I have a dilemma. After all my years as a doula, I'm still trying to discover the best way to help pregnant women have a successful start to breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding classes are great, La Leche League meetings are supportive, our talks over months of pregnancy provide continuity, the breastfeeding books are inspiring, KellyMom and Dr. Jack Newman's videos are linked from my website, and I encourage all my clients to "like" his Facebook page. But one client just nailed the problem on the head in a phone call tonight: "It feels like I'm putting the cart before the horse if I try to think about breastfeeding now! I'm trying to finish up at work! I feel like I'm not prepared to have the baby yet! I have to get the baby born! I can't think about breastfeeding now!" Yes, I know, I'm paraphrasing, but the exclamation marks were certainly there.
My clients say that everything flies out the window as soon as the baby is born. In the first few days, despite my encouragement to each woman to feed her baby naked skin on naked skin, and to feed early and often, following the baby's cues, watching for the baby's swallowing, both sleep deprivation and the overwhelming nature of being a new parent can shatter prior learning and all self confidence. Add to that a stream of visitors, and you have a perfect storm. No wonder the breastfeeding relationship suffers or sputters to a halt.
So, what will work? Talk to each other. Find yourself a friend who will be your breastfeeding mentor. Choose to put the cart before the horse. Start to build your breastfeeding community now!
To start you on the right path, I've asked some of my clients to write down their words of wisdom after a year of breastfeeding. Many clients are ready and willing to offer their support and be your mentor. So, first up, let's hear from Abby!
"When I gave birth to my daughter I, like every other new mom, was completely exhausted. I was (and still am) dedicated to breastfeeding my daughter so when the nurses in the hospital told me to breastfeed 8-12 times per day I made sure to feed her at least 8 times per day (sometimes 9) and I thought I was doing great! 3 weeks later she wasn't gaining enough weight and I was diagnosed with "low milk supply." I was devastated and I couldn't understand it -- I was doing everything right, wasn't I?
After many visits with lactation consultants, many hours with my pump, and many breastfeeding articles later I had a realization: I should have been feeding my baby AT LEAST 12 TIMES A DAY, or even better every hour. You're going to be tired anyways, so buy a good breast feeding pillow, sit back, watch TV, snooze, avoid visitors, and feed your baby all day! You'll be surprised how relaxing it is. Your breasts need the stimulation from your baby and your baby's brain needs nutrition constantly. It took me months to learn all this so I hope that my experience can help other new moms learn this in minutes instead of months. My daughter is now 1, and I have met many women who were diagnosed with "low milk supply." Every time we went to a baby class there was at least 1 or 2 women who had the same problem as me. That just can't be right. We were made to feed our babies to it can't be possible that so many women "can't make enough milk." Many women may be able to make enough milk with minimal stimulation (i.e. 8 times a day), but a large minority of us cannot. So PLEASE FEED YOUR BABY AT LEAST 12 TIMES A DAY!" - Abby, mum to Ellie
One way to keep track of those feeds per 24 hours, without relying on a clock or an iPhone, is to have two bowls by your breastfeeding "station". One bowl is filled with 12 pennies. Just move a penny over to the second bowl after a feed. At the end of 12 hours, just look and see how many of the pennies have been moved to the second bowl. How are you doing? Will you be able to make 12 feeds in this 24 hour period? No worries if you're a bit low on feeds. You can just pick it up. No need to write anything down. No need to look at the clock. No need to stress! It's just a great way to feel the rhythm of breastfeeding your baby in the first few weeks.
Yes, you could use an app on your iPhone, but think about limiting screen time while you're deep in the first postpartum days. Take the Slow approach to postpartum, and create a sacred space where you are fully present. There's plenty of time to reenter the 21st century.