Ah intuition. Specifically. Mothers’ intuition. It’s one of those things that is apparently a rite of motherhood passage, kind of like your milk coming in or catching baby poo in your bare hands (both things that we guarantee will happen within your first few days/weeks of parenting.) But what is intuition? Do all mothers have it? And can it help or hinder breastfeeding? Read on to find out more.
Going with your gut
The concept of gut feeling or intuition is based on the idea of making decisions without any analytical reasoning. In other words, choosing to do or not do something purely based on a feeling. And it’s not a new phenomenon. According to Parents.com, experts have studied the concept of ‘thinking with your gut’ and found that gut feelings are signals from the brain to the gastrointestinal tract and vice versa with these signals often shaped by past emotional experiences. While the jury is out on whether mothers’ intuition is a legitimate thing, experts tend to agree that parents become more aware of and attuned to specific events, feelings and cues. Author and Anthropologist Sarah Blaffer, Ph.D states that ‘mothers are more likely to have different priorities or biases that cause them to notice and focus on different things.” Things like breastfeeding.
Is breastfeeding all intuition?
Many, many new mothers believe that breastfeeding will come as naturally as breathing and that once baby arrives, they will intuitively know what to do. I was this new mother, 12 years ago and oh how wrong I was. Breastfeeding does not always come naturally, and you may not instinctively know what to do but that is ok! Not to get all sociological but it is important to remember that, as humans, we were never meant to mother alone. Historically, women would have been supported in birth and breastfeeding by other women; sisters, aunties, a larger kinship group and would have been exposed to breastfeeding in all its forms from a very young age. Intuition would have developed through time and experience. That is no longer the case for most of us and many enter motherhood having never really seen the realities of breastfeeding in everyday life or knowing what to do when things get tough. I know I hadn’t as a new mum and it took another mother (and a good nipple shield) to set me on the right path. Breastfeeding for the most part is a learnt skill. Yes, some people will find it clicks easily but many women find it incredibly hard, painful work and the very opposite of natural. The good news? The hard parts don’t last forever. As with any skill, the more you learn, the better you get and, with the right support, breastfeeding can end up being as natural as breathing. You just need to give yourself time (and a set of Lactivate Silver Nursing Cups, an absolute game changer to help protect and heal sore, tender nipples).
Can I learn to be an intuitive mother?
While breastfeeding may not come naturally at first, there is every chance your intuition is still at work under the surface. It can however take some time to start hearing and acting on it. One of the best examples of your growing intuition is breastfeeding on demand and when you start to ‘watch the baby and not the clock’, a favourite breastfeeding adage of ours here at Milkbar. What this means is that you’re responding to your bubs own individual cues, usually of hunger and fullness instead of following a regimented, clock-based feeding schedule. These schedules are often given to you by your caregiver to help with establishing a feeding routine but are based upon an (often very confusing) set of rules, regulations and expectations. ‘Feed the baby every 3-4 hours,’ ‘do not feed for longer than XYZ minutes on each side,’ ‘wake/don’t wake the baby to feed.’ Trying to follow ‘the rules’ can be exhausting and, yes, feel very counter-intuitive. Your baby doesn’t need a clock to know that they are hungry or thirsty or that they’ve had enough to drink. They just know. And when we follow their lead, we begin to develop our own understanding of how our little person works. The added bonus? Following your babies’ lead and feeding on demand can help establish your milk supply and minimise your chances of developing things like mastitis as your breasts are being regularly and properly emptied.
The same goes with sleeping. Following safe sleeping guidelines is of course a given but ‘sleeping rules’ have caused more than one mum to enter the depths of despair when their baby will not be ‘put into their cot sleepy but awake.’ Many bubs thrive on contact naps. Others will allow you to put them down but not till they are fully asleep. Some cat-nap. Others like longer stretches during the day and shorter at night (sorry!) or vice versa. It is different for every baby which is why guides and programs often fall short and undermine your growing intuition. Our suggestion? Pick and choose the advice you follow. Start tuning in to your gut and if what it is saying feels right, go with it and see what happens.
When breastfeeding hurts
Sometimes, even our best laid breastfeeding plans can go awry. Remember what we said about breastfeeding being a learnt skill? Well sometimes in the process of learning, we hit a few speedbumps. Sore, tender nipples, mastitis or needing to pump can all be parts of the learning process. The most important thing? Recognising that speedbumps do not equal failure. In fact, facing some of the most common challenges can give you the opportunity to flex your intuitive muscles. Notice a sore, tender lump on your breast and just get the feeling it’s a blockage? Whip out the Ice and Heat packs and/or LaVie Warming Massager before mastitis takes hold. Nipple damage struggling to heal? Give your nipples a break with a couple of pumping sessions (the Pump Strap Hands Free Pumping Bra is a great option for pumping on the go). Being able to make decisions about your breastfeeding journey is a sure-fire way to boost your confidence and intuition. You got this mama!