I have been honored to be asked to write for various blogs. Take a look, I hope you find my perspective useful!
I am a big believer in less is more! So when Liz suggested I talk about tools for successful breastfeeding I immediately said, “ Easy, none!” I wanted to show that, in fact, you don’t need any!! Also, as a promoter and advocate for breastfeeding I don’t want “things” to be a stumbling block for anyone wanting to breastfeed. The most important thing that a mom needs to breastfeed is a willingness to do so.
However, I suppose that is not all there is to it. While breastfeeding is natural, it does not always come naturally. So here are my must haves for breastfeeding success; they may not be tools, but they will be a great resource to a new breastfeeding mom. ….
It is a Saturday night and I just got a call from a mom who needs my help, I know I need to get to her as soon as possible. As a birth doula, I am no stranger to calls at all hours of the day or night but this is not a call for birth support, this is a mom asking for my services as a lactation counselor. I respond in just the same way to these calls as I would to a mom in labor. I know if a mom is reaching out to me, she must be desperate. My professional and personal experience has shown me that we moms put up with a lot during the postpartum period, and if a mom actually gets to the point of reaching out for help, she is really at the end of her rope.
In past generations, literally, everybody and their mother was there for you, before, during and after birth. In fact, everyone was around all the time. We have lost that sense of community and now there is a lack of understanding surrounding the postpartum period and lack of support for postpartum moms. It has become a passion of mine to use my position to educate and help mothers during this time.
Here is some of the advice I share with my clients:
Preparing prenatally for the postpartum period is the best thing you can do. Once you are in the throws of postpartum, you most likely won’t have the energy or motivation to look for answers for yourself. If you can find a postpartum self-care class, take it, even if this is not your first baby, you can always use a refresher. Most of my clients are not first time moms, they are pregnant again and want a better experience than the last time.
Make yourself a resource list, like this one:
- OB/midwife phone number
- Pediatrician’s phone number
- Mother’s group webpage/calendar
- Lactation support contact
You may have these resources handy on your phone contacts, but go ahead, make the list and put it on the fridge. Just seeing it there is a reminder and makes it easier to call when the time comes. The same goes for even listing the babysitter’s number, even if it is Grandma. Seeing it there is a great reminder that someone can come over and give you a break. Finally, while you know all these numbers it may be that your husband doesn’t, so write them down for him too.
Now that you made the list, allow yourself to take advantage of it.
As mothers we carry a lot of worries and “what-ifs” around in our heads. During postpartum this seems to be exacerbated by exhaustion, hormonal fluctuations and this new little life we are now responsible for. Even as I write this, I am again shocked at the enormity of changes that are happening during this period. Allow yourself the opportunity to ease your mind by reaching out to your resource list. If there is anything that is causing you unease with the baby or yourself, check in with the doctor.
Get involved with your mother’s support group early on. You will have to learn to get out with your baby, it truly is a skill, and what better reason than to be out with other supportive mothers. Consider attending an event prenatally to introduce yourself, it will make those first outings even easier. They will remember all too well what you are going through and welcome you.
While breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t come “naturally”, it is a learned skill for both mom and baby. Especially in those first days after birth, it is so important to have someone to turn to for guidance. The earlier you can get on the right track the better your experience will be. I know it is hard to be bothered when you barely know what day it is, but it will be worth it in the long run.
You may think, “Well I am going to be formula feeding, so I won’t need a lactation specialist,” but whether you are choosing to breastfeed, formula feed or some combination of both, it is always good to have a lactation specialist to contact. Your body will make milk whether or not you are supplementing or formula feeding. When you are not emptying your breasts you can run into issues which could lead to infection if not addressed.
Finally, having a babysitter to call to give you a break is a must. It could be Grandma, a friend, an actual babysitter, or even a postpartum doula. Anyone who can take the baby while you can nap, shower or even have a quiet moment to yourself. Postpartum doulas are a great option especially in those early days. They have specialized knowledge of postpartum care for mom and baby and may even come throughout the night allowing parents to get some much needed sleep.
Your primary helpers will be Dad and the grandmas. Moms often feel like they are the only ones who can manage the baby’s needs or that others may do it “wrong.” The truth is they will do it differently, and that is ok. Do not micromanage how they take care of the baby, take a deep breath and walk away. They will not “break” the baby but they will allow you to get a break if you allow them to help. They will develop their own relationship and way of doing things and that is not only good for you but important for everyone, especially the baby.
If anyone else offers to help, you can write their name on your resource list under “helpers.” However, when you are in the throws of those first days, you are too busy just trying to get by, let alone think about how anyone could help. You can prenatally prepare a list of basic tasks like laundry, dishes, a basic grocery list, etc., so when someone offers to help you can refer them to the list.
What’s up down there?
Ok, by the time you gave birth there is a good chance you have had at least a half-dozen strangers checking out your “nether region”. So you have officially earned the right to casually talk about your vagina, uterus, bladder, etc. Appreciate that your body just did an amazing thing, growing and carrying a person, and it is now in need of a much deserved recovery. Do not ignore any lingering issues just because they may be difficult to talk about.
I have become immune to such difficulties. I can be found talking to friends at dinner parties of such matters. My husband is no longer surprised, I suppose that is what happens when you are passionate about a topic.
The women I support have lingering issues such as; pelvic, hip and back pain, wound site issues, hemorrhoids, urinary and or fecal incontinence, and pain during love making, just to name a few. Although you may not have anticipated these issues, they are common. You should check in with your doctor or midwife first, however, many of these issues can be addressed with a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist (find one prenatally and put them on your resource list). It is often the case that women are not being referred to these therapists as providers don’t even know about them or how they can help.
There is more to it than just postpartum depression
The latest research shows there is actually a range of mood disorders that postpartum women experience, only one of which is postpartum depression. It can look like anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and more. If you have had issues with mood disorders before pregnancy, you are more likely to experience them after birth.
This is where your support network will be invaluable. While you may notice these behaviors becoming problematic, it is more likely that your husband, friends, or relatives may notice even before you.
Finally, we can try to rebuild that supportive community for postpartum women. If you know someone who has just had a baby, bring her a meal, go do her dishes, etc. Don’t wait for her to ask, it may be that your help is just what, she didn’t know she really needed.
First published on hailmarry.org