I have done it!
After a first-timer breastfeeding fail with our firstborn, involving the typical “formula supplementation” and subsequent “Nursing Strike,” I was frustrated and saddened by my own lack of breastfeeding knowledge. After a week of tearful battling with my tiny 3 month old, who would arch his back and scream every time I offered the breast, I gave up: rejected, empty, and angry. I dedicated my future self to learning and striving with military-like zeal to breastfeed our future babies successfully.
I went on to breastfeed Emmett for 10 months. The soul reason I weaned him was because I was asked to be a bridesmaid in a wedding. I had tried to graciously decline, explaining to my friend I could not give her the attention a bride deserves, due to financial struggles, but mostly, fretting over how I was supposed to spend an entire day away from my Emmett who I had fought so hard to exclusively breastfeed. But my dear friend, through no fault of her own (for how could she have known?), insisted that I be her bridesmaid. She is a dear friend, and I couldn’t flat out tell her no. It was her wedding day, and she wanted me to be a part of it! Just one day! I felt selfish to say, “No, I don’t want to leave my baby.” So the month before the wedding, thinking I had no other choice, I weaned Emmett. I weaned him so that I could be away from him for one day.
I have been breastfeeding our third baby for his first year of life (and counting!) outside of the womb, but it has been far from easy.
I asked myself recently, “What do you wish you’d have been taught about breastfeeding?”
1. You’ll be required to practice more patience than you’ve ever exerted in your entire life.
THROW OUT THE FEEDING SCHEDULE.
“Oh, he hasn’t eaten in 4 hours…what’s wrong?”
“He’s eating EVERY HALF HOUR, what’s wrong?! How am I supposed to get anything done?”
Breastfeeding requires a change in how we view this fast-paced life. You’ve got to make yourself slow down. Trying to adhere to a pre-planned “schedule” limits your intuitive, listening mom-heart, and it demands the regulation of a newborn’s stomach: newborn human being, who knows nothing of clocks and schedules and plans. Anyone who tells you that an infant is manipulating you needs to be manipulated in the rear end, with boot.
So we slow down. We listen and watch for the cues of our baby.
Did you know that babies have “nursing personalities”?
- Meet Lexington, “The Gourmet” (Breastfed for 3 months):
- Emmett, “The Barracuda” (Breastfed for 10 months):
- Collin, “The Rester” (Breastfed 13 months, and still truckin’ on!)
Now that I think about it, these nursing personalities are even reflected in the little people they are today! Each of these personalities presents a different challenge. It’s important to recognize them so that Momma can anticipate how nursing sessions are likely to continue.
Collin, the rester, would fall asleep while he was eating. I would think “okay he’s done” but as I tried to gently unlatch so I could get up for a shower, he’d rouse and attack the breast in a manner of saying “HEY WAIT, I WASN’T DONE YET!”
And so, I remained unbathed. For a very, very long time.
2. Although “Breast is Best” and the most natural thing for a baby, breastfeeding doesn’t come easy.
Please, say it out loud: Breastfeeding is difficult.
I’m not declaring this in a pompous way to congratulate the hard work I’ve put into breastfeeding. No. While I am brimming with joy at the accomplishment, it took one enlightened day of me staring at a bleak wall, nappy hair, and sunken eyes while my baby sleep-nursed, that I suddenly mumbled, “THIS. IS. SO. HARD.”
It’s the first step in realizing an absolute truth about Breastfeeding that no one tells you. It’s hard.
There, it’s done. Let’s move on. Let’s help each other through this.
Why so difficult? The reasons are vast. Each mother is different: from her medical needs to her emotional needs, to her personality! And just as important is the very unique personality of her baby. Mix those things together, and there’s got to be a learning curve. For some moms, a few adjustments in the environment or how she positions baby, and it’s a snap. For others, it takes longer. Some Moms have a paid job they have to return to. Some moms had a traumatic birth and are trying recuperate on top of fussing with a correct latch.
There is a reason the La Leche League exists. There is a reason that annoying (and to a first time mom, intrusive) Lactation Consultant bounces into your hospital room after giving birth. For a first time breastfeeder, a momma needs guidance!
