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What Do New Mothers Do All Day (and Night)? One Word.

Our first ever photo as a family of FOUR!

Our first ever photo as a family of FOUR.

There is a one-word answer for me to the following questions: “What do new moms DO all day… and night? Why do people say new parents don’t sleep?” and Why do new mothers disappear?”

The one-word answer is something that many women with newborns do (70% in the U.S.) — and do for up to 35 hours a week — but that is seldom discussed or understood in terms of the time it takes, and the impact it has on a woman’s life, and the lives of those around her.

Devi loves hugging his new little sister!

Devi loves hugging his new little sister!

This word encompasses a massive contribution that women have made to the world that is often covered up, both literally and figuratively. And that word is: “Nursing. To visually display the mind-boggling extent of nursing in the first weeks of a baby’s life, I decided to chart every time our sweet new baby nursed with me for two weeks of her first month.

Look at the resulting chart and gasp! I swear this is real, and the only inaccuracy is that there are too FEW feedings charted because I was so bleary at, say, 3am. (March 1, for example, likely had a 2am feeding that I forgot to chart, because I know for a fact that I haven’t slept more than 3.5 hours at a time since our little cutie was born five weeks ago.)

Isn’t it crazy how much new babies need to eat???

Isn’t it crazy how much new babies need to eat???

To summarize what that graphic shows, new babies need to eat every 1 to 3 hours, day and night, because they have teeny-tiny tummies. Imagine what it would do to YOUR daily life flow to insert in a whole-body activity EVERY 1-3 hours, 24 hours a day!

It makes it mighty hard to get anything done — I’ll tell you that. As I just posted on Facebook, “Painfully fitting: I can’t seem to finish my article about how nursing is all-consuming because… nursing is all-consuming! Hehe…” Another nursing mother instantly replied: “Truer truths have never been told.”

A collage from a day spent walking Boston with baby... and nursing on park benches!

A collage from a day spent walking Boston with baby… and nursing on park benches!

So what does this mean for you? Well, if you know a new mother who is in her first month or two of nursing (the most intense time for it), there are some easy but hugely impactful ways that you can help that mother out.

First, ensure she has a big glass of water nearby (making milk mandates hydration, and nursing mothers get positively parched), and provide her with food, as milk production slurps calories and makes a gal ravenous. When providing food, anything that can be eaten with one hand is ideal because feeding a baby ties up an arm, if not both.

What happens if I honk her nosey, Mommy?

What happens if I honk her nosey, Mommy?

Make sure the mother has a cloth or tissue nearby to clean up spills. Offer to do any of the other tasks that nursing makes so difficult to find time for: Diaper changing, cleaning, cooking, laundry, shopping, etc.

Finally, acknowledge the mother for the life-giving contribution she is providing. Nursing takes up to 35 hours a week in total, which is more time than many well-paying jobs. If no one acknowledged you for something you did for 35 hours a week, that would feel sad and weird, wouldn’t it?

With all that milk, baby is growing like the spring flowers and shining like Boston's golden dome!

With all that milk, baby is growing like the spring flowers and shining like Boston’s golden dome!

What does this mean for you if you’re pregnant or planning on having a child soon? Recognize how much time nursing takes, and put anything and everything in place to support it.

In our case, my husband’s amazing parents came and lived with us for several weeks to help out, which was EVERYTHING. Other people I know pre-cook and freeze meals or have friends sign up to do so, hire a postpartum doula or mother’s helper, or activate delivery services for groceries and diapers.

If you are currently pregnant AND have a toddler, understand that it will be hard to get out from under the new (constantly nursing) baby and play with your toddler for more than 15 minutes at a time for the first month or two, and watching both rascals at once is a recipe for screaming, “Don’t touch that lamp!” to the toddler while you’re immobilized nursing the baby, then having the lamp smash to smithereens while your gleeful 2.5-year-old sprints down the hall and milk sprays everywhere as you attempt to put down the wailing babe.

That is to say, the more help you can get watching the toddler while you’re with the baby for the first few weeks, the better!

You take a lot of time, but we love you, baby!

You take a lot of time, but we love you, baby.

What does this mean for you if you’re also a nursing mother? I acknowledge you for what you’re doing — go you! — and call on society to acknowledge and support you, too. What about mothers who have difficulty nursing (as I did with our first child), mothers who pump instead of nursing, or are juggling working and pumping, and mothers who use formula?

