Are humans the only ones capable of caring for children that aren’t their own? This video goes to show how universal the maternal instinct can be, even with animals you never thought would get along. Dogs with nursing kittens – and vice versa – to literal tiger moms and piglets – share their milk, comfort the young ones and adopt them as their own. Have you ever seen something so cute?
By Zoe Etkin
In America we desperately need to let go of “super mom” syndrome. The expectation that women should be back to work, back in shape, and somehow managing everything else, in 6 weeks or less is just not a realistic portrait of new motherhood. I propose a new way, well, an old way, really, of viewing the postpartum period. One that honors the mother just as she is in her unique journey. The number one issue is the length of maternity leave in this country—6 weeks doesn’t cut it. But I won’t go down that rabbit hole, as government reform is what is required to make that change possible. There are, however, things we can do, as new mothers, and as those who support new mothers, to make the postpartum period less stressful and more enjoyable.
- Enlist family and friends for support, but set clear boundaries. Moms: give your friends (family too) specific hours that they should visit. Make it brief—2 hours tops—enough time for them to throw in some laundry, grab you a snack, and hold the baby while you shower. Friends/family: When you visit a new mom, focus your attention on her. Often people get wrapped up in the excitement of the new baby (totally understandable—babies are amazing), but at the exclusion of the mother. Let her know what a good job she is doing, then moon over the baby when she’s taking a little “me time.”
- Part of recovering from your birth, and producing milk to feed your baby, is maintaining good nutrition. Sitting down to eat a full meal is often not possible for new moms, so it’s important to have healthy snacks and water available at all times. Simple snacks I recommend are avocadoes, almonds, eggs, trail mix, fruit, and smoothies. Preparing meals before the baby comes is a great idea too. Prep a few homemade veggie lasagnas, soups, and other easily reheated meals for the first weeks home with baby. You’ll probably be offered meals from friends and family as well. Streamline that process by choosing someone to set up a Meal Train for you. This website allows you to state food preferences, times you’d like food delivered, and if they are to just drop it off (rather than come in). Fresh meals at your doorstep are such a blessing to families with newborns.
- Diapering/Nursing Stations: If you have a larger home, particularly multi-level, you don’t want to be trekking up and down the stairs to change baby’s diaper, or feel tethered to one spot for nursing. Purchase a few small baskets and stock them with water, nuts, diapers, nursing pads, burp cloths, a clean onesie, wipes and nipple/butt cream. Place one basket by your bed, one in baby’s room, and one in the living room/where ever else you’ll be nursing. I highly recommend these to women who’ve had surgical births, as stairs can be uncomfortable to navigate during recovery.
- Hire a postpartum doula. No really, I’m not just plugging my own work! What we do as postpartum doulas is focus on the mother’s needs, emotional and physical, assist with breastfeeding, give newborn care instruction, watch siblings, perform light household maintenance, and provide resources and referrals, among other things. With many new mothers’ partners away at work, the doula can provide relief, support, and encouragement. Our hearts are so open as doulas, we absolutely love watching our clients grow into confident, amazing parents. We’re there to support the partners as well, and the siblings, making sure the household is running smoothly, but our number one and two priorities are mother and baby.
- This is for you, mama: make time to take care of yourself. I know it seems impossible with a newborn, but schedule it into your day. When your friend, relative, postpartum doula comes over, make sure one thing they do is hold baby while you nap, exercise, eat, shower, meditate, or whatever else feels good to you. You’re not super woman, and we need to stop making our mamas feel like they need to be. It’s okay to be exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed. It’s also okay to accept help when it’s offered, and ask for it when you need it. We’re a society of hard workers, but we must balance that work with self-care.
Finally, set up your postpartum support system prenatally, making the transition into new motherhood more easeful. Take the journey one day at a time. It will get easier. Your baby is only this small for a short part of her entire life. You are doing an amazing job, right where you are in this moment.
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Zoe Etkin is an LA-based CAPPA trained birth and postpartum doula, poet, and teacher. She earned her MFA in Writing from CalArts, where she earned the Beutner Award for Excellence in the Arts. She is the editor of Red Sky: A Literary Journal, and her own poetry can be found in many print and web publications. She is committed to educating and empowering women, supporting families, and promoting good writing.
Photo credit: David Terrazas
The IOM expert report on Vitamin D and Calcium suggests two changes: increasing your vitamin D intake from 200IU (under age 50) to 600IU daily, or 800IU if you are 71 or older; and not supplementing with calcium.
The new safe daily upper limit of vitamin D is 4000IU; for calcium it’s 2000mg, which increases kidney stone risk.
The IOM believes this much of each is best for bone health. Much of the public and many physicians believe that vitamin D is needed for more than that. People love supplements– and almost half of U.S. adults take them.
Especially in Winter, especially for dark-skinned Americans, vitamin D helps the body’s own immune system fight flu virus and improve multiple sclerosis.
I recommend few supplements, because high quality meals can contain everything you need. But pregnant and nursing women, newborns and the elderly on restricted diets need specific supplements.
Few foods, except wild salmon, mackerel, herring and caviar(!) have much vitamin D; the dairy adds vitamin D to milk, just enough to prevent rickets.
The smartest and safest approach is to have your 25-hydroxyvitamin D level measured. Your doctor can order it, or you can with this vitamin D kit. The test uses radioimmunoassay, the most accurate testing available.
The IOM thinks your level should be 20ng/ml; many vitamin D experts think it should be 30ng/ml; an independent group of vitamin D researchers (not vitamin sellers) thinks 40ng/ml. Ask your MD.
And check out a new national federally funded Vitamin D/Omega-3 study testing 2000IU daily, for optimal health.
