I’ve written about breastfeeding and diet before, but it remains a hot topic. Most of the questions and search terms on my breastfeeding blogs concern ‘forbidden’ foods, and fruit seems to be one of the most maligned ones. So, which fruits should you avoid during breastfeeding? The not-so-guilty secret is that there are NO fruits that should be avoided while you’re nursing. Great news, isn’t it? La Leche League International says it best in their maxim about diet: Eat a wide variety of foods, as close to their natural state as possible – everything in moderation. Sure, some babies will be sensitive to some foods, but there is no universal list of culprits that all nursing moms should avoid. No food (or fruit) causes cramps in all (or even most) babies. It’s sad, but it is nevertheless true: breastfeeding tends to get a bad rap in our society. Even common newborn niggles (in Mom and Baby) are blamed on breastfeeding. “Shame, are you exhausted? Blue? Must be the breastfeeding. Why don’t you put Baby on the bottle so you can rest and someone else can feed him?” Or: “Oh, that rash on Baby’s cheeks? It’s caused by acidic foods, you know. What did you have? Tomatoes? Oranges?” And the most common one: “Is your baby crampy? Gassy? It’s something you ate, Mom. Did you have any gas-forming veggies like broccoli or cabbage? Fruit also causes cramps, you know …” Well-meant as this advice is, it is not based on scientific evidence. ALL babies get cramps sometimes. Their digestive systems are still immature and very seldom your diet is to blame. Think about it: for the largest chunk of human history, our ancestors were hunter gatherers. What did breastfeeding moms eat? Exactly the same food as everyone else in the tribe; most of the time they didn’t have the luxury of choice. During lean times the only available food might have been a certain root or fruit, and they had loads of that, simply because it was the only option. They certainly didn’t have specially formulated breastfeeding shakes produced by the manufacturers of artificial baby milk ;). Nope, human babies have survived (and even thrived) on breastmilk, despite what their moms ate or did not eat. Honestly, you can eat ANY fruits, as long as you do so in moderation. Limit your intake of fruit juice, as you can drink the juice of many more oranges than you’d be able to eat. This excessive intake might bother Baby. Don’t worry about ‘acidic’ fruits. The body’s pH level is kept within tight limits, and this applies to your milk too. A tomato or orange isn’t very likely to upset this system. Most babies give you a little preview of coming attractions (read ‘teenage acne’) around two weeks of age. This is due to the sudden withdrawal of your hormones, not to ‘acidic’ fruits. Enjoy your fruits and veggies – it’s good for you! Please don’t confine yourself to a diet of rice, meat and potatoes. We’re lucky to have access to a more varied diet than our hunting-gathering ancestors. Be grateful for this privilege and try not to see breastfeeding as a sacrifice you have to make. Mother Nature intended it to be fun and relaxing – as the mood-enhancing qualities of the breastfeeding hormones (prolactin and oxytocin) attest. Enjoy every moment of breastfeeding and don’t let uninformed advisors use it as a scapegoat for perfectly normal niggles. Your breastmilk remains the single biggest gift you will ever give your child.
Tag Archives: Marie-Louise Steyn
I am thrilled to announce that my new ‘baby’, Breastfeed your Baby, will be on the shelves soon. My publisher, Metz Press has given me a due date for middle April. This is the fulfillment of a dream that was born right along with my first child, around 16 years ago. I can’t wait to hold my ‘baby’ and see her on the South African shelves! By the way, for my Afrikaans readers, there is an edition in their mother tongue. Borsvoed jou Baba is the first Afrikaans book on the topic in more than 2 decades. Soooo excited! Please go like the book’s FB page and follow updates on http://www.facebook.com/index.php?stype=lo&lh=Ac8sX-WfHvbW2SoW#!/pages/Breastfeed-your-Baby/314096398693068
• It is best not to give your baby any artificial nipples (bottles/dummies) in the first 6 weeks. This period is aptly named the ‘calibration period’ – your body is still establishing your milk supply. During this critical period, you want Baby to do all his sucking at your breast. Breastfeeding requires a completely different sucking action than bottle feeding – it is much harder work! If you introduce Baby to bottles too soon, he could develop nipple confusion and flow preference and refuse the breast.
• If you are going back to work, or if you would like to leave your baby with a bottle sometimes, it is best to introduce him to it at six weeks. Don’t wait longer than 3 months. It is extremely stressful to go back to work if your baby refuses to drink from a bottle, so try your best to avoid this anxiety-provoking situation.
