Welcome to October’s Carnival of Breastfeeding – “What I wish I’d known….” Please be sure to read the other carnival writers listed at the end of this post (they will be added throughout the next 24 hours).
I remember when it hit me. I was sitting on the floor changing my newborn son’s diaper and I saw that his toenails needed cutting. I was overwhelmed with a sense of personal responsibility for this tiny human being. Not only did I feed him and carry him around and take him to the doctor and dress him and help him sleep but I even had to clip his toenails! Of all those things the responsibility for feeding my baby felt particularly huge. As a breastfeeding mother I was making the milk he drank, trying to get him in just the right position for eating, making sure that his latch was correct, and worrying about whether he was getting enough to eat. Overwhelming responsibility is an understatement — I didn’t know how I was ever going to succeed.
What I wish I had known then was that I was wrong. Breastfeeding wasn’t something that was up to me alone. I had help and a partner that cared as much as I did (or maybe more!): my baby. Over the years since my son’s birth I’ve learned amazing things about the active role that newborn babies play in breastfeeding.
Babies are born wanting to go to the breast. A dramatic video illustrating this was produced in India as a way to promote successful breastfeeding initiation. In it the mother has been asked not to help the baby so we can see how competent babies can be right from the beginning.
Babies are born with the ability to latch well at the breast. Mothers don’t need to force their babies’ mouths into correct latch. When I first encountered this idea in Dr. Christina Smillie’s video, “Baby-Led Breastfeeding… The Mother-Baby Dance”, I almost couldn’t believe it. It shows baby after baby, even babies that have been primarily bottle fed or are having latching problems, going to the breast on their own and getting a comfortable, effective latch. But in my work as a lactation consultant I see babies do this all the time. It’s not a special skill unique to some babies. It’s something that all healthy, hungry babies do. Babies like to have a good latch. They are comfortable and can drink milk more effectively. Babies will often try to come off and fix a poor latch themselves.
Babies don’t need mothers to do the work of breastfeeding. Babies just need mothers to create the environment where they can use their inborn skills. On Suzanne Colson’s biological nurturing website and in Christina Smillie’s video they talk about the simple elements that make up this environment. Mothers need to hold their babies so the babies feel secure but are still free to move their own heads, mouths, and hands — usually this means that mother reclines so that baby can be on her chest. Babies need access to mothers’ skin and breasts — they need to be able to touch and taste their mothers. Then mothers just need to watch what their babies are trying to do and facilitate it by helping them stay calm and get where they’re trying to go.
I wish I had known that I was not alone feeding my baby. I wish I had known then that he was born with the drive and the skills to eat and grow. I needed to know that I could trust him to work with me.
Note: As a lactation consultant I do see babies that struggle with feeding skills. Just like any other part of life sometimes things don’t all work without a hitch. When babies are born early or have a difficult birth or lose a lot of weight or have health problems then they can need help establishing breastfeeding skills. But mothers still don’t have to do it by themselves! That is what supportive fathers, friends, grandmothers, sisters, doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants are for. And that’s one other thing I wish I’d known: that it’s good to reach out for help when things aren’t going well.
Other Carnival of Breastfeeding posts (they will continue to be added all day Monday 10.26)….
“What I wish I’d known then about breastfeeding” -Christina at Massachusetts Friends of Midwives
What I wish I’d have known then -Whozat at Lucy & Ethel Have a Baby
I wish I would have known -Maria at The Starr Family
What I wish I’d known then – My list for next time -Rebekah at Momma’s Angel
You don’t have to grin and bear it -Melodie at Breastfeeding Mom Unite
What I wish I’d known -Robin at Birth Activist
4 things I wish I’d known -Barbara at Three Girl Pile-up
AP Principle #2: What I wish I’d known when I started breastfeeding- Lauren at Hobo Mama
When breastfeeding begins badly, and what I should have done about it- Christina at The Milk Mama
Wish I’d Heard More Good Things!- at Fancy Pancakes
15 Breastfeeding Facts I Wish I’d Known as a First Time Breastfeeding Mum- at Breastfeeding Mums
When Breastfeeding Feels Wrong- Rita at Fighting off Frumpy
Nursing Wisdom- Sarah at Cave Mother
Trust Yourself And Your Body- at BlissTree
Breastfeeding is Life Changing- Elita at Blacktating
What I wish I’d Known Then- Claire at Mum Unplugged