When my oldest son was two and it was time for his nap, we had a solid routine. I would change his diaper, he would toddle over to his pile of books, pull one out of the pile and attempt to squeeze between my sizable pregnant belly and the rocking chair. Little Pea, by Amy Krause Rosenthal was among our favorites.
Little Pea is a book about – you guessed it: a little pea who lives with his pea parents. Every
night, Little Pea’s parents struggle to get him to eat his dinner, which consists of pieces of candy. They beg and plead with him, citing that he will not grow big and strong one day if he doesn’t clear his plate. An even bigger dilemma for Little Pea, is that if he doesn’t eat his dinner, he will not get dessert: a heaping bowl of spinach. Little Pea is ecstatic about his dessert prospect, so he begrudgingly eats his candy, knowing he will soon be slurping down his favorite green treat.
This book held a lot of amazing memories for my son and I, including belly-busting laughter at the sound effects Little Pea makes upon having to eat his loathed candy for dinner. But the doula side of me sees a big lesson for everyone in this book.
What is this lesson? Perception, of course!
It is so tempting to read this book and think “I sure wish candy could make me big and strong. I’d be so much happier.” But when we do this, we are invalidating Little Pea’s feelings about the detestable taste of candy.
Perception is different in the birth world too…
The woman who is vocalizing through contractions, may not be in as much pain as you think.
The epidural may have helped that mother relax and dilate faster.
The 2 hour birth from start to finish may have actually been a traumatizing scenario.
The planned cesarean may be just what this family wanted for peace of mind.
When we feel strongly about something, our feelings are never wrong. Even if our feelings differ from another, it is possible for both perceptions to be right because different perceptions fit different people. One of my favorite parts of being a doula is meeting families where they are at and supporting their perceptions, which may change day to day.
If I am ever able to be a postpartum doula for Little Pea’s family, I will hold his baby so he can eat an entire bowl of spinach with both hands, uninterrupted, and then happily help his family to function in whatever way they need for that day. After this, I will get in my car, put on my tunes and grab my bag of Twizzlers for the ride home. Little Pea will never know my love for candy, and he will never have to, because I support all families, regardless of how they feel about candy.
My name is Kimberly. I’m a birth and postpartum doula. I help women every day to have the birth and postpartum experiences of their wishes. Many of these women wish to breastfeed, and I happily help them latch their babies, troubleshoot at all hours and listen to them talk about their own unique experiences.
But I have a deep, dark secret…
Breastfeeding wasn’t enjoyable for me.
That’s right. I nursed both my children, and my second one is actually still nursing. From an outsider looking in, my nursing relationship might be seen as the picture perfect scene aboard the easy train. I specifically remember getting a breastfeeding photo shoot in the beautiful tide pools of Hawaii with my second born to try to cherish and enjoy the moment. The pictures yielded were beautiful, and everything that I imagined breastfeeding to be before I started doing it myself. What people didn’t see in those photos, was the teething, distracted baby I was trying so hard to keep latched for one photo by singing silly children’s songs as he attempted to pick my nose.
For me, breastfeeding is not easy. It was never easy. I absolutely thought it would be, though. From hospital staff, to lactation consultants, to other doulas, to articles shared on social media, I was convinced that breastfeeding would be the easiest thing I’d ever done. It is always promoted as such a natural thing. Natural is defined as “existing in or caused by nature.” By that definition, breastfeeding is natural. But I don’t see the word “easy” in that definition at all. Why do we promote it that way?
For some women, breastfeeding does come incredibly easy. I was not one of those women.
I was the woman who fought to latch a tiny baby who was supposedly post dates.
I was the woman who stomped her feet every time the baby latched to cope with the pain.
I was the woman whose husband left for six weeks for a training, and had to troubleshoot alone.
I was the woman who was seemingly blessed with oversupply, but developed clogged ducts and mastitis, since no one was around to help hold my fussy baby while I pumped.
I was the woman who thought she had thrush for months, before finding out she had a rare phenomenon called Reynaud’s.
I was the woman who wished her baby would stay asleep in public places so she wouldn’t have to nurse him.
I was the woman who lost too much sleep and resented her husband.
I was the woman who desperately tried to bond with her baby through breastfeeding, but it normally didn’t happen.
I was the woman who lived her postpartum journey feeling like less of a woman because what was natural didn’t come easily.