• Feed your baby only expressed breastmilk. Ideally he should be exclusively breastfed for about six months. Not only does he not NEED extra fluids like water or tea, these are actually harmful.
• Let someone else give Baby the bottle. This is a great time for Dad or Granny to get involved. Preferably you shouldn’t even be around. Take yourself out of the house, ideally for a special treat. Come on, think of all the money you’ve saved by breastfeeding!
• Baby doesn’t need a daily bottle. He only needs one or two a week in order to stay comfortable with them. Try not to skip a week, though.
• Don’t panic if Baby refuses the bottle. It can take a lot of patience, creative problem solving and just plain time to get him used to it.
• Experiment with different artificial nipples. Perhaps your baby prefers a different shape, or a rubber teat to a silicone one. Just remember to stick to a # 1 (0-3 months) nipple hole, no matter how old your baby. You don’t want the milk to flow too fast, you want him to work for it. Breastmilk is much thinner than formula, so if you use a bigger sized hole, it flows too fast.
• Try warming the bottle teat before feeds under warm, running water. Alternatively a teething baby might find an ice cold teat soothing to his sore gums.
• The person feeding Baby should try different positions. Let Dad hold Baby in a different position than the one in which you breastfeed. He could hold Baby upright, facing out, or even sitting in a car seat. He could also try walking around with him and rocking him rhythmically.
• Give Baby a bottle before his usual feeding time and before he is too hungry. This will make him more patient and willing to try new things.
• Feed Baby when he is sleepy. • Wrap him in Mom’s dressing gown or in something that smells of her.
• If Baby still refuses to take a bottle, don’t panic! Don’t feel guilty – you didn’t do anything wrong. Remember that even some bottle fed babies refuse to take their bottle from anyone else than their moms.
Alternatives to Bottles
• Babies can drink from a cup right from birth. Cup feeding is even used for premature babies! If your little one wants nothing to do with a bottle, he can drink enough milk from a cup while you are at work to stay healthy and happy.
• You can use any type of cup. Some moms prefer a flexible one. Others find that a small glass (like one used for shooters or sherry) works well, while others prefer a cup with a spout (a sippy cup).
• Let Baby sit upright. If he enjoys being swaddled, you can do so to prevent those little hands ‘helping’.
• Fill the cup halfway with expressed breastmilk. Tilt it so that a few drops of milk touch Baby’s lips. Keep the cup there, don’t tilt it further, so that Baby can pace his swallowing.
• Don’t underestimate your baby. Not one of my five babies ever drank from a bottle, but they happily drank from a cup – and even from a straw – from four months. In an emergency, the caregiver can even feed your Baby with a syringe.
• Babies often reverse their days and nights when their moms go back to work, sleeping more during the day and feeding very little while away from Mom. They make up for it at night, drinking more than 80% of their daily intake. This pattern might work well if you can manage to sleep while Baby feeds.
• Choose a caregiver who lives close to your workplace (instead of your home) and feed Baby at her place before going to work in the mornings and before returning home in the evenings. If it is practical, you might even slip away to feed Baby during your lunch hour. Another alternative is getting a caregiver who can look after Baby at your workplace in the first few months, so you can feed him at work. Think creatively about possible solutions.
If I can leave you with just ONE piece of advice, it is to keep calm and keep trying. Your baby won’t starve, he will get used to drinking his milk from a different container.
roll wild in their sockets
like those of a frightened foal
when you look into her face
and see nothing
but raw animal instinct
stripped bare of all culture and pretense
look between her legs
and you will find her labia bulging
with the mound of new life
you will see the baby’s head crowning
a glistening, pulsing moon
fragile as a soft-boiled egg
wrinkled as a walnut.
while you are distracted
by the dramatic birth
of the baby
you will miss
time and again
the more subtle secret birth
that happens simultaneously.
You will miss
the birth of the mother
the death of the ego
- Breastmilk is the perfect all-in-one food for the first six months of Baby’s life. He doesn’t need anything else – not even water on a hot summer’s day in Africa.
- Breastfed babies are healthier. Breastfeeding protects against illness and allergies. Breastfed babies visit the doctor and hospital 12 to 14 times less than bottlefed babies.
