When Latham Thomas gave birth to her son almost 20 years ago, she was lucky enough to be surrounded and supported by loved ones. Her experience was so moving that it led her to a life’s work of helping others realize and achieve their best birth process. Latham has since created Mama Glow a brand and lifestyle that is synonymous with overall wellness and support to birthing people throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Here, Latham talks about why she chose to breastfeed and the importance of being present.
I was compelled to become a doula because of the ease of the birth of my son. I gave birth in 2003 in July to a healthy baby boy at the Elisabeth Seton childbearing center. It was the only freestanding birth center in New York City and that experience transformed me in so many ways. I think people don't usually consider the impact that birth makes on your entire life. I was part of a community and had family support who believed in me, believed in my capabilities, and believed in my body. I think that's what really got me to a place where I felt the confidence and the ability to birth my son. It also opened my eyes to the need for the support necessary at that time. It wasn't that I knew right away that I wanted to become a doula, but I felt compelled, I felt this calling to ground myself in birth work ever since that moment. I've been two decades into this work, and it's been a dream and a real gift to show up and support folks along the journey.
There are a lot of critical differences between doulas and baby nurses. Doulas are non-clinical care providers that offer emotional and physical support, education, and advocacy tools. If you have a partner present, they'll help your partner get on board and educated and prepared for the birth.
The doula is there for the birthing person or mother to help navigate the terrain of pregnancy and birth. A baby nurse is someone who comes in to show up for the baby and ensure that the baby's needs are met in the postpartum period. There are postpartum doulas who also show up to care for new mothers and parents. It’s important to understand there are different roles for everyone. The baby nurse’s primary goal is to ensure that the baby transitions well into life after birth. The postpartum doula’s job is to ensure that the birthing person or mother is transitioning well into the life after birth by assisting with recovery, basic household duties, assistance with the baby, and to create a sense of confidence in that person as they navigate postpartum.
I breastfed my son until he was three. I wish I went longer because it was such a great experience, but it was time for me to take my body back. I had models of support because my mother breastfed me and my sister and she was the first generation to do so. I attribute breastfeeding to the health that I have enjoyed. Breast milk provides us with immune factors that map our early immune systems and gut microbiome. Having that as a foundation was what helped me to also want to breastfeed my son. I knew about the benefits, but also, I wanted that closeness, that security, and connection with him.
When it comes to feeding, I'm a big proponent of just putting a baby skin to skin, whether that's the mother birthing person or a partner or someone who is close inside of that family unit. I really love baby wearing—with a swaddle or a Bjorn. Using that to stay attuned to their feeding cues and then feeding them while they're inside the wrap or Bjorn is awesome. I think having a good pump is great plus a bottle system that your baby is accustomed to is also great. I think really getting everyone one committed to breastfeeding or chest feeding.
Then from there, you can build out an arsenal of tools. The foundational pieces are a great latch, great positions for holding, a system where the person who's feeding the baby is staying well hydrated, well fed, and resting to produce the best quality milk. Another thing to think about is how feeding time can be very stressful for some people. Creating a space for that and creating a space to relax and feel restful is essential to get that oxytocin flowing and be in a space of ease with baby.
I think the best parenting advice is to be present to everything that's happening as your children grow because it goes so fast. My son is 19 now and going into his second year of college—it has gone so quickly! When I look back at photos, at diaries and things where I was mapping out all his milestones, it feels like it was not that long ago, but at the same time it was. What we can do with that advice is to think about how we’re being present in the relationships that we have with each other, as a couple, as a family—and how we’re being mindful to the needs and desires of our children. Also, instead of looking at your iPhone gazing down at the baby, take time away from the phone. If you are watching the baby through the phone taking pictures or video, you miss the actual moment. There are so many things that I remember before we had things like Instagram and social media, there are so many memories that I have that are connected to the simplicity of just being in the moment and remembering it.