Now that we’ve sat around the LMLD kitchen table and covered some postpartum expectations, I will tell you what I really want to say about nursing* your new baby, just what I would tell you if we were drinking a cup of tea together, based on my own experiences, my mother’s (and she was very supportive and encouraging to me, thank God), and my daughters’.
Don’t think everything came easily to me, however. I spent my share of time with hurting nipples, undiagnosed thrush, trying to nurse baby with wild toddlers running around, not having two cents to rub together, no meals brought to me (well, to be fair, I didn’t bring any to anyone), loneliness — lots of trials! No, this is more a case (like all the others!) of “if I can do it, so can you!”
Necessary (sigh) disclaimer: Please feel free to skip this post. I’m not faulting you if you can’t breastfeed your baby or if you encountered difficulties! I need to make one little point in this post to encourage the mom who’s still trying to figure it out!
It is not the be-all and end-all post on breastfeeding, as perfect as I tried to make it! (Joke.) Please don’t leave a comment about how attacked you feel — instead, try to understand what I’m doing here.
I also don’t subscribe to any particular parenting “movement.” I’m kind of anti-movement when it comes to normal things.
I’m trying to maintain the collective memory, not create a religion.
The subject under discussion is the brand-new baby, the baby you don’t know yet, and how to give yourself the best shot at being peaceful and relaxed while feeding him. For problems and issues about breastfeeding, see my other posts (none of which aims at being comprehensive) and the sites mentioned in those posts and their comments — sites that are helpful and comprehensive.
Here’s the thing:
If you don’t come from a culture of being surrounded by women who easily and in a relaxed manner breastfeed their babies, you are simply not going to know certain things! Who will tell you? It isn’t even a “telling” thing, but alas, that’s what I have to do here.
Please bear with me and know that if you had trouble when you tried breastfeeding your baby, I have the utmost sympathy for you and would only like to make things a little better for the next time. Or for someone else.
So, a little tea?
Here is my little point:
Mainly this: Assume that he needs to be nursed. Make your default position be, “I will nurse him.”
For some reason, many nurses, grandmothers, and other “helpful” people, including most authors of books out there, set themselves one task: To figure out what the baby needs other than nursing.
There are one or two things the baby might need other than nursing, I’ll admit. The only one you need to think about in the first few days is this: Is his diaper dirty? You can change it before nursing him.
Other than that, your default in these first days and weeks needs to be that the baby needs to be nursed.
This first week (can we just hold off the “helpful” advice for one week?) he probably does not need: a pacifier, a swing, a burping longer than a few minutes, “time away from you so he doesn’t smell the milk,” a bottle, or whatever else they cook up.
Is he looking around? Awesome.
Is he sleeping? Awesome. Close your eyes and sleep too.
Is he fussing in any way or in any way seeming to need something? Try nursing him.
There are of course times when it becomes obvious that something else is needed. He may indeed need to burp or even poop. (Do, do check the diaper first.) He may even need to stretch out. Very soon you will become proficient in identifying these times.
Stunningly, you will get to know your very own baby and his needs.
Hold him in your arms in any case, these first days and weeks. The few instances when you won’t be holding him will be obvious: you are going to the bathroom, Daddy’s holding him, he got put down somewhere cosy near you and went to sleep and you are eating something (but then Daddy picks him up), you went to sleep (but come to think of it, you are still holding him).
And there are some times when you may be so very exhausted that you actually do need someone to take the baby so that you can sleep or you may die. With each of my babies, there would be at least one time that I was so at the end of my rope that if I drifted off a noise like a stick of dynamite would go off inside my head. So at that point, yes, they (husband, mother, kind neighbor) can bounce and pacify and pace and swing — just long enough for you to recover. I’m not talking here about those instances, which do pass. I’m talking about normal everyday (albeit new and yes, tiring) existence with your infant.
About the default.
Some things that people will say to you, getting inside your head by making you think that nursing is the last thing to try, confusing you, and making you anxious (and this list is very general — believe me, I know that people say some crazy things):
“He’s not crying!” Well, let’s not purposely make the baby cry in order to get what he needs. Goodness knows there will be enough crying without that.
But if at any moment he is making that little “eh eh” noise, or of course crying, or bobbing his little head up and down, or sucking his little fist, go ahead and nurse him.
Yes, nurse him before he starts crying, even.
“He’s already nursed.” So? He really may need to nurse again. Any number for feedings per day that anyone is throwing at you is an average. It’s of limited usefulness. The only way to tell if he doesn’t want to nurse again is to try nursing him. Any experienced nursing mom will tell you that there are many occasions when baby will indeed nurse again, even having just nursed!
Infants often nurse pretty much continuously all day and all night for that matter. Guess what, they have to survive. Where are you going? You’re not going to a road race! (See previous post.)
Just think, “Ah, I will go ahead and nurse the baby again. It’s okay.”
“He’s been nursing for a long time.” Well, babies nurse for more than just hunger. Ask yourself why we feel the need to disturb a peacefully nursing baby?
There are technical reasons why babies should nurse for long periods and even on empty breasts. I discuss these in my other posts and of course the internet is full of experts who address this issue.
But mainly I want to say, why do you want to disturb him? Very soon there will be many disturbances without us creating them.
“He’ll get used to nursing all day every day and all night too and you’ll have no time to yourself!” Clearly that is not true.
Please look around at all the older people you know, some of whom must have been nursed, and see that they are indeed not nursing at all times.
First, you just had this baby. He really does need to eat a lot. And it’s a bit much to subject you to anxiety gridlock by warning you against feeding him all the time and that he isn’t regaining his birth weight.
