In my three-month tenure of being a mom I have been swallowed whole by a paradox that only a new parent can experience: the simultaneous lack of and abundance of time. I have dubbed this enigma the mom phenomenon.
In a 24-hour period there always seems to be too much and too little to do. An entire day can sweep right by me and I have no way of accounting for what has taken place or what has been produced in the space between morning and night. It feels as though I have taken in an incapacitating dose of activity, yet have nothing to show for it and have to repeat it all over again in classic Groundhog Day fashion. Food was made, food was eaten. Baby was fed, baby was changed. Baby made mess, laundry was done. Baby was sad, baby was cheered. Food was made, food was eaten. Round and round the clock goes until my husband comes home to ask what was done all day. I suspect he assumes I should have learned a magic trick or solved a complex mathematical proof by now.
Of course I was anticipating the dazed monotony of the newborn clock from the get go. Warning signals were broadcasted from every XX chromosomed stranger within a 40 mile radius. All of the alarms kept me busy checking off a futuristic to-do list I assumed I would not have time to get to once a fresh set of lungs was in the house.
Over 17 dinners and 76 lunch wraps, for my other (working) half, were assembled and frozen. Clothes were divided into a tops bin and bottoms bin to make getting dressed as efficient as possible. Dry shampoo and deodorant were stocked to the brim. I was well prepared to never cook, dress, or bathe just like I had been told to expect. But once baby arrived I found her less demanding than my worst-case-scenario mind imagined her to have been destined to be. Meanwhile, I felt robbed of the to-do list that would have kept me sane while she slept the majority of the day. Having all this free time would surely give me the opportunity to paint a masterpiece or solve world hunger right? Nothing could be further from the truth. While having so much of nothing to do I was also on a three-hour cycle of being milked. Some of these feeds could go for more than an hour so there was only an hour of free time in between. And that had to be a very silent hour since tiptoes could rouse the sleeping beast.
As my daughter grew and needed entertainment and more than one source of stimuli we began taking small outings around town. Oh good finally we can do so much, I thought. Well, I thought wrong. I quickly learned that every outing has a 3:1 time ratio. What once took 20 minutes to accomplish in regular time takes 60 minutes in the momiverse. As we head to Babies and Movement, Baby Swim, Stroller Fit, and the various sing-a-long groups we belong to I have to carve out an additional two hours of sporadic fussing, eating and changing that come along with any planned expedition. By the time we're back to regular scheduled programming at home -- a bath, a book, a feed -- dusk is approaching and someone comes home auditing our whereabouts. It's not that we were idling through the day, it's just that it took so much time and energy to virtually do absolutely nothing.
Deep down I know that I do more than nothing all day. I've realized that life with my daughter should not be measured economically or rationally through inputs and outputs. Parenting takes place on an entirely different plain where time is not of much consequence. It is a place of euphoria where one can spend eternity waxing poetic of the miracle that is before them. In these short few months of parenthood I am finally beginning to know what it means to get lost in the present and not worry about the demands of every day life. I have also learnt how crucial it is to leverage each passing moment to maximize my happiness return. I no longer make the mistake of participating in every mommy-centred activity that comes my way. I owe it to myself and my family to be selective with the time that I am given.
If I would rather take a bath or read a book than mingle with a stranger whose only commonality is cloth diapers, then I have to allow myself to do so. Because while time seems to disappear on the surface, I witness its passing everyday on my baby's changing face and expanding body and I know it will move faster than I can ever understand.
Get To Class
Dr. Ann Borders, an OB-GYN who works with NorthShore University HealthSystem, recommends that her patients and their partners go to a breastfeeding class before Baby is born. In class, they don't just focus on why breastfeeding matters, but what you can actually expect in those daunting first few days. And Borders doesn't just recommend this for newbie families, but also moms who may have tried breastfeeding before and found it difficult.
"You're not going to know everything from taking the class, but it gives you a groundwork that you can build on at the hospital once you have the nurses helping you," Borders said.
Most OB-GYNs will be able to give you a referral to a breastfeeding class nearby, but if for some reason yours doesn't have any suggestions, a quick online search should bring up options in your area.
Don't Leave Until You Get Help
When you're in the hospital or birthing center, or while you've still got your midwife with you after a home birth, make sure you speak up and ask for help getting started.
"Every health care person should know the basic mechanics of breastfeeding," said Mary Ryngaert, a board certified lactation consultant with the University of Florida's Center for Breastfeeding and Newborns. "I joke that the person who empties the trash [in labor and delivery] should be able to help someone latch on."
Even Borders, whose professional life and research centers around breastfeeding, said that when her first baby was born, she had to ask for guidance. Women should feel 100 percent empowered to ask their care provider to help them start breastfeeding within the first hour after a vaginal birth or two hours after a C-section if the circumstances allow for it, she said. Don't leave the hospital until you've gotten the help you need.
When In Doubt, Think Skin-To-Skin
There's a reason why hospitals hoping to earn the coveted "baby friendly" designation for breastfeeding support stress the importance of skin-to-skin: It works. Research shows that essential contact helps relax both the mom and baby, stimulates feeding behaviors and triggers the release of certain hormones that spur breastfeeding. Experts say it's important to do it both early -- ideally right after birth -- and often.
