I am continually in awe of birth. Each birth experience offers lessons and wisdom you can’t gain anywhere else.
Something new I realized, we need breastfeeding doulas.
A doula that focuses completely on helping moms breastfeed. She doulas them through the experience just as doulas help women through birth.
My niece recently had a baby. I was out of the country when she was born, but arrived a week later to offer my doula support. The baby was kept in the hospital the first 5 days, because of “low blood sugar” levels, so breastfeeding was off to a rocky start.
I received tearful and stressful calls from my sister telling me I should be here to help. I did my best to listen and assess the situation by phone, then offering advice. I encouraged them to hold the baby skin to skin as much as possible, to seek help from a lactation consultant, and start using a breast pump.
I was worried, but there wasn’t much else I could do being out of the country. Once I got back and slept some, I packed a few things and made the 45 minute drive to stay with my niece at least an entire day to offer my support.
On arriving to my nieces’ home I listened to her birth story, and offered my praise. I held my grand niece, so beautiful and tiny. I asked my niece what she wanted to do regarding feeding the baby, who now at almost 8 days old was mostly bottle fed breastmilk. Right away she said that she wanted to breastfeed her baby. I could sense that she was determined. Now, what about the baby?
As I observed the baby she was giving breastfeeding cues, rooting, sticking out her tongue, etc. My niece was very much engorged, but did not have soreness. The situation seemed positive. Also, she had only been giving the baby pumped breast milk since leaving the hospital. In fact once the baby drank the breastmik that my niece brought to the NICU her blood sugar levels returned to normal, and she was released. So my niece and her husband were already believing in the power of breastmilk.
Although, the situation was optimistic, I knew from experience that pumping is difficult, and if she could transition to mostly breastfeeding that would be great. My intent was to support whatever my niece wanted. Since she said to me that she wished to breastfeed, then I was committed to helping her with my doula strength, skills, and knowledge.
I took charge of bottle feeding the baby and made sure to start giving her less gradually. The first step was to feed her, and then offer skin to skin. After that it was to feed her and encourage her to try to latch or nuzzle at the breast when she wasn’t really hungry. That worked well and she latched on and nursed. We continued to try more breastfeeding each feeding. Of course the baby was used to a bottle and was frustrated at the breast. Since it takes a while for the milk to let down, unlike with bottle feeding, where the baby makes little effort and is rewarded right away. I encouraged my niece and let her know we have to be patient, each feeding would get better.
We tried a variety of ways to hold the baby. Also, I dripped milk unto her breast using a bottle, while the baby was latching on to encourage her to suckle, until the let down came. And so it went for about 36 hours. Instead of staying 1 night, I ended up staying 2 nights. We got through about 15 feedings, and only used the bottle twice. It was not easy, and both mother and baby cried. However, now the baby is four weeks old and my niece is breastfeeding without any problems.
That doula experience taught me that women truly need a breastfeeding doula.
Just like birth doulas stay to help the entire labor, women need breastfeeding doulas to stay the entire time until they are breastfeeding well. Breastfeeding doulas can help mom’s when they feel helpless.
Unlike lactation consultants who see moms for a scheduled time, the breastfeeding doula works 24/7. She can help in those wee hours of the morning during difficult feeding times. That is when she is needed most. Breastmilk production is at it’s highest peak in the early am hours, but that is the hardest time to pump. It is important that breastfeeding moms either pump or breastfeed in the early am, and not sleep through those hours. Missing am feedings will impact milk production. Many, many women lose their supply around 1 month, with one of the reasons being they stopped pumping or nursing in those am hours.
I will be honest, I was wiped out after supporting my niece. As you are whenever you offer doula support. Yet it was a great expenditure of my efforts, and I really, really, better understand the level of support women need to turn breastfeeding around. Women need a breastfeeding doula.
She’s the one you’re comfortable with and trust. You’re going to cry with her and lean on her. She’s going to assist you with those basic breastfeeding techniques. And things will get better.