- Breastfeeding offers long term protection against obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
- Breastmilk is brain food! Breastfed babies have an advantage of 7 – 10 IQ points.
- Breastfeeding helps moms lose weight.
- Breastfeeding is SO convenient: the milk is always available, always fresh and always the right temperature.
- It saves money – hundreds of rands per month and thousands per year.
- Breastfeeding saves time. There are no bottles to prepare, wash or sterilise. Furthermore, nursing time is time to relax, too. Mom can read, sleep, listen to music or watch her favourite movies, while simultaneously giving Baby the best start in life. Talk about multitasking!
- Breastfeeding gives mothers a biochemical advantage when it comes to coping with mothering and reading their babies. Remember, prolactin is called ‘the mothering hormone’ and oxytocin ‘the bonding hormone’.
- Breastfeeding is eco-friendly.
Women often ask me: Okay, so how much does labour really hurt? Well, how long is a piece of string? It depends. Labour pain seems to be unique and subjective. Every woman experiences it differently. For some women, labour pain is excruciating, especially towards the end. Others say they expected worse. It was intense, but it was manageable.
Medical researchers haven’t come up with much support for the pain threshold theory. It seems that the amount of pain you’ll experience depends not on your ‘pain threshold’, but rather on something else. Question is, on what?
If I’m asked the ‘how sore is it really’ question in my antenatal classes, I ask a question of my own. I say: “Labour is a lot like sex. The hormones and body parts involved are very similar. Is sex painful or pleasurable?” The first few women normally say that it is pleasurable. But is sex always pleasurable? What about rape? It is probably one of the most painful experiences a woman’s can experience in her life. Why? What makes it painful?
The answer I’m looking for, of course, is resistance. Sex becomes painful when a woman resists it. The same tends to be true for labour. Sure, the baby can be in a position that causes additional pain, like when he is lying posterior, but in general labour coping tools and techniques are all designed to minimise resistance.
Klaus and Kennell writes:
“Every aspect of labour support must start with the idea of reducing stress – mental, emotional and physical. The goal is to enhance the woman’s ability to relax. The body’s stress system is called the sympathetic nervous system, which produces what we call the ‘fight or flight response’. The opposite of the sympathetic nervous system is the system that creates calm and a feeling of well-being called the parasympathetic nervous system. The hormones of the sympathetic nervous system are epinephrine and norepinephrine. The parasympathetic nervous system produces a hormone called oxytocin. Reducing the stress response enhances the body’s own production of oxytocin, as well as natural opiates called endorphins.
When the woman can relax, oxytocin strengthens the contractions of the uterus. It also allows the muscles to function properly, the longitudinal muscles to expel the baby and the lower uterine muscles to relax, stretch, and open to release the baby. When a mother’s body is tense, the opposite occurs; the upper muscles of the uterus loosen and stop contracting, and the lower muscles tighten to retain the infant. This is perhaps nature’s way of stopping labour if the mother has to flee from a frightening experience … The fight-or-flight response occurs and the body gears for defense, sending blood to other organs of the body. If blood flow is reduced to the uterus, the uterine muscles constrict, causing the circular muscles of the cervix to tighten up, and dilation is impeded [and remember, the less blood flow to the uterus, the more pain]. Also, there may be less oxygen sent to the fetus. When the vertical muscles of the uterus continue their attempt to expel the baby, and the cervix resists, the baby’s head pushes against tense muscles. This causes more pain and lengthens labour.
When labour is not impeded by undue stress and fear, the woman’s own natural oxytocin is secreted from the posterior pituitary gland into the bloodstream. At the same time, her brain also secretes oxytocin to other areas within the brain itself. This has four effects. First, it markedly increases the pain threshold, so that the mother has reduced sensitivity to pain. Second, it results in drowsiness. Third, it results in some relaxation or calming, and finally, after the birth it helps the woman feel closer to the baby.” (The Doula Book, Klaus, Kennell & Klaus 2002: 70).
In other words, relaxation creates a positive feedback loop. The more relaxed the mother is, the better her secretion of oxytocin. In its turn, oxytocin leads not only to stronger and more effective contractions, but, paradoxically, also to less pain! The key to a less painful labour is increasing relaxation and reducing resistance.
But how do you reduce resistance? My top ten tips are:
- Practice relaxation techniques before labour, preferably with your partner. You can take a course like Hypnobirthing or The Mama Bamba Way, you can buy CDs on the internet, or you can practice yoga, meditation and/or visualisation. These techniques will all teach you how to relax into the intense experience that is labour, instead of resisting it.
