The first mom who arrives needs to get her son weighed.
Jack was born two weeks ago, and he’s been losing weight. His mom, Jodie, has been coming for a check every few days to make sure he starts gaining again soon.
When she walks in, Martha Pap, a registered nurse and lactation consultant with Sanford Health, greets her with a smile and immediately begins asking questions. She perches on an exercise ball, her hair pulled into a tight ponytail, and chats while Jodie takes Jack out of his pajamas.
The sun streams through the wall of windows, and rocking chairs, a couch and footstools are set out in a semicircle, a changing table in one corner and an infant scale in the other. Every weekday, from 9 to 11:30 a.m., women stream in and out of this room. They’re guaranteed time with a lactation consultant for questions and advice. They’re guaranteed a quiet spot to sit, for a moment, and just focus on being a mom, either to their first baby or last, or somewhere in the middle.
And as they relax and settle in, they begin to talk with the other women around them, commenting on the froggy baby legs curled against one mom’s chest or the laughter of another mom who made the rookie mistake of not bringing a second onesie.
“Should we make daddy go get us one,” she cooed, until Martha reminded her the infant would be OK tucked back into the warm pajamas for the ride home.
Everyone is in some state of undress, soft furry baby shoulders tucked against a mother’s skin, tiny hands curling around a breast, eyes closed. The moms gaze down at their babies, or lay their heads back for a moment, that tiny caesura, the briefest pause where the baby is settled and mom can relax, too.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and then to continue it once other foods are introduced. Supporting each other is one way to make that happen.
This is what it looks like when women are welcomed to a room made just for breastfeeding. Where no question is too stupid, no latch is too complicated, and no one is judging you for whatever you’re trying to do.
After all, they’re all here to feed a baby.
That can take as many forms as there are moms, and Martha and Lori Johnson, another lactation consultant, know that. They counsel the women about how to add a few extra feedings to help a baby gain weight.
“Yesterday he was eating a lot,” Jodie, 28, tells Martha.
“He’s alert and wiggly and not sleepy. Just go back to every three hours at night,” Martha says. “You‘re a good mommy to come here and keep following up on this.” She leans down and smiles as Jodie gets Jack settled into his carseat again. The entire time, Martha is talking. She asks about her pump, her carseat, her support system at home.
“Make sure you’re eating and drinking regularly – especially since you aren’t sleeping,” Martha says. Jodie laughs. She says she knew she wanted to nurse her son, but she didn’t realize how much time it would take.
“My husband is very supportive,” she says. “We had no idea what we were doing.”
It’s a common theme. After she leaves, there’s a lull and Martha and Lori talk about the changes they’ve seen in the nearly 30 years they’ve been nurses.
“Women are much more knowledgeable,” Lori says.
Martha agrees and says social media has helped. When a woman runs into a snag nursing, in the past someone might have told her, well, you tried. But now she can find support online to keep going. It makes new motherhood less isolating and makes the occasional challenge less daunting.
The other moms who filter in echo that.
Another woman comes in for help with her daughter’s latch. Staci, 28, of Sioux Falls, has a 2-year-old daughter and a 5-day old daughter. Something doesn’t feel right, and she wants someone to watch her and see if they can help. Lori steps in. Staci says her milk has come in, and sometimes the engorgement makes it difficult for the baby to latch. Lori tells her to hand express a little milk first, then get Rory on the nipple. It will be less engorged and the milk will be coming already, perfect for an impatient little one.
Lori brings her a cup of water and a footstool, tells Staci to put her feet up and relax. They talk about nipple shields and creams and different holds. It’s warm and clinical at the same time.
Katie comes in with Louisa, who is 8 days old. She has some jaundice, and Katie wants to make sure she’s gaining weight and get a few tips on how to keep her awake to eat. Katie is a nurse, and she knew she wanted to breastfeed, but her sisters-in-law had all struggled and she was prepared for a tough road.
