5 Reflections about breastfeeding and early days of motherhood
A blog article written by a mama during her first weeks of postpartum.. Thank you Maria for sharing it with us. I could sign under every single word _/\_
1. It takes a village, not a “village-mom”
When I had my daughter, I was in a very different place than I am now with my newborn son. Back then, 6 years ago, I thought I needed to do EVERYTHING, do it PERFECT and do it 'NOW'. I would plan the day to manage food, baby, household, leisure, friends, and the rest of life in a meticulous manner. And while I felt like the superhero that I was, there was an important tradeoff: I was exhausted, moody and much less focused on baby’s needs. Also, there was no space for others to help. Trying to be perfect, I reckoned, was… an imperfection.
Two months after the delivery I begun having a deep pain in my right hip. Three years later I had my hip replaced, age 39. I am now a super-young, bionic superhero. Whether there was any causality or correlation between my level of activity right after birth and my hip issues, we will probably never know, but what I am certain of, is that I was not taking care of the most important person on earth for my baby at that point: Me.
This time around, I said yes to everyone who offered to support us in this journey. I felt nurtured all around. I could rest more, be more chilled, and in turn have much more time to be with baby. I also have more headspace for my mama intuition, make better decisions on breastfeeding and enjoy the birth bubble much more. New moms and newborn babies should be elevated in our societies to the top of the list of people to love and support. I dare to say we are not the VIPs of the planet but that mamas are the MIPs – Most Important People of the planet. We are bringing the new life on the planet, the new generations, and so the recognition of our well-being should be top of the agenda for everyone around us. There is also ample scientific evidence supporting the importance of the perinatal period in health and wellbeing of children, so why are we often so alone?
2. Insist, resist, persist and never desist (unless you can’t resist any more)
I am a fierce fan of breastfeeding. After breastfeeding my daughter for almost a year, as preparation for my son, who came 6,5 years after my daughter, I thoroughly got myself ready. I did two breastfeeding refresher courses, and read the 1207 page bible on breastfeeding by Jack Newman (ok I did not read it all!), I prepared two pumps just in case, bought two nipple shields and lanoline cream for my nipples. I was determined to do all it takes to breastfeed my son. And yet, after several days of excruciating nipple pain, unbearable jaw tension, industrial pumps and coming and goings of lactation specialists, one night I found my-self googling “how to quit breastfeeding”. The physical pain of the boob was clear but the guilt and agony of the thought of quitting was overwhelming.
I thought that maybe, because breastfeeding used to be the lifeline of babies ages ago, when there was no other form of feeding, it incites such visceral reactions on moms, feeling like – quite literally - a matter of life and death for moms. It certainly felt like that to me, so when I was a step away from quitting, and immersed in a bath of guilt, I remembered, a beautiful movie that I saw a while back called “Give up tomorrow”. In this documentary, a guy had been wrongfully put behind bars in the Philippines for allegedly murdering two girls and was sentenced to death by lethal injection. He was able to endure his 'Calvary', thinking about the here and now and telling himself he would be 'giving up, tomorrow'. I would endure one more day. The day after I googled quitting, I saw the light. My little one latched better, my nipples hit a tipping point, milk was flowing more naturally. Everything evolved quickly and two weeks later, I was able to breastfeed without pumping, without nipple shield, without topping ups of formula, without a light on, and most importantly, without pain. So when you think you can’t go on anymore, just think “I’ll give up tomorrow”.
3. Breastfeeding is like golfing, skiing and doing headstands: (almost) all about technique
Have you ever tried skiing, golfing or doing a headstand for the first time without guidance or understanding the technique? Then you will probably know that those activities are almost all about technique. But it is not ALL about the technique. There is a small but incredibly component to breastfeeding that is like salt in a meal. It’s your mama guts. One way or another, all women give birth to their babies and placentas. Most mothers expect these two come with a third item: the manual. We read, and seek answers everywhere, consult with breastfeeding specialists, hoping to find a written path, or a set of instructions to our babies. But there is no baby manual. Instead, we have our mama guts.
Mothers’ intuition is probably one of the most powerful and refined tools humanity has developed for the survival of our species. However, often, our modern societies, hamper a mother’s (woman’s) instinct, making us often feel in doubt about ourselves and our abilities to know what is happening and what is the right thing to do. Mothers simply know. Deep inside, we can always tap into our deep inner wisdom, especially when we are rested and supported.
But mamas are not the only ones that know: Babies, know too. Right before my baby was born, my daughter wanted to watch “Once upon a time: Life”, the cartoon series from the 80’s that explained the human body to children. She insisted on watching chapter 2, which explains the moment of conception and narrates, in a child friendly way, the sperms’ journey trying to reach the egg. My daughter asked me: Mommy, how do they know where they need to swim to? My answer: they just know. Just like the little sperms, they (we) were once, also have their own intuition of what they need to do. Trust yourself, trust your baby.
4. It’s not only safe to ignore advice, it’s also advisable to ignore advice!
Be aware that as soon as you get pregnant everyone and their mothers will want to give you their opinions and advice about what to do and how to do it. One day during the first month of my baby, I heard from my mom that my baby had a cold because he was clearly too cold, and I heard from my mother-in-law, my baby had baby acne because he was clearly too warm. This was my biggest lesson I learnt when I had my daughter: It is advisable to ignore 90% of people’s advice, especially when it messes your own trust in yourself and clouds your own intuition. So take that advice – including mine! – with a pinch of salt ;)
5. It does not get easier, you just get better at it
Think how many years you and your partner (if you have one, if not anyone you have lived with) have taken to get to know each other and live a somewhat fluid and organized life together. All of the sudden you have a brand-new tiny roommate you just met. It takes a while to get to know each other. And for that it is of utmost importance to incorporate mindfulness into each interaction with your baby. There are many constant queues to read on how baby is, what baby likes. Every day there are opportunities to reflect on things that have to change daily, readjustments, recalibrating., and master motherhood. Look for that magic moment on the first weeks when you get each 'aha-moment' on how baby ‘works’, what she likes, her patterns, likes and dislikes. At some point you will master each task, you become a pro, and everything begins feeling more like going downhill, or having tailwind.
But also remember every journey is different. The postnatal nurse that came to our home the first week said that in the 40 years she had been on the job she had not seen any two situations the same. I also learned that among my friends there was incredible diversity in how each had dealt with their postnatal period and breastfeeding. I have a friend that breastfed her second child for a year from only one breast, another who did exclusive pumping for 6 months, another that breast fed two of her babies and bottle fed the other two…Each journey is different, so enjoy each ride!