Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Establishing breastfeeding in private

This post is a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of World Breastfeeding Week: August 1-7, 2009.

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On the Maternal Throne: mother breastfeeding a babyThis goes along with my last post about having a topless babymoon.

I realized that going nude when you have guests clamoring to see the newborn might not be possible. And that led me to offer a suggestion for how to arrange those first few weeks after you've had your first baby.

I say first baby, because your childcare needs will presumably be greater with subsequent babies, making early visitors more of a help, since they'll have something to do. Also, you might have already established a good breastfeeding rhythm with your previous baby or babies and not need as much practice the next time around. If you will, though, read on.

I'm not a big believer in due dates, assuming that babies will be born when they're ready, not answering to any email reminder from Yahoo! calendar. But our parents hounded us until we gave in and gave them the all-sacred due date. And then they started searching for airline tickets, because they all live across the country from us.

Hold on just a darn-tootin' sec, we said. (We speak that way for we are country folk.) (Not really.) The earliest you can come is two weeks after the due date, we said.

This was the latest they would consent to come, actually, and so we began hoping and praying that our baby would agree to come near or before his due date, after all. Because if he came two weeks "late" (and I don't think that would actually make him late — see comment about the stupidity of due dates above, or check out this paper, which has a handy chart showing the normal distribution of births at various weeks gestation), our parents would be on us before he was even out of the birth canal.

Fortunately for us (and yet, annoyingly in that it confirmed our parents' irrational trust in calculations), Mikko arrived just a few days after his due date. (And, yes, those few days were filled with emails and messages: "Is he here yet? Why isn't he here?")

Regardless, we had a solid week and a half for our babymoon.

And very thankful I was for it.

As eager as I was to show off our new kidlet to the grands, it turned out we really needed that time to rest, to recuperate from the birth (physically, I mean, for me, and that was with a relatively easy vaginal birth with little tearing), to get used to having an actual baby around (!!!), and, most importantly, for me to hang out all day with my breasts exposed.

Because, let me tell you, getting started breastfeeding was not a walk in the park like I had been hoping. I wrote about our experience here in "Finger feeding and baby hickeys," so at least it has a funny name. What it was not, my loves, was an enjoyable time. To sum up, the nurse at the hospital had given us some bad advice about breastfeeding (no! say it ain't so!) and gotten our son hooked on fast-flowing bottles of formula. It took a week of complementary feeding techniques to undo the damage and get him onto exclusive breastfeeding. Once he was, no problemo. But for that first week, Sam and I felt like octopi, or like we wanted to be, trying to coordinate a bottle of expressed breast milk, a feeding tube, flailing infant fists, and engorged post-pregnancy boobs. And in between each feeding, I was attached to a double electric pump to prepare for the next one, and Sam was washing out all the paraphernalia. And then, ten or twenty minutes later, it would all begin again. It was a really bad and complicated start to breastfeeding.

What I appreciated during this experience, though, was that no one was around to see it.

If our parents had been around, particularly my father and father-in-law, I would have felt so very vulnerable to having them see me feed Mikko in such an awkward, exposing manner. I would have had to seclude myself and my son in our bedroom whenever he needed to feed, which was all.the.time.

I know that some people's family members arrive and are consummately helpful, amusing older siblings, running loads of laundry, cooking meals. Not so our families. Maybe they would have been that helpful if, say, only our mothers had arrived just before or just after the birth. As it was, both grandparents' visits (they were essentially back-to-back) were nonstop vacationing, going from one attraction to another with newborn in tow.

It actually was all right. I was breastfeeding successfully by then, for one, and we had plenty of baby slings and wraps, so Mikko was finally portable. And it gave us a nice change from being holed up with a breast pump, an array of feeding tubes and finger foods that we grabbed at to sustain ourselves whenever we had a spare moment.

But there is no way I could have handled that kind of activity those first couple weeks just after the birth. So my conclusion for anyone wondering whether or not to invite loved ones in immediately surrounding the due date is to ponder what's in it for you. Do you have helpful family and friends? Do you mind being seen topless and unshowered by said visitors? Do you mind having them see your house a mess? Do they mind pitching in? Because the last thing you want to be doing just after giving birth is vaccuming and washing guest towels, honey.

If you haven't had a successful breastfeeding relationship before, definitely think about whether you want observers as you practice and learn. I sometimes wonder whether we'd have stuck with it through all the crazy feeding techniques we tried if we'd had other people peering in. Would we have just given up and gone with formula? I hope not, but I'm glad we had our time free of outside viewing and criticism to experiment and figure things out for ourselves as new parents.

I acknowledge that other people's situations and cultures might make having a family-free postnatal experience an impossibility or an undesirability, and I respect that. I've heard tell of mothers who swoop in for a couple months of behind-the-scenes helpfulness, like an unpaid postpartum doula, but I regard those as legends in the realm of Paul Bunyan. All I can tell you is what worked for us in our reality, with our family, so that in case you fear the worst from relatives visiting too soon after the birth, you hereby have my permission to tell them where to get off.