- Support yourself with people that you love. Research has shown over and over that a mother who is supported experiences less pain. Consider hiring a professional doula to take some of the pressure off your partner and to support him as well.
- Ensure that you are labouring in an atmosphere that feels safe and comforting. If you are one of those people who tense up as soon as you step into a hospital, you should consider birthing at home or in an Active Birth Unit.
- Use water to relax you and to relieve pain. A birth pool is probably second only to an epidural in terms of pain relief. It really can provide extremely effective pain relief.
- Remember that your breath is your best friend in labour. You don’t need to learn a lot of complicated breathing techniques. You just need to breathe in a natural and relaxed way: in through your nose, out through your mouth. Try to make your out-breath a little longer than your in-breath and purposefully relax and let go while breathing out.
- If you find labour painful, tell yourself that this is healthy pain and that you welcome it. We are so used to resisting pain, to taking pain killers and rushing to the doctor. We are used to seeing pain as a message from our bodies that something is wrong. In the case of labour, however, pain has a purpose.
- Take it one contraction at a time. You can handle this one contraction, can breathe through an intense minute or minute and a half. What you may not be able to do, is cope with the idea of the contractions that have gone before this one (I’ve been in labour for fourteen hours!) or with the ones that are still to come (How long is this going to take?). The moment you start thinking of the past or the future – the moment you step out of the present – you are in trouble. See each contraction as one less, not as ‘oh no, not another one!’.
- Keep your mouth, your neck and your shoulders soft. It is almost impossible to hold tension in your body if these areas are soft. Blow soft raspberries with your lips, roll your neck, ask your partner for a shoulder massage in between contractions. Some soft, smoochy kisses will also do the trick.
- Make low-pitched sounds from deep in your belly. This increases endorphin release. If you find yourself crying ‘no’ and shaking your head from side to side as a contraction starts, try doing the opposite. Chant something like ‘yes’ or ‘open’ instead. Embrace the pain instead of resisting it.
- Use tools that will get you out of your normal state of consciousness into a more embodied, instinctive state. Lower the lights or close your eyes. Play relaxing music and move rhythmically with it. Dance with your partner. Spiral your hips.
Some of the most helpful books on parenting I’ve ever read are those by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I felt so much more equipped to deal with my children’s negative emotions and behaviour after reading books like How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk and How to Talk so Kids will Learn. When I found out that I was expecting my second child, I bought their Siblings Without Rivalry. I wasn’t disappointed.
In the second chapter, the authors have an exercise in which you need to rate your emotional response to the following scenario:
Imagine that your spouse puts an arm around you and says, “Honey, I love you so much, and you’re so wonderful that I’ve decided to have another wife just like you.
When the new wife finally arrives, you see that she’s very young and kind of cute. When the three of you are out together, people say hello to you politely, but exclaim ecstatically over the newcomer. “Isn’t she adorable? Hello, sweetheart … You are precious!” Then they turn to you and ask, “How do you like the new wife?”
The new wife needs clothing. Your husband goes into your closet, takes some of your sweaters and pants and gives them to her. When you protest, he points out that since you’ve put on a little weight, your clothes are too tight on you and they’ll fit her perfectly.
Don’t you just hate her sometimes?
The new wife is maturing rapidly. Every day she seems smarter and more competent. One afternoon as you’re struggling to figure out the directions on the new computer your husband bought you, she bursts into the room and says, “Ooh, can I use it? I know how?”
One just feels your fists clench right along with your teeth, don’t you?
When you tell her she can’t use it, she runs crying to your husband. Moments later she returns with him. Her face is tear-stained and he has his arm around her. He says to you, “What would be the harm in letting her have a turn? Why can’t you share?”
I think you get the picture. Of course I’m not suggesting that you should have only one child (not at all, I have five!). Please don’t feel guilty about wanting more children – or about either your older child or the new baby. As I said to a newly delivered second-time mom just this morning, motherhood is a guilt-ridden occupation. We feel sad for the older child that he’ll no longer have our undivided attention and we feel equally guilty about not devoting enough attention to the little one either. Siblings truly are gifts to one another if the relationships are handled lovingly and there are many benefits as well as drawbacks to each and every position in the family, whether you’re the oldest, the youngest or the middle child. Guilt doesn’t help you or your kids. It doesn’t improve the quality of your lives at all. It’s such an unproductive emotion – such a waste of valuable energy. Don’t indulge in it. Every time you feel guilty, see if the guilt has something to teach you – if it comes with a lesson, with a way in which you can improve what you are doing. If it does, change your behaviour or attitude. If it doesn’t, don’t allow the guilt another second of rent-free space in your already overburdened mind. Your kids will cope, as long as you love them and show it to them as often as possible. They’ll probably even like each other – at least some of the time!