It has been eighteen months since I painstakingly helped Ayla latch on for the first time. In those first days and weeks, I was certain that I wouldn’t last past three months. But I made it to three, and implored the gods to help me make it to six. Then six months passed. And I set a new goal: Twelve months. After that, I swore I would be done.
But some things changed along the way. To begin, I reached a point where I forgot I was doing it. Pulling up my shirt and guiding Ayla to my breast became second nature. It’s the same thing that happens when I’m driving on an open road for long stretches of time. At some point, I realize that I’ve been driving (for minutes, or hours) without the help of my conscious mind. My mind would have been watching the vast sky or reliving a special moment in my life and all the while another part of me had been driving carefully, changing lanes and shifting gears. I can’t recall exactly when I stopped keeping track of which side Ayla was drinking from or whether it was time to switch from the Cradle Hold to the Football Hold. But when I could let go of the mechanics of nursing, it became a deeply meditative interlude in my day. And in those moments, I felt more spiritual than I have while sitting in meditation or praying or practicing yoga under the stars.
Another change was gradual disappearance of my enormous (bourgeois) guilt about nursing. I had read enough progressive parenting books to know that there wasn’t a bottle in the world that could compare to my breast milk. Ounce for ounce, my milk outpaced formula in every category. But while knowledge can liberate us, it can also erect tall fences around us. And in those early painful months, I felt confined by my decision to breastfeed. On the one hand, it was convenient not to have get out of bed in the middle of the night or rush home from the park to make a bottle. But once you start nursing, you can’t stop. I wanted to so desperately not to be needed all the time. I wished for a few days off now and again, to gain some perspective before returning to the job.
But once Ayla was eating solid food, need, so to speak, dried up. And so, nursing became a choice that we each had to make. At some point after the six-month mark, we both enthusiastically said, “Yes!” to nursing. This time around, I found many and varied reasons to want to nurse. Some days, when I felt enveloped by darkness, I knew that nursing would help me see light again. Nothing grounds me more than feeling Ayla’s tiny body in my arms and listening to the soft puffs of her breath. No matter what storms are passing through my life, I am reminded that they will pass when I’m nursing Ayla.
Similarly, I noticed Ayla seeking out my bosom when she wanted to reconnect or play with me (or my nipples), rather than when she was thirsty. Nursing is a means for us to reacquaint ourselves if I’ve been out for the day or away on a trip. I’ve grown to love all the gestures and movements that make up our breastfeeding body language. I can tell when Ayla wants to nurse by the way in which she reaches out to me. We have little rituals about how we curl up in each other’s limbs—how her head rests on my upper arm and how her toes seek out the warm crevice behind my knees. We both heave a silent sigh once the milk starts to flow.
What I like most about breastfeeding my toddler is that the dynamic has shifted. My breasts are no longer the great providers and cosmic soothers that they were in the early days. Nowadays, breastfeeding feels more like an exchange amongst equals—it is something we both choose day after day, because it enables us to share and reaffirm our love for each other.
Eighteen months ago, I thought breast milk was all about providing nutrition and immunity to my child. But I’ve since learned that milk is actually a four-letter word for love.
Note: This post was cross-posted to Taz’s personal blog, http://laboroflove.typepad.com
This summer one of my clients and one of my girlfriends gave birth. As they approached their due dates they described the same familiar upset other girlfriends and women in my practice had reported at the end of their pregnancies.
When you examine the arguments for breastfeeding, most people seem to believe that it’s the best thing a woman can do for her children. Proponents point to the nutritional content of breastmilk, the immunity it provides children and the ways in which breast-fed babies benefit in mind, body and spirit. But after breast-feeding Ayla for nine months (with no signs of slowing down), I no longer do it just for her. Breastfeeding is a selfish act too. I benefit at least as much, if not more, than my infant daughter.
Women who breastfeed for at least six months reduce their risk of contracting breast cancer. I don’t want to die of cancer. And if nursing offers me some immunity, I’ll gladly breastfeed for a decade or two. I exercise, drink water, avoid fatty foods…and nurse. I’m thankful breastfeeding helps me live longer.
Women who breast-feed also lose weight more quickly and are more likely to keep it off. I can’t tell you how good it felt to fit into my pre-maternity clothes less than six months after giving birth. I’ve lost all the weight I gained during pregnancy except now my boobs are a little bigger. And what could be better than a trim waistline and full breasts? I have nursing to thank for my healthy mommy bod.
I also save money because there is no need for formula, bottles and bottle cleaners in the house. By my calculations, those dollars accrue to me and can be spent on shopping or taking a vacation. I have already booked holidays and bought a new bikini with my breastfeeding savings. Cha-ching!
Nursing not only saves money, but it is also a sleep aid. I get more sleep because I roll over and offer the breast instead of having to get up and make a bottle. And I also benefit from the sleep hormones that are secreted while nursing—I sleep more hours and more deeply when I breastfeed. Breastfeeding is better than Ambien or a fifth of brandy when it’s time for some shut-eye.
But there’s more. I decided to nurse Ayla until she no longer wants my milk. Which in turn led to the decision to work from home rather than returning to work full-time. For the first time in my life, I work just enough hours to feel fulfilled and earn a living but not so many that I resent my job. And I am no longer chasing the mythical work/life balance; I work and play in equal measure and it feels great. I credit my newfound healthy work ethic to nursing.
I’ll say it again: I’m not a martyr for breastfeeding my child. On the contrary, it’s me who benefits the most. I’m happy, slim, well-rested, less stressed and healthier because I breastfeed. So ladies, take out your breasts and let down your milk. Because I finally understand why nursing is such a beautiful thing…for us.
What do you say? Is breastfeeding selfless or selfish?
[Note: This post is cross-posted at Taz’s home blog, Labor of Love at http://laboroflove.typepad.com.]