… But it’s SO worth it!
I want to dedicate a post specifically to breastfeeding. It was/is such a huge part of my life/our life, and I feel like I was totally unprepared. If this post can help just one mom-to-be, or a mama struggling through those first few weeks, then I will be happy. I will tell you my story, and at the end leave you with a few top tips and resources I wish I had known about during pregnancy in order to better prepare.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed her. I knew that it was the “healthier” option for her, I knew a few of the advantages for her (and myself), and I knew it was even the “easier” option. Because, why? That’s what all the marketing collateral at doctors’ offices say. Have you ever noticed all the breastfeeding posters in a doctor’s office? They are all the same. They all have a beautiful mom, with a gorgeous baby snuggled so effortless against her breast, with some clever rhetoric below about how “easy” and “clean” and “quick” breastfeeding is. Well, it’s NOT. It’s HARD. Very hard. Especially that first month or so. It requires so much time and effort with even more dedication. But guess what? It’s so worth it.
“Are you going to breastfeed” was always one of the questions I got asked when I was still pregnant. It was right up there with naming and sex questions. And when I would respond with yes, of course, everyone would immediately jump into praise and spout off all the benefits of breastfeeding newborns. Not one person ever told me how difficult and time consuming this commitment would be. Not once, not ever. So, I foolishly thought once the baby is born, they just latch on, and boom, done-zo, easy peasy. I also was immediately conditioned to believe that formula was the Devil, and I would be a horrible mother if I ever even entertained the idea about giving my baby this malevolent elixir.
A’s birth was one of those most miraculously beautiful moments of my life. The hospital where she was born is classified as a “baby friendly hospital” and is a huge advocate of breastfeeding. Barring complications, once baby is born, the nurses immediately put baby on mama’s chest for some skin-to-skin to encourage bonding and breastfeeding! Delivery was such a blur, but I distinctly remember one of the nurses reaching down, grabbing my breast, squeezing the nipple to expel some colostrum saying “let’s let the baby smell a little bit so she can latch.” And her maneuvering my 10-minute old daughter around my chest so she could latch and begin her first feed. Before I knew it, I was a breastfeeding mama.
That day, I had no less than 15 visits from different lactation consultants asking me “how’s it going” and wanting to see me breastfeed my little girl to ensure I was doing it correctly. Initially, I was annoyed by this, as I think more people saw my breasts that day than if I were on a parade float flaunting my boobs for beads at mardi gras! They all made it seem so easy, perfectly propping up the pillows for a comfortable feed, positioning my hands and arms and baby’s tiny body into flawless alignment, and gently guiding her to latch to my nipple effortlessly each time. It was so easy. So, I thought.
Once we were discharged the next morning, I was given a brief “101” lecture from one of the lactation consultants. But truthfully, I was in such a euphoric state from labor coupled with panic from thinking that I wouldn’t be a good enough mom for my beautiful little girl, that her lecture went in one ear out the other. I knew that I had to feed the baby at least every 2 hours – but other than that, I was clueless.
When I got home, and it came time to feed little A for the first time, I quickly recalled the effortless time the lactation consultant did to position the baby (and myself) and get her to latch properly. Yeah, RIGHT! It was not so easy. The baby was screaming and twisting and turning, I was trying to support her head, the pillows were going all askew and finally with my husband’s help, we got the baby positioned to latch on (in the most awkward, uncomfortable position ever! I didn’t dare move for fear of distracting the baby so she wouldn’t get a good feed. So I stayed, immobile, frozen, like a statue for an hour while she ate and eventually slept.
It went on like this for weeks, before I was able to feel confident enough to get into a groove, and to adjust her into a mutually comfortable position. Finally, we were settling into the breastfeeding routine. Only…, not quite. See, my daughter was diagnosed with colic and lactose intolerance. Which only much later we discovered was due to my “over supply” issue. You’d think having an over supply of milk was a good thing, but it’s not. An over supply comes with a whole host of issues for both mom (engorgement, leaking, prone to mastitis), and baby (too fast a flow, gas, colic, lactose intolerance). For us, it was a disaster. I had no idea, what to do, and after frantically googling for days and days, figured out I needed to “block feed,” meaning I needed to feed my girl from the same breast for different feedings, instead of alternating. Because, you see, breastfeeding is a supply and demand thing. The more your baby eats, the more your breasts produce. So if I would have pumped out the extra milk, I would have produced even MORE milk.