So, what can you do to make the birth of a new baby less traumatic for your older child? Here are some tips:
- Many parents ask what the ideal age gap is. Experts have different opinions about this, but I generally just tell the parents that the age gap between their kids is the perfect one. After all, that’s their reality. In my opinion, there are pros and cons to all age gaps. If you have your kids close together, it might be tough on you in the beginning and the older child may not have as much time to be a baby and the sole focus of your attention. On the other hand, you’ll have kids so close in age that they’ll be interested in the same games and you’ll be able to read them the same book at bedtime. Having them further apart may make that first year easier on all of you, but your kids might not have as much in common at first.
- Expect your older child to be excited about the baby and adapt to the changes well. If you expect a smooth transition, that’s what you’ll get. If you expect jealousy and tantrums, ditto. This is what psychologists call a self-fulfilling prophesy, and I promise you it’s very real. Your child picks up on your fears and expectations, and act accordingly.
- Prepare your child during pregnancy. Read books together with stories about new babies, show your child pictures of babies, take him along to your scans and let him feel the baby kick. Look through his own baby pictures and tell him stories about when he was little. Make a big song and dance about how much your older child can do that baby isn’t able to. Take breastfeeding: talk to your older child about everything he can eat and drink, while Baby is so small that he can only have breastmilk.
- Get your child a gift from the baby. A great idea is a doll of his/her own that to take care of while Mom is busy with Baby. Place this gift next to Baby when he sees her for the first time. You might also want to make sure that the new baby is lying somewhere else than in Mom/Dad’s arms for that first meeting. Of course this isn’t possible at a home birth – especially when the older child is very involved in the birth – but in hospital (which is already a strange, somewhat scary environment) putting Baby in a bassinet for the first meeting might be wise.
- Let your child be Mommy’s little helper as often as he likes. This makes him feel important, like he is making a contribution. But don’t burden him with so much childcare responsibilities that he feels resentful.
- Have a special stash of new toys and books that are only taken out when the baby is breastfeeding. This way, your child will look forward to feeding times and you can even give him special attention by reading to him while Baby is drinking.
- Spend special alone-time with your older child when Baby is asleep.
- Accept the fact that your older child will have more of Dad for a while. Don’t fall into the trap of always caring for the baby while Dad looks after the older one, but don’t feel guilty about the fact that they will bond on a deeper level than before either.
- Accept that your older child may very well regress a bit in certain areas. Take it in your stride and don’t make a big deal out of it. Also try not to attribute all challenging behaviour to the new baby. With my youngest child, Dominic, I realised that 3-year olds often pretend to be babies, for instance. Had he just gained a new brother or sister, I’d assume that he was having trouble coping. Because he was my last, though, I realised that his ‘regression’ was simply make-believe. It wasn’t an indication of sibling rivalry. Even Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!
- No matter how young your child is, reflect his feelings and teach him feeling words. If he says he wishes the baby would go away, don’t deny his feelings and tell him he doesn’t really mean that. Of course he does. Instead, teach him to put his feelings into words. “You feel sad that the baby is taking up a lot of Mommy’s time.” Then give him a way to cope with his feelings, for instance, “Would you like to draw a sad picture?” Or, “Would you like to jump on the trampoline until you feel better?”
The first weeks with a new baby in the house can be hard – on you and on your older child. Do you have any other tips you’d like to share on making the transition smooter? Please post a comment so other parents can benefit from your wisdom.
Did you know that it is better not to touch the back of your baby’s head at all while breastfeeding? Your baby has a reflex that is activated by pressure on the back of his head. This reflex is particularly strong in the first few weeks. It exists for Baby’s survival – to protect him against suffocation – and he cannot override it. In sensitive babies, this reflex is so strong that they’d rather go hungry than act against it.