I acknowledge YOU for all you do, and understand that feeding a baby by all those methods with all those factors is also extremely time-intensive and all-consuming. Go YOU!

More scenes from walking and nursing around Boston: Red velvet cupcake, Joya looking sweet, the Boston Public Garden, and a strawberry rump!

More scenes from walking and nursing around Boston: Red velvet cupcake, Joya looking sweet, the Boston Public Garden, and a strawberry rump!

At last, after 14 days of attempting to finish and publish this article, yet being agonizingly thwarted each day by a yelping baby who I love, AND who wants to nurse without pause, I shall finally click “PUBLISH” and send these words your way.

This brings us to my final point: What else can you do to support a nursing mother? Help her do what makes her feel fulfilled and happy, because all that energy she’s pouring into giving and giving to another human every 1-3 hours needs to be replenished.

In my case, writing articles for YOU does just that, so I send gratitude to my husband who is currently bouncing the baby upstairs so that I can finally write! Thank you for reading, and I very much look forward to reading your comments, below.

See all 20 of my new mother articles here.

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Zen Babytravel

Friday 29th of April 2016

Oh it sounds like we are very coordinated - my days are very similar to yours with 2.5 years toddler and 4 weeks old little monkey! Whenever temperatures are decent we move the bfeeding to the park. Wish this spring was warmer !!! ;)

Lillie

Thursday 5th of May 2016

Yes to the park and to the warm weather!

Florencia

Saturday 9th of April 2016

As a nursing mama, I know I spend HOURS a week with a little human attached to my chest, but I never would have guessed it totaled in the range of 35 hours!! I nursed my first son for 21 months and am nursing my second going on almost 5 months. I'd be interested to see how many extra hours pumping and cleaning add to the mix now that I'm back at work again. I know I am fortunate to be able to nurse my boys, but as you said, it's nice to be acknowledged for what we do. Thank you!

Natasha Huggins

Tuesday 27th of December 2016

I love reading this post. I nursed three babies and worked part-time (as a BPS teacher). But nursing was another full-time job- I always felt it and it was nice to see the data to support it. Thank you for sharing your story. Any blogs on traveling with a toddler and a baby?

Lillie

Saturday 9th of April 2016

Yes! A great label someone just posted on my Facebook wall for that time period where it seems all we do is nursing is: "Perma-Nursing." Ay!

Amanda

Friday 8th of April 2016

NOW I know why I felt like I was going a little bit out of my mind when going back to work full time 8 weeks after my daughter was born, and trying to nurse my baby through the six months mark. Because of the work, I had to do a pump/nurse combo, which inevitably leads to another word—CLEANING. So many parts that must be cleaned thoroughly between each use, around the clock. I wonder how many additional hours that takes beyond the 35. Talk about a secret full time job! Thanks for writing this, L, you are amazing! Your daughter and family are absolutely beautiful!

Lillie

Saturday 9th of April 2016

Amanda, I'm SO glad you brought up the cleaning piece. Cleaning takes SO LONG! It's a big reason why I do everything I can not to pump. What a hassle! Kudos to you for doing it all starting 8 weeks postpartum. Thanks for your commend and kind words, and keep up the great work!

Marie Levey-Pabst

Friday 8th of April 2016

Thanks for the great article. This nursing reality is what shocked me most when I had my first. Then, when I had my second, we had some nursing issues that required me to WAKE HER UP to nurse her every 1.5 hours for a little while, So, basically, I just walked around the house shirtless for at least week and was really proud of myself when I had time to bathe ;) Thanks for writing about this!

Lillie

Saturday 9th of April 2016

Oh my gosh! Waking her up every 1.5 hours! Yargh! Yes about bathing. I am being RELIGIOUS about making sure I get a shower each day, no matter what it takes. It's a precious moment of "me time!"

Kate

Friday 8th of April 2016

I haven't been recording so the main way I know how many hours I must've been feeding is by the many, many hours of podcasts I'm cranking through!!!

btw - We have the romper version of the Carter's strawberry outfit - has the strawberry on the butt and is very cute! It's on clearance. Is probably my favorite outfit we've bought for her.

Lillie

Saturday 9th of April 2016

Love the strawberry rump outfit and good to know there are other versions! Interesting about the podcasts. We all have our ways of passing the time. Mine is a combo of reading the NYTimes (classy!), texting friends, and playing Candy Crush (embarrassing!).

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