May was an exciting month at our home - we celebrated the birth of five adorable lab puppies. While I may be the lactation consultant in our home, when it comes to birthing puppies, all of the credit goes to Slate, the momma dog, and my husband, Kent. He may masquerade as a land use attorney by day, but in his heart he is a true midwoof.
Humans like to position ourselves well above other mammals, but when it comes to birth and breastfeeding, there are similarities. Slate gazed at her first puppy with amazement and a look that said “what do I do now?” She then got to work, helped her newborn crawl to one of her nipples and has not looked back. The puppies weighed a pound at birth, are gaining three ounces a day, and at two weeks have quadrupled their birth weight. (Yes, we have a puppy weigh station set up in our kitchen!)
There are unique differences between human mothers and dog mothers as well. Slate cleans up after her puppies. To be quite blunt, this means the puppies have no need for diapers. Once the puppies are introduced to dog food, this will change. Breeders encourage early weaning so the pups can go to their new homes. I will lobby for late weaning to avoid the volumes of poop and the need to hose down the kennel daily. Just like a human baby, once a foreign protein is introduced, everything changes. After all, if you are a puppy, your gut was designed for dog milk!
When the puppies were ten days old, Kent took them to the vet to have their dewclaws removed. The puppies came home from the vet miserable and crying. They use their paws to stroke their mother’s belly while they nurse and it was obvious they were in pain. Over the next 24 hours, three of the puppies gained less than a half ounce. Knowing how lactation works, I was concerned that Slate would get mastitis if the pups were not removing milk.
This same day, research was published stating that labor medications delay a mother’s milk supply. Removing dew claws is a bit like giving moms pain medications during labor. We attempt to “fix” a “problem”, and in the meantime, we create another. Many moms choose to receive pain medications to help them cope with labor. But using pain medications means we have to deal with the subtle impact these medications have on breastfeeding our newborn babies.
Lactation consultants know that a delayed milk supply does not have to sabotage breastfeeding. But if you are a new mom and your job is to make your baby happy, a fussy, hungry baby can make a mom wonder: Is my body really designed to feed a baby? Where can I get banked donor milk if my baby loses too much weight? What if my insurance plan does not cover breastfeeding help like it is supposed to?
Breastfeeding does not exist in isolation. Everything we do surrounding birth has the potential to impact how our babies feed. Finding ways to comfort and support moms in labor that do not interfere with breastfeeding may take some new research and creativity. We also need to reassure new moms that a delayed milk supply does not mean they cannot breastfeed their babies.
Our five little lab puppies survived their dewclaw adventure and are back to gaining weight and feeding well. Slate did not get mastitis and Kent, her midwoof, has helped deliver another successful litter of puppies. Much as I love babies/puppies and breastfeeding, I’m secretly hoping he finds a new hobby that involves a bit less poop!