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The First Weeks of Breastfeeding

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Enlisting Support
Breastfeeding is easier when you have a strong support system. Ideally, your partner will be prepared to fulfill many aspects of this important role. Maybe your mother or your mother-in-law or a sister might also be able to help out for a period of time. This helper role is so critical that it is known by a specific name in many cultures and some animal societies. The term doula describes the one who "mothers the mother." This individual serves as the primary source of nurturance and support for the new mother, thus enabling her to fulfill her role as principal caretaker of the infant. Today, it is possible to hire a professional doula to nurture postpartum women and ease their transition to new motherhood.

I have served as a doula myself and expect to do so again many times when my grandchildren are born. On eight occasions, I have had the privilege of being present for several days when my sisters or sisters-in-law brought home new babies. As a result of these experiences, I have concluded that easing the adjustment of vulnerable new parents is a daunting task. Your helper's mission is to jump in and do whatever seems necessary at the moment, to defuse inevitable tensions, to offer advice without undermining the new parents' efforts, to keep a low profile, to serve as a sounding board, and to provide a continuous infusion of emotional support.

If possible, arrange for a friend or relative (preferably one who has breastfed her own babies) to come and stay with you for a week or so. At the least, try to have such a person available during the daytime or consider hiring a professional doula. Ask your partner or other helper to ease your burden by bringing the baby to you for nursings, offering you a beverage, burping and changing the baby after feedings, insisting that you nap, preparing meals, occupying an older child, doing laundry, keeping visitors at bay, and bolstering your spirits.

Don't invite relatives, no matter how well intentioned, with whom you are not completely comfortable, who tend to be hypercritical, or who aren't likely to be genuinely helpful. Now is not the time to feel like you need to entertain someone or put on a good display. Instead, choose a helper with whom you can let it all hang out, perhaps your sister or mother. Surround yourself with like-minded relatives or friends who can be counted on to encourage you and assist you in every way possible. Even if you have no one who can help you in your home, you can obtain support over the telephone by calling the hospital nursery, your doctor's office, an experienced friend, your local WIC program, or a peer support group.

Restricting Visitors
During your get-acquainted period with your baby, keep visitors to a minimum except for those who truly will help. I have witnessed firsthand how a steady stream of visitors inevitably interferes with unrestricted breastfeeding. Nursings easily get interrupted or postponed because of the presence of guests. Discourage drop-in visits. Use your telephone answering machine or ask your partner or doula to screen calls. Have them protect you with comments like "She's with the baby now," or "She's finally napping and I don't want to disturb her," or "The doctor insists that we delay visitors for at least a week or so." I recommend an intimate family honeymoon when bringing your new baby home and launching your breastfeeding. Once your baby is nursing well and gaining weight steadily, you'll have more time and energy to receive visitors and truly enjoy their company.

Getting Enough Sleep
In the first postpartum weeks, sleep deprivation and sheer fatigue plague all new parents. The burden of night feedings, the enormity of baby care, and physical depletion after delivery take their inevitable toll. Remember, exhaustion can make your entire situation seem bleaker, while a little rest can change your whole perspective and improve your outlook. Many parents make the mistake of coming home from the hospital and diving into projects like finishing the nursery, lining the baby's dresser drawers with contact paper, writing birth announcements, completing work assignments, and so on. Your top priority when you aren't feeding your baby or doing other essential care is simply to rest and sleep. Since your nighttime sleep will be interrupted, you need to get in the habit of napping when your baby naps. Wearing your bathrobe during the day may serve as a physical reminder to slow down and rest. Once breastfeeding is going smoothly and a daily routine begins to emerge, you can find time to get other things done. In the first few weeks, however, rest and sleep should take precedent over any other activity you think you "ought to do."

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From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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