This passion for nursing my babies was not always the case. In fact, I wasn’t sold on breastfeeding until late in my first pregnancy. I’ll admit it. I was ‘weirded out’ to latch an innocent baby on to that part of my body. My medical mind nagged me, however, until I educated myself on the topic. You see, medical school was great for a lot of things, but they did not cover breastfeeding at all! Being the youngest of all my cousins, I did not have the benefit of seeing women in my family breastfeed. So, I was a complete newbie to the whole idea that a part of my own body could sustain another person outside the womb.
I picked up a book called “Breastfeeding Made Simple,” which was immensely helpful in teaching me the basics. One of the things I learned is the importance of skin-to-skin contact – or “kangaroo care” — immediately after delivery to set the stage for a successful breastfeeding relationship. When placed skin-to-skin during that “magic hour” after birth, babies can actually do the breast crawl, an instinctive crawl up mom’s body followed by latching on to the breast.
Invigorated by my newfound knowledge, I had a perfect vision of how breastfeeding would go after my first delivery. My new little bundle of joy would latch right on and we would set sail on the beautiful journey of nursing. Right?
My excited family and friends also had a vision of how my first childbirth experience would go — complete with an audience for delivery, and an endless stream of visitors in my hospital room for the following 2 days.
Unfortunately, these visions didn’t match up too well.
Back in those dark ages, babies were delivered, placed on mom’s belly for about 5 minutes, and then whisked away to the warmer. Right away, their eyes would be gooped up with antibiotics, thighs injected with vitamin K, and they would be weighed, measured, and wrapped up in three blankets. Then they would be handed off to dad, grandma, and whoever else just happened to be nearby while mom was getting sewn up and cleaned off.
Imagine if you were snuggling in your warm bed on a cold winter morning with somebody you love… Suddenly, somebody comes and rips off your covers, turns on the air conditioning and all the lights, pokes you in the leg with a needle, zips you up to your chin in a sleeping bag, and then passes you around like a football. Would that put you in the mood for breakfast?
So, needless to say, we did not spend the first hour skin-to-skin. I felt completely self-conscious about having family members witness my delivery. I didn’t even feel empowered enough to ask them to leave the room so I could nurse right afterward. When we finally got a few minutes to ourselves, I tried, and tried, and tried to nurse. Latching was difficult. It hurt. I was exhausted and starving. My baby was sleepy and frustrated. It was a mess.
We eventually got it right, but it took a few weeks for breastfeeding to become easy. By then, I was in the throes of postpartum depression. We continued to breastfeed, though not exclusively, for 18 months. I credit stubbornness — both mine and my daughter’s — as the sole reason we soldiered on with our imperfect-but-better-than-nothing breastfeeding relationship.
Things went better with my middle daughter, but she is a happy little soul who is easygoing and eager to please. We had a little more time skin-to-skin, but not the entire first hour. We had plenty of visitors, but I was more direct with them about my needs. I thought that was as good as it got… until this time.
When I was pregnant with my latest baby, I made a very unpopular decision. I told all of my family that I would prefer not to have visitors in the hospital. I assured them that I planned on being home one day after delivery, and that they would be welcome to visit us then. I explained that I wanted to get breastfeeding off to a good start. I also wanted to ensure everybody’s comfort when they came to meet the newest member of our family. Although it created waves, people respected my decision.
In retrospect, I couldn’t be happier that I did this.
After an hour-and-fifteen minute precipitous, un-medicated labor (yes, really), I gave birth to our third sweet baby girl. Right up on my chest she went. The umbilical cord was clamped and cut. We placed her inside my gown where we bonded for the next hour. She nursed well and lulled into a happy snooze. My husband took some striking photos and we just relaxed together in the glow of something beautiful. It was time that we spent in awe and thanksgiving. Being in our own private cocoon together with minimal interruption for the next day sealed the deal. Breastfeeding was easy.
We eventually found out how much she weighed. She received her routine medical care, including the goopy eyes and the vitamin K. My husband got to hold her. The whole family has met her and fallen in love. The world didn’t end.
It was magic.
If you would like to breastfeed, here are some things you can do to help you succeed:
- Discuss your wishes beforehand with your partner and family. Be clear and firm. Your delivery is all about you and your baby. Let your nurse know your wishes so she can advocate for you.
- Spend the magic hour after delivery skin-to-skin. The weight can wait. So can Grandma.
- Keep your baby in your hospital room instead of sending him or her to the nursery. Your voice, your scent, and your warmth soothe your baby better than anything else. Keeping baby skin-to-skin as much as possible in the early days boosts your body’s production of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that helps you make more breast milk.
- Consider limiting your visitors in the hospital so you can focus on recovering and learning your baby’s feeding cues, not on entertaining. Your home is the most comfortable spot for loved ones to gather to meet baby.
- Plan your delivery at a hospital that practices the standard of care for supporting breastfeeding mothers. At Summa Akron City Hospital, we are striving towards “Baby Friendly Designation”, an international award given to hospitals that achieve the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.This means that we have implemented strategies that will help you to succeed with breastfeeding. Read more about the initiative.
Although you may not be able to control every aspect of your labor and delivery process, developing a birth preferences plan will allow you the opportunity to discuss with your obstetrician how you’d like your baby’s birth to be handled while in the hospital, particularly when it comes to breastfeeding and other aspects of the birthing experience. Check out the birth preferences form we offer to our expectant moms at Summa Akron City and Barberton Hospitals.Anne M. Valeri White, DO, FAAFP Associate Director, Family Medicine Residency Summa Health System Akron City Hospital Akron, Ohio