Luckily, it’s mostly been easy for her – which was a surprise. Still, everything about being a new mom is exhausting. Her husband has been home with her, and she relies on him to help, especially at night.
Like any new mom, she suddenly realizes what every other mom has gone through.
“So many more props to single moms or moms whose husbands are deployed,” Katie says. “I can’t even imagine.”
The village it takes to help these babies thrive – and these women feel confident and successful – starts at home, with friends and family, and then with groups like this that surround her with everything she needs to do her best.
The next woman in is Jenn, 36, who just moved to Sioux Falls this past summer. Her daughter Mackenzie is 6 weeks old, and this is the first time they’ve ventured out of the house together alone.
“We made it,” she says as she drops her coat next to a glider and begins taking her daughter out of her carseat. “I remembered the baby and the diaper bag and the clean diapers!”
Lori and Martha laugh. They know how hard it can be to get out of the house. Jenn says it took her about 45 minutes to get everything together, the baby settled and the bags packed just to get here. All the women are grateful it’s in an open house format – less pressure to make an appointment with babies who don’t care what your watch says – and they like that they can come get a weight check without having to sit in a pediatrician’s office during cold and flu season.
“Is she chubbing out,” Martha exclaims over the baby girl.
“She really is,” Jenn says. “I’m just trying to figure out how to maintain the feedings.”
“Can I ask about different nursing positions,” Jenn asks.
“Did you try side-lying,” Martha returns.
“I can’t get it to work,” she says.
“Try again in a month,” Martha tells her. Jenn says it just feels impossible, and Katie chimes in that it does. Lori and Martha go into teaching mode and explain exactly how to do it, and say someone might have to help the baby latch the first few times. The women listen. You can be as friendly or as quiet as you want, and nobody minds.
Jenn says Mackenzie was conceived using in-vitro fertilization, and she had a C-section. She was hoping that breastfeeding would go well – she wanted something to happen that was more by the book. She says Martha was in the hospital when she delivered, and then called her at home 2 days later to see how she was adjusting.
“I needed that,” she says.
She’s been shocked by the access she has to experts through Sanford Health.
“I hear from friends in D.C. who are like, ‘what?’” and they can’t believe these women return calls after hours or have walk-in appointments. “I have so much information now, and my friends are asking me, ‘what did Martha say.’ She has a fan base in D.C.”
That kind of connection has helped.
“It’s so all-consuming,” she says of new motherhood. “My life is lived in three-hour increments. I’m googling things at 3 a.m. Am I doing this right? Can I see a YouTube video?”
In “Operating Instructions,” author Anne Lamott recounts the first year of her son’s life and notes that you think there’s no way you can survive it, until one day you wake up and realize you made it. It’s a sentiment echoed in this room, with these women who are doing what feels like the impossible every day.
Jenn leans back while Mackenzie nurses. Martha keeps asking questions. Lori holds a newborn up in the light, marvels at her swirl of hair and slowly rocks her while her mom gets her things together. What looks like conversation is so much more – Lori and Martha are assessing the newborns, looking for thrush and other issues, asking gentle questions of the moms, trying to root out the very beginnings of post-partum depression so they can find help.
But more than that, their faces are wide open. Martha calls everyone “sweetie,” in a way that makes you want to hug her. Lori is a little more matter-of-fact but seems to always have whatever a new mom needs a beat before she realizes she needs it.
They move around the room quietly and confidently.
The light streams in. The women relax. The babies are fed.
And when everyone goes home and the lights go down, they all know they’ve done the best they could for themselves and each other and these brand new lives they’re living.
And that tomorrow, they’ll be able to do it again.
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About the New Arrival Group
Stop in and visit with infant feeding and newborn care experts. No appointment or registration necessary.
When: 9-11:30 a.m. Monday-Friday
Where: Sanford Women’s Health Plaza, 5019 S. Western Ave., Sioux Falls, South Dakota