Because Emilia is nearing her 1 year birthday, and because she is likely my last baby, I’ve started to get nostalgic about my experience nursing. I’m looking forward to weaning, to having my body back to myself. I’m also keenly aware that I will always remember the physical closeness and quiet moments with great fondness. In honor of National Breastfeeding Month I want to put out into the world my breastfeeding story — what I have learned, and what I wish someone had told me beforehand. I like what I have been reading on other blogs (like the pregnant chicken) about the need to have an honest conversation about breastfeeding, that we are doing mothers a disservice by simply telling them breast is best without telling them what it is really like. It is important that every expecting and new mother trying out nursing for the first knows the truth: nursing is wonderful and convenient, and it is really hard.
When Leo (my first) was born, he immediately latched on in the delivery room in the same way I saw in all developmental psychology textbooks I read as an undergraduate. I was amazed that he seemed to naturally know what to do. Things seemed to work fine while we were in the hospital. I thought, this is easy! Except for one thing: he didn’t have a great wet diaper while we were there. But, the doctors cleared us and we were eager to get our baby boy home! So off we went, two totally inexperienced parents, to care for this fragile life. The first day or so went smoothly, but by the 2nd day home, Leo was crying a lot. At first we thought, this is normal, all babies cry, right? But then it got to the point where he was completely inconsolable, so we took to the pediatrician. It was quickly determined that he was dehydrated because my milk hadn’t come in yet and the doc recommended we supplement with formula. I felt like I had failed when she put the little sample bottles on the desk in front of me. I had read Dr. Jack Newman’s books about how aggressive the formula industry has been in getting samples into hospitals and doctors offices, and about how many medical professionals prefer formal feeding because the food their patient receives is in clear, measurable amounts. I didn’t know in that moment if I should follow the doctor’s recommendation or if this was some rouse to deter me from doing what I thought was right for my child. At the same time, the thought of my child being hungry was intolerable. I felt confused and angry. Why hadn’t someone warned me about this? Why had they sent me home from the hospital without clear instructions?! My God, what could have happened if we hadn’t taken Leo in to be seen? I was so exhausted and hormonal after a hard first delivery. Everything seemed like such an effort. At that moment was sitting in the doctor’s office in pajamas (nice ones, but still), fighting back tears.
If my mother hadn’t provided a great role model to me by breastfeeding me and my two sisters, and if my husband hadn’t been fervently dedicated to the cause, I might have folded completely in those first few days. After we fed Leo those first few ounces of formula, he promptly fell asleep. Finally, peace. All I wanted to do was sleep too. But no, I had to pump to get my supply up. Despite my protests, my husband broke out the new pump (and read the instructions, something I hate doing), sterilized the parts, sat me in a comfy chair, and made me food while I pumped. Those first few days of feedings consisting of nursing, giving a bottle, and pumping were absolutely exhausting. But, after a few days, we didn’t need the bottles anymore and my milk came in just fine.
Everything was great for a few months. By great I mean that Leo was eating constantly and gaining lots of weight. However, feedings took a long time, like close to an hour, sometimes more. It felt like all I did was feed him. But I was okay with that because he was my only and I loved the satisfaction I got from knowing breastfeeding was the healthiest option for him. I mean, there were SO MANY things I worried about or felt guilty about those early days, I took great comfort in knowing this was one thing I didn’t have to second guess. Plus, I always had an surefire way to comfort him, which kept him happy and me feeling confident and in control.
Then it came time to go back to work and although we had occasionally given Leo a bottle of pumped milk, I guess we didn’t do it often enough because he refused to drink from one. Despite trying every nipple on the market, he would go 8 hours during the day only drinking an ounce. As a result he woke up every couple of hours all night long to compensate. I was so tired and felt like I needed to do something about his sleep, but I also felt trapped because he needed the nourishment during the night since he wasn’t eating during the day and it wasn’t as though my husband could give him a bottle while I slept. (The resolution to this problem is a whole other post. It did all work itself out but message me if you want more details on how.)
All and all nursing my kids has been a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t change at all, even with all these heartaches. So, yes, breast is best, but be prepared. Here is my list of what I wish someone had told me when I was pregnant:
1. Get a pump, know how to use it. It’s likely that your milk will not just magically appear and you will need to pump for the first few days to get your supply going. Never fear, this will be short lived.
2. If breastfeeding is important to you, make sure your partner is equally committed. You will need them to be supportive and firm in the moments when you are too tired to go on and just want to hand the baby to them and take a nap.
3. Give a bottle around 3 weeks and then do it daily. You don’t want to be stuck being the only person who can feed the baby. Even if you aren’t planning to go back to work, and even if this idea seems fine to you at first, the day will come within the first year that you will want to be away from your baby for a few hours.
4. It takes a long time for things to feel natural and easy. You will get to the point where you don’t feel terribly self-conscious doing it public and where you don’t need to carry your boppy pillow everywhere you go.
5. Find a lactation consultant before giving birth. I had one who came to my house in the first week or two and that was incredibly helpful. She observed us in our natural element, which allowed her to make more specific recommendations and me to feel at ease. The last thing I wanted to do was travel to see someone in a sterile office.
Experienced breastfeeding moms: what would be on your list, what were your roadblocks, what advice would you give to other mothers?
Expecting or first time moms: what makes you want to try breastfeeding, what are your fears?
- My breastfeeding Experience. (happyindianmommy.wordpress.com)
- Breastfeeding Doesn’t Have to Be a Let Down (notthehardestpart.com)
- The Breastfeeding Chronicles: Nursing My Adopted Child (huffingtonpost.com)