So, anyway, happy babymoon to you, whatever you decide to do! If you are going to have unhelpful people pouring in on you just after the birth, I'd recommend laying a few ground rules, and take as much time in private as you need. We made it clear to our parents, when they did come, that we would be sleeping as much as we dang well pleased — and we did. We told them they could make themselves breakfast and have a nice little walk along the beach, and we would see them at noon, because we'd been up at 4 in the morning (and 2, and 6, etc.) with a screaming infant. And, you know, that all worked out OK. They had heard the screaming infant, too, and had to acknowledge that our demands for concessions were fair.

Sometimes you just need to remind people who the parent is around here! Stand up for yourselves, stand up for your baby, and prioritize your early breastfeeding relationship. You never get another chance to babymoon.

Photo titled "On the Maternal Throne"
courtesy premasagar on flickr (cc)
— I love the box for a nursing stool!

6 comments:

Cave Mother said...

Good point. There is a lot of pressure to bounce back after birth and let the relatives see the baby, isn't there? It's like you are being selfish if you keep the baby to yourself. But establishing breastfeeding is good reason to keep them away. I think if we have another I will keep the relatives away for at least a week. And DEFINITELY nobody staying at the house.

edenwild said...

It took two months to establish bf with my baby, and even then it was still rough. I felt like I had to feed him 3x (pump, bottle feed, and then a practice nursing session). I wish some WOMEN would have come over and helped. So much family I have nearby and NO ONE OFFERED. It was nice to be left alone, but at the same time, I needed help. I got one night of help from my MIL when my husband went out of town for work, and one evening of help from my mom who simply vacuumed and made a simple dinner. I asked someone from church to help me clean my apartment, but it was a one-time-only deal. It was so lousy. And I was lonely after my husband went back to work after 2.5 weeks. I think a real babymoon involves unobtrusive female helpers who let you care for your baby while they feed you and clean for you!

Anonymous said...

I was just reading some of the posts written on your blog. I know it is hard to be a new mom. I was a new mom four times. With my first I was by myself far away from family. My oldest was born four months premature. I had no one to help me. But, we made it! I had to wake up my son every two hours and feed him and then pump and measure the amount of food he was getting. Being only 2 pounds at birth.
I learned so much from the experience. Now, I am glad I did it all myself. My husband had to leave us for a year. I was pregnant. Again, I was by myself. There was only one person that even offered to help me. I did it!
I could have had more help. But, I did not bother to ask. I think it would be wonderful if my husband could have taken 2 weeks off to help me. Your writer is lucky that her husband was able to take that much time off work. Most husbands can only take a day if that.

edenwild said...

I wanted to clarify my comment and say that male helpers would be fine, too, as long as everyone was comfortable with a topless mom.

I was reading somewhere (I think it was in the book "What Mothers Do") that in some cultures, girls are expected to help new mothers, and then when they have their own babies, the favor is returned. Maybe some people like to be all alone, but for me it was incredibly stressful and I feel both my baby and I would have benefited from daily help. Of course, I mean real help, not "visitors" that just want to see the baby and sit around.

Hobo Mama said...

edenwild and 4-time mom: Oh, I totally agree that we live in a society that makes things sooo difficult for mothers, especially when there's a new baby. But, really, all the time! I've often lamented the lack of help I've gotten from friends and family and wondered if I'm supposed to request it directly, how to accept it graciously, etc.

With my post I was more thinking along the lines of, Why invite over unhelpful people? I wanted to let women know that they're not required to be nice and hospitable if it's to their detriment and that of their newborn babies.

That said, I wish we had had actual help when Mikko was born, too. Maybe I'll write a post on this, because otherwise I'll write for pages in this comment form. But, yes, willing women or girls (or amenable men) who would know what needed doing and weren't just wanting to be entertained (or to hold the baby but only if the baby's happy!) would have been lovely. Seriously, our parents changed not one diaper when they visited, and my laundry mildewed, because I had no time to get to it. I eventually hired a laundry and a diaper service to keep me sane. That unfortunately seems to be the only easily accessible equivalent to a tribal society now, and it requires money -- hiring your own helpers, like postpartum doulas, for instance.

As to my husband's presence, we are sooo fortunate that we work from home together in our own business. I forgot to say that in my post, but it's true. We took off about a month of work and then eased back in. It required a financial sacrifice, and we had to borrow money from (our only helpful) relative to do it. I wish things were otherwise in our society. Why do mothers get so little time off with a birth? Why do partners get a tiny amount to none at all? Sad. I couldn't have coped without Sam around. I actually didn't (shhhh...it's a terrible secret) like the newborn stage at all, really! It's one of the things putting me off having another. It was just so overwhelming!

All right, I'll stop and maybe write a fully thought out post about this later. Thanks for giving me more to think about.

cave mother: Try this line: "Oh, it will be so nice to see you on [X date that you determine]! Would you like me to make the reservations for you at the hotel?" :)

Angie said...

Hello, I am a first-time reader of your blog. I really love this post and couldn't agree more! While my mother in law was a great help being around on.my.due date. and for a week after my daughter was born, she was also a nuisance when it came to nursing and the struggles we had. Let's just say.."I had the same issue and had to give up after a week" was not what I needed to hear at the time!

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