This blog entry is intended to be practical breastfeeding advice, so it’s a little more serious than many of my posts will be. I tend to be lighthearted, but breastfeeding is a passion that I REALLY struggled with and feel that there is very little real life, practical advice out there. I wanted to offer breastfeeding tips to others who may be preparing to have a little one, are currently struggling with breastfeeding or have in the past and plan to have more babies in the future.
Words of Warning – Breastfeeding Can Hurt
I don’t know if anyone warned me that breastfeeding would be hard. If they did, I don’t remember hearing it. I knew it wasn’t EASY because it was taxing on the mother. I babysat for a family friend after her son was born and watched her struggle to keep up with work, pumping and feeding. However, I didn’t realize the pain involved. Sure, I had read about cracked nipples, and I had read sections of books and even one entire book on breastfeeding. I’d be fine, right? Wrong!
Jonathan had (well, has) what’s called a recessed chin. It basically just means the lower jaw is set back and smaller than average. It makes it hard for a small baby to open his mouth wide enough to latch correctly. To say I was in pain is putting it lightly. The pain I experienced those first MONTHS (yes, I said months) was 10 times worse than labor pains (this coming from someone who has had an all natural childbirth with no drugs – this story to come later). My words of warning to expectant moms? Breastfeeding is the hardest, yet the most rewarding thing I have done in my entire life.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
You don’t have to look far to find information on breastfeeding. Breast is best (in almost all situations).
- It’s easier for baby to digest
- It’s got immunities that help baby build a strong immune system
- It’s got a natural chemical composition designed for human babies that supports the growth of brain tissue
- The human nipple is shaped perfectly for human mouths – decreasing incidents of orthodontic issues in small children
- It decreases the incidence of breast cancer in moms. In fact, the longer you breastfeed, the less likely you are to get breast cancer.
- This, by no means, suggests that you WON’T get breast cancer, but it decreases your predisposed risk. If you have a strong history of breast cancer in your family, it’s still possible to get it, but it certainly gives you a fighting chance that it will skip you!
The list goes on and on and on. Does that mean formula is bad? No. It’s a fine substitute when you can’t (or don’t want) to breastfeed. But, this was one thing I felt strongly about from day one. I was going to breastfeed my baby for the benefits to him AND for the simple fact that it was FREE!
Preparing to Breastfeed
Jonathan, my first child, was born in 2003. The internet had taken off, but wasn’t the wealth of information it is today. I had a computer. I had internet. I did do some reading on the internet, but (SHOCKER!) I had read more books than internet information! I think that breastfeeding may be something that is a “less is more” type of parenting thing.
When you research positions, methods, timing of feedings (both length and space apart), you begin to obsess and over think everything. I had every issue in the book and I think that’s because I was over thinking everything. Babies instinctively know what to do and just need a little guidance.
I think it’s also important to remember that despite what “they say”, it may hurt at first. Your nipple has probably never been stretched out an inch from your boob before, right? Yeah, well, not often anyway ;). It will probably feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, even if baby is latched on correctly. I didn’t realize this and thought I was doing something wrong, so I kept adjusting things. Eventually, the adjusting is what caused cracked/split nipples which, eventually, brought on supplementing. Once you start supplementing, it’s a slippery slope to weaning. I fell prey to that. Pain and supplementing combined with bad information (a nurse at the pediatrician’s office who took one look at my nipple and told me it would never heal – not true!!!) caused me to wean.
I feel guilty to this day that I robbed my first child of the immunities and other health benefits I gave (give) to my other children. There are situations where breast isn’t best, but true medical reasons are few and far between. Most obstacles, in my experience, tend to be emotional (which is also a FINE excuse to stop if it is affecting your mental health and your relationship with your baby). Preparing for the fact that it may not be as easy as it “should” be may help to overcome many of these issues.
Nursing While Living on the Couch
Those first few weeks (heck, MONTHS), you will be a slave to a tiny 7-10 pound little person who seems to want to eat constantly. I recently read in a handout from the hospital that your milk goes from about 2 oz/day (colostrum) to 30 oz/day in the first 40 days!
How does that milk increase?
Nursing your baby (or pumping) often is the only way to let your body know it needs to produce milk. Nurse your baby as often as he/she wants to establish a good milk supply. It often takes a newborn up to an hour to nurse (sure, some of that may be comfort, but think about the trauma they just went through to get into this world!!! You’d want some comfort too!!!!) and you measure space between feedings from start to start. So, you could literally finish feeding and start all over again in a few minutes. Being prepared that this is normal might make it a little easier.
If you feed him, Milk will come
Those first few weeks (usually 6-10) are hard, but oh so rewarding. Knowing that you provide everything your baby needs to survive and thrive is an amazing feeling. You are giving your baby the perfect start in life by providing the food made just for him/her and the snuggles needed to make him/her feel comfortable in this big scary world. My oldest was a lazy nurser. He took at least 45 minutes, each and every time. I thought there was no way I was producing enough because it felt like he’d want to eat again right after he finished. Trust your body! It’s like that movie Field of Dreams. If you feed him, it will come (milk, that is)!!!
Lactation Consultants Can Help You Be Successful
Check ahead of time and see if your hospital has a lactation consultant who can address problems before they become problems. Try to latch the baby on within an hour after birth (even possible if you have a c-section if you tell your NURSES ahead of time! I walked in the hospital asking for a lactation consultant and my baby in the recovery room before when I had my scheduled c-section).
Latching Can Be Difficult
Latch issues are common. Newborn babies have small mouths. It can be hard to get them to open up wide enough. Having someone who knows all of the tricks to start your baby (and you!) off right will do wonders for your breastfeeding relationship with your baby. Be prepared to have your boobies manipulated, tugged on, pinched,… And, no, not by the baby! By an experienced lactation consultant who just wants to help! Know that you are both new at this, but women have been doing this since the beginning of time and babies typically survived.
Success is Mine!
Trust your body, trust your baby, and if you have problems, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Despite my rough start with my oldest, I successfully breastfed my second and third babies well into toddlerhood (and I was working and pumping with number three) and am currently breastfeeding my youngest little man.