5 Wonders of the Placenta

placenta facts

Let’s discuss some amazing placenta facts about this mysterious, yet mighty organ.

1. The placenta is the only transient organ. This organ comes and goes after its purpose
has been fulfilled. It brings oxygen, blood and nutrients to the growing fetus inside the
mother’s body. Once the baby has been born, so too will the placenta expel itself.

2. The placenta is one organ yet acts as three. WHAT?! Well, this umbrella-shaped organ
acts as baby’s lungs by carrying oxygen from the mother. It acts as the kidney by filtering
out waste product. It also acts as baby’s immune and gastrointestinal system by
delivering nutrients and antibodies. The placenta allows the fetus to grow a healthy size
before it is born.

3. Mother’s immunity is transferred to the fetus through the placenta. This immunity can
last for six months after baby has been born.

4. In some cultures, the placenta has spiritual significance. In Hawaii, the placenta is
considered part of the baby itself. In Nepal, it is considered a friend to the baby. And in
Malaysia, it is considered an elder sibling.

5. Scientists are able to study the placenta to learn more about cancer. Because pregnancy
progresses in a similar way to a tumor, the placenta is an excellent source for analyzing.
Unlike an organ transplant, the placenta is able to develop in the body without being
attacked by the immune system. By studying this unique organ, researchers can learn
more about how tumors have the ability to grow without intervention from the immune
system.

The 4-1-1 on Breastfeeding with Katy Linda, IBCLC

baltimore breastfeeding

We’ve got the fabulous and incredibly knowledgeable Katy Linda on the blog today asking her all things breastfeeding. With her wealth of knowledge, this is sure to be a treat for all. She is an IBCLC and a mom of 4 amazing kids. She’s the founder of The Breastfeeding Den and has three students working to assist her. The Breastfeeding Den provides personalized 1:1 support in your own home. Katy truly believes that seeing you in your comfortable space will provide the most tailored and supportive care for your individual needs. Katy and her team stay focused on the big picture of breastfeeding and help families work through unique circumstances to create a goal that works well for all.

*What is one piece of advice you would give soon-to-be new moms about their breastfeeding journey?

This is such a hard question, one piece of advice isn’t much! But, I always tell families that many generations ago, lactation consultants didn’t exist because our families were closer together physically, and we had better support systems. If there is one thing a family needs, it’s a quality support system. Find your team who will lift you up and encourage you and embrace that. Support will get you through the hard days of parenting.

*What are effective ways to build milk supply?

The best way to increase supply is to demand more. The more frequently the breasts are emptied the more milk the majority of parents will make. For many families this is through direct breastfeeding. For families whose babies are not efficient at emptying the breast, pumping with a quality (typically hospital grade) pump will likely be necessary.

There are many herbs and foods that may help with milk supply, however which herbs and foods will work for each family is very individual. Having a full health history is an important piece of recommending these galactagogues to families.

*What are ways to reduce milk supply?

There are many reasons families might feel that they should work to decrease supply. My first question would always be WHY. I want to see the parent and baby and be sure that they aren’t misreading signs from their baby. True oversupply is very rare.

If they have to wean quickly for medical reasons, we will want to look at the underlying concerns and make a plan tailor-made to their situation.

For those who are trying to wean because it’s the right time for their family, removing the feeding that the baby is least attached to, and getting into a new normal, and then removing another.

*Can pumping more than needed become a problem?

Absolutely. Pumping more than you need could increase difficulties if the milk supply becomes too much. Some babies struggle with too much milk. Sometimes the pumping parent can experience challenges such as plugged ducts or even mastitis if there is too much milk that isn’t moving through the breasts.

*What pump do you recommend? Why?

There is no right pump for every person, if you will be separated from your baby for extended periods of time, or your baby has health complications, you may need a hospital grade (typically rental) pump, if you are going to be working full time away from your baby, you’ll want a double electric pump, and if you just need to pump occasionally you may be fine with a hand pump. Which brand and features you need are variant upon circumstances. Feel free to reach out, I’m happy to help with pump selection.

*Should foremilk/ hindmilk be a consideration when nursing?

