I had a love-hate relationship with the phrase “This too shall pass” when I was doing the new baby thing with Talitha.
Sometimes it was my mantra. I would declare it and draw great strength from it. We would live to see another day. She would not be thirteen and waking me up hourly (or, I really hope she won’t be!). All these biologically normal newborn things that did not fit with my industrialised, isolated lifestyle would settle down, would be survived.
Other times, a more experienced mother would tell me that her crap naps, insane feeding, constant night waking, etc etc etc too would pass and I would collapse inside myself in frustration.
Because looking back on it now, I know the hardest advice in the world to take is “Relax and Accept” but, actually, it’s the best advice for new mothers. Maybe even more so for breastfeeding ones.
Here are a few things breastfeeding mothers would do well to relax and accept:
Night waking happens – it’s actually a good thing
As if the fact that your baby keeps waking up, forcefully making her feeding cues known wasn’t exhausting enough, everyone wants to weigh in on how much your baby should be sleeping: “Is she a GOOD baby? How does she sleep?” It’s usually asked out of concern or lack of something more interesting to say but it is sooo unhelpful. For a start, these questions are rooted in outdated beliefs about how babies should behave – formula fed ones at that.
Evidence now shows us that new babies need to wake a lot at night because their tiny tummies need feeding frequently throughout the day and night, especially since breast milk is so well-digested. Next time someone tells you your four-week-old or even one-year-old should be sleeping through, keep this quote from the Infant Sleep Information Source in mind:
“Generally, though, babies do not sleep all night-every night until they are close to a year old. One study investigating infant sleep duration found that 27% of babies had not regularly slept from 10pm to 6am by the age of 1 year. 13% of babies had not regularly slept through for 5 hours or more by the age of 1 year.”
In fact, go over to ISIS and breathe in their info on what normal infant sleep looks like. Go on. It’ll do your mental health some good.
Why do I say it’s normal and good that babies wake up a lot? I’ll give you three reasons but I’m sure there are more:
– Night feeds are brilliant for initiating, increasing and maintaining your milk production
– Night waking helps to satisfy a survival instinct to keep the mother close
– Sleeping longer or more deeply than is developmentally normal increases the risk of SIDS
Ah, if we knew this was normal and were able to relax and accept it, maybe we’d spend more time learning to sleep in the day and less time freaking out about our babies’ mixed up days and nights? I don’t know. I hope so.
Babies breastfeed a lot
I really, really, really don’t think most new mothers realise how often newborn babies need to breastfeed, especially since the generation before us were taught to schedule feeds.
It would be great if pregnant women and their partners could get along to a breastfeeding class before having their babies or for pregnant women to visit a breastfeeding group like a La Leche League Meeting. I remember being so surprised to hear that a baby could feed and then want to feed again thirty minutes later when we were at our NCT breastfeeding session. Seeing the belly balls that show how tiny babies’ tummies are at first really helped as well. Still, cluster feeds, growth spurts, these were things I was in the dark about.
I’d really recommend you read Kellymom’s Breastfeeding your newborn – what to expect in the early weeks, Kate Evan’s hilarious and informative comic book The Food of Love and La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding to find out all about what normal newborn breastfeeding is like. In fact, that site and those books can also give some insight into all stages of breastfeeding because even when you’re breastfeeding a toddler there’s stuff to relax about and just accept.
Your presence is everything to your baby
As I said in the sleep section, your baby’s survival instinct is to keep you close. That is because human babies are born helpless. They can’t even hold on to their mothers. They are completely dependent. More than that, a mother’s instinct is to be with her baby and often we’re taught, quite strangely, to reject this deep need of ours as if it’s harmful to our babies and to us.
I want to claim back the hours I stressed about my daughter needing to nap on my lap or beside me. All the time I felt she should be feeding less. I wish I’d learned to use a sling sooner than four weeks and diversified my knowledge so I could be confident in carrying my baby. I wish I’d researched safe bed sharing practices sooner so I wouldn’t have beaten myself up trying not to bring her into bed with us and then beaten myself up for bedsharing.
Being close easily gives your baby more opportunities to breastfeed. It’s good for your supply and, believe it or not, good for your sanity. Breastfeeding mothers get more sleep than formula feeding mothers – IF they are sleeping close to their babies. I’m not saying that all breastfeeding mothers need to adopt bedsharing and babywearing but I’m not going to lie to you, they can help.
You do need help
But isn’t this all a bit…much? It’s so much pressure on a mum, new or not. All this waking, all this breastfeeding, all this closeness – it’s bound to overwhelm her and it’s, well, downright unfeminist, dammit. Happy mum, happy baby, right?
Well, I can see where you’re coming from but for many mums, stopping breastfeeding before they’re ready doesn’t make them happy. You know what would make a lot of us happy? Not being alone in this. Not having the additional pressures of cleaning the house and cooking while learning to feed this new baby. Having someone come and play with our older child or maybe hold the baby for a bit (if we ask them to, not getting grabby if we rather they didn’t).
It’s hard for women to relax and accept that they need help though. It’s drummed into us that we’re supposed to be good at all of it. That we’re supposed to be OK as soon as possible. It’s crushing when we discover we’re not. I often ask women who are struggling with breastfeeding (whether it’s because of normal newborn stuff or an actual breastfeeding problem) if there’s any way they can get some help during the day but I know there are often so many things in the way of a mum letting go and saying, “Please, help me.” But I really wish she would. And I really, really wish the response wouldn’t be: “Well, you express (ie potentially introduce breastfeeding risks and do more work) and I’ll give a bottle.”
You may need breastfeeding support
The final thing I’d love breastfeeding mothers to relax and accept is that they may need a breastfeeding peer supporter or an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), or a breastfeeding group or a breastfeeding counselor on a helpline – that they may need some extra breastfeeding help. It doesn’t have to be “perfect” right away. You may have difficulties and you can get help. You may not have any big problems but would just benefit from being around other mothers who are likeminded and who have been there. A huge part of why women don’t continue to breastfeed for as long as they’d like is because they lack support.
If you’re pregnant or have a new baby, please look to any of these supporters I’ve mentioned. Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline, La Leche League or NCT. If all your friends have stopped breastfeeding and you’re still going, I encourage you to relax and accept that getting plugged into a group of breastfeeding mothers. This path is not meant to be travelled alone.
This post had a giveaway attached, which is why some of the comments are random.