Actually, this post is about a major issue for most new mums: breastfeeding! Even though some people eventually choose not to breastfeed, the current trend is for most hospitals and doctors to encourage breastfeeding, at least in the early days after birth.
With Noah, I was blessed to have a baby who knew how to latch on pretty well and was rather hardworking. Once he found a comfortable latch, he would nurse contentedly for the whole duration of the feed before latching off in a milk-induced coma. I also had a confinement nanny who was knowledgeable about breastfeeding and was able to help me overcome issues like developing a substantial milk supply ( I used the pump to express milk before each feed) and engorgement (she would boil orange peel in water and make a warm compress to stimulate milk flow and reduce pain). Hence, I had only good memories of breastfeeding and was able to nurse Noah well into his second year before I stopped because I was pregnant with Joy.
After Joy was born,I was able to nurse her immediately after birth and was thankful to find that she had a similarly strong suckling reflex. However, as I nursed her during subsequent sessions, it began to hurt more and more and by the second day, I grew to dread the sound of the nurses wheeling her bassinet down the corridor for a feed.
Perhaps the main difference this time round was that I had insisted on not using formula supplements. As Noah is our first child and had been a low birth weight baby, we agreed to formula supplementation as we didn’t want to go against the doctor’s advice. However, Joy was born at a healthy weight, and I was pretty sure that my milk supply would probably be as abundant in the past, so this time round I had the courage to insist on total breastfeeding. Noah has also been having persistent bouts of cough which doctors have suggested could be due to a milk allergy issue, so I just wanted to play it safe this time round and delay giving Joy anything to do with cow’s milk for as long as possible. As you can imagine, this resulted in almost no sleep, constant nursing, lots of pain for mummy, and a fussy baby for the first three days. Had I not had such a good experience nursing Noah, I would surely have considered giving up total breastfeeding for Joy! I dreaded nursing so much that I began pumping for alternate feeds so my poor boobs could have a break.
So, back to gentle/attachment parenting, the ideal was to have baby room-in with me, so that my presence could calm her and we would be able to build a better relationship earlier and nurse more successfully etcetc. But when these nursing problems hit, I realized that it was probably better to send her back to the nursery so I could rest! She was crying while with me in the room anyway, so I figured that her crying in the nursery or being able to sleep without the distracting smell of mom’s milk nearby (in the absence of sufficient supply to quell hunger) would be better than her being in the room with me. My conclusion is that rooming-in really only delivers all its purported benefits if 1. You have a partner or alternate caregiver with you who can carry and soothe the baby; OR 2. You are willing to spend all your time cuddling and soothing baby. Probably not the best option given that the mum’s rest and recovery is critical for her ability to provide milk and care for the newborn once home without the support of the nurses in hospital. I kept Joy with me during the day when family could help carry and cuddle her, but sent her back to the nursery in the nights so I could focus my energy on feeding myself, caring for my wounds, and doing the necessary massage/ pumping etc to make the transition into breastfeeding more bearable. Ten days in, the pain from breastfeeding is much more bearable, and Joy is getting enough milk during each feed to grow well. Thankfully, it seems like a textbook case of overcoming the worst of the soreness within the first week.
What I learnt in this early stage of gentle parenting a newborn: it’s never too early to build trust with your baby. When Joy kept latching on and off (the most painful part when the baby chomps down to get a firm grip on the boob) instead of settling down to nurse, it was tempting to label her a fussy baby and feel annoyed due to the pain. Trust me, it’s the kind of pain that takes your breath away and makes you want to smack someone and yell owowowowowoWW. But I somehow had the thought that maybe Joy knows what she’s doing. After all, nursing is a two-way learning journey for each mother-child pair. I wasn’t foolish enough to expect her to nurse in exactly the same way Noah did. So I decided to give her a few moments to do her thing instead of trying to force her to take the boob or prevent her from doing so. I realised she had her own little routine for latching on (two little ‘taster’ attempts before fiercely latching on), and if I just let her control the process while supporting her neck, she actually knew how to adjust the latch so it got less painful for me and more efficient for her. Of course my role in this was to stoicly endure the discomfort while she made the adjustments. Often I would hold my breath, only relaxing after the initial few seconds of pain had passed.
This is in contrast to what I’ve heard from lactation consultants, nurses, and even my confinement nanny about baby’s nursing preferences. They tend to characterize baby as being fussy, lazy to nurse, enjoying the comfort of the boob without wanting to nurse properly etc.
Comments like these feed the mother’s frustration, especially when you need to blame someone for the intense pain you are going through (screaming, red-faced, hungry babies make an easy target).
So, this is my reflection on how a gentle parenting ethos can influence a mum’s feelings and relationship with baby even from the very earliest days. I’m trying to strike a balance between a practical approach (re. Rooming-in) and a more idealistic one which seeks to think well of baby and build mutual trust and respect right from the get-go. Self-care is also so so very important, and the basis for all the other things we would like to achieve, hence eating well, sleeping early etc are all priorities for me right now. Thankful that this seems to be working well for us thus far. Indeed, children are such a blessing!