Revisiting a postpartum visit from 2016 ...
I'd like to tell you a story about something that happened with one of my postpartum doula clients a few years ago. In fact, it was in 2016 when Donald Trump had just won the U.S election.
Around that time I went to visit a mum called Sophie* and her beautiful four-week-old baby girl. It was her second baby and she also had a two-year-old son. One of the reasons she wanted me to support her during her second postpartum was because, with her son she had found the whole breastfeeding journey really challenging and although she ultimately has succeeded in breastfeeding for a few months, it wasn't an enjoyable process for her. It was painful, stressful and quite overwhelming. She really wanted to make this breastfeeding journey a more positive experience.
She did all the right things that I had recommended, completing a breastfeeding course, getting advice from a lactation consultant and gathering more support around her. However, when I turned up for this visit, massage table in hand, I found Sophie not in a great space. The last few days had been really hard, feeding was becoming difficult, baby was unsettled and fussing at the breast and Sophie was feeling tearful and stressed out. She was also worried that she wasn't making enough breast milk and would have to supplement with formula, which is something that she didn't want to do.
We started talking as I set up my massage table and began to cook lunch for her following postpartum nutrition guidelines, we brainstormed together what she could do that might turn things around. I also asked her if she had any other challenges. "Oh, absolutely," she said, "you know what I'm finding so difficult at the moment ... is the news." She shuddered as she glanced at the TV which was turned to the BBC and said 'I can't even BEAR to look at that man!" She said that the headlines at the moment were making her sad and that every time she'd turned on the TV, there'd be another story that would make her feel depressed and anxious about the state of the world.
So then I said to her, "Hey, the thing is, those two things that we've just discussed, your breastfeeding and feeling anxious and sad about the news, I think that they might well be related. I reckon the problem we've got here is that ...... President Trump is stealing your breast milk." :)
And then I went on to explain why...
One of the most important hormones that is involved in the postpartum period is oxytocin, the hormone of love and breastfeeding and bonding. It's the hormone that we need in abundance to facilitate a smooth birthing process and to help us to fall in love with our newborn baby as well as trigger the letdown reflex for flowing breastmilk. However, the thing about oxytocin in both birth and postpartum, is that it's directly affected by stress.
And as I explained to Sophie, I said, "Every time you turn on the news, every time you look at your phone or Facebook and there's something that makes you feel sad or anxious, your stress levels increase and your oxytocin starts to drop out. The same thing can happen when you feel hungry, cold and unsupported or unloved. As your oxytocin levels decrease it takes you out of your beautiful, loved-up bubble of happiness and contentment with your newborn baby. Not only that, but your baby depends on you to regulate their nervous system too and that means that it's important for you to be in a calm and peaceful state as much as you can so that you are able to meet their needs for emotional regulation.
I also told her about the postpartum care traditions in many indigenous cultures all over the world that understand this. Rituals and practices that are designed to keep new mothers feeling rested, relaxed, warm, well-fed and stress-free. Home-cooked warm nourishing meals, daily massages, weeks of rest, being nurtured and taken care of with all household tasks taken away. And when you think about it, all of those things are perfectly designed to boost a new mother's oxytocin levels, keeping her in a beautiful blissful bubble with her newborn baby so that they have the time and space to fall in love and learn how to feed.
So I said to Sophie, "My prescription for you, my love, is to turn off the news. Turn off your phone for a while, rest as much as you can, snuggle skin to skin with your baby and if you are going to look at anything on Facebook, make it something happy, make it something that makes you joyful, make it videos of baby pandas and cats. Because laughing and happy things will increase your oxytocin and Donald Trump will steal it away!"
So that's my story about how we recovered Sophie's breastmilk from the clutches of Donald Trump. As I left her that day, snuggled up in bed with her newborn after a deeply relaxing massage and a nourishing lunch, I handed her a warm cup of 'Tigers Milk' and gave her strict instructions ... 'no news ... only baby panda and kittens. ' at least for the duration of your Slow Postpartum. :)
*Names have been changed for confidentiality.
Jojo Hogan is a maternal postpartum care specialist and founder of the Slow Postpartum Movement. An international movement that educates and inspires as to the importance of the weeks following birth. A time when new mothers, parents and families need and deserve to be nurtured, supported and celebrated so that they are able to offer the same to their new babies. To find out more visit slowpostpartum.com