So it’s 6 o’clock in the evening, you haven’t managed more than a banana, a KitKat and one ropey cup of coffee since breakfast and your baby has been up your t-shirt wanting to feed ALL day!
You feed and wind, feed and wind, feed and wind and every time you think your little munch monster has dozed off and you go to put them down for that long-awaited nap, they wake up and the feed-wind cycle starts all over again. You boobs feel like they’ve been on the wrong side of a cheese grater and you are wondering if you will ever see the inside of your eyelids again.
What on earth has happened? You distinctly remember giving birth to a precious little bundle of sweetness just a couple of weeks ago who was peachy-soft and snuggly and, after a lovely, cuddly breastfeed, would burp contentedly before settling down in the new crib for a nice snooze. Now? Now every day seems a little more unsettled than the last. Every evening just one long slog of trying, and failing, to settle a cranky, uncomfortable and seemingly starving creature who simply refuses to calm down for more than a minute unless being frantically patted and jiggled. Nothing soothes your baby for more than a few minutes and if you dare to sit down… well, just don’t even bother!
Is there something wrong with my milk supply?
This pattern of behaviour, as puzzling and seemingly chaotic as it is, is not only normal, but highly protective. Far from being unusually hungry, babies ask to spend hour after hour on and off and on and off the breast because that is where they get instant skin to skin and relaxing endorphins, as well as protection from infection. Hormones which are highest in the young baby’s system in the evening cause gut spasm, and suckling on the breast (or anything else for that matter) stops the spasm by releasing relaxing endorphins into the bloodstream. But endorphins don’t last more than a few minutes and so, every time your baby pops off the boob, those endorphins drop and the gut spasm returns along with the crying and “rooting”. This pattern of behaviour increases week by week because the protection the baby got in the womb from the placenta gradually wears off and so vulnerability to infection increases. The baby who stays in arms and skin to skin by being almost constantly cranky has a greatly reduced chance of catching a bug.
You can see why mums all over the country are convinced that they don’t have enough milk and yet this is rarely true. The baby is simply an endorphin junkie and needs to be in a constant state of motion or suckling in order to get that hit. So all that rocking-in-arms and at-the-boob time keeps the gut relaxed and the baby protected from infection.
Just knowing in advance that babies are simply not evolved to spend time out of arms and so have reflexes that drive them to root and cry every time they sense even the slightest distance between your skin and theirs, can really help get you through those first three months.
Save money by avoiding buying an expensive pushchair and moses basket and invest in a good sling and a “next-to-me crib” instead. Ask your family to provide meals for the freezer and don’t let your partner go out of the house in the morning without making lunchtime sandwiches for you first – after all, trying to juggle a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a grumpy baby is not the best way to spend a day!
You’ll notice that, even in the crankiest weeks, the morning hours are a teeny bit less cranky so plan to either rest, if you have had a bad night, or get out of the house for a walk or company during these slightly better hours.
Are my sore nipples normal?
But what about your poor breasts? All those hours of a baby pulling on and off and on and off can really take it out of you. And if, for whatever reason, your little one isn’t latching comfortably, then as the need to soothe-suckle intensifies week by week, mums can really start to suffer. Boobs are designed for the job and so, no matter how often a baby wants to hang around on them, you shouldn’t be in pain. Ask for help at the very first sign of a problem and, if people tell you that breast pain is normal at this stage, ignore them. A really unsettled, constantly suckling baby is “a thing” 3-4 weeks after birth, sore boobs aren’t.
As the weeks go on and the natural protection from the placenta reduces, the newborn becomes even more vulnerable and so the need for intensive parenting increases and increases until, at about three months old, the immune system really kicks in, the baby no longer needs to be in the constant protection of skin to skin at the boob and the natural urge to suckle endlessly recedes, along with the pain-causing hormones.
So put down that baby book, pick up your baby, and get rocking and snuggling. Let your baby stay close in arms and suckle as often as is needed to soothe. Far from making a rod for your own back you are simply responding as nature always intended – ensuring that your highly evolved little human’s needs are perfectly met until they can survive out of your loving arms.
Rachel Fitz-Desorgher is a leading, internationally-known baby expert, and parenting mentor. Her first book, “Your Baby Skin To Skin” was published in 2017 and it quickly gathered 5-star status with its reviewers.
Rachel will be speaking at The Baby Show at Olympia London 18th – 20th October 2019.