This week is shaping up to be “postpartum visit week.” Lots of wee boys (and their tired mums) to visit. I’ve also heard from clients whose babies range in age from three to eight months. We’ve discussed everything from sleep deprivation to “what the poo should look like.”
The major issue this week isn’t breast-feeding. Pretty much everyone is doing well and producing abundant quantities of breast milk. One client is even donating her extra milk to the Children’s Hospital Milk Bank. Another just phoned to say that, with the help of Lactation Consultant Renee Hefti-Graham (604-733-6359), her little girl finally latched successfully at six weeks and is doing so well! All the other babies are latching well, gaining weight, sleeping (at times) and peaceful (at times).
What seems to be causing anxiety this week is the overwhelming contradiction between a mother’s instincts and outside influences. Books, family, friends and complete strangers are undermining the mothering instinct for so many of my clients.
A client of a one month old was doing “just fine, thank you very much” until her sister gave her a book advocating strict scheduling of feeding and sleeping. After trying the suggestions for a few days, her baby was up every hour at night and no one was getting any rest. I asked her what her instincts told her to do, and she said, “To feed him when he wants, or when my breasts need relief, to pick him up when I feel like it, or when he cries, to carry him about, talk to him - whatever just feels right. But my family keep telling me that I’ll spoil him, and I find I’m second-guessing myself. It’s making me crazy!” This sounds sadly familiar.
Another client whose baby is three weeks old remembers being told to feed her baby every three hours. She found herself resisting the urge to feed her baby when he started crying every hour (classic “three week” growth spurt). The baby was demanding more time at the breast in order to increase the mum’s milk supply. The only reason she resisted the urge was because of a comment made by the visiting health nurse weeks earlier. Not trusting herself and her baby was leading to anxiety and conflict.
“But I just fed him!” is the common cry. Well, think of him like a 16 year old boy in the middle of the biggest growth spurt of his life. You’ve made dinner (which he wolfed down), and then, only an hour later, he’s hungry again! So he orders in a pizza. Then he miraculously grows 6 inches in a few months. Ahaa! Better let the boy eat what he needs.
Newborn babies are just like that 16 year old boy. Their feeding patterns will vary from hour to hour and day to day. Sometimes they’ll pig out from 6-10pm (cluster feeding), and then the next afternoon they’ll sleep 3 hours. Problems only seem to arise once we start to throw our Type A controlling brain into the mix and start to analyze things. “Let’s see. He slept three hours after we were out all morning, so I should try that again.” No luck trying to treat a baby like a flow chart.
Just like living in the moment works well during labour, so it works in the postpartum period. The newborn baby will be a different person each day for the first six weeks. Trying to discern patterns in his behaviour during the newborn period is a futile attempt at control. You just have to roll with it.
When I had a newborn, I always reminded myself “to think like a cave woman.” No clocks, no books, no scheduling, no “shoulds.” I turned the clocks around so that I wouldn’t be able to remember how many times I was up in the night. I allowed the passing of the night to become fluid, a zen time of quiet movements and silent feeds. I threw away the feeding/voiding chart and tried to pretend that this was my fifth child, that I had faith in my body and my baby’s ability to work well. I threw away the bra pin - the one that was supposed to remind me which breast was next. I would gently “weigh” a breast to determine where my baby needed to latch (have him take the heaviest!). I would read novels and poetry and children’s books aloud during each feed. If I continued to hold the baby in my arms between feeds, just for a little more quiet, and a good read for myself, then I wouldn’t feel guilty. If I needed to turn on the fan or the vacuum cleaner, or dance around with my baby in my arms just to soothe her every night, I didn’t think we had a problem. I just accepted it as necessary in that moment. And if I had to head out for a drive to UBC and back (all the while listening to CBC Ideas) just to settle an especially cranky little one, and then woke the baby while tripping up the stairs, I’d just laugh and ask my husband to do the rounds again.
Sure, there are mornings when you wake up and you cry because you feel less rested than when you went to bed. There are days when you sit all day at the computer, reading the UBC calendar, just to see what you could have been doing if you hadn’t had a baby this year. And sure, there are nights when you crumple into a sobbing heap because that sweet little baby STILL hasn’t fallen asleep. And there really are nights when you wonder what you were thinking having a baby! That’s when you need to gather all the amazing people around you who REALLY support you, who won’t undermine your instincts, who will tell it like it truly is, and still be there to help - without judgement or advice.
What you need is a group of like-minded souls who honour motherhood and parenting. So, give me a call first, then start attending support groups, even if you think your baby is the most colicky baby possible. We will understand. I will remind you of the strength you showed in labour, how hilariously out of control this all is, and that you are at the beginning of an incredible learning curve, so you need to be gentle on yourself. I will remind you that your baby is like no other. Your little family is like no other. You need to find your OWN way through this parenting maze without judgement or expectation. Yes, it will be a roller-coaster for a while. You will arm yourself with friendship, laughter, music, dance, walks and sleep whenever you can find it. Then you will gradually slough off your old Type A controlled existence (such a challenge) with as much grace as you can muster. You will build up your confidence and build strong boundaries about your new family so that inconsiderate remarks and unwanted advice don’t undermine your fragile world.
And at six weeks, or three months, or at eighteen months - you will be at a point where you can say, “Now, THAT was a ride!” But, supported by all those around you, you will have made it to a place where you might even think about doing it all over again. Then, hey - call me!