“Maria doesn't like my milk!" the young mother declares. "It must not be strong enough for her. I guess it's time for formula."
Her words are a surprise to the nurse at the nearby clinic. Four-week-old Maria had regained her birth weight in just ten days and was now growing at a great, one ounce-per-day clip. I see her cheeks beginning to fill out, and she is "filling" her diapers with gusto. Why is this mother thinking that her breastfeeding is going poorly?
"She just doesn't seem satisfied," Maria's mother explains. After a deep sigh, this young mother adds, “and she seems to be fussier this week.”
At the baby’s two-week-old weight check the nurse had shared with these parents evidence that breastfeeding was going well. Mom had a great latch and she could hear the baby swallowing milk. Dad kept a careful record of wet and stooled diapers. But Maria's Mom seems to be noticing non-feeding behaviors and worrying that these are signs of inadequate milk.
Reaserch on breastfeeding demonstrate that this mother's feelings are common. This research shows that a mother will watch carefully to see if her baby becomes alert and will gaze deeply into her eyes. She will notice if she is able to calm her baby effectively, and she feels bad if her baby is irritable or difficult to console.
The nurse is quick to understand this mother's needs so she comments enthusiastically, “She looks so happy with you! When you talk to your baby her forehead relaxes, her eyes widen, and her eyebrows go up.” A moment later she goes on, “When you speak, she lifts her face toward yours and moves her arms in smooth circles over her head—almost like she’s dancing with you.”
Then the nurse invites the mother to watch Maria play some baby “games.” the young mother smiles and hands the nurse the baby. The nurse sways her gently to bring her to the more fully alert, “Ready Zone.” The baby’s eyes brighten and she looks intently at the nurse's red rattle, held just ten inches from her face. As the nurse slowly shakes the rattle, the baby's eyes follow the toy intently from one side to the other. Her mother giggles and remarks, "She's really smart, I guess!"
Holding Maria near her mother’s face, the nurse encourage the young mother to call her baby's name. Her mother initially gets still when she hears her mother’s voice, and then her eyes seem to shift toward her mother. The mother is delighted to see her daughter actually turn her head slowly in her mom's direction and then notices how their eyes “lock” in an endearing gaze. With a big grin Maria's mom lifts her from the nurse's hands and snuggles her face into the crease of the baby's soft neck. One of the mother's hands go to her breast to suppress the unexpected let down of milk.
Having learned more about Maria's remarkable abilities, her mother seems to relax. Now it is easier for her to hear the reassuring comments from the nurse as they discuss normal fussiness (starting around two weeks of age) and how to calm a baby.
Three months later, Maria's mom is a breastfeeding star and an advocate for other new moms. One afternoon she comes to the nurse's breastfeeding class to discuss the challenges and joys of breastfeeding. Cuddling with her baby, she remarks "Don't just count those pees and poops. Learn about the amazing abilities of your newborn and you'll know for sure that your breastmilk is perfect!"
© HUG Your Baby 2012