A friend of mine recently made the difficult decision to stop breastfeeding. After being a listening ear as she came to terms with it all, I began to reflect on my personal breast-feeding experience. It wasn’t easy that’s for sure and no matter how much you prepare yourself, you never really know until you are there whether or not breastfeeding will be your cup of…uh….milk. Where we live there is a lot of pressure for mothers to breastfeed, in the form of posters, commercials and assumptuous medical staff. After speaking to women in other parts of the world, I know some have to fight for their right to breastfeed as it’s considered taboo in their community.
I don’t advocate breastfeeding, in my opinion I believe moms need to choose what they feel is best for themselves, their family and lifestyle as opposed to conform to society… or even family expectations.
But after reflecting on my experience, here is some advice that I would give to a new mom who plans to breastfeed:
1) Expect breastfeeding to be harder than you imagined and prepare for the worst Not to turn anyone off of the idea but breastfeeding certainly comes with challenges for most women and those challenges change as the baby gets older. From learning to latch, to the annoyance of trying to keep your baby awake enough eat to the infant who turns his head to watch daddy walk by with your nipple still in his mouth, there are always new obstacles to overcome. Although we know the health benefits of breast-feeding and that “breast is best”, I think this campaign is a glamorization that leads new mothers to expect it to be natural, easy and to have that instant bond on the first attempt. When reality sets in: sore back, awkward positioning, painful nipples and anxiety over meeting the baby’s needs, new mothers might decide they just aren’t cut out for it. I read so many books, online forums and magazines about breastfeeding before lo made his appearance. I played out the steps of holding and latching a baby in my mind over and over again much like an Olympic athlete prepares for the big competition. It didn’t matter… the minute my newborn was placed in my arms, everything I read went out the window and it was like I was holding a baby for the very first time. Thank goodness this didn’t happen to Michael Phelps. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but if you prepare for the worst, you will be prepared to conquer the challenges and who knows… maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as hard as you were expecting!
2) Take a chill pill Let’s face it, new moms have a lot of pressure on them. For nine months we’ve been told horror stories by seasoned moms and reminded daily that, “you have no idea what you’re in for”. Family and friends come to visit and you can’t help but feel like your every move is being watched. You yearn to have that same grace and ease handling your newborn as the moms on TV. Aside from the pressure, keep in mind we have a hormone cocktail running through our veins stronger than your Aunt Mabel’s “Shirley Temple” This combination can wind up even the most easy-going women out there. I remember being really anxious right after my lo was born. I wanted to start skin to skin and introduce him to the breast right away. It is recommended for getting your milk producing hormones in gear and who wouldn’t want to hold their new baby close to their heart after waiting in anticipation for their arrival? I was thankful though for the wonderful staff who supported me and my husband during our stay in the hospital. One kind nurse in particular was helpful in easing my anxiety about feeding. She assured me that healthy babies are usually tired from the long journey and after being attached to an all-you-can-eat buffet for nine months, aren’t particularly hungry right away. I tried to remind myself that the baby’s stomach was only the size of a chick pea so anything more than that would be spit up anyways. I just wanted to give my lo what he needed to thrive and stay healthy but I recognized relaxation is also important for producing your milk supply. So, my lo and I together took the time to learn the proper breastfeeding techniques while I waited for my supply to come in and I tried my best to relax and trust that my baby was getting what he needed in the mean time.
3) Keep the faith People will tell you that women have been breastfeeding their babies for hundreds of years and that the body was built for child rearing and feeding babies, but no matter how often you hear this advice, you might find yourself questioning with every period of fussiness and every sleep regression, if your baby is getting enough to eat. No wonder we question this…there are so many factors working against the mothers who are trying to keep the faith. For instance, the weight loss that typically occurs in babies after being born, although completely normal within a certain percentage, this would be enough to bring any mom to jump on the Similac bandwagon. How about all those guidelines that exist to tell mothers how many ounces your lo should be eating, while women who breastfeed are left in the dark with no way to actually measure. On a side note, pumping is not an accurate way of gauging this. I know of women who freaked themselves out after only getting a fraction of an ounce after pumping when the reality is, a pump is nowhere near as efficient as a baby is in getting milk from the breast. The best indicators that your baby is getting enough is gradual weight gain and an adequate amount of wet diapers so tracking this and seeing your doctor on a regular basis can provide the continual reassurance you might need. Learning some of the basics about how the body produces milk was extremely helpful for me in learning to trust my body.
4) Have a support system Know the people in your life who support your plan to breastfeed and keep them close by. Do research to find local breastfeeding support before you give birth so when your baby makes its entrance into the world, help is only a phone call away. Many hospitals have lactation consultants who can help you prior to being discharged and some hold breastfeeding clinics for new moms to attend with their newborns after they get home and have a chance try it out on their own. Don’t give up until you tap into all your resources. If things don’t work out, you will know you tried everything you could and this will prevent regret later on. Here are some resources that I found helpful:
5) Have an open mind Breastfeeding works for some mothers and doesn’t for others. You won’t actually know which category you will fall under until you try it, so it’s good to go in with an open mind and not put expectations on yourself or your baby. My friend went in with this attitude and still found herself disappointed so you can imagine how someone might feel after banking on it. If something doesn’t work out, you have every right to feel emotional about it but remember that formula provides perfectly adequate nutrition and try to focus on the advantages of bottle feeding to try to stay positive.
So there you have it. Not expert advice by any means, but a testament to how one mothers challenges served as my inspiration to hopefully help others.3