The Impact of Birth on Breastfeeding

Just in time for the start of World Breastfeeding Week, here is part 3 of my CAPPA re-cap series!

…they want you to believe it’s their power, not yours…They stick needles into you so you won’t hear anything, you might as well be a dead pig, your legs are up in metal frames, they bend over you, technicians, mechanics, butchers, students, clumsy or sniggering, practicing on your body, they take your baby out with a fork like a pickle out of a jar.

–Margaret Atwood in her novel Surfacing (opening quote of Dr. Jack’s presentation at the 2012 CAPPA conference)

As I mentioned, my favorite part of the CAPPA conference was hearing Dr. Jack Newman speak about controversies in breastfeeding (see next post) and then about the impact of birth on breastfeeding (breakout session). He was an amazing speaker. Very straightforward and almost blunt as well as funny and fast-paced. I really feel glad to have had the chance to see him in person after years of being familiar with his materials.

The notion of the birth-breastfeeding continuum isn’t new to me, having actually published articles about it previously, however Dr. Newman’s phrasing, descriptions, and reminders was just so perfect that it left me feeling even more enthused about the inextricable link between birth and breastfeeding. It is a biologic continuum that nature does not see distinct events—baby is born and goes to breast, it is part of the same event. Drawing on Diane Wiessinger’s work, Dr. Newman explained

With animal births: following a normal birth, infant feeding just…happens. Following an interventionist birth, the mother rejects the baby and there is no nursing at all.

In some hospitals, separation of mother and baby is routine as a way to “prevent” postpartum mood disorders. Dr. Jack’s own theory was that perhaps human mothers turn this “rejection” against themselves and it shows up as a postpartum mood disorder.

Babies NEED and expect to be with their mothers after birth. It is of critical importance. As I shared via Facebook, Dr. Jack explained this:

Know how much an incubator costs now? $50,000. Why don’t we just give half of that money to the mother and put the baby skin to skin on mother’s chest?

And, this gem:

Our hospital births break every rule in the mammalian list of mother-baby necessities.” –Dr. Newman

He also noted that if baby is put skin-to-skin on mother immediately after birth regardless of original intention, the pair will breastfeed. It is biologically programmed.

Why do hospital births break the rules?

Because, as Dr. Newman explained we have a big, big problem in that HCPs do not recognize the critical importance of breastfeeding. He also repeatedly emphasized (in a very funny way) that there are many people who don’t know squat about breastfeeding and breastmilk and don’t feel like they need to learn anything before they start doing studies and writing papers about it.

Dr. Newman also emphasized the important point that the burden of proof rests upon those who promote an intervention! He was speaking with regard to recommending formula supplementation, but I strongly believe it applies to any birth practice. So simple and yet so profound. One example that he shared that is familiar to birth advocates is that lying down for electronic fetal monitoring is a position of comfort for the care provider, NOT for the mother.

And, he made this excellent point: “All medical interventions, even when necessary, decrease the mother’s sense of control, and increase her sense of her ‘body not being up to the task.” Again, the burden of proof rests on those who promote the intervention, not vice versa.

As I’ve touched on several times before, IV fluids that are commonly administered during labor may increase the baby’s birth weight, leading the baby to be more likely to experience the dreaded 10% weight loss (“totally bogus, by the way”). Also as I’ve noted before, IV fluids lead to significant maternal fluid retention which contributes to edema in the nipples and areolas and then…the dreaded “flat nipples.” The more fluid a mother gets in labor, the more a baby “loses” after birth!

Including the same picture as in my other post, because it is in this picture that Dr. Jack is specifically talking about his next point:

I disagree strongly with this statement:

‘Typically, loss of = or >10% of birth weight in the first few days suggests dehydration and the need to consider supplementation.’

He goes on to note that what is necessary is NOT supplementation but to help the mother and baby breastfeed well. The real question when it comes to newborn weight loss is, “is the mother-baby breastfeeding well?”

Newman also addressed something birth advocates are familiar with, the fact that epidural anesthesia can cause maternal fever. This leads to an infant sepsis workup and antibiotics and usually means separation of mother and baby. Here we again experience the failure of many medical care providers to recognize the importance of breastfeeding as beyond just a feeding method. Breastfeeding protects the baby–this is what most hospitals do not understand.

Of interventions that undermine breastfeeding, Dr. Jack pointed to Demerol (meperidine) as the “worst of the lot,” with newborns experiencing sedation and many of them not sucking at all. He also pointed out that all interventions increase the risk of cesarean section, which leads to increased discomfort for mothers and less willingness to breastfeed and increased likelihood of mother-baby separation.

The importance of skin-to-skin contact

Babies easily find their way to the unwashed nipple. And, given baby’s inborn feeding behaviors and instincts, it seems clear that, “if the baby expresses his or her choice, the baby would choose the breast.” (with regard to breastfeeding as maternal “choice”)

Not putting baby skin to skin with the mother, “increases the risk of hypoglycaemia significantly…Isn’t skin to skin contact a less invasive preventative measure than giving formula?” Newman then points out that most often we see “skin to blankets” which keeps baby from showing they’re ready to feed, doesn’t stimulate milk supply, and leads to engorgement which is not normal.

And, at the end he emphasized that when it comes to birth and breastfeeding, all too often WE MESS IT UP by meddling with the biological processes and rhythms of the mother-baby relationship.

For more about controversies in breastfeeding, check out my next post.

Handouts from Dr. Newman are available here. One I’ve used recently is How to Know a Health Professional is not Supportive of Breastfeeding.

I’ve written about the birth-breastfeeding continuum and about some other systemic influences on breastfeeding in breastfeeding as an ecofeminist issue.

5 thoughts on “The Impact of Birth on Breastfeeding

  1. Pingback: CAPPA Re-Cap | Talk Birth

  2. Pingback: Controversies in Breastfeeding | Talk Birth

  3. Pingback: World Breastfeeding Week Post Round Up | Talk Birth

  4. Pingback: Tuesday Tidbits: Breastfeeding | Talk Birth

  5. Pingback: The WHO Code: Why Should We Care? | Talk Birth

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