I’m not saying there are not women out there that have a easy go of it, but the truth is: breast feeding is hard work. There. I said it.
It seems like a lot of people don’t want to admit it. Like it’s going to scare people out of it. But in reality, by not letting expecting and new mothers know that there can be challenges ahead we are setting them up to feel frustrated, inadequate, and defeated in their breast feeding journey.
A lot of people sugarcoated it for me when I was expecting. Or maybe I really did just know women who had a very fortunate experience of have a good latcher, a good supply, and no issue. But looking back on it now, I highly doubt it.
Our breast-feeding journey didn’t start out very well. My son was in the NICU immediately following his Cesarean Birth, and so it wasn’t until six hours later that I officially met my son. At the time, he was on a breathing machine and the doctors and nurses insisted that he wasn’t able to regulate his breathing enough in order to breast-feed. It wasn’t until the next day that we sat down together in the NICU and tried. And tried. And tried. The nurses tried to help, but they just made me feel silly and stupid for not being able to get my son to eat. For days we struggled. Every two hours (and many times more often than that!) I would sit and try to latch, over and over. It was hard work!
On day four, a Lactation Consultant named Dorothy came to see us. She was heaven sent, I swear! She was so very patient, and so kind. She helped us to find the nursing positions that worked for us, showed me how to open his mouth wider, showed me how to make sure he was swallowing, and let me know the truth. Breast-feeding is hard work.
From there we also battled a gnarly case of thrush that lasted eight weeks, oversupply, fast let down, and then undersupply. And through it all, Dorothy was there to help when needed as well as a community of nursing mothers that I found through a local support group. I wouldn’t have made it past the first six weeks without those women. And then one day, around eight weeks or so, I realized that we were doing it! Really doing it, all by our selves. And I knew that we could make it.
My persistence in breast-feeding was motivated by two different things. Breast milk is the best nutritional source for babies, hands down. Also, it is free. That’s not to say that there weren’t a couple of times that we needed to supplement with formula, but for the first six to eight months of my sons life I was able to sustain him all by myself. Which I think is awesome!
So, my advice to expecting and new moms:
- Take a deep breath. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. It can be incredibly frustrating at times when you and the baby are learning to breast-feed. Both of you have to learn together what’s going to work for you.
- The first six to eight weeks are the hardest, but I PROMISE you that it is worth it to stick it out and make it work. It does get better, truly it does.
- Find a good support system of other mothers who nurse. Women who are or have also breastfed are an amazing resource when you’re having issues and you need ideas on what to do. Le Leche League is a great option and there are meetings all over the country.
- See a lactation consultant as often as you can in the first few weeks if you’re having any problems at all. Not all insurance covers this, but many do. WIC also has some lactation consultants. LLL sometimes has lactation consultants. And if you are truly having problems, and your insurance doesn’t cover it, but you are sincere in your desire to continue breast-feeding then I assure you that it will be money well spent to see a good lactation consultant.
- Give yourself permission to do what you can, and let go of the rest. The first few weeks of nursing you will literally be nursing your child almost all day. If they aren’t sleeping (most likely in your arms) or pooping, they will probably be hungry. So your laundry might pile up, your dishes might not get cleaned right away, the vacuuming will wait. I PROMISE that anyone who cares about you doesn’t care what the house looks like right now, and if they do care tell them to either help clean up or get the hell out.
- Do what’s best for you. There is a lot of judgment out there regarding breast-feeding. Whether to nurse in public or not is your decision, not anyone else’s. If you’re comfortable with it, then go for it! If not, then find a quiet place for you and baby. It’s as simple as that. Also, if you are at your wits end with breast-feeding and you have exhausted not only your resources but also your sanity, give yourself permission to supplement a little. And don’t let others guilt you about it! Everyone has a limit, and being honest about our limits can be just as freeing as pushing past them as well.
- Once you’ve got it down, pay it forward. Once you have that light bulb moment where it all comes together and you realize, “hey, we’re really doing this!” Go back and help the mom behind you in the journey. Passing our knowledge on to other mothers is a gift that is just too good to keep.
So there you have it. The nitty gritty! What other advice would you give to a new mom for their breastfeeding journey?