In most circumstances, no. Your baby is smart, and they will typically let you know what they need. We actually just posted this blog on this topic.

*Is timing breastfeeding sessions necessary?

In the early days it can be helpful to make sure feedings are lasting at least 5 minutes, and to make sure they aren’t lasting 45+minutes on a regular basis. If there are concerns around your baby’s feedings it can be helpful to keep track of things until all is going well. Most babies need to eat 8 – 12 times a day, and typically feedings last 10 – 30 minutes. A few feedings outside of the normal range is reasonable, if every feeding is lasting a long time, it would be wise to seek the support of an IBCLC to assess the situation.

*For new moms, what is the greatest mental/emotional challenge to overcome when it comes to breastfeeding?

Everyone has different challenges. For many moms, one of the big challenges of breastfeeding is the fact that most human breasts don’t contain ounce markers, and many families find it challenging to trust that their baby is getting enough to eat. Story after story talks about those who struggled to make enough milk, and it can induce a lot of fear into new parents who just want to ensure that their baby is doing well. Rest assured, the vast majority of women make enough milk for their baby. A baby who is well fed will be content after feedings, pooping regularly, and growing as expected. If your baby is doing all of those things, you are just fine.

*For new moms, what is the greatest physical challenge to overcome when it comes to breastfeeding?

For many new parents, being needed as much as babies need their parents can be challenging. Babies are pretty helpless creatures and they depend on their adults for everything that they need. They also need to eat frequently to stay alive, which means new parents aren’t getting big chunks of sleep. Being needed 24/7, and not getting the sleep you are used to can be exhausting. But, parenting is also an amazing experience, so it is all worth it in the end!

Sleep-Training Considerations: Part I

sleep training

If you’re a parent, you know sleep-training is a hot topic. Fueled with passion from both sides, some swear by it and claim that it’s the only thing that can be done to teach a child to sleep, while others say it’s not necessary and that baby will learn over time, without it. There’s so much talk about whether it’s right or wrong that folks don’t sit back, take a deep breath, and consider the implications of sleep-training and how it feels for them personally, away from all the chatter.

The two most-recommended sleep training methods are: 1) extinction, often referred to as cry-it-out (CIO), where a parent puts a child down awake and does not return until morning, and 2) the Ferber-method, where a parent puts down a drowsy child and increases the duration of time baby is left alone while periodically checking-in when baby is distressed; offering some reassurances (verbally, picking-up and putting back down, pats on the head or back, etc) until eventually the parent stops re-entering the room at all. Being that these two are the most popular and the methods that come with such heated debate, these are the two being considered for the purpose of this post. Now that we’re on the same page, let’s unpack what this looks like.

 

Night-feedings

It’s no secret that babies need to eat frequently. Some people try to convince parents that once babies have achieved a given weight or once babies hit a certain age, night-feedings are no longer necessary. The issue with this, particularly for nursing babies up to a year old, is that the intervals at which they feed and the number of feedings needed in a 24-hour period depends largely on Mom’s biology, namely her breast storage capacity and breast fullness. By prematurely cutting out night-feedings in the hopes of more sleep, baby’s total daily caloric intake is reduced. This has the potential to negatively affect baby’s growth, mood, and overall well-being. Additionally, it introduces the possibility of creating clogged ducts, mastitis, or supply issues for Mom.

 

Nighttime Parenting

As parents, clocking-in and clocking-out just isn’t an option. We need to have a realistic expectation that we’ll be up through the night with our babies for at least the first year, perhaps even longer. Reframing the idea of the often frustrating parental night-waking into “nighttime parenting” is helpful. While the sun is no longer shining and the goings-on of the day have wound down, the parent is still on-call, the baby is still fully dependent on the caregiver for all of the same things the caregiver provides during daylight hours. With that in mind, it’s important to reflect on how you respond to baby during the day. Do you let baby fuss for several minutes before responding? Do you wait to respond until baby is crying heartily, obviously needing attention? Do you tune out the cries and wait for baby to sort it out on her own? As parents, while we may deeply desire uninterrupted sleep, we don’t clock out at the end of the day. We’re always on and babies are relying on us. When considering how differently nighttime presents itself; the dark, the quiet, baby is often totally alone; one can clearly see how baby’s needs are likely to increase, rather than decrease. Instead of nighttime lending itself to a hands-off approach to parenting, nighttime is a time of high need for baby. High need for baby means the need for high responsiveness from parents.