But we feel silly for not knowing. We feel insufficient. We feel like if we have to admit “Am I doing this wrong? Why does it hurt? Is this normal? This is really difficult.” then we must not be cut out for breastfeeding.
This is a misguided belief. There used to be a time in the world where mothers raised their daughters to learn about child rearing. Where women were passed on this motherly knowledge of birthing, of breastfeeding, of parenting. But our culture has changed and so has it’s opinions and importance on all of these things. Breastfeeding works. It has always worked. The human race, in it’s present-day-advanced-medicine form, would not exist, if women did not, from the very beginning of time, breastfeed their babies. As women, we are literally built for this task. From environmental pressures, cultural pressures, family pressures, financial pressures, and simply getting the mechanics down pat, it is hard. But in spite of all of these pressures, it is rewarding to persist.
It does get easier. The older baby gets, the shorter the feedings and more efficient he becomes at suckin down the leche. You gain confidence as a nursing mother and feel like there might really be life on Mars (anywhere outside of your home), and you might actually be able to take one small step for man –your man, he needs toilet paper– to the grocery store, and the thought of feeding your baby in the car before or after picking up some TP ain’t no thang.
3. “Are You Making Enough Milk for Your Baby?” is the most scare-tactical, subversive to new moms headline ever.
First of all, unless you are taking a medication that affects your milk production, or have a medical issue, trust your body.
Measure the weight of your baby, not the ounces coming out of your breast. Pumping is not as efficient at extracting breast milk as your baby is. Your baby tells the tale. If he’s gaining weight and is healthy, you needn’t worry about supply issues. Even so, perhaps the cause to baby’s slow weight gain or loss is a different problem you’re not seeing.
If I’d not known about breastfeeding personalities, nor changed my mentality about breasfeeding, I can easily imagine that with Collin, my Rester, I would have been too impatient to allow him to snooze as he nursed. I might have unlatched him in the middle of his feedings and let him cry. His weight would suffer, not because I wasn’t making enough milk for him, but because I wasn’t allowing him to eat until satisfied!
Worrying about supply issues seems to be a misunderstood topic amongst first-time breastfeeding mommas. I worried, too. How could I not, when we have an obese culture hounding us, questioning whether or not exclusively breastfeeding your baby is “enough”? (“pssst! fill his bottle with empty rice cereal calories to make him sleep through the night!”) It wasn’t until Collin that I learned to, um… go with the flow?
Breast milk supply fluctuates over the course of a year.
When I found myself worrying over my milk supply, it was always during a fluctuation period:
- Baby goes through growth spurts- wants to nurse a lot, causing a milk production increase.
- Wants to sleep a lot and nurse not so much, and milk production slows after possible engorgement.
- Baby starts teething and nursing is his comfort for pain, production increases again.
- Mommy starts her menstrual cycle. When Mommy ovulates, her milk supply drops slightly, and nursing is a bit uncomfortable.
- Baby starts walking and starts to get so caught up in playing that he drops one of his usual feedings
- Baby gets sick and nurses less or more frequently
Truck on through it. The human body is amazing: a mother’s body will always provide what baby needs.
I’m not a doctor, of course. If you have breastfeeding concerns, contact your baby’s pediatrician, and then I encourage lactating moms with questions to call LLLI. This group has helped me when facing Lexington’s “Breastfeeding Strike”. I’ve even called my local consultant simply asking what I might expect after nursing for a whole year. The La Leche League consultants are an enormous network of women across America and throughout the world, who make themselves available, in your local area, to be called or emailed with questions and concerns at nearly any time of the day. Visit the site, and you should be able to find a few numbers near you.
I know dedicated mommy friends who work full-time and still manage to breastfeed their babies. I have one courageous mommy friend who actually did have problems with milk supply, who received donor breast milk and while breastfeeding, fed her baby donor milk through a tiny tube placed at her breast.
Do not be pressured by doctors, by family members, by friends, by strangers giving you a disgusted look while breastfeeding in public, to go against your breastfeeding wishes as a mother. This is not selfish. This is the most important nourishment you can give your baby.
I warmly encourage any mom, new or experienced, who has struggled with breastfeeding, not to feel guilty over her choices or circumstances, but to learn from them, better herself if she can, and help to inform others.