Most expecting mothers have certain visions, attachments, and expectations around their plans for birthing and breastfeeding. Simultaneously, we bear in mind things may not go according to plan. It is difficult to find comfort and a sense of groundedness within the liminal experience of pregnancy, birth, and immediate postpartum.
At my homebirth, I had a core group of people caring for me, including three midwives, my husband, step-daughter, mother, and a friend/photographer. Many people assume my birth and breastfeeding experience was easy since I am a Midwife and Certified Lactation Counselor. However, there were many aspects of both that were very difficult.
During my labor, I wasted emotional energy trying to midwife myself and be “good” at laboring. When it came time to initiate breastfeeding, I tried to harness my book knowledge once again. It was apparent my knowledge could not force an immediate or instinctual breastfeeding relationship. My baby and I both had a learning curve to work through together, which could not have been foreseen. In this moment, I felt helpless, baffled, and humbled.
As mentioned, my mother attended my birth and supported me continuously through the first few weeks postpartum. Her presence was amazing, nurturing, and inspiring. She is a nurse who has worked in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for over 30 years, and she now works solely as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in the hospital setting.
In my mothers words, “[her] goal is to help women achieve their breastfeeding goals, knowing that things do not always go smoothly in the beginning.” [She] sees many challenges the first 24 hours of a neonatal life. Lactation consultants, physicians, midwives, and nursing and support staff provide support for positioning, latching, and breastfeeding at each session until breastfeeding is established. Other important stages include when the fuller milk comes in on days 2-5, working through the engorgement phase, and getting breastfeeding well established. Learning how to get a deep, comfortable latch takes support, practice and experiential learning. Surely, one of the most important aspects of being a new mother is to enjoy your new baby and how you are feeding your baby. When a mother is having difficulties she can contact her local lactation consultant at the community hospital or clinic, WIC peer counselor, and support groups such as La Leche League.Every woman should have access to the professional care and support she needs.”
After my baby arrived, we initiated skin-to-skin holding immediately and offered her my breast. She was not interested in nursing and showed limited feeding cues. She was quite spitty and mucousy. Her heart shaped tongue indicated she had a mild tongue-tie as well. My mother showed me how to massage my breasts and hand express colostrum. Every 2 hours, we would first offer the breast, and then she helped me collect drops of colostrum into a small syringe and feed my baby. My mother also showed me how to perform gentle mouth massage on my baby to help her jaw relax and practice her suckling reflex. It was not until the 18th hour of life that she had her first latch and breastfeed. Though she finally latched, it was difficult for her to get a deep latch, and my nipples became incredibly sore and mildly cracked. The three of us spent a great amount of time, getting a latch, breaking the latch, and trying again until it felt comfortable.
On day 3 postpartum, I was flooded with milk and hormones. My breast became engorged and hard as cantaloupes. My mother helped me ice my breasts for 15 minutes every hour and she made me cabbage leaf bras in between icing. This, combined with nursing on demand and occasionally pumping to relieve some of the pressure, regulated my milk supply within a few days.
Although few women have the support of a live in mother/lactation consultant in the immediate postpartum, I was amazed and grateful for how much my mother helped me. My love for my mother and our bond grew exponentially through this experience. As a midwife, we recommend that first time mothers take a breastfeeding preparation course and seek professional support if problems arise postpartum that are out of our scope of practice. I hold a whole new and deeply personal appreciation for how essential proper professional support can be when learning how to breastfeed.