When the mother or her helper touches Baby’s head during latching, Baby automatically pushes his head back into the supporting hand. This causes problems like poor attachment, fussiness at the breast and even breast refusal. Some babies are so traumatised that they yell whenever they are brought to the breast. It is often a long, slow process to get them back onto the breast. We literally coax them back inch by patient inch, continually rewarding their progress with sips of expressed breastmilk from a syringe.
Pressure on the back of Baby’s head can also cause nipple pain. Research shows that babies whose heads are supported latch onto the breast nose first. The optimal latch, in contrast, is achieved when Baby leads with his chin and goes onto the breast bottom jaw first. Most moms find the nose-first latch uncomfortable or even painful.
Ensure that you support Baby’s upper back and neck instead of his head. This kind of support is completely adequate, even in the first days when a baby’s neck is still very wobbly. Your hand should be placed no higher than the base of your baby’s skull. Even the light pressure of one finger on Baby’s head can cause sub-optimal feeding. To read more, go to http://www.health-e-learning.com/resources/articles/37-when-the-back-of-the-babys-head-is-held-to-attach-the-baby-to-the-breast
To read this post in Afrikaans, go to http://borsvoedjoubaba.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/n-algemene-oorsaak-van-probleme/
Says a dad in the second row
From the back.
The big one with the brown beard
who secretly reminds me
of a friendly bear
with thick reading glasses.
“How will I know what she needs?
How will know how to support her?”
That’s why you need a doula,
I want to say.
Someone who has been there before.
But I don’t
Because I sense
That a dad brave enough to ask these questions
In front of the whole antenatal class
Is probably a dad
Who will understand
a woman in labour.
So I sway a little
On the big yellow birth ball
I like to sit on
When I teach
I think a little
About what it takes
To be with a woman
“You will know what to do”
I tell him
“If you are really there
In that room.
Do not think about
The breakfast you never had
Do not think about
That meeting you’re gonna miss
Do not think about
Or anything involving balls.
Take off your shoes
For the ground on which you’re standing
Is women’s holy turf.
Switch off your cell phone
and let that room
let that woman
become your entire universe.
Watch her closely
And you will know what to do
Listen to her
With more than your ears
And you won’t say
That’ll get you in trouble.
No, don’t write it down!
Practice with me
Practice being present
In this moment.
Do not think
That your lack of experience
Is a handicap.
I am not a better doula
Hundred births down the line.
In fact, I might be worse.
For beginner’s mind
Is a shimmering pearl
Of magnificent value.
To things as they unfold
Are way more precious
You cannot go wrong
If you love her
You cannot go wrong
If your intentions are pure.
Leave your expectations
At the door of the labour ward
And enter the birth room
With your cup empty as a beggar’s.
When it is all over
And your back and shoulders ache
Belly and all
The entire way
Across the desert
She will turn to you and say
‘I couldn’t have done it without you’
And you will answer
‘But I did nothing
You did it all.’
Will be more than enough.”
The dad looks at me
His mouth opens and closes
Like a goldfish
Flapping his fins
On the dry threadbare carpet.
From the front row
who is not shy
his hand goes up.
“That was some speech
That was inspiring
Now I was just wondering:
Would all of that
Be in the notes?”
Call me daft, but I’ve been a doula for four years and I’ve never even thought about how a mom who ended up with a c-section she didn’t want might feel on her baby’s birthday. Never for once did it occur to me that she might feel anything but joy on that day. Of course I knew that an unplanned c-section results in deep feelings of loss and disappointment. I just never connected those feelings specifically to the baby’s birthday. Perhaps I, too, have been guilty of the misconception that a mom who has a healthy baby should be happy, no matter how that baby was born. For those of you who used me as a doula, I’m sorry I didn’t phone you on your baby’s birthday for a chat. I’m sorry I never realised that it might be a bittersweet anniversary for you. From now on, I vow to do better. The following post made me see the light. I think it is especially important to read in the light of the sky-high c-section rate in South Africa. You can see the whole post on:
“Once a Cesarean, Always a Cesarean” never rings more true than when referring to a child’s birth. Even though a mother may later go on to have a vaginal birth or future healthy pregnancies, there is no way to step back into our footsteps in the snow and change that day in surgery. Sometimes, coping lasts a lifetime but there are critical moments in recovery in the first year that moms have to weave through and often, they are alone and unsupported. Most of the time, those close to them don’t even realize the impact of their words or actions, thinking they are sharing the moments with the new mother. On baby’s first birthday, many well-intentioned friends and family fail to see what is in front of them: a mother in mourning being forced into celebration.
