Sometimes being the best mom you can be means listening to your gut; that maternal instinct some women are born with, or that others develop with the birth of their little ones; that tiny voice in your head that’s telling you that things could be better.
Some days are easier than others, but most of the time if you just tune into this part of you, and just listen a little more closely, you will find that you had the answers to your own questions all along.
One of this momma’s biggest lessons in motherhood so far came within the first two weeks of my baby’s life, and it involved not listening to our doctor. Okay, okay...now before everybody freaks out, I’m not telling you all to ignore your doctor’s advice.
Please, PLEASE, listen to what they are saying and take their advice whenever possible. However, sometimes we have to take that advice along with a little bit of motherly wisdom in order to find the best solution to a problem.
Allow me to explain. I brought my baby boy home from the hospital filled with more joy, hope, and love than I could have ever imagined. What I felt for him, and finally being home with him, was other-worldly. He and I settled quickly into our routine, and the continual loop of nursing, napping, and diaper changes began.
We were enjoying getting to know one another and doing our best to not take a single moment for granted. He was nursing well, which was such a relief for this first time momma, and I was relishing in this wonderfully natural bonding experience. These moments were only ours and, no matter how tired I was (so, SO tired), I was grateful for this time together.
After being home for just two days, it was already time to venture out of the house and visit our pediatrician for baby’s first checkup. Everything looked good, baby was healthy and thriving, however, the doctor was a bit concerned with his weight gain. He wasn’t quite back up to his birth weight (first timer tip: babies will lose somewhere between 5-10% of their birth weight within the first week). Although the doctor wasn’t alarmed at this point, she did want us to bring baby back in a couple of days to check his progress.
So, we continued doing what we were doing, and then returned in a few days for a weight check appointment. When baby was still not showing the progress that the doctor was hoping for, she suggested a regime of bottle supplementation.
Now, as a breastfeeding momma and strong believer in the power of breast milk, I felt my heart clench slightly at the mention of “supplementation”. I tried not to show the panic on my face as visions of formula and bottles and the end of my joyful nursing experience flashed before my eyes.
Then the doctor explained further. She wanted me to try to supplement my baby’s feedings with more breast milk, not formula. Phew! She suggested offering a bottle with an additional ounce of breast milk each time he finished nursing, to encourage him to eat a little more. She also recommended offering both breasts at each feeding, to make sure he was getting all that he needed. Up to this point I hadn’t been following any strict regimen, I was mostly just making sure he was eating every couple of hours (which could be difficult at times with my very sleepy baby), so I was willing to try the doctor’s suggestions.
Well, this did not go well at all. In fact, it lasted less than 24 hours. It was awful. My sweet boy was not a fan of the bottle, and refused to take it. He would cry and fuss each time I offered it to him, and most of the milk ended up spit up down the front of him. So I tried to offer him more milk using a syringe...this was equally annoying.
Eating soon became a stressor for us both, and what used to be my favorite part of the day was now making me feel awful. I felt like I was failing my boy.
I gave up on the doctor’s suggestions, but I wouldn’t give up on making sure my son was getting what he needed from me. Luckily, my mother had bought me La Leche League International’s “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” while I was pregnant. When she gave it to me she said, “This was like a bible to me while I was breastfeeding!” As it turns out, this book has been invaluable to me as well during my journey through breastfeeding and nurturing my baby (Chapter 18: Tech Support is a real winner!). Although not everything in the book fits into my momma lifestyle, there have been so many moments when I turned to this book for problem solving advice.
Based on information and tips from this book, I changed my approach. I stopped trying to force-feed my baby using bottles and syringes, simply because it wasn’t working. Instead, I offered him the breast more often, even if I didn’t think he was hungry or if he only spent a few minutes at the breast. I also stopped interrupting his feedings to switch sides. I let him nurse as long as he wanted on one side at a time, to make sure he was getting to the “full-fat” part of the milk (yes, the consistency of your milk is continuously changing).
This usually meant he was full before we could get to the other breast, but I decided that was okay. He could have the other side next time. Although I had no idea if this would actually achieve the results I was after, it FELT better. I was happier, baby was happier, and I didn’t worry that our bonding time was being compromised.
When we returned to the doctor for our weight check, we received good news. Baby was back up to birth weight (woohoo!), and our doctor was happy with his progress. I almost did a victory dance right there in the room. When the doctor asked, I politely explained that we had to find our own way because bottles did not work. She smiled, shrugged a little, and said, “Sometimes mom knows best.”
And she’s right. Sometimes mom does know best, and mom just needs to learn how to trust herself. I could have stuck to the original plan from the doctor, and struggled further with bottle supplementation for a couple of days until our next weight check. Maybe it would have worked too.
But it didn’t feel like the right decision for me and my baby; I didn’t want to risk losing the love of nursing and nourishment we had already established together, so I made the choice to approach the problem from a different angle. I didn’t write-off the doctor as wrong, I knew we had an issue to resolve, but I needed to expand on the solution.
I guess the point here is every baby is different. Every mom is different. What works for one baby may not work for another. There is no ONE solution to the problems we are going to face as we raise our babies. We need to learn to listen to our doctors with an open mind and heart, pull from all of our available resources, and trust our motherly compass to lead us in the right direction.
A new momma