Mother’s Intuition

I have been working for some time as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Some of you may be very familiar with this terminology but for those of you who aren’t, I’d like to explain what it involves to become an IBCLC. Over many years an IBCLC must accumulate many, many hours (500 to 1000) in the 5 years prior to their application to sit the exam. We also have to have a qualification as a health professional and complete at least 90 hours of lactation specific education OR a candidate has to complete more extensive education in Health Sciences and Lactation. There is then an exam to sit which is held all over the world. It used to be only once per year but now is available twice a year. If you qualify to sit, with all of these prerequisites AND pass the exam then you can call yourself an IBCLC. That’s not the end of it though, we have to recertify every 5 years by CERPS (continuing education recognition points) and every 10 years by re-sitting the exam.

“As IBCLCs we have been certified as holding the highest standards in lactation and breastfeeding care worldwide!”

Why is it that we are not given the respect our position deserves?

The reason why I’m asking this, is that there are soooo…..many people who are giving Mothers advice about lactation and breastfeeding who have not had the education or the hands on experience that an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant has.  I’m not saying that these people, mostly health professions, aren’t knowledgeable in their area of expertise, but I am saying that they are NOT the experts on lactation and breastfeeding.

This week alone I have listened so many Mothers  as they have told me their breastfeeding stories. They were not all the same, so I really listened to what they were telling me so I could write a detailed history. They did not all look the same. Some of the Mothers had large breasts and some had small breasts. Some had nipple damage and some had pain but no damage. Some were struggling with their supply and others had “enough milk to feed a small country!”  The babies were just as different. Some were relaxed but most were really, really stiff and “wired”. Some of them were putting on so much weight they looked like small buddhas and others were thin and worried-looking and constantly hungry.  Some would scream in pain despite their parents’ care and attention.

“BUT……in one way they were exactly the same……every single one of these Mothers told me that there was something wrong……and I listened!!!”

The health professionals they had come across had not listened but they had also not helped. If they were not lactation and breastfeeding experts, why didn’t they refer the Mother and baby to someone who is, an IBCLC?

These are some of the things these Mums were told:

  • “Stop seeing your IBCLC and Midwife, they’re just stressing you out!” – referring to and IBCLC identifying tongue and lip tie in a baby who couldn’t latch
  • “Yes there are minor ties there but don’t worry about it, they don’t affect anything” – this baby had a tongue tie to the tip of her tongue and a lip tie covering her upper teeth! She hadn’t been able to feed at the breast without causing trauma and pain to her Mother.
  • “Give your baby a few weeks and his mouth will be big enough for your nipple. In the meantime, you can give him a bottle.” –  Midwife to a new Mum – baby was so restricted, he couldn’t open his mouth to latch or bottle feed.
  • “You’re not trying very hard, are you?” – a Midwife to a Mother who had tried to latch her baby for 2 days, had bleeding nipples and was in excruciating pain.
  • “You shouldn’t go and see a lactation consultant, they’ll just confuse you.” – a paediatrician to a Mother who was still trying so hard to breastfeed at the 6 week check.
  • “I don’t know what you’re worried about, she’s putting on weight!” – a GP to a Mother who was constantly feeding her 6 week old baby.
  • “Mum will probably ask about ties again but don’t listen to her, she’s just worried about nothing!” – a Midwife to another Midwife while handing over at the end of shift.

I’m not saying that any of these people are incompetent or not good at their jobs. They just need to listen to the Mother’s concerns and refer to someone who can help them.

If you are working with the Mother/baby dyad, please educate yourself on oral restrictions and stop listening to this, most ridiculous statement of all!!!!!

“Ties don’t exist, I don’t believe in them.”

We are not talking about a religion or some type of voodoo, we are talking about anatomy and function. There are so many research articles available on this subject and we have video showing how a baby who is not restricted latches and drinks at the breast and a video showing a baby who is restricted trying to latch and drink – not well.

There are so many Mothers of babies who have had their ties released. They are everywhere and they are commenting all over social media. Listen!!!! So many have had an amazing improvement in their breastfeeding relationship.

There are so many Mothers of babies who have NOT had their ties identified or released and some breastfeed ok but so many are in pain and struggling and anxious and depressed!!! If you listen to them when they are identified and treated, they are ANGRY that nobody checked, nobody helped them!!!!

“The Mothers will tell you “there is something wrong!!!””

I don’t know about you, but that is a pretty powerful motivation for me to investigate. Mother’s’ intuition is so spot-on ………….. if we listen.

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Nobody can know everything, right? Refer on, please!

