Jennifer Davidson, RN, BSN, IBCLC is a Los Angeles based Pediatric Nurse, Lactation Consultant and breastfeeding expert of nearly 30 years. She is a visionary in the field of breastfeeding, as well as the co-creator and producer of “The Milky Way” movie. She does house calls, and also works in the office of pediatrician Dr. Jay Gordon. Jennifer is passionate about helping mothers, babies and breastfeeding.
I met Jennifer five years ago during my son’s long stay in the NICU; she was instrumental in supporting me in being successful breastfeeding a premature baby. I refer Jennifer to my clients who want to breastfeed and find her expertise and positive outlook to be both comforting and confidence building.
Hi Jennifer, so, tell me… what’s in it for the mom while breastfeeding?
A mother is flooded with natural hormones during and after birth. These are her most marvelous gift. They come from within and provide for her a sense of wellbeing, strength, and calm. They impart an inner knowing, so she can begin to trust herself and her instincts.
Then why do some moms find themselves uncomfortable with a baby at the breast?
Not all women want to breastfeed, and that’s ok. But for those who do, I think society sends a lot of mixed messages regarding breastfeeding, this can create doubt and discouragement which can cause her to distrust her instincts, and often a reduction in milk supply.
What we value in our culture is not very supportive of a breastfeeding mother. In our western world, using our breasts for feeding our babies is in conflict with breasts being seen primarily as sexual objects. In movies and television the thought process often boils down to: “We need to make a lot of money so let’s show some breast.” Consumerism, sexuality, and productivity are often placed above family and babies.
The problem is that women are not respected and elevated for the most vital job in the world, mothering. When mothers have to go back to work, they are eager to provide milk for their babies, but they don’t feel supported by the overall attitude toward breastfeeding in our culture, especially in the work place, and it is very undermining. Women literally have to steal away into bathrooms or closets to pump, feeling shame and guilt for this most incredible, life-giving miracle that they alone can provide. Is it any wonder that so many women say they couldn’t provide enough milk for their babies? There is a terrible lack of cultural support. This has to change!
What are some things a mom can do to create an optimal environment for breastfeeding?
Spend as much time as possible at home with your baby, skin to skin, especially in the first 6 weeks. We have been taught that babies belong swaddled in blankets with hats on in their own basinet. We have to change this cultural image of mothering. Our babies belong on our bodies, skin to skin, wrapped in the comfort and warmth of a mother’s arms. Lay your baby on your body and get to know him or her. Become attuned with one another.
It’s a big transformation from being one person who doesn’t have anyone to be responsible for and now here you are 24 hours a day being responsible for someone else. Your body transforms from who it was to what it is now… making milk, breastfeeding, and having every single minute of your day being demanded of. You need to be able to relax so your hormones will flow, which brings a feeling of contentment. It’s not just a big chore, It’s a gift and a joy.
What should mom do if the first 6 weeks postpartum her situation is not optimal because she had a traumatic birth; or she’s suffering from postpartum depression or the baby is in the hospital?
When a mom is not in an optimal situation, if she for instance has had a traumatic birth… again, the most important thing for her would be to recreate a more relaxed birth situation. She can try to spend as much time skin to skin with baby as possible. If baby is in the hospital, it’s important to set up a chair and get that baby to lay on her in the hospital, even if staff are giving her a hard time, because that baby needs her and mothers really do need their babies, to help get those hormones going and prevent postpartum depression. Mothers in this situation, with a baby in hospital, or if they are recovering from a traumatic labor, need lots of support. They need supportive people, lots of rest and plenty of skin-to-skin time. This will help both mother and baby heal from the trauma.
Is breastfeeding just as valuable if you have to supplement early?
If a mom has to supplement, of course it’s still just as valuable. The same things are important: that baby learns they are” home” when laying skin to skin with mom, that the mother feels really good about the milk she’s able to give her baby and that they are attuned with one another.
What about if for whatever reason breastfeeding is not going to happen by choice or by circumstance?
In that situation, we still have the place of the mother’s chest, which is “home” to that baby. There’s still skin-to-skin time, which is absolutely essential. You continue to have a flow of hormones even when you hold a newborn baby or infant. You get the same wonderful feeling of wellbeing; the oxytocin is still produced even if you’re not making milk. Oxytocin is made in your child’s brain too through the skin- to-skin contact. Bottle-feeding can be done in a way that you feel like you’re nursing a child.
Why does a mom need to see a lactation consultant, isn’t breastfeeding instinctual? It didn’t come completely naturally for me, but despite that, I’ve managed to be successful twice with your help. I feel every breastfeeding mom should see a lactation consultant after each birth, even if she’s the mother of three or four children, because each baby is different and the factors in your life are different. Do you think mothers need to see you even if things are going well?
Even if breastfeeding seems to be going well, an experienced LC can discuss details and techniques that can make things easier. A visit can boost confidence dramatically, and offer confirmation that you and your baby are doing well. Most of us don’t quite remember nursing our little newborn baby, and they’re so different than nursing an older child. Milk flow is usually different with each child and each baby is unique. Having a review with a lactation consultant can be just the thing to get things off to a great start.
You had a dream to make a movie, you birthed a movie! How did you balance mothering your children, even though they are older, a full time job, and producing “The Milky Way?” How did you balance it all?
I have an awesome husband who took on shopping, cooking and supporting me in doing all of this. My kids were at an age where they were really happy I wasn’t hounding them as much. When my first son went to high school, one of his teachers recommended that the best thing for my “teenage concerned mind,” was to create a new hobby of my own. So it was really a good thing that the movie was definitely a new hobby. I became passionate about it. I hope that I am able to pass on to them a sense that life is exciting, worth living, doing what you love, and hopefully contributing to the world.
What do you want every person to take away from your movie… man, woman, kids, no kids… what do you hope people learn from “The Milky Way?”
I want everyone everywhere to know how important it is to support mothering. A woman’s body is incredible, creating life and providing essential nutrients and immunity for her child. And that not only is she essential to create and nurture her baby’s body, she is essential in creating her baby’s emotional well-being through her loving, devoted connection to her baby. I want women everywhere to know that they can trust their bodies, their babies and their instincts above all.
What’s one thing you wish you had known when you were a new mother?
I wish I had known the importance of the first years in developing the emotional brain of a child, how their emotional wellbeing is developed by being in proximity to an invested, responsive, and available mother. I would have figured out a way to be home with my babies.
A heartfelt thank you to Jennifer for sharing her thoughts on breastfeeding and motherhood!
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Davidson
As told to Katrina Nelson, January 2016