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Helpful tricks of the mother-trade, for breastfeeding

Published: Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 5:36 p.m. CDT

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Being a new mom is hard work. Take breastfeeding, for example. The other day my friend and I discussed how challenging nursing can be for new moms, and I got to thinking about how I can help. The thing is, I’ve been through it. Twice. And like many new moms, I didn’t have any female relatives around me to offer helpful advice.

That’s not to say that my own mom wasn’t encouraging; she was awesome. But aside from the time she generously took to visit and help me after the birth of each of my babies, her support was most often offered via telephone. And you know how that is, right?

“How are things?,” she would ask. “Oh, good ... yadda, yadda … (yawn),” I’d reply. Like many new moms, circumstance dictated that I always lived many, many miles from her. And unless I volunteered that something was up or not quite right, if I even realized it, it was difficult for her to “see” that I needed support. You know, to notice that, “Perhaps a pillow placed under your elbow while you’re nursing might help you to relax,” she might have said if she saw me struggling to get comfortable, or maybe she could have reached out and instinctively tickled my baby’s feet or cheek to wake him up enough to latch on.

Or simply babysat while I napped, or refilled my water glass so I could stay hydrated enough to produce an adequate supply of milk. Without these subtle but super-helpful tricks of the mother-trade, dispensed quite casually by moms and grandmas for generations – before we developed our tendency as a society to launch ourselves out of the nest and right out of town, many miles from these natural supports – we’re left with little else but the library and La Leche League for support. If we muster up the moxie to call them at all.

I did call a nursing hotline, once or twice, but I was lucky. Nursing came easily to me and my babies. Too easily, you might say.

In fact, all I had to do was think about my baby and the faucet started flowing. Not always at convenient times, mind you. I realized just how inconvenient this was during my first outing without my firstborn, when he was a few weeks old, when I ran out to pick up his birth announcements at a department store. I’ll never forget how merely mentioning my new baby to the cashier inspired a leak so profound that I had to change from head-to-toe when I returned home.

Yes, too much of a good thing isn’t good.  

In fact, on another occasion, in an effort to keep up with my over-abundant supply, my newborn – who was apparently up to the challenge – once nursed so vigorously that he ended up puking the entire contents of his belly right into my nursing bra. He followed that up with a dramatic, fantastic and volcanic explosion in his diaper (which, of course, shot straight up his back and into his curly blonde locks), that nothing but holding him in the shower as we laughed and cried together could cure.

I’ll never forget it. As the warm water gently cascaded over our heads – a brand-new experience for my curious newborn – I wondered how I’d manage to juggle a slippery baby and a bar of soap. Somehow I did it. I’m still not sure how.

Nursing doesn’t come easily to every mom and baby. There are as many reasons as there are moms and babies, be they physical (mastitis, for example, if not treated, can become severe enough to land a mom in the hospital; so not cool and so not necessary) or emotional.

Anxiety (about returning to work in a few weeks or months, for example, if that’s your plan) can sometimes inhibit the relaxed state required for nursing, especially in those early days. If relaxing is difficult, for whatever reason, meditation can help.

The La Leche League also offers tremendous support (check out its website online – it has lots of local meetings). Also, when researching solutions for a new-mom friend, I learned from another friend, JR Carmany, owner of the Soup to Nuts grocery store in Geneva, that the herb Fenugreek, which she carries, can be super helpful in increasing milk production. She reminded me that acupuncture is another good remedy as it can energetically rebalance the body and stimulate hormone production.

I’ve recently received many acupuncture treatments from Dr. Honey at the Fox Valley Wellness Center in St. Charles. It’s been many years since I nursed a baby, but I have a hunch that he can help.

Nursing may be hard without our moms around, but I just know that there’s a lot of untapped wisdom and support out there for new moms – whether the issue is breastfeeding or something else.

Know a new mom? Ask her how she’s doing. Bear in mind, though, that sometimes the question, “Are you nursing?” can feel like an implied judgement.  “How are his feedings going?” can feel much more neutral to a sleep-deprived new mommy. If you get a one-word answer, an “OK,” for example, try replying with a simple “Yeah?” This can invite her to open up if she’s ready.

Because sometimes nursing is a little more complicated than staying well-hydrated. I loved nursing, but that’s me. Aside from the many health benefits for both mothers and babies, there’s just something magical about that all-is-right-with-the-world feeling one gets when that lovely oxytocin (hormone) starts to flow that makes even sleep deprivation tolerable – but moms, you have to listen to your own guts. You’ll know better than anyone else what advice will fit best for you and your family.

Sometimes nursing just isn’t in the cards, in spite of our efforts, but shame isn’t necessary. No ma’am. The fact is, we all want the best for our babies, and what’s best for our babies is a happy mama.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at jenniferdubose@msn.com.

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