 

Physiology of Distress and Self-Soothing

Babies are tiny humans so their bodily systems operate similarly to an adult’s. Being so much smaller however, babies’ bodies are more easily overcome by physiological changes than are our adults’ bodies. As babies cry and then cry harder, their physiology responds the way ours would as we get increasingly upset. Blood pressure increases, body temperature increases, heart rate increases, cortisol levels rise, respiration increases, skin may flush, sweating ensues. Baby may begin to get a headache, nose will run, voice will become hoarse.

No parent wishes this type of physical distress on their baby. However parents will willingly allow this to occur when convinced that baby is manipulating them or that baby is “only” frustrated and needs no intervention. Parents, with broken hearts and large glasses of wine, sit outside the door of their hysterical baby because they’ve been told that without this, baby will simply never learn to sleep-through-the-night.

The phrase “self-soothe”  is mentioned again and again; along with the idea that babies can only learn this skill by working it out alone through tears, screams, and sobs. However, when taking a step back, one can see, as is pointed out in this chart, that a baby’s capacity for soothing is virtually totally limited to reliance on the parent. And of course, the younger the baby, the higher that reliance.


Reflect on How it Feels

You’ve waited 40 long weeks (give or take) to hold this sweet baby in your arms. Now that your baby has arrived it seems like everyone is encouraging you to treat her like a hot potato. Don’t hold the baby while he sleeps, you must get baby sleeping in her own room, you must teach the baby to self-soothe, you’re going to spoil him, the baby will never learn to sleep along if you’re always holding her. How does that advice feel for you? When you hear your baby crying, does it feel in your heart like you want to tune the cries out or do you feel drawn to your baby? Do you feel a strong urge to snuggle your baby up and soothe the baby through nursing or rocking or patting? If there weren’t all the outside noise blaring well-intended advice at you, what would you do instinctually?

We need to find our way back to our natural leanings as parents rather than listening to so-called “sleep experts” and well-meaning friends and family members. We are physiologically hard-wired to be hear and respond to our children. To attempt to desensitize one’s self to the calls of our offspring can prove detrimental to both parent and child. This period of such high physical need, while admittedly challenging, is short-lived but vital to a child’s attachment to parents and overall trust and security.

 

How Did We Get Here?

If the claim is that we’re being coerced to deviate from natural responses to our children, it begs the question why. What has happened in our culture that some parents have made a choice to tune out a crying infant in order to catch some Z’s of their own? Are these heartless parents? No. These are desperate parents! Parents desperate for sleep, desperate for routine, desperate for the ability to function on the job.

This desperation is at least, in part, rooted in the fact that our society does not value parents in actionable ways. There is a major lack of support for parents in our country. Mothers are expected go back to work at 6 weeks postpartum; the “lucky” ones who can manage financially without pay, go back around 3-4 months postpartum. Neither is  enough time to establish one’s position as a parent, let alone get the hang of breastfeeding, become accustomed to frequent night-waking, fully embrace the notion of being totally responsible for sustaining another human life. These are all huge emotional and physical undertakings and there is little to no cultural understanding of that. Then when returning to work, it’s often a struggle for breastfeeding mothers to fit in time for pumping and can require a lot of legwork upfront to get approval and space for pumping breaks.

The challenge for mothers to be able to perform at work without falling asleep at their desks in-between their rushed pumping sessions is very real. This weighs heavily on these women who are trying so hard to manage a very new and very stressful lifestyle. Going home at night only to lose precious sleep once again is enough to wear anyone down. Something has to give and oftentimes the promise of more sleep makes sleep-training seem like the only option.

 

Is there an Alternative?

There is an alternative to traditional sleep-training that improves sleep for both Mother and baby! Keep an eye out for Part II of this post which will address that.

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