Last month I was privileged to spend a week in the company of one of my oldest and my closest friends, we met when we were 7 years old. She was about to have her third baby and asked if I could spend the first few days of her arriving baby’s life with them, helping out. I jumped at the invitation and soon enough was on my flight to Hamburg.
The thoughts were running through my head: how will I be able to help, what is it going to be like to be nurturing the mother nurturing her newborn, am I going to be useful, what do I need to take?
I grabbed a stretchy wrap, a pack of hydrogel pads and a pack of syringes, and selected the cutest baby girl outfit at the shop.
Births go different ways, this one was a planned C-section, following the hospital’s regulations of not supporting a natural birth after multiple Caesareans.
Immediate post-op recovery was not fun for my friend and the pain-killers started to wear out. A trip to the toilet may have seemed like a military operation, but the baby was on her mother’s breast right from the start and never left the mother’s sight.
The mother and the baby have connected through nursing and the first 5 days were spent feeding and resting, while the hospital staff were busy coming and going.
Amazingly, the mother’s colostrum has changed to mature milk on Day 2, which commonly happens on Day 3-5, and the little bit of weight loss was quickly replenished by the steady and consistent weight gain. Then as the mature milk started to come in, the breasts filled up, sometimes to an uncomfortable level, but having the baby on mother’s chest, living on the breast and snoozing and nursing in turn, has made it more comfortable for my friend as the discomfort soon subsided. All that plentiful milk was filling the baby’s tummy and it was showing in the new roundness of her cheeks and bright yellow stools (which we all love to see in a new born!).
The only thing I really needed was the soft stretchy wrap, which I could use to hold the baby while my friend had a snooze. We have not left that hospital room for 4 days, which seemed like an eternity, but in those 4 days the crucial getting to know of mother and baby took place, as uninterrupted as possible. Thankfully the food was provided and the room cleaned, all that the mother needed to do was to hold and nurse the baby, resting with baby on her chest in a laid-back position or lying side by side in a side-lying position.
I was lucky enough to be able to hold the baby and spend time with her, but even luckier to have witnessed that special transition of the baby into this world, through the touch and the breast of her mother. My friend was calm and assured, her body healing, her mind rejoicing at this new beautiful arrival. It was a pleasure to watch!
This uninterrupted period of getting to know each other for the mother and baby, also referred to as ‘baby moon’ is often overlooked or neglected in our Western society. The exciting crowd of relatives rushing in, wanting to hold the baby, unsupportive hospital practices separating mother and baby or undermining mother’s confidence in her body, a busy family’s needs and demands presented to the mother who has just given birth…. While we have lost the tradition of supporting the new mother at home for 40 days after birth (still common and observed in many cultures around the world), providing her with nourishment, ensuring a comfortable environment and guarding her rest, we can still remember that those first few days are precious and also very important for bonding and establishing breastfeeding on physiological and also emotional level.
Providing this safe and comfortable space for the mother and not interfering may also help prevent breastfeeding challenges like milk blockages and oversupply, sore nippples and low weight gain among others.
Both the mother and the baby have what it takes to take it forward, the breastfeeding is a natural progression from the birth.
It is sensible to keep a watchful eye and offer support with challenges, but for the big part, they are working it all out for themselves in those first few days and we can help them by not interrupting.
Just by holding that baby for a few hours at a time, I feel like I have always have the attachment with her, so imagine what a strong bond is secured between the mother and the baby if they are given the chance to be together uninterrupted, baby on mothers breast, skin to skin and not only for a few hours.
I am very grateful to my friend for this opportunity and I will treasure this memory forever.