I love seeing the reaction when a baby latches on properly for the first time and the Mother looks like a light bulb has gone on in her head. It’s a beautiful moment for her and you can also see how the baby snuggles in and slowly relaxes because he’s exactly where he’s meant to be.  Against his Mother’s body, he can hear her heart beating and feel the warmth of her skin as he suckles on her breast and drinks the milk that was made perfectly for him.

It breaks my heart when Continue reading

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Difficult baby or difficult parents?

IMG_3006How often do you hear people asking “Is he a good baby?”  I wonder what they’d do if you replied “Sure he’s great –  it’s his parents who are difficult!”  Seriously, what are parents supposed to say?  You can’t describe a baby as good or bad, they’re not even complete when they are born.  Some writers even refer to them as ‘external foetuses’ because whilst some of their systems are up and running so they can breathe, cry, eat and sleep, they are far from ‘all systems go’! They need input from other humans to develop – usually from their parents.

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Tongue and lip tie does impact breastfeeding!!!

IMG_0993Since I started as a Private Practice Lactation Consultant I would say 90% of the issues with breastfeeding have been because of tongue and lip tie.  I was really lucky to have worked alongside some wonderful Lactation Consultants in a major Maternity Hospital so I knew what I was looking for and knew how much it impacted on breastfeeding. Alarm bells start ringing when I see the nipples of a Mum with a tongue and/or lip tied baby.  They are often so traumatised (cracked, bruised, bleeding) that the Mother is beside herself with pain and the thought of latching the baby sends her into a panic!  If the Mum has been experiencing Continue reading

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Love shapes your baby’s brain

"I love you Mummy!"

“I love you Mummy!”

It is a wonderful discovery when you find different disciplines coming together to produce a new understanding of emotional life.  The technically written information from Doctors, Researchers, Scientists and Academics often don’t reach the public forum where this information is so desperately needed.

The latest findings in neuroscience, psychology, psychoanalysis and biochemistry are offering a deeper understanding of our social behaviour.  In infancy we develop our ‘social brain’ and begin the development of emotional regulation.

  • Love is essential to early brain development
  • Early interactions between babies and their parents have lasting and serious consequences
  • Earliest Relationships shape your baby’s nervous system
  • Emotional well-being later on can be affected by how your baby’s brain develops
  • Early ‘pathways’ can affect how your child responds to stress

This information gives enormous validity to the work I do with Mothers and their babies. Parental misinformation or lack of support and/or ability to cope with their baby’s care can set up issues for a lifetime and inevitably harm others too. Where behaviour traits, illness or criminality are seen to be ‘in the genes’ and inevitable, they may actually be avoidable. It has alway been my belief that Mothers need support NOT criticism.  I would rather a Mother call me and say she can’t cope with her baby crying or she wants a break than look after those babies in hospital when they’ve been shaken or physically injured.  They are the ones I’ve seen.  There are so many more babies who have had ‘invisible’ emotional injury inflicted.  Their Mothers need help to STOP and their Mothers need a community who cares enough to give them assistance not condemnation.

It is a very positive and exciting future if the harm done to one generation through lack of support and resources need NOT be done to the next.  If we support our Mothers, Fathers and their babies we may be preventing a pattern-repeat.  A damaged child does NOT have to grow up to be a damaged and damaging parent.

For our support to be effective, it needs to start during pregnancy and continue for the first two years of life when the ‘social brain’ is shaped and an individuals ’emotional style’ and ’emotional resources’ are established.

“In the more affluent societies, we have achieved many scientific breakthroughs and we have pills and potions for lots of ills as well as the belief that we will have enough to eat and live into old age.  BUT until now, our emotional wellbeing has been pushed aside because it could not be measured and quantified.  NOW it can be – to a point. Neuroscientists can make a ‘map’ of our brain when emotions are being experienced. Biochemists can now measure chemicals which are involved in an emotional response and have located their receptors within our bodies! So….after 300 years we are finally displaying an interest in emotion!

Psychology has also has refined tools used to understand early emotional life.  In one study a psychiatrist called Daniel Stern filmed interactions between Mothers and babies and then analysed them frame by frame. He used information gathered by Psychoanalyst John Bowlby and Psychologist Mary Ainsworth who established the framework or ‘attachment theory’ in the 1960s. The integrated disciplines have come to a striking conclusion that ‘feelings come first’.  The higher parts of our brain cannot operate without our more primitive ‘gut responses’!  Dr John Bowlby also said “to understand people you have to understand their environment”.

