So…breastfeeding. Ever since becoming pregnant, I was sadly introduced to the “Mommy War” frenzy. If you haven’t heard of it, sorry that I have to slay your ignorance about the subject. Listen, we all judge. We judge other moms, we judge other dads, we judge other women, we judge other men, we judge others houses, their choice of dress, and on and on. It’s human nature. I LOVE judging people. But I usually keep it to myself and don’t spew my negative judgements everywhere. Mommy wars tends to be about these things… cry it out vs. not; breastfeeding vs formular; c-section vs vaginal birth; epidural vs. no meds, etc etc.
Nursing 2 month old Ori. Lake Tahoe, CA 2012
Now I’ll preface this post and it holds true for pretty much everything I’ll say on this blog, that every choice I make for myself and for Ori is because I think they are best FOR US. Please don’t tell me what I should be doing (that I’m not) because you aren’t me and you aren’t the mother of my child and you don’t know her better than I do. And that’s a two way street. I don’t know your kid, I don’t know you. All you can do is what your gut tells you is ‘right’ for you and your kid. So while I think breastfeeding is awesome and wonderful (which I’ll go into detail about below) if you chose to formula feed, fantastic! I’m not you. You’re not me. I feel like Dr. Seuss…
I HATE it when people tell me what I’m doing wrong or that I should be doing this or that. I love however, talking to other moms and learning about what they do so I can kind of pick and choose things I might try or ways I might go about parenting. It was several blogs that spoke so highly of their breastfeeding experiences that motivated me to be so passionate about breastfeeding and became such a huge support to me in the those hard, long early days of newborn hood. A friend of mine emailed me today actually and said “You were right, breastfeeding has gotten so much easier!” and I was so glad to hear this. I sent her a version of this post when she was pregnant and hoped it was a part of deciding to breastfeed and I also hope it helped when it was tough in the beginning for her. So many women start to breastfeed with all the good intentions but it gets hard or frustrating and they don’t have adequate support to continue. So while I would never judge a mom who tries and doesn’t continue (I hesitate to say fail because that word seems judgmental) I’d hope that writing this might tip the scales in favor of continuing instead of stopping.
And now I’ll start the actual post where I talk about my experience and why I feel so passionate about breastfeeding since apparently I’m incapable of writing a short intro.
Nursing —-> passed out.
1. BREASTFEEDING IS HARD IN THE BEGINNING. And then its not. Stick with it, it’s so worth it.
2. In the beginning (or ever) if you ever need advice, support or to just complain find someone to talk to. Breastfeeding rarely goes well or easy in the first few weeks and having a support system truly makes all the difference. I swear. I went to a La Leche meeting when I was pregnant and only because I met one of the leaders did I feel comfortable calling when I was having latch issues with Ori. Everyone is different and you might feel comfortable calling a stranger but I didn’t. Find a community, a person, a resource, something that you feel comfortable talking to. In those early days you feel all sorts of things, including maybe annoying, So you rationalize that you are different, you are doing something wrong, you suck, whatever. BUT YOU DON’T. Someone is there to help, to listen, whatever and there are very rare cases where no solution can be found. After a few weeks Ori was latching and nursing fine without pain on my end and at the time it felt like FOREVER but in hindsight, obviously, it was only a few weeks.
3. While I truly believe breastfeeding is the best thing for baby, dont get sucked in to the pressure (if you do) to continue if it just isn’t working for you. In the end, what is best for your child is going to be what makes you happiest and the least stressed. That slightly contradicts the whole idea that breastfeeding is hard at first but stick with it, but you’ll know what feels right. Give breastfeeding some time, but if its not for you after trying, then that’s okay. Let go of the “guilt” of parenthood.
But if you do chose to breastfeed…you get to look at this all the time. Post nap on the breast in hot weather.
4. I said this already but it deserves its own paragraph: if you can/have time, find a La Leche League group near you. I ended up having some issues which Ill talk about later but I never NEVER would have called for help if I hadn’t already met a leader or two. I would have felt too weird or embarrassed but those phone calls improved my situation and solved my problems. They literally were amazing. It’s nice also to have a group, even if you only got a few times after he’s born, so you can ask questions and get advice from other moms who are in your position or have been. Once you get breastfeeding off to a good start you might find, like I did, that the meetings weren’t necessary anymore. Or you might meet your best mom friends there and go because it’s a great way to socialize.
So I read before I had Ori that breastfeeding can be difficult. It can be uncomfortable in the beginning but that its worth it blah blah. Nothing can prepare you though. Some women skate by without any issues. God bless them. But breastfeeding has a learning curve for both you and baby. But once you both figure it out, it’s great.
A few days into this whole “nursing” thing. I had NO idea what I’d gotten myself into! ;)
Basically my issue, and I wont go into detail since it may never happen to you, was that her latch was off on my left side. I wasn’t holding my breast right and a few other things and my nipple started bleeding and got cracked. It was so painful, especially then when they are nursing non stop and for long periods of time (ie. always). There were times when she’d latch on and I’d burst into tears. Poor Ari. If I hadn’t had advice and help, I’m not sure what I would have done. But between advice on the phone from a La Leche leader and my midwife (and Ari who paid close attention to the midwifes suggestion and then helped me implement them at home), I figured it out and at around 3 weeks ish (it was A VERY LONG 3 WEEKS) everything was fine.