A mom may ask herself if she’s even normal, because she feels so despondent or unwilling to plan birthday parties. She may throw herself into planning the biggest celebration possible, hoping it will drown all the pain out. The reality is, she often sees this is as the first anniversary of trauma. While not all cesarean moms view it this way, it’s important to understand how a mom could wind up in this emotional dilemma of baby’s birth vs mother’s birth experience.
Research shows that women remember their birth experiences for the rest of their lives. These stories impact not just today but the rest of their lives. A mother goes into labor and gives birth, remembering much of it while wrapped in the heightened sensations of labor. She remembers specific smells, looks, people’s faces and attitudes and words. As she goes into labor or is induced, she is often afraid of the unknown or even the known if this is not her first labor. She walks into the hospital and deals with strangers she is forced to trust at the most vulnerable time of her life. In some cases, she doesn’t really like her care provider or her nurses. Then, as labor continues, something changes and she labors longer and harder and suddenly, a cesarean. This isn’t what she prepared for, this is surgery. She is drugged, she is strapped down, and she is often throwing up. Sometimes, she is not even conscious, depending on the circumstances. Unable to help herself, she watches the ceiling as her body is cut open and her baby is taken away. Often, the obstetricians and nurses discuss their day or other clients or even football games. This event that was hers and personal becomes distracted and impersonal. Her baby is born and she gets a glimpse before having the baby removed, wrapped, and only a face and then gone to the nursery. There is no physical contact to solidify this bond between mother and child. There is no orgasm of love and completion in each other’s arms that is so tactile and important for every being. She is left alone with the staff, cleaned up and moved to recovery.
At this point, her husband or partner goes with the baby. They share joy, “Look at his hair! His fingers, his toes!” They call family and tell of joy in the new little person. His size, his weight, his features. They take cell phone pictures and post on Facebook or blogs. They are building a vision of love.
A year later, they share this vision. They talk over and over about the day he was born or the first moments they saw her. They are overwhelmed by the joy of that moment and they relish in it. “I was the first person to hold her!” a grandmother remembers. As they share these moments, the mother remembers, “Everyone held her but me. And when I finally got to hold her, it hurt so badly, I could barely move. “ They pass around pictures of baby’s first few moments, none of which include the mom except one, with an upside down baby’s face, wrapped tightly in a blanket, next to her head while she feebly smiles. She thinks to herself that even in that moment, she didn’t get to hold her baby or touch, skin to skin and feel the baby newness.
This is the reality of the first birthday. These flashbacks and moments where only the mother , and she alone, remembers and recovers her own experience. So how can someone help a mother in this situation? How can you, help yourself? Here are some tips on recovering at that first birthday:
The new mother needs you to hear her side of the story.
If you are the new mom, talk about the birth. Find someone you can share this with and just talk. Many women turn to online support at this time just to be able to get it out and share with other moms who get it.
It’s not only ok but normal to wonder things like, “Is this baby really mine?” or “I don’t feel like her mom, I didn’t give birth.” Many moms have asked themselves these questions. Accept for yourself that your child and you have moved past that day, even if you were not unaffected by it. The feelings surrounding the birth do not have to stop you from loving your child, bonding with them and helping you both to grow.
You have every right to feel however you want to feel. You do NOT have to dwell on feeling grateful that your child is alive or that your birth occurred the way it did. You have the right to feel questioning of the outcome and ungrateful for the way things happened.
Talk, paint, feel, write letters to the providers about your care. Write out your birth story in the way you wanted it to occur. Cry if you need to. Have a day for yourself, treating yourself well and celebrating your motherhood while allowing yourself the freedom to see the day as a multitude of different occasions that happened to different people at the same time.
You can ignore a child’s first birthday. The subtle way to do this is simple: Move the date. Make the party on a day that has nothing to do with the actual birth. Celebrate a half-birthday instead. You can still use a 1 candle at 1.5! You can have a small thing at home with just a cake and you and baby, celebrating together and being special in a way you were denied the first time.
All in all, treat this as if it were YOUR day. This is not simply a birthday, deserving of a Blue’s Clues cake smooshed by a happy baby. It is also the anniversary of a transition in your life that you deserve to memorialize in whatever way best suits your personal needs.