“Human beings are open systems, permeated by other humans as well as plants, air and water. We are shaped by other people as well as by what we eat and breathe.  Both our physiological systems and our mental systems are developed in relationship with other people – and this happens MOST intensely and leaves its biggest mark in infancy. We live in a social world where we rely on complex chains of social interaction to bring food to our table, clothes on our bodies and a roof over our heads, as well as the cultural interactions we are stimulated by.  WE CANNOT SURVIVE ALONE. 

The human baby is the most socially influenced creature on earth, open to learning what his own emotions are and how to manage them. Our earliest experiences as babies have much more relevance to our adult selves than many of us realise.  It is as babies that we first feel and learn what to do with our feelings. As babies we start to organise our experience in a way that will affect our later behaviour and thinking capacities.”

– Excerpts used from the Introduction in “Why love matters” by Sue Gerhardt

Sue Gerhardt is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in Private Practice.  She is also cofounder of the Oxford Parent Infant Project (OXPIP), a pioneering charity that provides psychotherapeutic help to parents with their babies.

 

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Mother Support

Sophie in utero 191912

I had the pleasure of giving some breastfeeding education to a beautiful young woman yesterday.  No, she is not one of my daughters but precious all the same.  Tragically, her Mum passed away recently and I know that starting your parenting journey without your Mum leaves a gaping hole no one can fill.  I wanted her to know that she had my support and that she could call, email or skype at any time with any question. We chatted for almost two hours and I could see how keen she was for any information I could give her. She said she couldn’t wait for her baby (gender unknown) to arrive and Dad-to-be is just as excited.  They have had the heartbreak of losing a parent in their young lives, now they are ready for their hearts to be warmed again by becoming parents themselves.  This little person she is nurturing inside her is going to bring so much joy and happiness to them and some healing to their families. I couldn’t be happier for them.

My education went like this:

  • Believe in yourself – YOU are this baby’s MOTHER (Tell Dad-to-be the same thing).
  • Arm yourself with information but BEWARE – there is a lot out there and some of it is conflicting.  Sort through it – if it sits right with you – great, keep it in mind but be prepared to keep learning and sorting.
  • THINK about what you’d like to happen once your baby is born: TALK about it with Dad-to-be and WRITE it down.  Be FLEXIBLE as things can change.
  • MOTHER and BABY are a unit and should stay together unless the health of one or the other is in question.  Medical people are very aware of this and will do everything possible to to keep you together OR get you back together as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • SKIN TO SKIN immediately after birth is the perfect beginning.  Ask if your baby can be placed on your chest if all is well. This calms and regulates his heart rate and temperature and lets him hear your heart beating and feel your warmth.
  • Allow the baby to ‘crawl’ to her first BREASTFEED which will usually be in the first half to one hour if the birth has gone ok.
  • Stay as a FAMILY UNIT as long as you can and in as CALM an environment as you can after delivery. Discussing this with your Doctor or Midwife is best before the birth so they know what your wishes are if it’s possible.
  • BREASTFEED ON DEMAND which can be as often as every one and a half hours to begin with but will stretch out over time to around two and a half to three hours. Between 8-12 feeds per day in the first few weeks is normal.
  • A good LATCH is essential to a good feed.  There are many websites that offer little videos of what a baby looks like when he is well latched and the suck, suck, swallow, pause is visible. Nipple sensitivity is quite common but excruciating pain needs to be investigated.  Sometimes there’s a latch or structural issue that can be easy to correct if caught early but MUCH harder to deal with once nipples are traumatised.
  • There is help available through the Maternal and Child Health Centres or call a Lactation Consultant privately or through your maternity hospital.
  • DON’T SCHEDULE by the clock but a bit of a ROUTINE will develop over time. Try the block routine of FEED/AWAKE/SLEEP over 2-3 hours.  This means the ‘routine’ starts at the beginning of a FEED – which might take half – one hour.  Then baby might be AWAKE for half an hour looking around or grizzling or just being cuddled.  Then the baby might SLEEP for one to two hours then wake to FEED again etc. etc. As the baby grows, the feed time might reduce, the awake time might increase and the sleep time may go either way! MIGHT, MIGHT, MIGHT – yes NOTHING is definite or predictable!
  • If baby falls ASLEEP – change his nappy and try again. Small frequent feeds might be the way it goes for a while – especially if there are medications in the baby’s body and yours from the birth.
  • You will know your baby is getting enough breastmilk if she has 5 -6 good wet nappies in 24 hours and her poos are soft and the right colour.  All babies have different patterns with pooping.  Some will dirty every nappy and some will go every 5 days.  The thing to remember is that the poos will be dark like molasses for the first few days then they’ll transition to a greenish, seedy consistency and then to a soft and mustard-coloured paste.  If the poo is pebbles and hard you will know your baby is constipated and may not be drinking enough. He could be at the breast for long periods but may not be sucking efficiently. HELP is available.
  • REST, REST, REST when the baby sleeps.  You’ll feel much more able to cope and REST is great for your milk supply.
  • If friends and family want to help – LET THEM!! Give them jobs to do.  They can hang out washing or cook a meal or just make you a cuppa and something to eat.  When you are a new PARENT and quite tired it can make your day if someone comes over with dinner and offers SUPPORT and HELP. It’s ok to let them have a CUDDLE too.
  • Finally – if there is a MEDICAL reason for your baby to have milk other than your Breastmilk then it’s really important to give it.  If anyone suggests to give your baby a bottle of formula so she will sleep longer or because it’s better for him or because they think you don’t have enough milk because your baby is feeding too frequently – thank them for their suggestion but politely decline. You could use this statement “MY milk is made especially for MY baby and I’m giving her the greatest gift I can.  It has the perfect nutritional properties and is also full of antibodies to protect her from disease now and in the future!”  OR you could just say that to yourself and smile.

