There’s something strange about lying in a hospital bed after you’ve just pushed out or had a baby cut out of you for the first time. You’re lying in a bed you can’t really get out of, and then someone hands you a beautiful thing that you just made. After you take a few moments or hours to soak that in, it’s time to get to the task of actually keeping this baby alive. Normally this is preceded by the thought: “….shit. What do I do now?”
Luckily for you, there are a string of baby nurses in the hospital who have tons of personal experience and have dealt with new moms like you thousands of times before. They are there to help you. Unfortunately, lots of them have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to breastfeeding. And/or they will confuse the fuck out of you.
Usually in hospitals these days, new moms are assigned a lactation nurse. Often that woman is full of information and insight on the strange task of breastfeeding. However, if you’re anything like me, you will meet that woman once and then confuse her for the string of nurses who come in and out of your room for the next few days.
Being a neophyte mom, I just ASSUMED that every woman who walked into my room wearing a nurse’s uniform could teach me about breastfeeding. I was so wrong.
Most of the nurses who come into your room in the first hours and days after the birth of your child are NOT trained lactation consultants. Sure, you may get great advice from them. But often, they just fill your head with nonsense and newbie moms go home thinking they are doing breastfeeding all wrong. I was reminded of this by my friend Jessica today when she was telling me of her experience:
When I was in the hospital after having frank cut out of me, I had the bitchiest lactation consultant. Two days in I realized that her advice to “hold your boob like a bra underwire” was SO OFF BASE. That “bra” doesn’t fit! and the reason she’d been riding me for two days is because I WAS holding my boob as if my hand was a bra that fit.”
After an informal poll of Mommyish writers, I found that this is a common problem. Maria was told that she “wouldn’t be allowed” to breastfeed because her son’s blood sugar was too low, while Theresa found out that her breasts were “too big,” and her daughter would have trouble breathing if she breastfed.
“Oh, no big deal! I just tried to suffocate my kid with my boob. Lesson learned!”
All three of these women were smart enough to ignore the lactation “advice” they were given in the hospital. I was not so adept. After two days of pretty smooth sailing with breast feeding, a nurse stopped by to inform me that my son was probably “starving” because my colostrum had run out. She then informed me that if I knew what was good for me, I’d supplement with formula until my milk came in. About four hours later I was let loose with my kid in tow.
I went home armed with a bunch of formula bottles and spent my first night at home shoving nipples (both mine and store bought) into my baby’s face. He wasn’t drinking the formula! Was he allergic!? Was he starving? How many breastfeeding books could I download to my Kindle in one night?!
I spent the entire night frantically researching details about breastfeeding and how quickly formula goes bad rather than getting ANY much needed sleep or just enjoying my new baby. Newsflash: He was TOTALLY fine and I opened up and tossed a bunch of formula bottles for no reason.
All of this is to simply say: the nurses who attend to you after the birth of a child are not lactation experts. They will answer the questions you ask them. And MANY will offer up advice unprompted. But if anyone tells you something frightening about your body’s ability to care for your child, or gets you confused about the breastfeeding process, try to ignore them.
Better yet, find someone knowledgeable about breastfeeding (if you plan to breastfeed), before you go into labor. You will have SO MANY questions afterwards, and being able to get answers exactly when you need them just makes life so much easier.
The day after I got home, I trekked over to a lactation support group run by Andrea Syms Brown (who is TERRIFIC if you happen to live in New York City) on my friend’s recommendation. There I found out that my son was actually getting a ton of breastmilk out of me. He had gained over a pound while in the hospital alone, so that nurse had been super off-base about my milk supply. He was cranky when we got home for the most likely of reasons: He was a newborn baby.
I wish I had been smart enough to ignore the advice I had gotten in the hospital. Of course there are more than a few nurses in hospitals who know what they’re talking about in regards to breastfeeding. Some of them may even help you. But in my experience, they all contradicted themselves and confused the crap out of me. So just know this going in: the doctors and nurses in the hospital are not omniscient because they are wearing a uniform. And before you stress out about anything they tell you, talk to somebody else about it. Almost anyone else. There’s enough crap going wrong in your life when you get home from the hospital after giving birth to worry about screwing up breastfeeding. Limit your freakouts wherever you can.