"Keeping the baby skin-to-skin as much as possible in the early days after birth is very important," Ryngaert said. "If the mother is 'touched out,' then the partner can hold the baby skin-to-skin. It still helps the baby move instinctually to what [he or she] is supposed to do."
If you're not in a "baby friendly" hospital with policies in place to promote skin-to-skin, don't be discouraged. Tell your doctors and nurses that it's important to you, Borders said. As long as your baby is stable, there's no reason why they shouldn't let you hold him or her close.
Be Prepared For Engorgement
Engorgement, or a feeling of heavy fullness in the breasts that can be very painful, is common several days after delivery, but Borders said a lot of women don't know to expect it because no one talks to them about it. Having a game plan in place can help curb the pain and keep women from throwing in the towel when they're sore and freaked out.
She suggests an over-the-counter pain medication, like Motrin, and ice. Two bags of frozen peas can also work, Borders said, and -- bonus! -- they tend to fit nicely into nursing bras. Some women may also want to take a hot shower to express some of their milk.
Lean Back And Put Your Feet Up!
Susan Burger, president of the New York Lactation Consultant Association, finds few things as irksome as telling women that they need to try specific holds. Moms hear those tips and get "all twisted up with finding the perfect position," she said.
What matters most in her book is that breastfeeding mothers get comfortable, which often means leaning back a bit and putting their feet up. "If she's comfortable, it's so much easier to get the baby into a comfortable position," Burger explained. This is one area where partners can really step in, looking at moms to spot any ways in which they might be uncomfortable, then helping by giving them a pillow, a shoulder rub ... whatever.
Ask Your Partner To Sit With You
Your partner, or your mom or friend can also help by agreeing to sit with you while you breastfeed. Why? Since moms are often extremely relaxed and drowsy while they're breast-feeding, your partner can agree to be on "alert" -- maybe quietly reading a book or checking e-mails -- while you get some sleep. "Invite her to take a cat nap while breast-feeding," Ryngaert said.
It may sound like a simple trick, but Ryngaert said it's such an easy, often-overlooked way for women to fully relax while breast-feeding, which only increases bonding and enjoyment, and also, possibly, catch up on some much-needed sleep.
Tilt Back, Open Wide
Drop your mouth down to your chest, then open your mouth. A bit tricky, no? Now tilt your head back slightly and open it again. See how much easier that is? Burger said that one of the biggest ways to help babies drink is to make sure their heads are tilted back a bit. You can help support them in that position by putting a forearm under the baby's neck, or even a rolled-up receiving blanket.
"There are a lot of different ways to achieve it," she said.
Think Close, Close, Close
While experts may not poo-poo specific holds, at least ones a professional hasn't personally recommended for you and your baby, they do offer broader positioning advice: "I like to see the baby and mother have almost no space between them," Ryngaert said.
"You're not just putting your breast in their mouth, you're really bringing your bodies together," she said. That helps babies bring a big, wide open mouth to the breast, giving them the deep attachment that they need. If you're not sure what that means, a good first place to look is the internet: There are videos online that demonstrate the concept, Ryngaert said, and places like La Leche League have helpful illustrations as well.
Pump In Short, Frequent Bursts
Burger said that one of the mistakes women can make is to focus too much on duration and not enough on the frequency of pumping. Often they're too hard on themselves, sitting there for long stretches and pumping away in an attempt to produce more milk, when really, they'd be better served by just a few minutes here and there throughout the day.
Burger likened it to training for a marathon: "You wouldn't just go out and run 13 miles," she said. "If you're just starting out, you'd try a mile or two and do that three or four times a week. That's a much better approach." In the same vein, if you can work it into your schedule, frequent, brief bouts of pumping help build milk supply better than sitting there, rather helplessly, and pumping for one long stretch.
Don't Just Deal With Sore Nipples
Borders said that women shouldn't just write off sore nipples -- which can sometimes become so bad they don't want to breast-feed at all. She recommends something called Newman's all-purpose ointment, which your pharmacist can mix for you. For women who don't have thrush (a generally harmless yeast infection) La Leche League also recommends applying freshly expressed breast milk to your nipples, which can help them heal. The bottom line? If your nipples hurt, don't just accept it. Talk to your doctor about what might be causing it and what you can do.
Know When To Call
"Make sure you leave the hospital with the number for someone you can call with questions," Borders said. Many pediatricians offices now have lactation consultants on staff, which makes it easier for women to find someone who can offer guidance when you're they're in for one of those many new baby visits that happen after birth.
In many cases, lactation consultants are covered by insurance, Ryngaert said, but places like La Leche League also have a call system where you can speak to someone for free. Many nurses and pediatricians are also board certified lactation consultants, which can help with insurance coverage.
Women shouldn't feel pressure to figure everything out in the first week, Ryngaert said. "If a baby needs to go on formula for a time while the mother's milk supply is being established, that doesn't mean the baby's not going to be breastfed," she added. "I've seen babies that didn't latch on until eight weeks."
But new moms should never, ever hesitate to ask for help.
"If a mother is having more than a little tenderness, she should not just tough it out. She should get some help" Burger said. "And if that person says, 'Oh, it's normal, suck it up,' that's not a good person to get help from, and they should see someone else."