By: Dr. Katie Gleisner
As many of you know, my husband and I recently welcomed our first baby earthside. We are soaking up every moment with Baby Leif, and are in awe of this new little life. Motherhood is a new and wild ride. During pregnancy, we visualize our ideal birth, care for our growing bodies and babies, and prepare our nest for their arrival. We read books, seek support and wisdom, and receive a lot of advice. Once our babies arrive we embark upon a new journey as mothers. As a new mama, this is uncharted terrain and I wanted to share a few things that have eased the transition and been helpful for Leif and I.
1. Nursing Lying Down
Breastfeeding is the greatest nest I have created for Leif. Through my pregnancy I prepared our physical nest, as well as my breasts for they would be his greatest source of comfort, warmth, security, love, and nourishment. I read La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and took a class offered by International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC). Both were invaluable resources for Leif and I.
Nursing is an intricate dance between mother and baby. Our anatomy and baby’s influence comfort and positioning preferences. There are a variety of nursing positions, cradle, cross cradle, football hold, semi-reclined, and side lying, with subtle variations for each mother-baby dyad. Leif and I have found nursing lying down in both semi-reclined and side lying positions to be comfortable and easeful. We nurse most often in a semi-reclined position, as it is comfortable for me, and easy for him to latch and release gas. I create a fortress of pillows, two behind my head and bolsters beneath my arms and knees. This support creates a gentle angle keeping Leif’s head higher than his feet, which is essential for proper circulation and gastrointestinal motility. Most newborns nurse and rest well on the sloping chest of their mothers. Side lying is our other favorite position. We face one another on our sides in the cuddle curl position. I place a bolster in between my knees, behind each of our backs, and rest my head on a pillow to keep us supported. Then I scooch Leif down, so his eyes are level with my nipple and I apply gentle pressure in between his shoulder blades to arch his back. This elicits the gape reflex, tipping his head back so his chin contacts my breast, for a deep latch. We alternate sides throughout our daytime and evening rests. Leif and I have found semi-reclined and side lying breastfeeding to be wonderfully comfortable alternatives positions to incorporate while nursing.
La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, and Teresa Pitman
2. Rest Well
Sleep at the end of pregnancy often can become challenging due to physical discomfort, shifting hormones, and anticipation to meet our babies. It seems to be our body’s way of preparing us for newborn sleep. After the birthing marathon and joy of meeting our new little one, we are emotionally and physically fatigued. As new moms, we are told to “rest when baby rests,” which can be easier said than done. However, being horizontal and cuddling with Leif when he rests is both restorative and grounding for us both.
While prepping our nest for Leif’s arrival we set up his bassinet, and created a safe bedsharing set up. I anticipated that he would join me in bed for nursing and naps. Since joining us earthside, Leif prefers and only sleeps when on or cuddled against me. Our babies derive comfort and security from our warmth, smell, rhythmic heartbeat and breathing patterns. For ten months, they were surrounded and protected by our bodies. It is quite an adjustment entering this bright, loud, and cold world. For most of human history, babies have safely slept alongside their moms, just as other mammalian mother-baby dyads, for comfort, nourishment, and protection. In the Western world, over the past hundred years there has been a shift away from bedsharing; however, bedsharing is a safe option to support the mother-baby connection, breastfeeding, and our newborn’s developing nervous and respiratory systems. We follow The La Leche League’s Safe Sleep Seven for sweet sleep together.
The Safe Sleep Seven are simple steps to prepare a safe sleeping arrangement for you and your babe. The La Leche League’s guidelines for safe bedsharing are the following. Mom needs to be a non-smoker, sober (no alcohol, drugs, or medications that make her drowsy), and breastfeeding. Baby needs to be full-term and healthy, kept on their back when not nursing, and unswaddled in a light pair of jammies. Both mom and baby need to be on a safe, firm surface. We follow the Safe Sleep Seven and nurse in the cuddle curl position, side lying for daytime and evening sleep. The cuddle curl position is a natural, protective position that all mamas find themselves in, as it is an innate, natural way to protect your baby while sleeping. Mom lays on her side facing her baby with her knees up and arm tucked under her head or pillow to curl around her baby, creating a protected space. Another mother-baby connection that provides a fascinating layer of bedsharing protection is breastfeeding hormones synching mom up to her baby’s sleep cycle. I often wake before Leif does, and am able to gaze at his beautiful face as he exits his light sleep cycle. Together we nurse and gently fall back to sleep for a few more hours, thus allowing us to wake for the day feeling rested and connected.
La Leche League’s Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. Smith, and Teresa Pitman
Safe Infant Sleep: Expert Answers to Your Cosleeping Questions by James J. McKenna, PhD
3. Wrapped in Love
Baby wearing in a wrap, ring sling, or soft structured carrier keeps our babies snuggled close and allows us mamas to be hands free. Mothers around the world, and other mammals, have always carried their babies. It allows us to move freely, an opportunity to complete a few tasks, nurse, and creates a perfect nap location for our babies. Leif enjoys being worn in a soft wrap, which is cozy for us both and easier on my body to carry him centered on my chest.
Wearing our babies is an innate mammalian activity. A study found that when infants under six months old are carried, they react like a baby mouse being carried by his mother. Our baby’s natural response is to settle and relax when carried, which makes sense that a baby needs to respond calmly and quietly when his mother is moving him around. We move our babies for a reason, and this reason could be for survival or an opportunity to vacuum. Our urge to carry and wear our babies, and their response to it are hardwired to the mother-baby dyad. Whether Leif is in a content or fussy mood, wrapping him against my chest is soothing to his nervous system, calming to an upset belly, and perfect for napping.
Our babies are growing and changing daily, and we as moms learn their cues and fine nuances to meet their needs. I approach each day with grace as Leif and I learn more about one another, and fall deeper in love. With each of his cues, coos, and cries I am able to respond, cuddle, nurse, and chat to care for my little one. The mother-baby connection is a beautiful, unique relationship that allows us to be attuned to our baby’s needs and strengthens our attachment to one another. Some days there are more tears, spit up, gas and blow outs, but the sweet milky smiles and bright loving eyes are everything. I am enjoying each moment with Leif, as his mama.