Finally, it worked. Around 3 months, things began to improve. No over supply issue, colic was getting better, and breastfeeding was getting easier… For 5 minutes. Then, BAM. Hit with another issue. All of a sudden, my supply tanked. I mean TANKED. I didn’t have any milk pumped for her, and for the first time I began to feel guilty that I’d have to supplement my daughter’s milk with formula. Yes, guilty, because all along, I had been conditioned to think formula was the Devil, right? In a panic, I rang the lactation consultant, and set up an emergency appointment for the very next day. Thankfully with her help, and a strict pumping schedule we were able to get my supply regulated again.
Now, my daughter is almost 8 months old, and we are still breastfeeding. She has her “solids” meals twice a day, but her main form of nutrition is still breast milk, and will be until she is a year old. Breastfeeding used to be stressful, now, I can honestly say, it is my most favorite time(s) of day. The bond between my girl and I during this time is like no other. It’s our special time that no one else has with her. I wouldn’t trade in the months of blood, sweat and tears (literally) while we struggled to persevere for anything in the world.
However, with that said, I want to reiterate that I was lucky enough to have the support of my husband to get through this. A lot of moms don’t have that. Or, they have a demanding work schedule that doesn’t allow them the time or freedom to be pumping every 45 minutes to try and build back their supply. With that said, one of the main points of why I wanted to write this post, was because as I was frantically trying to google resources to help me through my own struggle, most of the online forums and resources reaffirmed my initial conditioning that formula was not only bad, but a public health menace, and you’re a dreadful mom if you switch.
But that is NOT true. It’s appalling, actually, to see all the negativity around this topic. I mean people think it’s OK to pass judgment on one of the most precious times in your life. Whether you choose to breastfeed, or not, nurse in public, or not, nurse with a cover, or not, is NO ONE’S business but your own. Please, don’t EVER let one person’s uninformed (about your special situation) judgment ever make you feel like less of a mom. Don’t ever feel that way. If you have to switch from breast milk to formula to feed your baby, then you are making the best choice for your family, and that makes you the best mom for your child. You tried. You did your best. You love your child, and you are feeding her.
Yes, the benefits to breast milk are concrete, but if you don’t have enough milk to feed your child, are you supposed to starve your kid just to say you are breastfeeding? Please. I hated reading comments from some fanatical pro-breastfeeding moms stating that they “felt sorry” for other babies that were getting a bottle. Are you serious?? First, how do you know that there’s not expressed breast milk in that bottle, and second, are you kidding me? I feel sorry for them, for placing such a negative judgment on other moms, causing them to feel like a less of a mother if they had to supplement. Wouldn’t it be nicer to offer support, instead of judgment? Guess not. Breastfeeding your baby does not give you the right to judge other moms. Period.
Yes, I struggled through my own host of problems to get where I am today, and am beyond thankful I did, but it’s not for everyone. However, if you decide that breastfeeding is the best choice for your family, then I will leave you with a list of resources and tips I WISH I had known about much earlier in my own breastfeeding journey!
So, keep calm and nurse on mamas! You are doing great!! Don’t give up, it gets better.
Top 3 Online Resources:
- La Leche League
- Facebook Group: Badasses know better, badasses do better. (private group, so you must be added – lmk.)
- It gets better, really, it does. The first 6 weeks were really difficult. Now, it’s effortless.
- Get a pump. Not a manual one, invest in an electric one. It’ll make your life easier. Not only to have a break every once in awhile, but to build a stash of frozen milk.
- Don’t be afraid to nurse in public. Baby’s gotta eat. Most people don’t even bat an eyelash. Get a nursing cover if you’d like.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I’m talking like at least 4 liters daily. More if you live in a hotter or humid climate or if you’re working out.
- Get a good nursing pillow.
- Pay attention to foods. In the beginning, I had no idea that you were supposed to stay away from onions, tomatoes, etc etc etc. Google the list of foods to stay away from – and follow it. It will help, at least initially until baby’s gut is more developed.
- If your baby is diagnosed with colic, check your food intake. Could be sensitive to something you are eating. Or, could be a supply issue.
- Nurse on demand. There is no reason to stick to a strict every 2 hours schedule. If it’s been an hour, and baby is hungry. Feed him. It’s the best way to build your supply in the beginning.
- Take unsolicited advice with a pinch of salt.
- Weigh your kid each week to ensure proper weight gain, in the beginning, as with breastfeeding, it’s tough to know exactly how much your baby intakes. If will help alleviate at least some stress when you ask “is baby eating enough,” As trust me, you will. Should be about 200-250gram weight gain weekly in the initial months, Will slow down later.
- Find a lactation consultant. Utilize her knowledge, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Cherish each and every moment.