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Initial Thoughts

from LEAVEN, Vol. 34 No. 2, April - May 1998, pp. 26
by Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC
Ithaca, New York, USA

I have initials after my name. Big deal. The "MS" means that at one time I knew something about dust-bathing behavior in bobwhite quail. The "IBCLC" means that I know something about breastfeeding. But what do we "old Leaders" have to offer mothers that "new Leaders" don't have? Not very much. When I flip back through my first log book, which began in 1985, I'm humbled by the empathy, creativity and "woman wisdom" I had when I didn't have so much "book learning."

Here is one of my all-time favorite helping situations. Note how heavily I relied on technical expertise! "Nancy" had talked to me repeatedly about her first child--new baby concerns and going back to work issues, mostly. She tried to contact me a few days after her second child was born because she had sore nipples. I was out of town, so she called her sister instead. It's a good thing she didn't get hold of me; I would have talked about the mechanics of good positioning. Her sister simply told her to send the company away, pour a pitcher of juice or water and crawl into bed with the baby. When I returned her call a few days later, everything was fine.

But she called me about a month later in tears. "I'm afraid I'm just not going to be able to nurse this baby. He never sleeps, I never sleep, he's fussy and gassy all the time, he hates to nurse.. .and I think he hates me." I went to her house, expecting to see a desperately thin baby, but Jonathan was nicely filled-out, though speckled with baby acne.

"Lie down on the couch while we talk," I suggested. "Don't stand if you can sit, don't sit if you can lie down and don't just lie down if you can sleep." I had to keep reminding her to lie down as we talked because she kept bouncing up.

Since Jonathan was awake, I held him for her, using my favorite fussy baby position or "colic hold": hand in crotch, baby's front along my forearm with one of his arms on either side of my arm, baby's head near my elbow. As we talked, Jonathan settled in my arms (still in the magic "colic hold") and went to sleep. His mother began to settle down, too.

It turned out they were due to move to Ohio in two weeks and she hadn't started packing. I asked her if she had made a point of nursing Jonathan on both sides each time, and she said, "Well, I try to." (See Finish the First Breast First, LEAVEN, Sept/Oct 1995.) Automatically using both breasts at each nursing--taking the baby off the first side in order to make sure he also takes the second side--can contribute to gassiness, fussiness, frequent green or mucousy stools and stressful nursings. It's an important issue to keep in mind and the only real breastfeeding insight I needed here.

We talked about ways to simplify moving, ways in which Jonathan was different from his big sister, how tough it was with all the responsibilities she had. After a while, on a hunch, I asked her if she loved Jonathan yet. She started to cry. "Hey, I didn't love either of mine at first," I said. "I can remember looking down at my son on the changing table and saying to him. 'I'd defend you with my life, but I don't really love you.' For some lucky people it comes like a thunderclap. For some of us, it just has to grow. And it will."

We talked about nursing on just one side if that's all the baby wants. When Jonathan woke up, she had a nice leisurely, lying-down nursing with him, all on one side.

Other ideas we came up with: Use only paper plates and fast food for the next two weeks; husband's job was to stop by a fast food place after work and bring supper home with him. Take the church friends up on their offer to help with packing; it's just too big a job for a new mother. Don't try to shift Jonathan to the second side if he's happy on the first side. Use the colic hold if it helps. As much as possible, lie down and watch videos with the two-year-old to get some rest while the little one is entertained.

Nothing very fancy there. I had figured out the colic hold for myself years and she probably would have too if she hadn't been so stressed in other ways. The same goes with one-sided nursing. I learned that from my baby, not from a book. But what meant the most to her was simply realizing that her son was different from her daughter, that what had worked for one wouldn't automatically work for the other. I got a note from her after the move. Everyone was doing well. And, of course, she loved her son.

To me, that visit was the heart of La Leche League. Sure, Leaders need to know a great deal about breastfeeding. But just as important, we help mothers learn the creative, roll-with-the-punches attitude that every mother needs--and that many new mothers forget in the heat of the moment. We don't just impart breastfeeding information. We help her learn about mothering. And that doesn't come from any book. It comes--very simply and very importantly--from being a mother. What are the initials we all have that count the most? M.O.M.

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