The nursing mother’s village
It takes a village to raise a child, as they say. It also takes a village to support new mothers as they bond with and feed their growing baby. A village is a real network made up of familiar people and places that support you and put you at ease. Many people today live in a complicated world. Do you have a village? If you do, you can improve its functioning. And if you don’t, you can build one.
This post has three main points. First, the non-supportive people need extremely firm boundaries. Second, even the best of people require some managing. Third, you may need some hired help to complete your village.
Think of it this way. Imagine that you’ve just moved to a new place in the country, and there’s a charming little garden. There are rosebushes, a cherry tree, a shady old oak, grass and lots of weeds. It’s a nice space, but you have some work to do! Maybe you’ll prune the roses and cherry tree so they can reach their full potential. Additionally, you may want to create a nice sitting area in the shade of the oak tree. You’ll need to do some weeding, and may decide to grow some vegetables.
Building your village when you have a new baby is a bit like this.
So who belongs in the village?
Unless you’re single, your spouse or partner should definitely be part of your village. From there, your village should expand, in a series of concentric circles, like the ones a pebble makes when you throw it into a pond. Wouldn’t it be odd if you threw a pebble into a pond and it went straight down, with no circles? Think of those circles as representing the people you want around you. The circles closest to you are the people you want and need the most. As you move from the center, the circles represent people whose presence is progressively less important but still meaningful.
Who would you put in each circle? Who are most important people to support you, and your spouse, during this time?
A little weeding and pruning
It’s important to be discerning about the people you include in your space. Sometimes building a strong village for yourself and your nursing baby means limiting time with people you love very much. Here are some basic criteria I recommend for “weeding” your village gardens.
As a general rule of thumb, avoid or limit the company of anyone who is more needy than your baby.
Also, avoid the company of people you’d rather not spend time with.
And of course, avoid the company of anyone who is hostile towards or uncomfortable with breastfeeding. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in this world who don’t approve of breastfeeding. You can find a lot of information out there on the shaming of nursing mothers, including this recent incident involving a police officer! While a lot of women report shaming by strangers, sometimes family members and “friends” inflict shaming as well. This can happen overtly or covertly. If you have family members or friends who make rude or embarrassing comments about breastfeeding, these folks are not good support for you right now.
Let them be helpful
Remember the people in your concentric circles? Those wonderful people you want around you are probably eager to help you. They may even ask “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Let them help you! You can ask them to run an errand or bring you a meal, or pick up some seasonal produce, or help with pet care. If you need someone to hold the baby while you take a shower or take a nap, you can ask! The truth is that most of the people in your village really want to help and are thrilled to have a specific task or two.
Most new parents need a little paid help to help things go smoothly. Make a list of your needs and pay for any services that your village can’t supply on its own. Your insurance should cover the services of a lactation consultant. Other helpful figures that are worth investing in may be post-partum doula, diaper service, errand service or meal service.
The less you have to run around, problem-solve and struggle, the more you will enjoy these early stages of parenting. Likewise, the stronger the bond between you and your baby. All these factors add up to a village that makes breastfeeding more easy and enjoyable.
What about the virtual village?
To the greatest extent possible, I recommend that your village be real-life as opposed to virtual. That being said, some of the members of your support system may live many miles away. Also, you may find an online forum that’s super-helpful for you as a new mom, with practical advice relevant to issues you face. There is definitely a place for all of this. However, I recommend using the virtual world with caution.
Here’s the litmus test for screening habits and interactions mediated by technology. If they ground you, reinforce your connections with people in your real support network, and/or help you solve real-life problems, they are helpful. Beyond that, limit your time online, relax, rest and enjoy your baby.
Please be especially cautious about the use of smartphones and similar devices while holding and nursing your baby. The authors of this article studied the incidence of breast cancer in a group of young women who kept their cell phone tucked in their bra over a long period of time. Unfortunately, the study found that they tended to develop tumors in the area of the breast where they stored their phones. It’s a good idea to store your phone away from your body and especially away from delicate areas such as breast and genitals. We really don’t know what the impact is of cellular phone radiation on breast milk production, because of lack of studies. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended limiting cell phone use in children due to findings that connect cell phone radiation to cancer. The younger the child, the thinner the skull, and the higher the risk.
I also really want to say that when we hold our babies, we really do need to interact eye-to-eye, face-to-face and skin-to-skin, without succumbing to “boredom” and placing the “smart phone” between us and the little one, a barrier between you. As much as possible. Otherwise, your constant “connectedness” may disconnect you from your baby.
Nutritional therapy in the post-partum period
As you recover from the birth and nurture your baby, you need lots of nutrients to heal your body and make healthy milk. Personalized nutrition can energize you for physical activity provide resilience to get through the first few months of parenthood. As your baby grows, individualized nutritional support can help rebalance your metabolism so you can lose any extra pregnancy weight still clinging on. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.