I clicked on your blog and read this post. You hit the nail on the head with this one. It's the most perfect form of symbiosis I can imagine...

Ms. Moon said...

I have such strong feelings about this too.
When I was young and my mother had babies, the doctors were so strict about nursing. Every two hours- wipe the nipples beforehand with alcohol! Yes! And of course it didn't work.
When I had my babies, I was surrounded by hippie women who just put their babes to the tit at birth and pretty much kept them there. I did too and never had one problem. Okay- my nipples got sore. Big deal.
I loved nursing, my babies were nursed forever. It was the grandest thing for me. I just...well, it was heaven.
But when my daughter had her son, she did everything right- everything you said- she nursed him skin-to-skin hours and hours on end, completely at his demand, she went to a lactation consultant. She took the milk-making herbs and teas. And still- there was just not enough milk.
And so they started supplementing and she hated it BUT, that boy is still, at seventeen months, getting nursies and he rarely has a bottle and he's healthy as a horse and eats all sorts of foods but when he wants to nurse, he can, and it sill means so much to both him and his mama.
I guess my point is- we are all different and sometimes, even when we try very hard, it doesn't work exactly right but it doesn't mean you have to give up entirely. It doesn't mean that the boob must be abandoned for the bottle.
And post script: When Owen wakes from a nap but he's not really done with it, I take him to bed with me and lay with him just as I did when I was nursing my babies and no, I don't nurse him, but I hold him close and pat his butt and he goes right back to sleep and it is so good.

Anonymous said...


HeatherFeather said...

Absolutely brilliant! I am a lactation consultant, and I would love to have your permission to share this with my clients. I can't tell you how you never cease to impress me!
~ your oldest friend

Still Life With Coffee said...

Wonderfully put!!!
And... in another light...
My class of 2nd graders saw a picture of a nusring lamb and couldnt' believe any animal besides a cow breastfed. When I explained that all mammals...including people... do too, they were in shock. They couldn't believe women nuresed their babies. All of a sudden I had a biology lesson to teach. this is 2011??? Crazy.

Petit fleur said...

Oh Maggie May... You just cut right through the shit...

The subject of making child birth and rearing a medical practice makes me so sick. And no, I'm not saying that it's not a great thing when medical intervention is available... I just think it's overused and often misused to such a degree that... I don't know, it's just freaking scary.

Anyway, I hope this post goes viral. :-)

Tricky said...

I'm going to do better THIS time, I can feel it!!

Annie said...

Hi Maggie,
I love this article. It says all the right things about breastfeeding, and I'm sure it would help anyone who is hesitant, or is listening to unhelpful advice. I nursed my son whenever he wanted to be nursed, grateful, when he finally slept through the night, but those months, waking up throughout the night and nursing him, half awake, were precious times I would never trade for anything. I had no idea what I was doing, when I started nursing, other than my desire to nurse, and what I had read in books. I had a C-section, too, and I remember, it was difficult in the hospital to find a comfortable position, and my husband was a huge help in our successful efforts to give my son the best ways to latch on. Try nursing a baby for three weeks, taking him out of traction, and then nursing him three months while he is in a body cast, for dislocated hips! I did, and it all went fine. He was a happy, healthy baby, and people in the "know" remarked how he must be a breastfed baby, during the year that I nursed him.

Mary said...

I agree with all you have written - and with my three it took me until my third baby to really understand the bliss of the connection between nipple and baby's mouth. I was very uptight with the first two I think when I look back. I don't regret moving both of them to a bottle after a couple of months awkward, sad breast feeding - I felt that I was doing the best I knew how at the time and worried that my babies were not thriving - and enjoyed holding them and gazing into their eyes. I could never condemn a mother for feeding her baby a bottle - I
guess I just hope that her reasons have mothering at their heart and are not a matter of vanity.

I commented a little while ago on the wonderful milk you must be providing Ever and I do think that a mother's own nutrition is part of the breastfeeding equation - I know that you take very good care of what you are eating and I think that is reflected in the beauty we all see in Ever.

Elizabeth said...

I'm 47 and nursed all three of my children, and I can honestly say that it's one of the main things I miss about having little babies! So wonderful --

Anonymous said...

wonderful post, maggie!! and the photo is beautiful, love the colors!!
love to you and your family!

Unknown said...

Loved this Maggie.
I never knew anything about nursing.. never saw it except for my SIL and she had one easy experience, and one not so much.
But In my quiet little living on instincts only way, it just felt like what you were supposed to do.
And I nursed five babies one after the other with an awe and empowering sense of being connected to something primal and miraculous and completely natural.

When I saw my other SIL later decide to abandon her brief efforts to formula I was supportive but a bit sad. I'm not judging her, and my nephew is healthy, I just think she missed out on something very beautiful.

Aside from waking up to a leaky wet pj's etc.:)

Marion said...

Great advice and right on!


Phoenix said...

This is such an awesome post. YES. I am not a mother and have yet to decide if I want to be one but I GET IT, I totally get it, and if I ever do have a child I will breastfeed it (something I never really thought about before) and it will be because of this post (and the Feminist Breeder.)

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

A. said...

What a wonderful post and a wonderful image of a mommy and her child.

akka b. said...

Thank YOU. This article is so absolutely important and valuable. It breaks my heart when I hear of perfectly healthy birth giving women give up on breastfeeding before they even give it a chance. Keep speakin' it woman! Milk ON!

Sabine said...

