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You Can’t Hurry Love

Posted on May 24th, 2013 by Jessica M. Lang | Latching

I was heading out for a day-long conference of the Nursing Mothers’ Counsel, and excited to see the first talk. That meant getting my three kids out the door earlier than usual. So there was my youngest, dawdling over her breakfast, while the older kids remembered a series of homework assignments, permission slips they needed signed, lunch essentials we were out of, laundry needs, and other agenda items that would have been useful to hear about the previous day.

In between attending to these, I monitor the progress of the preschooler’s breakfast. I breathe deeply, and resist nudging, holding in mind this key law of physics: any attempt to hurry a small child magnifies the forces of inertia. Telling a toddler “Come on, we need to go!” can slow the child’s movement down to slothlike. Referencing the need to catch a bus or plane, or an appointment that a parent or sibling needs to arrive on time for, can produce an exponential effect. The child will appear to be operating within a gravitational field so intense that picking up a single shoe can take ten minutes.

So I breathe. No hurry. No pressure. Enjoy your breakfast.

It’s a lot like the advice I’m often giving to new mothers who are struggling with a baby that won’t latch: Don’t work so hard.

A common scenario goes like this: at first, the baby takes the breast easily. Mom is thrilled – breastfeeding is a breeze. Then it goes off course. A common culprit is engorgement and edema in the mother’s breasts. It’s not easy for a baby to latch onto a watermelon!

When the baby doesn’t latch, mom gets worried and frustrated. She tries her best to get that nipple in there. Baby expects to draw the nipple into her mouth, not have it poked in, so she pulls away. She’s hungry. She gets upset. Mom tries harder. Baby gets more upset. Sometimes, after a long struggle, it works. Sometimes it winds up with a frantic baby accepting a bottle from a crying mother.

The first step is to break the cycle. Stop pushing it. No more stress at the breast! Get some breastmilk into the baby by another route if need be. We all learn better when we aren’t famished. Relax. Breathe. Snuggle. Sniff the baby’s head.

Then, a relaxed mom and baby can work together.

When a mother reframes her goal from “get the baby to latch” to “create lots of opportunity and a positive environment for the baby to breastfeed”, the situation often turns around. Sometimes the baby latches right away, sometimes slowly over time, and sometimes there are physical obstacles that need to be addressed as well. Engorgement, tongue tie, and other problems can be dealt with. Regardless, breaking out of the panic is critical. Stress inhibits oxytocin, the “love hormone”, which is so important for both mom and baby. Suckling and milk flow both depend on oxytocin.

So latching, like a slow moving toddler, only gets worse when pushed. Some things you just can’t rush.