But I’m not any less of a woman than any other woman on this planet. We don’t ever have to enjoy every moment of motherhood, no matter how natural it seemingly is. I feel so blessed to live in a world where there are so many different options out there that suit each family. There are different variations of normal and different feelings we can express. Navigating those feelings in whatever ways we see fit is what makes our journeys unique. If our feelings about everything were consistently positive, it would make for a very boring world. As a mother, I choose to shoot for feelings that are valid, and this World Breastfeeding Week, no matter how you chose to feed your baby, I encourage you to do the same.
We discussed the fourth trimester in our previous blog for those who are just tuning in. Today, we want to share some tools to help navigate this fragile and often demanding time.
As you have probably guessed by now, the best way to help baby adjust during the fourth trimester is to recreate womb life. This could be a tall order, and sometimes baby needs just the right combination. Don’t worry, we have a huge assortment of techniques for you to try, and we feel confident that you will figure out the sweet spot of combinations your baby likes best. (And don’t be surprised if they change day to day. Anything goes in the fourth trimester!)
WARMTH: Wombs are warm, cozy and even at times, restrictive in how much baby can move. Swaddling baby is a perfect help for this, and is the safest practice to keep baby warm without loose blankets in the area. Another really great way to give baby this warmth is to do skin to skin. Sometimes when we are out and about or have other little ones who need our attention, this can be hard to fulfill, which is where baby wearing comes in handy.
FEEDING: Babies are not used to this new feeling of hunger. In order to help them, they develop a sucking reflex, which provides comfort to them. This can be especially hard on mothers who choose to breastfeed as often, they feel they are attached to their baby 24/7 in the beginning. Staying on top of baby’s feeding and recognizing feeding cues will help to make sure baby is nourished before the hanger kicks in, only leading to more frustration for all parties. Watch for signs such as rooting. If baby is not hungry, a pacifier or even a clean, trimmed pinky finger turned up can be great aids to trigger this comforting sucking reflex for babies to feel safe. Staying on top of gas is another way to ensure this comfort. Burping baby, doing bicycle legs and perfecting baby’s latch on the breast or using a good quality bottle can all help baby to not have too much gas.
MOVEMENT: In the womb, baby was used to mom’s movements as well as the waves of the water that surrounded him/her. This can easily be mimicked either by rocking baby or by investing in a quality swing. Many babies are even calmed by the feeling of a bath.
NOISE: Baby also got to hear certain sounds in the womb that were calming to him/her. A white noise machine can be a great asset to keeping baby calm, but there are also plenty of apps that will get the job done as well. Music, singing to baby or even a simple “shhhhhh” sound spoken either at length or rhythmically (“sh sh sh sh shhhhhh”) can help baby to feel as though the womb still surrounds him/her. If there was a song you listened to when baby was in the womb, give it a try and see if he/she remembers it!
AMBIANCE: Remember, the womb was a dark place. Sometimes, lights can be a little too stimulating for baby. With dimmed lights or even full darkness, you may find a better response. Phone screens, flickering lights and even strong smells.
It’s mid-November. You are snuggled up in your bed with your splendidly heated house, under your warm blanket. Perhaps you even got to enjoy a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate before slipping into a slumber. You are perfectly relaxed, aware of your surroundings and comfortable.
And just like that, your alarm clock goes off. You rush up, engage in your morning routine and head out the door into the brisk temperatures. You feel tired and cranky. It’s so cold! Why is it so cold? And it’s so early. Why oh why oh why?
This abrupt and strange feeling of a different environment is exactly what our babies feel when they exit the womb. Suddenly, it is cold, there is not a cord connected to them anymore to deliver the nutrients they need, there is no constant rocking and swishing, the noises that once calmed them are now replaced by a whole world of different noises and the darkness of the womb has been replaced by fluorescent lights.
Given your feelings about swapping environments as you leave your warm toasty house in the winter, you can empathize a little bit with the even bigger transition your baby makes from womb life to life on the outside. Baby’s first three months of life are generally dedicated to this transition in what is lovingly called “The fourth trimester.”
The fourth trimester can be a frustrating time for everyone. Baby has no idea what is going on with him/her and has to come to grips with the fact that food now has to be worked for and the people who are there to help can only be communicated with by crying. You surely can imagine the frustration parents feel during this period as well, trying to give all they can to their baby but sometimes just not knowing what to do and feeling helpless.
As doulas, the last emotion we want you to feel is helpless. In our next couple blogs, we will discuss how to help both baby and yourself through this transition. While the fourth trimester is only three months long, we want it to be as seamless as possible and encourage you to build your toolbox with the tips we have to offer.