Interestingly, if you just got a job at Goldman Sachs, you’d be expected to be there all day and mostly all night — they literally send a car for you early in the morning and deliver you back late at night, and your food is catered there so that you can’t even leave to have dinner elsewhere. People would be praising you for having such a prestigious job, but it would be even more demanding than having a newborn and you would not get to lie down, ever. If that’s what you really wanted to do — be an investment banker — you’d put in the hours, knowing that eventually you’d have some free time and a summer house in the Hamptons.
But somehow, when it comes to nurturing a little person, no one can even give you two weeks to figure things out!
Second, the baby will get a rhythm and eventually there will be time to do other things. It’s a process of elimination — you have to eliminate that he needs to nurse, and to do that, you need to nurse him by default.
“You should get a pump and use it.” Big disclaimer alert here: If you are committed to some sort of thing where you are pumping because you have to be away from your baby, I am really not the person to consult. Plenty of advice out there. I do hope that you will take the first few weeks and not pump.
For you others, I want you to know that pumping isn’t something you have to do to breastfeed. Somewhere along the way it seems to have been deemed a necessity. Does that really make sense? Think about it, like, anatomically.
To you I want to say:
Maybe you acquired a pump without really knowing much about it.
You know that cupboard above your fridge? The one you never open because you have to teeter on a chair after first having moved the stuff off the top of the fridge, which you don’t want to do because it has that sticky dust on it?
Put the pump up there.
If you ever, God forbid, have to go to the hospital for some reason, there it will be and your husband can get it down. Otherwise, get it out of your sight. Because babies actually need so little, people are enamored by anything they can grasp onto as a “necessity.” Especially if it involves a machine of some sort. But in fact you don’t need it in the normal course of things. Nursing isn’t about getting Milk A into Baby B and nothing else. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.
“What if you have to nurse the baby out in public? You need a bottle, so you need the pump.” No. Just nurse the baby by holding him somewhere in the vicinity of your chest.
If you give yourself lots of time to nurse the baby in those first days (see the postpartum post), you will figure out the mechanics and seeming awkwardness of it all. (On Saturday’s bits & pieces we will link to some helpful posts and items for this aspect of things.)
By the time you are ready to go out, you’ll be super able to do it. I myself nursed babies in every conceivable place — restaurants, talks, churches, airports, museums, parks, movies, airplanes, parties. Certain of my babies couldn’t settle down to nursing with noise or hubbub (too interested, even at a young and tender age) — so I would excuse myself to a quiet place (all the while exuding “it’s not for your sake I’m leaving, but for hers” vibes) — or I’d just stay home.
Again, if you were that newbie at Goldman Sachs, you’d never see the inside of a museum and you’d be the pride of your alma mater. They’d give you an award for not ever going anywhere.
So take the first week to put all that out of your mind. Your job is to rest and to nurse the baby. Wonderfully, if you can possibly not fret about “nursing too much,” you will automatically be more rested, because you have to sit down or lie down to feed a baby!
The miracle of God’s plan.
Then give yourself six weeks. By six months you won’t even remember what all the nervousness was about.
(Remember what I said yesterday? Postpartum means one week, and then six weeks, and then six months. Keep moving the goal line.)
You will be on your way to having a peaceful experience — or for that matter to finding out that you have a little barracuda on your hands who keeps you hopping, because some babies are tough nursers, that’s a fact. It’s not that everything will be perfect.
Auntie Leila never promises that!
“His night and day will get switched.” Actually, this just happens.
There will always be time early on when the baby is super awake all night. It has nothing to do with nursing him. It has to do with him having conked out during the day because you were resting and the hum of life in general soothed him. Suddenly it’s quiet and he found his ability to keep awake, so he does.
Just do a few extra things with and to him during the day: a washcloth washing if his cord hasn’t fallen off, a bath if it has, getting him nicely clean and changed; a little fresh air with Daddy while you nap; being picked up more during the day. At night, after a long feeding give him a good burping (Daddy is so good at this), change him, and think positive thoughts about how the night is for sleeping. Do not panic.
As you get stronger and more able to move about during the day, he’ll get the idea while still staying close to you and nursing plenty at night. After two weeks also try not to change his diaper in the middle of the night if you can help it. Soon he will give you at least one (maybe more!) four hour stretch of sleep at a time during the night with only a little rousing to nurse.
And most dreadful of all:
“You will spoil him.” Even if it could be true that by meeting your baby’s needs, you would spoil him (and it’s not true), the good news is that you can always rectify anything later.
Right now your mantra should be “I’ll worry about that [spoiling, being out of shape, not wearing high heels for the photo shoot, getting back to work, all of it] later.” You need to understand how breastfeeding works — that it’s a demand-and-supply system.
Success for most of us really does depend on having the baby near and being willing to nurse him rather than put him off with strategies. By success I don’t mean every moment will be a glowing symphony of angels’ voices. I just mean that you’ll get to know your own baby (whether he’s easy or hard) and have enough good milk for him.
And you need to have confidence that your new baby can’t be spoiled by getting love, affection, and milk from you. Hold him in your arms, relax, and don’t worry.
Let nursing him (even when bottle feeding! — that is, picking him up, cuddling him, holding him in your arms) be your default position rather than a last resort.
All will be well!
*You should nurse your baby. You should breastfeed your baby if you can, and I think you almost certainly can. Maybe you really can’t breastfeed. But every mother can nurse her baby. That means cuddle, hold, and in general understand that nursing the baby isn’t reducible to a delivery system for nutrition — rather, the milk is a vehicle, if you will, for getting to know and love your baby. It also happens to make him grow.
I’ve already posted a bunch on this topic. You can go read or re-read the posts for some nitty-gritty details (and lots of the comments are greatly informative as well). But the key learning here is this: Hold your baby and nurse him. If you are feeding with a bottle, make up your mind that you — and only you as much as is humanly possible — will feed your baby in your very own arms.