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  • Making Mistakes can Speed up the Learning Process with Breastfeeding

    A recent study by the John Hopkins School of Medicine showed that the brain learns motor skills faster by processing errors than any other way. In the past it was assumed that people learned and performed a motor task faster the second or third time around because they had more practice, but this is not the case. Although practice helps, the learning part comes from the brain's processing of mistakes. The brain, which never ceases to amaze and surprise us with its abilities and cleverness, stores memories of motor skill errors in performing a task which it then processes for making adjustments for the optimal outcome. We knew our brains were smart, but this shows that they are even smarter than we first thought as they can successfully automatically critique our every motor action to figure out what works best, sort of like self-coach we didn't even know we had.

    This science can be applied to almost every area of life figuratively and directly to physical areas that relate to motherhood, such as breastfeeding your baby. As we know all babies are different. So although it may be easier to breastfeed the second or third time around, what worked before on one baby (one particular hold or technique for latching) may not be as effective on a different child. It takes trial and error to find out what works for both your baby and you in the breastfeeding relationship. It also takes trial and error to figure out the times of day, amount of time and a multitude of other factors for optimal results in breastfeeding.

    For example, maybe your baby needs to be woken up a little first by having its diaper changed or a layer of clothes peeled off so they are not too hot and more awake. Maybe you need to play with your baby a little first to get them more stimulated. There may be a certain hold that works better at nighttime than daytime. Perhaps you nurse better an hour after dinner or a big glass or water as your milk supply is full. For some moms their best nursing sessions are first thing in the morning when they've had more sleep and restful time for their body to fully replenish their milk supply. There are so many factors involved in finding success in breastfeeding, particularly early on.

    One of the encouraging facts about this study is that your baby’s brain. which is amazingly wired, is also processing the trial and error information and figuring out how they can best feed. That’s one of the reason why its easier to breastfeed a baby with each additional week of life and experience that you stick with it. However, it is helpful to have an expert, such as a lactation consultant, to observe and offer advice on holds and techniques for breastfeeding your baby early on and especially if a problem arises. They can help speed up that learning process by using their expertise to narrow down on what might be going wrong or what adjustments you can try.

    The key is to stick with it and not give up hope when things don’t seem to be going well. With your brain and your baby's brain working together, breastfeeding will get easier. There will come a point when your baby knows all of your queues to nursing without you needing to spend fifteen minutes preparing a nest of pillows and props and mirrors to make sure they are positioned just perfectly. Before you know it you will only need to barely lift your shirt or nursing top ever so discreetly and your baby will know exactly what to do without you needing to pause for a breathe as you talk to a friend.

    Trust in the miracle of your brain with trial in error (and any additional professional help you may need) and nursing will be a piece of cake in no time. Also with all of those calories you burn nursing you can treat yourself to that occasional piece of cake without any guilt!

     

  • My Life as a Mom - Part 3

    I nursed my third baby nursed for 15 months until about the time I started feeling he was going to outgrow me. Looking back on it I realized I did succumb to a bit of social pressure or perceived social pressure. If I had it to do again I would have nursed him as long as I liked. Of course my husband believes our six year old would still be nursing if I didn’t wean him in that second year. However, the idea is to nurse him as long as I, the mother, would like and am able and not someone else tells me he is too big to nurse and should order for himself at a restaurant.

    I was actually quite surprised with how easy the weaning process was for all three of my kids. It always seemed so daunting when I would hear about people weaning their baby in a hurry before returning to work. What I discovered with the process is to do it gradually makes it easier for all, particularly my own body which was used to producing huge amounts of milk. I found that it is a lot less traumatic for the mother to emotionally and physically adjust to the reduced amount of nursing when it is stretched out over a longer time horizon than trying to power wean over a weekend. When weaning is done gradually over time, the baby barely notices and you might even find you want to hang onto that last nighttime feeding a little longer as you bond with your baby before he falls asleep and as you sometimes fall asleep yourself . One of the perks of nursing is that it does help you relax and fall asleep. It is remarkable how smart and flexible babies can be to new schedules and how fast the body can regulate to new supply and demand updates. Nature has made us elastic with our babies’ needs and babies are amazingly adaptable learners to new modes to feeding – although it may not feel that way at first because they have a lot to say about it.

    Looking back today as my youngest is 6, my middle child is 10 and my oldest 12, I am truly glad I was able to nurse all of my children for as long as I did. The first two I was able to continue to nurse after my maternity leave ended and I was working fulltime. It is amazing how you can make things work when you really want to do so.  Once we made it through the very rough first couple of weeks and even months it was a very fulfilling experience (and it did help me lose a lot of baby weight!) It provided me with a lot of bonding with my children and forced me to take my own “time out” of my busy day and evening to unwind with my baby. This was particularly nice when I was working fulltime and our caregiver would feed my baby my pumped milk during the day. The evening feedings when I was at home could be done in person and I could truly bond without a pressing commitment to my baby or hooked up to a machine.  I did find that keeping some interesting magazines around my go-to glider were a must have for daytime nursing. It also feel gave me a sense of competence and completeness that I was enough to continue to provide life and nutrition and comfort to my child. I was equipped with the goods as a mother. However I also know that having the support from my husband and caretakers when I was working fulltime was a big part of that equation as well, particularly when multitasking with other children and work responsibilities.

    Each stage of motherhood holds its own challenges and joys. As soon as you think you have one mastered, you enter the next. I have also found that each stage is less daunting than it seems from the distance. The terrible twos and toddler years can hold their share of stress but can also overwhelm you with joy and fun in firsthand experiencing your baby come into their own and literally start exploring and testing their world. The preschool years can be a big breath of relief as well as trepidation as you maybe for the first time drop off your child at school and leave them there for a period of time with people you have not personally hired and vetted. Even the older kid and tween years are an enriching time of seeing your child become more confident and independent and less in need (or desire) of constant handholding as they bond more with peers.

    Each and every stage holds its surprises and rewards. I have found and continue to find that reaching out for help when you need it is key. If you do not have family nearby (as we do not), finding a neighbor or mom at your school to help with carpooling, trading off on playdates and, if you can afford it, finding the occasional babysitter so you can escape on a date night is important in keeping some sanity and balance in your life. Everyone tells you to enjoy your kids while they are young. Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy every moment, especially when you are tired and sleep deprived. It's easier to enjoy them when you have the support you need to take care of them.  Just remember to be kind to yourself, patient with your kids and say “yes” to help whenever it is offered! You also deserve a mom time out, even if it's just a cup of coffee by yourself or a trip to the mall or bookstore. Treat yourself occasionally to a nursing top or something you like. It will make your whole experience all the better when you are not feeling deprived and your own needs are met. Remember to put your own oxygen mask on first, then are best equipped to meet the needs of your child!

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