A few weeks ago, I was riding in the car with my husband talking about a friend of ours who was told by her doctor that she probably “missed the window” for breastfeeding. Having already endured a very difficult pregnancy and delivery, this news was understandably devastating for her to hear. Her husband asked me if what their doctor said was true, to which I responded, “probably.”
Like my friends, my husband was confused about this idea of a “window of opportunity” for breastfeeding. He works as a project manager and has no medical background, so I tried my best to explain this concept to him the way I would explain it to one of my patients. I told him that there is a critical time right after the baby is born that the body is receiving all the signals to make milk. The combination of the hormonal shifts that happen when the baby is born and the baby’s attempts to eat directly from the parent create the ideal environment for making human milk.
If any of these pathways get interrupted for long periods of time, it is really hard to get the body back on track to make a “full” supply of milk (ie: enough milk to feed a baby exclusively with mother’s own milk without supplementation). We commonly see this when there is a complication at the time of delivery that limits the feeding signals that mom is getting from baby (or artificially from expressing). After a while, the mom’s body starts to think that there’s no baby to feed because the baby is getting food elsewhere. And because the hormonal shifts in the mom happen immediately after the baby is born, that piece is really hard to recreate if it gets missed.
Ever the no-nonsense, logical thinker, my husband responded with the best analogy I’ve ever heard to explain how crucial the first few days of breastfeeding are to creating a healthy and sustainable milk supply. He said, “Oh, so it’s like building a fire then?”
Now it was his turn to explain this concept to me since I am what we like to call “indoorsy.” Making fire is not my forte. But I realize I’m in the minority here and if this analogy helps others understand, I want to get it out there! Maybe I will learn a thing or two about building a proper fire while I’m at it…
He explained to me, “Here’s the thing: most people who want to make milk are given a bed of coals to start with, the pregnancy. The baby trying to eat from the mom is like the kindling. You need both to make a good fire. When your milk supply is established, it’s like a roaring fire; it can handle a little rain or wind without going away. The rain or wind are like the early challenges that try to derail breastfeeding… latch issues, medical complications, etc. But as long as you keep the fire hot (the signaling pathways strong between mom and baby), your supply will last.”
*jaw drops to the ground*
“Well, I’m stealing that for my blog,” was all I could say. I hope this helps you and your support system, too, in some way!