“The first 12 weeks went so slowly,” she said, “I just wanted to tell everyone, but also wanted to wait.”

“The next 12 weeks went a bit faster,” she admitted.

“Now, it’s just going so slowly, I can’t wait! Maybe it’ll speed up once I finish work!” she said wishfully but smiling too.  I think she was thinking about all that was to come after she finished work.

I was thinking: “Get some rest, eat well and look after yourself – things are about to change big time! You are about to begin the MOST intense time of your life.  There will be highs and lows, tears of happiness and frustration but when you look into the face of your little boy or girl it will all be worth it!”

 

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A Mother Always

Mother and child statue

Mother and child statue

I remember when my oldest daughter was 6 weeks old, I was changing her nappy and this fear suddenly washed over me.  It was the thought that I would be responsible for her for the next 18 years.  What if something happened to me?  Who would look after her like I would?

My Mum had died the year before when I was 24 and my 3 brothers were 26, 23 and 22. I also had a little sister who was 11 at the time.  My Dad did the best he could after Mum’s death but he just didn’t cope.  My sister spent so much time with me but I knew I wasn’t her Mum – you only have one Mum.  Here I was, a Mum and a big Sister and it weighed heavily on me.  I didn’t want to let these two beautiful girls down.  Two years later I had my second daughter and whilst I was still fearful, I sort of knew what I was in for, so I just tried to be as calm and relaxed as one can be with a teenage girl, a two year old and a new baby!

When I reflect on that time, I can see that my fears were the result of grief and anxiety that had built up since I was 18 when my Mum was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  She was given a year or two to live but she was determined and she fought.  She wanted to see us grow up and she was so sad that she probably wouldn’t see my Sister reach her teens.  She saw two of us get married and she saw her Grandson albeit for only 6 days.  He was my firstborn and he was born very early because of a rare tumour discovered in his kidney. He died during surgery on his 6th day of life.  In that moment, my life as I knew it ended.   The grief was so totally enveloping and surreal.  I wanted to open my eyes and see that it was all just a really bad dream.

Less than a year later my Mum was gone too.  In the month she was in hospital I could not bring myself to imagine that she could leave so soon after my precious little boy.  We all know the devastation Cancer can bring.  The X Rays and Scans got worse and the news was difficult to comprehend.  I was a nurse and I was having trouble – imagine how my Brothers and my Dad were struggling.  I tried to explain things as honestly and directly as I could but nobody wants to hear that their Mum or Wife isn’t going to last the day and no one wants to be the bearer of that news!  I tried to prepare my sister after I picked her up at school on that day but she just couldn’t understand what I was saying.  It breaks my heart to this day. Her little voice asking me why they couldn’t take the bad bits out and put new bits in.  We arrived back at the hospital seconds after my Mum had passed away.

That was nearly 28 years ago.

Today:

  • I have my two beautiful daughters who are also my dearest friends.  I will always love them and I will always be their Mother.
  • I have one photo and a few mementos of my son who will always be in my heart. I will always be his Mother.
  • My sister is a wonderful Mother to two little boys who I adore.

Being a Mother is for ALWAYS.  Even though my Mum is gone she still lives in my heart. I think of her often and tell my girls about their NANNA.  I miss her so much and wish she could have met her granddaughters.

Whether a child dies through miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, SIDS or through illness or accident you NEVER stop being their MOTHER!!!!

 

 

 

 

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