REBECCA MAR YOUNG.
SWEET & CLEVER.
Rebecca is mum of two, partner at Red Tent Mums and author of the forthcoming book Hands On Birth. She holds a BA Health Sciences in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and has completed postgrad study in Japanese acupuncture, women's health, gynaecology and Paediatric Oriental medicine.
WE CHAT TO REBECCA ABOUT USING TECHNOLOGY WHILE NURSING, THE CHINESE MEDICINE PERSPECTIVE ON BREASTFEEDING AND NURTURING YOURSELF POST-BIRTH,
Why do you think so many women struggle with nursing?
I think that just like with birth, there are so many potential rabbit holes to fall into with nursing that you couldn’t possibly have imagined before starting out. For some it’s pain, for others their baby isn’t attaching properly and for others their milk isn’t coming in like it should, or has come in with great gusto.
Again, mindset plays a huge role. Once you start to feel like you can’t do it, it just seems to get worse and worse and can be hard to get off that treadmill.
With your first baby it can feel like you’re going to be feeding most of the day for the rest of your life, and that can feel overwhelming.
Of course, they get older and their mouths get bigger and they get better at sucking. Even though you’re often told this as a first time mother, at the time you almost don’t believe it.
What was your personal experience with breastfeeding?
My first experience was very difficult and painful. My nipples were quite puffy and my daughter had trouble latching properly. It was incredibly painful and I had cracked nipples on and off for weeks, forever sunning them and expressing. It took me 7 weeks to be pain free. Once I got over that hump though, I breastfed for 18 months and it turned into a wonderful experience that I will always cherish.
The second time around I was in pain for two weeks then it was fine again, which I was very grateful for. I had a lot more confidence and knew when the latch was wrong, whereas the first time it took me ages to get that right.
I used to love the natural high I’d get from it and it felt amazing to be nourishing them with my milk – it’s really cool.
I loved the convenience of it and my kids still remember it, and have such a love and reverence about my boobs – it’s very sweet.
Does the birth experience have an impact on the early days of breastfeeding?
Yes, I think so. If you are fortunate to have a drug-free natural birth then all your hormones are working in your favour, you’re on a physiological high and that really helps with breastfeeding. Having said that, I know of women who had a drug-free birth and were traumatised, so it’s never a sure thing.
Some women need so many interventions during birth which can really upset their body and mind, and have a devastating impact on breastfeeding. Again though, I’ve known women who needed birth interventions and went on to find breastfeeding a breeze.
I think at the end of the day it’s really personal and individual. However, the fewer obstacles there are to overcome, the better.
Why is the first feed so important, and how can new mums be prepared?
It’s in that first hour that a huge amount of bonding takes place. Dr Sarah Buckley has uncovered a cascade of hormonal interactions that take place in an undisturbed drug-free birth in that first hour (her report is available online).
Having said that, it’s not always possible to have a natural drug-free birth for so many reasons, and a woman’s mental state is very important in how that first feed goes.
Let’s put it this way - if the first feed goes well, that can help. If it doesn’t, it’s certainly not the end - there are many chances to turn it around.
As Pinky McKay likes to say, “Every breastfeed is a success.” I think this is a beautiful way of keeping mothers on track in a positive way.
We saw you post an article about smartphone use while breastfeeding on Facebook recently. What’s your personal perspective on using technology while nursing?
The most important thing is to be connecting with your baby and nursing gives an opportunity to do this.
You don't have to be gushing over your baby every second you’re breastfeeding. It’s also important to be relaxed, enjoy yourself and connect with the world, and not be super hard on yourself.
Does Chinese medicine have a unique perspective on breastfeeding?
Yes. Chinese medicine is very particular about nutrition for nursing mothers post-birth. The focus is on bone soups and protein, while cold food, raw food and anything refrigerated is not recommended. These cold foods are thought to cool the milk, and make it less palatable for the baby. Babies like warm milk that is easier to digest.
A mother’s food should be simplified and bland during breastfeeding. Chinese medicine suggests that nursing women avoid stimulants like caffeine and sugar, to make digestion easier for the baby.
Chinese medicine doesn’t endorse feeding 'on demand', as some babies might demand to be fed too often, causing an upset stomach - the suggestion is that every four hours is best. Personally though, I think you need to be more flexible when you have a newborn and your milk production is being established.
There are also Chinese remedies to increase milk flow, lessen milk flow and treat mastitis. Chinese medicine really offers comprehensive postnatal care using food, herbs and acupuncture, and it works well.
Do you have any advice for women whose babies have wind or tummy pain?
For mum, drink fennel tea. For baby, steep fennel seeds in boiling water and once cooled give a teaspoon to your baby before every feed. It’s such a great way of calming their tummy down.
You can also massage from just under their knee towards their ankle to the outer side of the shin bone on both legs. This is the stomach meridian in Chinese medicine, and works well to calm an irritable tummy.
Check out what you’re eating to make sure you’re having reasonably bland food that isn't too spicy or rich.
All of these things together should help quite a bit and if not, see your local paediatric acupuncturist for more information.
How did your business Red Tent Mums come to exist?
Naomi and I were at the same university – but in different years. We crossed paths here and there, then ended up volunteering together to work with refugee survivors.
We became this dynamic duo, and ended up partnering in the clinic. As we are now both mums and our main clientele is mums, we decided to call ourselves the Red Tent Mums.
The name Red Tent comes from a fabulous book written by Anita Diamant who re-imagined biblical history from the woman’s perspective.
In her book she describes the Red Tent as a place where women went to menstruate, birth and powerfully connect with other women. Since we are passionate about treating and caring for women, it felt like a good match for us.
Tell us a bit about your work training midwives.
We started doing this back in 2010. It was so popular – beyond our expectations. We taught midwives about acupressure for pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. They really enjoyed it and we did too!
Not only that, they came back to us with incredible stories of how their new skills were changing women’s lives. It was a truly awesome experience to be part of – so much so that we decided to take the course online so that midwives all around the country and world could benefit. Our course is accredited by the Australian College of Midwives and the American College of Nurse Midwives. It’s called Ancient Secrets for Better Bumps Births and Babies.
What are the most important things women can do to nourish themselves in the first few months of motherhood - when they are sleep deprived, nursing frequently and healing from labour?
- Sleep when your baby is resting – this is really important and it’s much easier to do the first time around when you don’t have other children. The second and third time around it’s much harder and so mums need even more help from friends and family if possible.
- Have other people cook and deliver soup to them made from scratch.
- Have friends and family over to care for the baby while you take a shower, have something to eat or take a nap.
- Get a cleaner to help with house chores.
- Engage in online chat groups with other mums.
- Hang out with friends or start new friendships with women who have babies of a similar age – this can be an incredible support.
- Take some time to process the enormous change that has just occurred in your life – talk with other mums or loved ones who can support you without judgement. Sometimes, counselling is important if you are struggling.
- Make time for your relationship – sometimes you may even need to sacrifice sleep to enable communication. So much stuff can come up post-baby and it’s important to try and stay connected with your partner as much as you can.
What’s the best advice your mum ever gave you?
I can’t think of one thing, there are many!
She did always say in the early days, make sure you have a shower as you’ll feel so much better – and she was right.
My mum is much more of a doer than a sayer and so she was always there to help me – washing clothes, cleaning the house and getting meals.
My mother-in-law is quite similar – a complete doer, so I was incredibly lucky that way and felt so supported after my births.
I can’t thank them both enough for all their time and love. My mum would always come over to look after the children at the drop of a hat if I needed – she’s incredible – a true wonder woman really.
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