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BIRTH AND BREASTFEEDING
Your baby is born, and he is placed on your chest. He looks up at you, wriggles his way to your breast, latches on and sucks strongly. You feel a rush of emotion that is filled with love and awe and power.
You just birthed a baby, and now your body will continue to grow him, at your breast! How freaking awesome is that?
Unless he doesn’t.
Birth and breastfeeding is sometimes more complex than you think it will be. It doesn’t always happen the way I just described.
- It might be that you are exhausted after days of no sleep.
- Labor had so many false starts, and then 36 hours of labor that was the real deal. It was all you could do to ride those contractions.
- Maybe your baby was pulled out by forceps and is screaming his little head off, almost as if to say, “I want to go back!”
Panic starts to set in when you put him to your breast, and he screams some more. This wasn’t how you read it would be. This isn’t what happened in that movie they showed in your breastfeeding class.
Maybe he was put on your chest, and maybe he did wriggle to your breast, and then he conked out. Then the nurses are saying it is time to move you to your room, and they are wrapping him up, and you are being told to get into a wheelchair.
“But wait,” you want to say, “but, he hasn’t breastfed.”
There is also the scenario where all your birth plans went down the drain when you were told that you needed a c-section.
You got a flash of your baby right after they pulled him out and they held him up over the drape. Your partner went over to the warmer while they dried him off and wrapped him up, burrito style. Your partner held him next to you, and you looked at him, both of you bewildered.
He is deep into his sleep period by the time you are in the recovery room, and he is hard to get close with all those blankets wrapped around him, anyway.
You have no clue how breastfeeding will be go after having a cesarean.
Wait! This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
You want a do-over.
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HOW BIRTH AND BREASTFEEDING ARE INTERTWINED
One of the first books that I read when I first became interested in birth was Birth without Violence. It is an eloquent description of what a birth should be, and what it should not be.
When you think of it, being born is a pretty intense experience for a baby. One might even say it is overwhelming. Imagine if you were enjoying a nice day in your hot tub, with your 24/7 room service. Even if that hot tub did seem to be shrinking with each passing day.
All of a sudden you are being shoved out of it, naked no less. Then you have these rough towels being rubbed all over your body. I’m talking Motel 6 towels. Let’s face it, no hospital is going to have those super soft towels that the Ritz Carlton has.
You are being poked and prodded, and cold stethoscopes are being put on your body. You try to say, excuse me; we haven’t been introduced. This is so rude!
All that comes out is a wail. It is overwhelming, to say the least.
Michel Odent writes about the connection between childbirth and breastfeeding in Birth and Breastfeeding: Rediscovering the Needs of Women during Pregnancy and Childbirth (Health & Healing).
Birth is perhaps one of the most significant things that can affect breastfeeding that gets the least amount of attention.
LABOR AND BREASTFEEDING
How was that journey for your baby out from the cozy hot tub?
- If it was a long labor, it wore you out. It probably wore out your little one too.
- Did you have medications that made you sleepy and woozy feeling? It takes your baby longer to clear those drugs and their effects out of his system.
- I worked with a mom, years ago, whose baby was soooo sleepy. She was an experienced mom, so she knew how breastfeeding worked. Her little dude just wouldn’t wake up or suck on a finger, or really, anything else. She went home without him feeding, even once. I called her the next day, and she said he finally woke up and nursed all night long. I then found out that she had morphine when she was in early labor. It was one of those, “Duh!” moments for me.
- Was the birth by c-section? We know those babies take longer to get going with breastfeeding (Source).
- Epidural? This is another thing that can cause a slow start for breastfeeding (Source).
- Forceps or vacuum-assisted birth? If I had a big old headache with maybe some bruises and swelling to go with it I’m probably not going to be crazy hungry either.
- This discomfort may feel worse when they try to open wide or suck.
WHY IS BREASTFEEDING SO HARD?
If I had a dollar for every time a mom has said to me, “I thought breastfeeding was natural. I don’t understand why it is so hard.” My response is often, what about this experience has been natural so far?
Think about all the things during birth that are anything but “natural”?
- Stripping of membranes
- Induction of labor with anything: Pitocin, foley bulb, Cytotec
- Artificial rupture of membranes (good-bye hot-tub)
- Pitocin at any time – induction or if labor stalls
- Cesarean birth
- Forceps or vacuum-assisted birth
- Mom being made to stay in bed, either on her side or just sitting up
HOW YOU CAN HELP BREASTFEEDING
These things will go a long way to getting you and your baby on the path to a successful breastfeeding relationship.
- Skin-to-skin. As much as possible.
- See a lactation consultant.
- Do some hand expression and rub your colostrum drops onto your baby’s gums and tongue.
- Pump to support your milk supply if your lactation consultant recommends it. I’m generally in the school that believes, if in doubt, pump.
- Avoid bottles if you can.
- Avoid formula if you can
- Both bottles and formula may be necessary for some babies
- Find out if human donor milk is an option
- Some moms express some colostrum in the weeks before birth to use if supplementation becomes necessary.
- There are usually alternatives to bottles like the Supplemental nursing system (SNS) and spoon-feeding
- Some more patience
Babies are meant to breastfeed. It may just take some a little longer than others. If you are patient and get help, most moms and healthy babies will be successful.
Did you struggle with breastfeeding in the beginning? Did you have any of these interventions or any others? Leave a comment and share your experience.
Birth and Breastfeeding
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.