15 July 2011

Concrete Advice

New parents tend to be anxious. Sometimes it hurts to watch. In the same way it must hurt to send a child off to school, as excited as you are for them you are scared as well. That’s how I feel when I round in the nursery. I meet these strange and small infants and their terrified parents and while I want to tell them that everything is going to be okay, I also know that a healthy amount of watchfulness is precisely what makes everything okay.

Anyone who has had a child knows that there’s an incredible amount of work involved. Physical work, emotional work. In the first few weeks of life the feedings and changings and incessant bouncing up and down accompanied to the sound of a stove vent or vacuum cleaner or white noise machine are a huge undertaking. You do it in a sort of fog, completely taken with the extraordinary creature who has just come into your life.

But in addition to this there is the other enormous piece of work most new parents face – worrying that they are doing something wrong. For nursing moms this often centers on how often and for how long their infant is breastfeeding and whether or not he or she is getting enough milk. Many of the teenage moms I’ve cared for have actually opted to pump breast milk and feed their babies with bottles just to know how much milk they are giving. While I think it’s ridiculous to make the already gargantuan task for caring for an infant any more complicated than it already it, I do understand they find this reassuring. Alternately, though, might I suggest that a baby who is peeing ten diapers a day is probably getting plenty to eat. That’s just basic plumbing.

So this morning I told a mother whose infant’s weight was down a bit that she should follow up with her pediatrician in the next 2 days. It was not unusual advice. I know her milk will come in and the baby will gain weight and I also know that if for some reason this doesn’t happen – some strange and unlikely reason – her pediatrician will recognize this and tell her what to do.

“Until then,” I said, “don’t worry. It’s our job to worry, not yours. You’ve got more than enough on your plate.”

“The pediatrician said don’t worry,” dad said waving a finger in the air. “I’m going to remember that and I’m going to remind you later.”

And mom said, “Thank you. Thank you so much for saying that.”

The other thing I say a lot is, “You’ll figure it out” because by and large this is absolutely true. Specifically when it comes to nursing. Babies may be born knowing how to suck but moms are not born knowing how to nurse. It took me two weeks, many tears, some very helpful youtube videos and a 4 day hospital stay with mastitis to figure it out myself, but I did. And Em nursed for a year. For normal people who remember that it’s okay to ask for help, it takes even less time and typically doesn’t involve a hospitalization. So well done normal people. I’ll be calling you for advice instead of the other way around from now on.

In the meantime, program the number for your child’s pediatrician’s office into your cell phone and remember it’s their job to worry when something doesn’t seem right. All you have to do is call and let them know. And you’ll know. Of course you will. You’re a parent and parents know their children. And every pediatrician knows that.

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