Sue McMains was beyond thrilled to welcome her first grandchild, Adeline “Addie,” to the world on September 21.
But the excitement of flying to North Carolina with husband, Greg, to be with her son, Jason, and daughter-in-law, Jessica, for the birth also brought a range of emotions she wasn’t expecting.
“There was certainly some fear when I realized it had been more than two decades since the last of my three sons was born,” McMains said. “I know there have been a lot of changes. I guess I don’t know what I didn’t know.”
McMains, a long-time member of Akron Children’s Women’s Board, checked in with the hospital for resources. Surely, she isn’t the only new grandmother with questions so the Inside Children’s team saw it as a great opportunity to gather a few experts to explore the world of pediatrics through her perspective.
Dr. Joel Davidson, a pediatrician with Akron Children’s Locust Pediatric Care Group; Liz Maseth, a long-time nurse and lactation consultant; and Heather Trnka, the hospital’s injury prevention coordinator, were glad to offer their time and expertise. As the hour quickly came to an end, the group decided that would be a great ongoing conversation with everyone agreeing reconvene about every two months. Here are highlights from our first session:
And Baby Makes Three
While McMains was eager to meet Addie immediately after birth, she realized the new parents wanted to keep things more intimate for the first few hours.
“This is very typical for couples,” said Maseth. “Moms and dads of today put a lot of thought into their birthing experience. They want it personalized; it’s all part of the ‘baby friendly’ hospital movement.”
Trnka, who has an 18-month-old toddler, remembers wanting to treasure those last minutes together as a couple before welcoming baby, especially knowing the pace of life is about to quickly change gears.
A New Role
Like many new grandparents, McMains has given careful thought to finding her place. She wants to be helpful but has worried about being “one of those mothers-in-law” who offers advice that may not be appreciated.
“New parents can be especially sensitive to comments that could be construed as critical,” said Dr. Davidson. “Everything changes the minute that baby comes home and it’s new territory for everyone.”
Maseth said the take-away from one of her favorite books, The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, is that relationships are nurtured by words of affirmation, quality time spent with loved ones, and acts of service. Grandparents can be of great help to the new parents but should take their cues from the parents as to the best ways they need that help.
“I wish I lived closer to Jason and Jessica, but I know I can be of help when I am with them,” McMains said. “I know to avoid phrases like ‘This is how I did it.’ It’s actually wonderful to see them as parents. Just like we did, you find your own way.”
Sue was interested in the latest information on baby basics, including feeding. She recalls giving her infants water by bottle but learned that is no longer recommended.
“Breast milk actually has an enormous amount of water in it,” said Maseth.
Dr. Davidson said supplemental water (before 12 months of age) can be dangerous for infants.
“Unlike an adult, an infant’s kidneys are not mature and they may not be able to keep salts in balance. We have seen some babies get into trouble when their parents try to stretch their formula by adding more than the recommended water. Some of these babies have landed in our intensive care unit.”
Research continues to support the benefits not only breastfeeding but also the skin-to-skin contact that comes from nursing.
“But initially, breastfeeding can be difficult, and, yes, it can be painful,” said Dr. Davidson. “New mothers need support, and a lactation consultant can make all the difference.”
Mothers of pre-term babies will need to be especially patient as their newborns may not have oral muscles strong enough to nurse at breast, and expressed milk offered by bottle may have to substitute for a few weeks.
Frequent nursing in the early weeks is important for establishing a good milk supply,” said Maseth. “Allow baby unlimited time at the breast when sucking actively, then offer the second breast. The first 2-3 weeks are most important in establishing a good supply.”
Over the course of a feeding, breast milk gradually changes from “foremilk” to “hindmilk,” which is higher in fat and important to growth and development.
The take-away is you really can’t nurse too often in the first weeks and weight gain, and wet and soiled diapers are always the best signs that baby is taking in enough food.
Maseth highly recommends the website, www.kellymom.com, which can be trusted for evidence-based information.
Pacifiers and Schedules
“I get a lot of questions from new parents about feeding schedules and pacifiers,” said Dr. Davidson. “I am not a proponent of rigid feeding schedules but there are so many variations in babies … and in parents, for that matter.”
Research in the past decade has found a strong correlation between pacifier use and reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), according to Trnka. But, also beware that offering a pacifier too soon or too often can interfere with the establishment of a good breastfeeding routine.
The Big Picture
Just like new parents, new grandparents can be overwhelmed by information. Information on parenting comes from the pediatrician, magazines, websites, friends and family.
“Information is powerful,” said Dr. Davidson. “We do want parents invested in reading and getting good advice. At the same time, there is information overload. There’s power and magic in seeing parental instinct. You have to be okay with ‘I know what the book says, but this is what I think is best for my baby.’ Of course, medical concerns should always be discussed with the baby’s health care provider.”
A Wonderful Journey
Becoming a grandparent is a wonderful new journey – watching your own child nurture a baby, seeing the newest little face(s) of your family tree take shape and once again experiencing all the joys of life as seen through the eyes of a child.
McMains is delving into her new role, actively seeking out information, using “FaceTime” to keep in touch with Addie, and always thinking about her next visit with her. The day before her meeting at the hospital, she learned by telephone that Jason, Jessica and Addie would be coming to Akron for Thanksgiving.
“My heart almost burst open,” she said with a big smile.