“I am trying to tell you I am scared…..”

Posted on October 5, 2016. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Within the first couple of weeks after the birth of her son, my daughter was having a difficult time with nursing as the Little Fellow had such a strong suction and try as we might, we could not get him to take enough of the nipple and areola (the dark area surrounding the nipple) so as to not “mash” (for want of a better word), her nipples.  Tears were running down her cheeks when he latched as she repeated, “This is best for him.” She was determined, but in so much pain.

We decided to drop into a Lactation Clinic in the local hospital.  We were put into a curtained cubicle while the Lactation Consultant (LC) was dealing with another family whose young baby was a hootin’ and a hollerin’.  The baby’s hard crying spoke to his distress and fear (Babies’ cries are different and mean several things: anger, hurt, fear, hungry, sleepy).  Time went by and the Mom and LC were speaking so Dad took the baby to a change table to change him before they left.  Baby did not stop crying and his arms and legs were thrashing.  I had a view through the curtains.

There was a large Stop sign over the table and signage saying “Do not leave your baby alone on the table.”  Dad walked away from the baby to get a new diaper, ever though the change table had some available. I asked myself many times over several minutes, do I help?  do I intrude?  do I say anything to help this wee baby with his obvious distress?  Initially my daughter said, don’t interfere but we were both so moved, she finally said, “Go help them, Mom.”

There is a fine line with stepping into strangers’ lives.  There was only a few moments to make a decision and the baby’s crying was heart breaking.  Dad did not speak nor try to sooth his son as he worked, nor did he touch him beyond trying to change his diaper. Mom might as well have been on another planet.  She was focused on the LC and how to get her baby to feed, not even noticing that maybe he couldn’t feed because he was so stressed, lonely and scared!

For those who do not know, a baby has something called “a startle reflex.”  It is quite obvious when it happens.  Babies spend nearly 9 months in tight quarters and of course after birth, there are no parameters to touch when they stretch, no uterine walls to help them feel warm, safe, secure and contained.  So they panic, or “startle.”  Arms go out wide, legs stretch out and there is a very strong, fearful scream of panic as they realize that there are no edges to their world any longer.  When your baby acts like this, quickly and gently pick him up and pull him into your chest.  If possible reach for a blanket and put it around his back, “sssshhhhhh” all the while.  Bounce a little and reassure him that you are there, all is well and you will look after him.  It will take a minute or two but this warm, secure position, together the beat of your heart which can be heard and is very familiar, will quickly reassure and settle him.  Hold him such for several more minutes and then continue the task you were working on with him.

Back to the story:  I took the steps and approached Dad asking if I could offer a couple of suggestions.  He said yes.  I told him I was a Prenatal Teacher.  “Use your voice to reassure him,” I said.  “Touch him, stroke him. Don’t underestimate how reassuring your voice can be.”  I took my forefinger and stroked the baby’s head and gently told him he was OK, nothing was going to hurt him.  I stroked him for a bit and while there was a little response from baby, I could feel the tension off Dad.  “Your voice is a marvellous tool in calming a baby,” I tried to teach.  “Your little one is telling you he is scared and needs comforting.”  “Doesn’t matter what you say, just the tone counts.  He will respond and help calm him.”   Sadly, I never got to pick him up and hold him.

Dad quickly picked up his son, saying nothing to me, and put him directly into his car seat on the floor then, covered the car seat with a blanket, all the while the baby continued screaming.  The blanket became yet another barrier between the baby and his parents. Out of sight, out of mind, it felt like.  Mother never even responded to her son’s distress at any point, not even to use her voice in trying to calm him.  I thought:  No wonder breastfeeding is going so poorly.  That baby already knew he was not safe with these adults and that they were not clued into his fears and uncertainty after so long in the womb, nor were they willing to try and soothe him.  Trauma in the making.  Did I mention the baby was only 7 days old??

How unprepared the parents were to deal with their son’s distress is something the baby will have to learn to live with and I am betting his fears will only escalate over time.  He is learning:  even when I am fearful, my parents cannot be relied upon to explain and help me feel better.  Bonding may be an issue between parents and baby, if it isn’t already an issue. There is a vicious circle going on, even though there is a good chance, with the proper input, the parents would probably have learned techniques to help their son feel more secure.  After all, they did come the Clinic looking for help.  It is just that they needed much more than breastfeeding help.

Interestingly the LC did not once address the minimal physical contact between parents and their baby or suggest ways to calm the baby before putting him to the breast.   LC focused on latch, position, taking more of nipple in the mouth, and such rather than calming him down and loving on him then trying to breastfeed.  It is all connected, in my opinion.  The LC failed miserably to act on behalf of the baby and by extension, the parents are also adrift.

It was a heartbreaking experience.  And that Little Fellow has yet to leave my mind.

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