Sunday, March 21, 2010

Feed the baby? FEED the MAMA

I was outside working on my yard, when I started thinking about my work as an IBCLC a few years ago. The mantra was "feed the baby," and it is probably still considered the IBCLC priority. I absorbed that thought at a Conference and had no reason to question it. It was on top of the list when I did home visits--feed the baby, feed the baby. As time went along and I became more experienced, I began to question whether that should be the top priority. No, I wasn't into starving a baby to "make" her or him breastfeed. But I had some real doubts about the use of infant formula, when breastfeeding "appeared" to be not working. It became particular difficult, when the health care provider was recommending infant formula for insufficient weight gain. Yet, the baby was gaining albeit slowly, and not according to the charts. When I was a practising IBCLC, donor milk was out of the picture--no milk banks in the State.
This morning I began to think that perhaps our profession ought to consider a new mantra, "Feed the Mama." By feeding the mama, the infant gets fed. Mothering the mother so that a mother has time with her baby. Our society needs to "Feed the Mama." I started thinking about the mothers I visited for breastfeeding problems. I think of the young mom who had a c-section who was scrubbing her kitchen floor, when I knocked on the door. She had her baby's clothes in the sink, washing them because she had no washing machine. She was struggling with breastfeeding but had no support system. No one to say, "Lie down. Rest, take what time you have and give it to your baby." How could she figure out breastfeeding? Who would take her clothes to the laundry mat? Who would cook her meals? I could say to her rest, take time with your baby. But we both knew that was a cruel joke. There was no one to do for her, to mother her so she could mother her baby. Another mother I visited had no privacy, she lived with a number of people. And during my home visit, various people came in and out of the apartment. She had her boyfriend put up a blanket, to give her privacy so that she could feed her baby. She never relaxed because the door was always opening and closing. Her living conditions and her powerlessness to control her living space made breastfeeding a challenge.
How do we protect breastfeeding? We protect the mother. Yet, in the USA, little is done to protect the mother. Economically, many mothers feel under the gun because they have to go back to work asap. So time, time for baby--you have to be kidding. Mama has no time. No time to relax, no time to take a bath, no time to cook, no time to eat, no time, no time.
I did a home visit with a teenage mother of a premature baby. Her boyfriend's mother was staying with them and she was mothering the mother. In fact it was the boyfriend's mother who had called me and asked me to come by. She was cooking meals and giving the new mom lots of information and support to breastfeed. It was an easy home visit. All they needed was reassurance that everything was OK and it was. I saw the teen mom and baby some months later, and the baby had gained alot of weight. So much weight that her pediatrician wanted her to start formula because he believed that breastfeeding was making the baby fat. Her support was gone and she succumbed to the belief that the medical "expert" knew more about infant feeding. She was a teenager and it was just amazing to see how far she went with breastfeeding. I met another teenage mother who breastfeed her infant for 18 months. These young woman contradict our notion that teenage mothers aren't interested or can't breastfeed. But both teenagers had adults willing to mother the mother (and not so surprising both adults involved with these teenagers were at one time La Leche League members, neither were leaders).
In childbirth, we know that mothers do better in labor, with female support--the doula, midwives. Breastfeeding, likewise, needs the same kind of mothering. Feed the mama.
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain

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