I was pregnant with my first baby and eager to gather all the information I could to smoothly transition from life with just the two of us, to life with three. (Of course, in the early days, it is everything but a smooth transition!)
I learned about a class for expectant parents called "Prep for Parenting." It was a class to give you guidance in parenting with Biblical principles. There were two big draws for me. First, being a person of faith, I thought this would be the way to go to follow a Biblical parenting style. And second, it all but guaranteed that if you followed their guide your baby would be sleeping through the night by 8 weeks. Yes! I love sleep!
Obviously, though I was a mother/baby nurse, I knew nothing about a mom and baby's physiology as a dyad; that even though the umbilical cord had been cut, mom and baby are still connected. They are one. I was taught the facts in nursing school, not about what happened after the pair was discharged from the hospital. I had no idea how it felt to be a mom or how a mother's instinct kicks in and is such an intimate part of parenting.
Labor Day arrived, and I never imagined how in love I would be with this little person. The instincts to hold her, touch her and feed her overwhelmed me. I even took a warm bath with her right after delivery. She cuddled next to me, she took naps on my chest, and she took naps on my husband's chest. From birth, she was given that feeling of security.
Then I allowed book knowledge to override my instinct as a mother. We had decided prior to delivery that she would not sleep in the bed with us. The cradle was already prepared for her beside our bed. I would breastfeed her and she would fall asleep; we would swaddle her and put her down in her cradle. You know, because you weren’t supposed to hold the baby while she was sleeping because you would spoil her. And when she fussed and it had only been an hour since she ate and surely she couldn't be hungry yet, you were supposed to just let her fuss because she was manipulating you so you would pick her up. If you picked her up, she would learn that all she had to do was fuss or cry to get picked up.
I am positive that this school of thought adversely affected our breastfeeding journey. The first two days, I developed bruised and painful nipples. My milk came in at day 2 1/2. And day 3 was one of the worst days of my life. My breasts became so engorged that she could not get latched on properly, and my nipples went from sore to open wounds. She would scream, and I would cry.
I dreaded feedings, and latch attempts curled my toes. That day, my family members held her more than I did. I couldn't stand having anything up near my breasts. I tried pumping milk out to relieve engorgement, but I could hardly express any milk. A feeding would end (well, I would think she was done when she fell asleep at the breast), and I would hand her to my husband, mom or mother-in-law. Then an hour later, she would cry to eat again. But I didn't know that. I thought that surely she could not be hungry again. So she would be soothed by someone until the 3 hour mark had been reached. We were supposed to keep to some kind of schedule. She had to be taught that she was not the center of the universe. In that second week, we began putting her in her crib awake to teach her how to soothe herself. We were supposed to let her cry it out until she fell asleep. It went against every motherly instinct I possessed. My husband even bought a video monitor at my insistence so that at least I could monitor her to make sure she was OK.
Through those first 8 weeks I developed an infection on one of my nipples, I thought I developed thrush, I had 3 bouts of mastitis, and I stayed engorged. Though everyone told me to just keep breastfeeding on that wound, that it would get better, I decided to nurse exclusively on one breast and pump the wounded one. Pumping was even painful. The position of the wound was such that pumping with too much suction caused it to break open, setting back the healing process. At one time I was able to pump 8 ounces out of that breast.
I didn't know she could get enough nursing from one breast, so I would attempt to bottle feed her with pumped milk after every nursing session. I would offer her 4 ounces! Constant doubt flooded my mind. How could I be so clueless?
After almost 3 months, I was finally comfortable with breastfeeding. I feel now that I missed out on enjoying the first 3 months of my firstborn's life. I vowed that with my next baby I would throw out that book – and I did. I experienced none of the same breastfeeding problems with him.
In the next 10 years, helping other moms breastfeed became my passion. I knew what I was meant to do. I traded floor nursing for childbirth and breastfeeding education. La Leche League became an integral part of the breastfeeding journeys with all of my babies. I eventually became an accredited leader. No mom should ever have to go through what I went through.
Almost 10 years to the day of the birth of my baby girl, I realized my dream and took the board exam to become a lactation consultant. That day for me represented my journey as a parent, a mom, and an educator. I was not the same person. What a paradigm shift!
On Becoming Baby Wise contradicts the physiology of mom and baby as one and can sabotage breastfeeding and interrupt the development of trust and security. It is based on the premise that the baby needs to understand that his parents will not succumb his attempts to manipulate.
Baby Wise says the child is not the center of the universe.
I know that a baby cannot take care of himself. His needs must be met, and mom is the primary caregiver. Being a parent means that parts of your life before baby may be put on hold for the time being.
Baby Wise says that early on, he must learn to self soothe.
I know that he has only one childhood to share with you. When you soothe him, he learns to trust that his needs will be met.
Baby Wise says that to learn to self soothe, he must be allowed to cry it out until he can fall asleep on his own. If he falls asleep at the breast or while being held, he needs to be put down.
I know that crying it out can adversely affect baby physically and developmentally. Holding a baby while he is sleeping or nursing him to sleep will not spoil him.
Baby Wise says that he must sleep in his own bed. Bed-sharing is not safe.
I know that babies need to be close to mom. Bed-sharing is encouraged if guidelines for safe bed-sharing are followed.
Baby Wise says that by 8 weeks, he should physiologically be able to sleep through the night without needing to eat.
I know that a baby's ability to sleep through the night is up to the baby past the first two months. He knows when he needs to eat and when he doesn't, just as we know when we need to eat and when we need to stop. Each baby is physiologically able to sleep through the night at different ages and stages of development.
Baby Wise says that crying in between feedings does not mean baby is hungry. He is trying to manipulate his parents to pick him up, therefore teaching him that he can get what he wants every time he cries.
I know that a baby's cries are not cries of manipulation. Crying is the only way he can communicate that he has a need: to eat, to be changed, to be warmed up, to be cooled down, to be close and snuggled, to feel secure, to sleep.
Baby Wise says that to develop a sense of healthy independence, a firm schedule of feeding and naps needs to be established early on or chaos will rule.
I know that responding to his needs so that he can develop a sense of trust and security helps him develop healthy independence. Cue feeding is important to decrease risks for engorgement, mastitis, inadequate baby weight gain, and inadequate milk supply.
I grieve the time I spent early on trying to enforce guidelines that told me to do things counter to my instincts as a mother and things that weren't evidenced based. I believe my bond with my firstborn to this day is not what it should be. But I set aside the mom guilt and moved forward to become who I am. We know our experiences shape us. My first breastfeeding experience now drives me to exhaust my resources to work hard to prevent these issues or to help a mom overcome them early on.
Were you ever made to go against your instincts when it came to parenting and breastfeeding? What would you tell other moms in this situation?