Over the weekend I got to hear world-renowned breastfeeding educator Jack Newman speak at an Atlanta Bellies to Babies event. I’ve read his articles and website a lot in the past–he’s a great resource–although I’ve always thought it was a little strange for a man to be a breastfeeding educator. However, I didn’t expect to enjoy his talk as much as I did. I couldn’t tear myself away. I know I’m not a breastfeeding expert or anything, but after doing it for 3.5 years straight and researching it a lot, I sort of thought I had a handle on a lot of the science of breastfeeding. I was wrong. I couldn’t believe how much there is to learn about breastfeeding. I still feel like my brain is on information overload, in a good way.
Naturally, I was thinking a lot about elimination communication in the context of all this new information. I’ve always believed that EC is a huge support for breastfeeding moms: having such specific awareness of how much is coming out of your baby can make you a lot more confident about how much is going in. Plus, I think that new moms have a biological instinct that makes us obsess about our babies’ poop (is there anyone in the world who’s more interested in talking about poop than new moms? There’s not. Trust me on this one), and I’m sure that instinct is connected to breastfeeding, because poop and pee are such a simple way of increasing your awareness about your baby’s eating. DiaperFreeBaby has a list of the ways that EC benefits breastfeeding (and yes, I gave a copy of that brochure to Dr. Newman!), but his talk made me realize several other ways EC could help breastfeeding that I had never thought of.
1. Awareness of hindmilk/foremilk imbalance. Dr. Newman talked about the common recommendation to only let the baby feed on one side in order to prevent a fore/hindmilk imbalance. This can cause problems if the baby isn’t drinking properly, because nibbling, even for a long time, on one breast isn’t going to feed the baby sufficiently (although nibbling on both breasts won’t either). EC can help with this because you get a lot more direct exposure to the baby’s poop. Yes, you can tell if his stools are green, mucosy, watery, or explosive by looking in his diaper. But it’s a lot more obvious in the toilet. You’re also a lot more aware of how your baby feels while pooping; if he’s having trouble passing stools–or more trouble than usual–you’ll be more aware of that. And if you know he’s getting enough hindmilk, then you won’t worry about limiting him to one side for that reason.
2. “Excess” weight loss after birth because of IV during labor. This was really fascinating to me because I’d never heard about it before. Newborns usually lose some of their birth weight in the first few days after birth. The general recommendation is that they should lose no more than 10% of their body weight. However, Dr. Newman said that if the mother had lots of fluids given in an IV during labor (which is pretty common), then often the baby will lose a lot more than that because he’s actually overhydrated when he’s born. He told us examples of babies who lost 10% of their body weight within a day of birth. And–here’s the really crazy part–often these babies are then diagnosed with dehydration and supplemented with formula. Of course, it’s easy to know from observing that a baby really isn’t dehydrated, and you can tell if he’s having wet diapers, too. But for a new mom, especially if she’s using disposable diapers, it might be hard to know exactly how much the baby is peeing–newborns pee in very small amounts, and disposables can absorb a lot of liquid and still feel dry. But if you’re practicing EC, then you know exactly how much your baby is peeing. I think even the most timid new mom would have to laugh if someone told her her baby was dehydrated if she knew that her baby was peeing clear liquid every 15 to 30 minutes.
3. Encouraging communication and nursing on demand. DiaperFreeBaby has this on its list, but Dr. Newman’s stories made me realize more how true it is. He had a lot of examples of mothers who measure breastmilk and time feedings and stress about every detail of feeding their babies. He said at one point that breastfeeding is actually a confidence game as much as anything else: you need to trust it and your body and relax about it, not measure everything and stress about it. He talked about women in South Africa, where he worked at a clinic, whose babies have “terrible” latches and yet who breastfeed and thrive. Why? Because the mothers don’t worry about it. They don’t time feedings or measure amounts. “Every time the baby squawks, the mother offers the breast,” he said. They listen to their babies’ communication. And EC, done right, is amazing practice for teaching mothers the skill of listening to their babies. Yes, it’s possible to stress about EC just like you can stress about any parenting practice. It’s possible to time pees and potty by the clock. But that’s not how EC is done best. It’s best done as a combination of intuition, communication, and almost-psychic awareness of your baby. It’s best done as an experiment in trust. That’s why I always tell families that the only way to do anything “wrong” with EC is to not enjoy it. If it’s fun, then you’re doing it right.