Today I attended a breastfeeding research update at a local (I’m now living in Memphis, y’all!) hospital. The two-hour long program was aimed at providing understanding and context around the recent uproar regarding Sudden Unexpected Postpartum Collapse and best practices for breastfeeding. Long story short: keep practicing safe feeding and sleep practices and keep feeding your baby and keep looking for hospitals with the baby-friendly designation. It matters.
I was struck there (and said so at the end of the program so this is not news to anyone who was there) by the quantity of information, data, charts, opinions, expectations, to-do lists, not to-do lists, etc…that providers are expected to impart on brand new moms. The best of brains at the best of times has about 5 minutes of capacity and will recall just about three things if you carefully point out that you want them to remember the three things, explain them and review them in short to the point terms. A postpartum brain will not under any circumstance recall pages of information, diagrams, or lectures albeit usually lovingly given, prior to discharge. It’s not a mystery why parents and babies suffer from the very things we providers are “teaching”. The only mystery is that we all keep moving our mouths when all the science tells us that’s probably not the way a pregnant or newly postpartum mother will learn.
Let’s shift the paradigm. Let’s ask questions, listen, and contextualize the information that matters to each family. Let’s sit down on the bed or in the rocking chair (rocking is notoriously good for you–among other benefits it releases endorphins– so this is a win-win, you’ll come away from the conversation feeling calmer and more energized) and
talk with moms ask moms questions and listen to their responses. How do you imagine feeding your baby when you get home? Where will you sit? Where will you rest? Where is your baby while you’re resting? Who is around you? What kind of items are near you? What kind of questions do you have?
As you can see–the conversation that will unfold out of her idea about what being a mother means to her will give lots of opportunity to get into all of the items on your checklist but most likely she will actually bring them up herself! Does it cost more? More than what? Healthcare costs drop when patient-provider conversation increases. Does it take longer? Longer than if we teach her to pay attention to her own sense of wonder, knowledge, and ability to ask questions and find a willing and engaged healthcare provider?
Take a moment, take a breath, people feel good when they feel heard.
Nurses often talk about the pressure related to the patient ratings they receive–this is very real and very terrifying in terms of job security. If you want those high marks you can get them by listening and responding to the woman or family in front of you with kindness and more listening. That is human nature, it is biology and physics at play in the world and you can rely on it to bring you higher job satisfaction and moms and dads and babies a healthier postpartum experience where they can really engage in the process of learning about each other, from each other, with you as their support system. That is participatory medicine at it’s best. That is the true meaning of patient-centered care. It is a design which rises up the mother as a qualified expert on her body and her baby. That is not to say that she knows everything. All experts get help, advice, and learn from others. That’s
most likely exactly how they got to be experts. So can she, but without relinquishing her role as primary in the relationship with her health.
Can you imagine the outcomes in a world where we ask new mothers what they imagine and provide healthcare education that is timely, relevant, and meaningful to them? Do you remember what you imagined about yourself as a mother or father? Did you get support to grow you in that work? Do you want to learn more about how to be this kind of provider? Share your story!