Great post and really important message! My baby was premature and taken from me within minutes after her birth. Thanks to a wonderful midwife I started with a breastpump on the same day and so my baby was able to get my milk during the weeks she was feed through the tube - and I was able to produce milk so that we could eventually do the proper thing when she was able to.

Liz said...

I found breastfeeding easy too and probably for similar reasons: my mom extended breastfed me and my sisters. It just seemed like the thing to do. And we don't seem to be slowing down AT ALL (kid is 16 months). So far I haven't gotten too many negative comments, and when people say anything I bring up the WHO recommendation to nurse until 2.

Great post! Loved reading it.

Darcy said...

i am so glad you said this. it is hard to say this. i feel like i couldn't say this on my blog because so many of my friends have given up on breastfeeding. and i'd be afraid that they'd be offended. because they are afraid they failed. and i don't feel like they failed, but i do wish they read this because i feel exactly how you said this. breastfeeding has been such a beautiful experience for me. it breaks my heart so many women don't experience it with their babies.

Ida Mae said...

I love this.

I had a similar reaction when my son was born 4 weeks early. my milk had not come in, yet I was going to breastfeed and that was it. Now 19 months later we are still going at it. I am so thankful that I never once considered that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed. I truly believe because I never doubted breastfeeding, I never gave up.

Middle Child said...

"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. "
This is it. I fed my two one for one year and when i felt like it inspite of my bloody mother in law loudly telling everyone I would spoil the child - she is the most unspoilt person on earth and we share so much love and always have - Even after 36 years i can still see her dark blue eyes as they looked back at me as she fed - brings happy tears...but at exaxctly one she just rejected it cold turkey and has never liked or tolerated milk since then - the youngest I fed for 2 years which was good as she had Pneumoonia badly at 15 months ans her big sister had measles at the same time - she didn't catch that because of my immunity - nature/God whatever knows best - and going with the gut instinct is wonderful

Anthony said...

I have no idea what my place is in this, but in reading this, I am MOVED. I don't have an adverb that can touch the extent to which I am moved. My wife breastfed because it was the right thing to do; thanks to the knowledge that we needed an education before this important undertaking, and thanks to Johanna. I remember the feeling that what she was doing for our son was amazing, but I feel even more in realizing the multitudes who are let down by their doctors who push formula. For now, to you, teach on! I will do my part when it is asked of me. Our baby days are over, but those of you who continue to spread the logic of breastfeeding have an army behind you!

Shani said...

So u just explained 2 me the reason why I've been so sccessful breastfeeding with my 2nd son & failed miserably with my 1st son. With first son I had a really rough labor. Right after baby was born dey tried 2 place him on me & I was tied exhausted & in pain & told them 2 take him & clean him. I then passed out 4 about 30 minutes. About an hour later they brought him back & I tried breastfeeding for the 1st time. Didn't go well cuz he wouldn't latch properly but we kept trying. 2nd day however da hospital nurses tld me 2 give him sm forula jus so he would gain sum weight (he was preemie). @ home I continued as dey said trying 2 nurse him every 2- 3 hours. My milk nver built up enough so eventually I jus gave up. With my 2nd child I had 2 get an epidural 4 pain bcuz dey wuldnt give me iv sedation meds bcuz his heartrate kept fluctuating. This made labor fairy easy as I passed out sleep after gttn it & woke up ready 2 push. 2 pushs & he was out but since he had poopd dey had 2 have nicu nurses check him out but he was back n my arms clean in 15 minutes & we tried nursing righ away. Dey took him about 30 minits later 4 screening & all but brought him back after I got n2 postpart room about 3 hours later & I had had sum rest. I then strtd nursing him every time he woke up which was about 1-2 hrs. Da day after I left the hospitalmy boobs were soooo full dey were hard & hurtin which had NEVER happened with my first child. My baby is now a week old & we r breastfeedin wonderfully! Thank u 4 ur insightfl article & I now know wat 2 do with any future children!

Mwa said...

This post speaks right to me just now. I am still breastfeeding my seven month old just now. I stopped nursing my other two at six months. I fed them on a schedule. My first I even fed on a schedule every four hours! That's what I was told, but miraculously he loved it. He thrived on it in fact. This time, I fed on demand from the start. I am giving one bottle late at night just now because I needed to start getting a little bit of sleep. But when my son is sick or fussing I sometimes give him extra feeds. It feels so right to continue. I feel he needs it a lot still while my other two were happy to do without by now (they were sleeping through and eating very regularly). I find all this very confusing and difficult because of all the different advice out there. Most women in my father's family never nursed at all, and in my mother's family they stopped quite soon except for one who kept it up but her daughter was severely underfed and this was a big problem.

Sorry I am rambling. I loved this post.

Unknown said...

Amazing article, it validates much of my breast feeding experience. I just had my 1st baby via C-Section 6 months ago, and I had tremendous trouble from latching to supply issues. Even my lactation consultant suggested that, "I do what was best for my family." However, I refused to quit, and am still nursing my little one. In the US, there is too much stigma attached to nursing, and people always ask when I will wean her. My in-laws stayed with us and commented that she eats too often. Any nursing mommy knows that you can't force a baby to eat....They will turn away if they're not hungry. I applaud you for promoting breastfeeding; there are too many voices advocating formulas and schedules. Our bodies were meant for this!!!

Unknown said...

Having faith in out bodies is the most important message!!! It's natural, but unfortunetly, we live in a culture that nursing is not natural. Have to have trust in our bodies and trust your instinct. I loved nursing and wouldn't think of losing the benefits of nursing to formala. As a mom, I owe it to my son to give him the benefits of nursing.

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