Saturday, October 3, 2009

Physiologic birth and breastfeeding

I went to a very fast birth recently! Mom called me to tell me she was in labor, an hour later to say they were going to the hospital. I didn't believe from the tone of her voice that she was really so far along (although I just said, "Sounds good, see you there.")

I arrived at the hospital thinking she might be 4-5 cms, max. But when I walked into her room they said "You're just in time!" I said, "Just in time for what?" "For her to have the baby!" Yep, she walked in at 10 centimeters and pushed the baby out about 45 minutes later. Until she was checked she fooled just about everybody about how far along she was, including her husband and the midwife - everyone was shocked by how far along she was. Fortunately mom tuned into her own body and ignored the rest of us!

Because she walked in ready to go, and didn't want drugs anyway, mom really got absolutely nothing - no IV, no injections, nada. She just sat down on the bed and pushed her baby out. And after days of rounding with the LCs on a floor full of post-epidural babies, it was so striking to see a baby from a totally unmedicated labor! This baby was so alert from the beginning - eyes open, looking around - and latched on and nursed beautifully within half an hour. When I went in the next day it was the same story - awake, perfect latch, nursing frequently and effectively. This on a floor full of babies with bad latches, breast refusal, ineffective suck.

Birth practices affect breastfeeding. It just gets brought home to me over and over. The LCs all know it. They dislike epidurals and other interventions not in any holier-than-thou, you're-a-worse-mom way. One LC needed to have all her babies by c-section. But just like the others, she sighs in frustration over how all those meds are affecting the babies that she's trying to get onto the breast.

We so rarely see a baby who has experienced a physiologic birth, we forget what it looks like. This mom went into labor on her own, got zero meds, followed her body's urges to push (very minimal coaching), and when baby emerged it went straight to mom. Her placenta came out quickly, her uterus firmed up nicely, she began nursing, the end. Nobody did anything to speed her up or slow her down, and she moved and positioned herself however she wanted. Her body just did its thing. That's a physiologic birth! As a doula, I'm fortunate to attend more than my share. As an LC-in-training, I'm lucky to see them at all. All these nursing problems begin to seem normal...but they're not, or at least they don't have to be.

I don't want to sound all super crunchy, "Sure you can have your precious epidural...IF YOU NEVER WANT YOUR BABY TO BREASTFEED." Can you have an epidural and breastfeed successfully? OF COURSE! Can you have an physiologic birth and have feeding issues? Sadly, yes! I'm not talking here about individual choices - many birth-related feeding problems are transient and a determined mom can easily surmount them. But I'm speaking here from a public health standpoint. Not all moms are determined, or have the resources to draw on to overcome those problems. By messing with breastfeeding in any way, we tip more and more of those moms-on-the-edge right over it. And we're messing with breastfeeding big time via birth. Too many women see the fussy sleepy baby and/or the latch issues, and they just decide "This is not for me". Either we have to do something about how we provide pain relief for those who want it, or how we prepare and support moms who have high-intervention births.

A good first start, from what I've seen, is to make sure moms get two full days in the hospital with lots of LC (or other trained staff) assistance - instead of the hospital hustling them out the door. It's hard to fix or even wait out birth-related breastfeeding problems in just 24-36 hours. Yet all these moms are being whisked out the door because hospitals get paid the same for your postpartum care, whether you stay 1 day or 2 days. And of course there aren't enough LCs to give the intensive support some moms need. Sigh.


Jamie said...

I see the same thing with my doula clients. Those natural born babies know just what they're doing.

Sheridan said...

I just attended my CAPPA Lactation Educator Training and we talked about this a lot! I think it is important for moms to know it can play a big role in success. It might encourage more moms to research natural birth!

Of course we need to get OBs, hospitals and nurses on board too and better support the moms who want tha.