Breastfeeding and intimacy

The other night I taught my regular breastfeeding class (“Breastfeeding Basics” at Blossom Birth in Palo Alto).  One of the prospective parents–a mom–stayed after class to ask a question about a topic she wished I had brought up in class: the emotional aspects of breastfeeding and their effect on intimacy. This topic was on her mind since she had recently read “And Baby Makes Three” by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman.

This was a great reminder that we sometimes focus too much attention on what might be called the “mechanics” of breastfeeding: how to get a good latch, the finding comfortable nursing position, ensuring you have a good milk supply, and dealing with challenges like sore nipples and thrush. All these things are certainly important. But my experience helping new moms with breastfeeding issues tells me that the emotional aspects of parenting are all tangled up with the practical aspects. Sleep deprivation–which is a practical matter–has an enormous effect on your ability to cope with new situations and challenges. Even a rock-solid relationship can quake under the effects of too little sleep and the 24-hour demands of a new little being.

Yes, breastfeeding has implications for intimacy. In the early weeks, the sheer amount of time devoted to infant feeding leaves little time to do anything else. Even as babies grown and feedings shorten and space out, many moms report that the physicality of breastfeeding leaves them “touched out” and unable to respond to what might feel like another “demand” for physical intimacy from a partner.

Maintaining intimacy while breastfeeding a baby or toddler takes dedication and ingenuity, but no more, really, than maintaining any intimate relationship under challenging circumstances. Find a way to keep the lines of communication open and be gentle with each other. Find non-sexual ways to be intimate, and share your expectations with one another.  Seek out a supportive community like a new parent group or a breastfeeding support group (PBC offers one at our office the first Friday of every month) where you can share your concerns with others who are walking the same road as you.

And know that, as my grandmother used to say, “This too shall pass.”



Another study, more confusion

A Yahoo news report on a UK study of current guidelines that mothers breastfeed exclusively until babies are 6 months old began: “Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months is not necessarily best for a baby’s health, British researchers said Friday, calling into question advice given to new mothers.”

I teach breastfeeding and have long been advocating exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months (based on the current recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics). However, when new evidence comes to light, it should be considered… right?

Well, yes and no. Certainly, professionals like myself should read and consider new studies so we can present up-to-date information to clients and students. But there are deeper questions: How much should parents read and study about health-related issues? How thoroughly should they seek to “review the literature” on infant feeding, childhood sleep, adolescent depression? To what extent should parents seek out and rely on experts, and to what extent should they become their own experts?

The answer, I believe, will be different for everyone. Being well-informed is part of being a responsible citizen and parent. But in the age of Google and Wikipedia, you can sometimes have too much of a good thing. Trying to reach a definitive conclusion about which practices are healthful and which are harmful may leave you in a sobbing heap on the floor.

So take this new study–and all studies–in context. It is probably not the definitive answer about when babies should start solids. Also remember the many things that once were considered just fine (my mother smoked cigarettes and drank martinis while pregnant) and now are known to be detrimental.

As a parent, you do the best you can at the time with the information you have. That’s pretty much all you can hope for.

Help create a great resource: The Birth Survey

The Birth Survey

How did you pick your care provider for your pregnancy? Was it the same OB you’ve had for years and years? Did you ask friends? Did you not think about it until you were actually giving birth and finding out that the doctor’s ideas about what you should do were different from your own?

There is a great resource under development called “The Birth Survey,” the goal of which “is to give women a mechanism that can be used to share information about maternity care practices in their community while at the same time providing practitioners and institutions feedback for quality of care improvement efforts.” In simpler terms, it’s an online survey that any woman who has given birth in the last three years can fill out to give feedback about her provider.

I urge you to take a few minutes to take the survey. With more input, more women will be able to make informed choices about the care they receive during pregnancy and birth.