Our job as doulas is to help facilitate a safe and magical birth for our clients. We are trained to support our clients before, during and after birth. So, does the birth experience affect the baby’s ability to nurse? The answer is yes, and sometimes no! We have all had clients that had a ‘horrible’ birth, including, induction, pitocin, a nasty doctor, and then go onto have the perfect nursing experience with no breastfeeding problems. We have also seen women who have had ‘perfectly wonderful’ births who struggle with breastfeeding. So does birth affect the breastfeeding baby? The answer is that there will always be exceptions to the rule, but to the general population the answer is yes. Drugs used during labor pass through the placenta and usually affect most babies. The example I give is that some people can have one glass of wine and feel perfect, and others, with the same glass of wine will feel groggy, spacy and ‘out of it.’ The same is true for babies; some can handle the medications often used during labor while most cannot. I have seen over 5000 babies breastfeed and I can tell right away the babies who were exposed to medications during labor and those that were not. The medicated babies often have more trouble following directions and understanding cues from the mother. They have more difficultly identifying which way to turn their head to find the nipple, and often they have trouble coordinating the pattern that is necessary for breastfeeding which is ‘suck, swallow, and breathe’. Many of these babies do ‘suck, suck, suck, and swallow, breathe, breathe.’ When babies have this incorrect pattern it is difficult for them to transfer the milk from their mothers’ breast into their tummies, and in addition, they often pull and tug on the nipple causing pain.
What can a doula do to ensure proper breastfeeding?
- Make sure the baby is transferring milk from the breast to the baby (and not just pacifying on the breast).
- Make sure the baby is having 6-8 wet and dirty diapers in a 24 hour period.
- Teach the mother that her baby must eat 8-12 times in a 24 hour period.
- Learn to identify breastfeeding problems and have a good referral for the mother to get breastfeeding help sooner rather than later (sore nipples are not normal even for the first few days of nursing).
Most importantly, make the mom feel secure, strong and confident about her ability to breastfeed even if the birth was not the ‘perfect birth’ she dreamed of.