But in general if you have no latch problems and everything is A-OK you will still have some soreness, usually slight discomfort when they first latch and then it feels fine, for a week or two.
The one thing I wasn’t really expecting and caught me off guard was engorgement. Basically once your milk comes in it takes about a month (up to 6 weeks) for your body to figure out how much milk to make. Its supply and demand so the more baby sucks (eats) the more you make. It’s a whole other topic but I say suck because if you exclusively pump or think you can/should pump to relieve engorgement you shouldn’t (unless a lactation consultant recommends it). The body responds best, when it comes to supply and demand, to an actual baby sucking on your boobs, since babies are the most efficient and train your body ‘correctly’. (That isn’t to say exclusively pumping instead of nursing is a bad idea, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t have to).
So after 6 weeks or so your body gets the idea that baby eats x amount of times and x amount of ounces every day so it will kind of level off and be much better. Even now I see my body messing with my supply, based on how Ori’s needs change. For a few weeks she was waking up twice a night instead of once and when she returned to waking once a night, I would wake up before her only nighttime feeding COMPLETELY full since my body had gotten used to 2 feedings. After a few days though it leveled off again.
How can you care that your boobs feel like they will explode when you get to stare at this for a few hours!?
Anyway being engorged those first few weeks was really painful. It sucked ass man. Some women even end up getting mastistis which is like a small infection in the milk ducts because milk isn’t being drained fast enough (that is why a good latch is important so baby is getting what he needs but also emptying you effectively as well). I had hot compresses on my boobs all the time to relax the pain and I’d wake up at night before her because my boobs were so full it was painful to lay down/sleep.
I was convinced that it would be like this forever. It’s funny when I think back to all of this because its SO long ago and in the scheme of things it didn’t really last that long. But when you’re in the thick of it, it seems like forever. Which brings me to my biggest piece of breastfeeding and mom advice:
THIS TOO SHALL PASS. Just when you have a routine or schedule, baby changes and everything changes. Just when you think your nipple can’t hurt anymore, it stops hurting forever. Just when you think your boobs might explode, suddenly all is balanced. So just remind yourself that nothing is forever, and it will always get better.
Finally after around 5 months I was able to nurse by side lying and sneak off the bed while she stayed sleeping. VICTORY!
That goes hand in hand with the other best advice which is TRUST YOUR INSTINCT. Dont listen to annoying people (like me) with their “you must do this” and “don’t do that” advice. You and ONLY YOU (sorry Dad!) know your child the best and your gut will always tell you what is right, what works and what is best for both of you. Always trust it, always follow it. It’s wonderful to learn about what others do, the choices other moms make and why but YOU have final say. Whenever I make a decision, big or small, that feels slightly not ok in my gut, it always turns out like crap and I end up doing what I originally wanted to do in the first place. Even if what you want to do (like say a sleep training method or when to start nap time, whatever…) even if it turns out like crap, you don’t then have to deal with the guilt of “I knew I shouldn’t have…” or “I should have done this instead”.
I would highly HIGHLY recommend reading “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” and keeping it on hand post baby. I never look at it anymore but I read the entire thing before Ori was born and constantly in the first 3 months I reread relevant parts. It really explained to me the mechanics of breastfeeding, like supply and demand. It put me at ease about the fear that she wasn’t eating enough, and all those silly things (which aren’t silly really, but they seem silly now that I really understand everything). I began to understand the science behind it so I understood better how to take care of myself and how to create my breastfeeding relationship.
I have NEVER gotten mastitis or any other yeast related breast infection. I took probiotics, which might be something to consider to help prevent any yeast/thrush issues. I initially started taking it since I was Group B Positive and had to have antibiotics during delivery. But my midwife said to just keep taking them because WHY NOT! Part of why I never had problems might be because I got lucky and am not prone to it but I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that I read and understood how it all works and made sure to prevent things before they happened. A few times I felt a hard spot in my breast and I understood that was milk probably getting a little backed up, so I massaged it and fed Ori while rubbing it to loosen it up. That would have caused an infection if it didn’t clear or I didn’t know to be aware of it. So it was really helpful. It calmed me down as well when my boobs were full and heavy and disgusting. But I truly began to understand the relationship of milk, breast, etc and how the relationship changes and evolves at different developmental times, etc.
In conclusion, breastfeeding is great. They say that formula is easier than breastfeeding but I have to disagree. It’s easier in the beginning and breastfeeding is harder, no question, but formula always stays the same. you ALWAYS have formula, anyone can give the baby food but you have to carry around stupid bottles and warm water and it’s expensive. Breastfeeding starts off hard and then becomes the easiest than formula. You always have milk ready, at the right temperature and there is always enough. Baby will eat until he’s done not when the bottle is empty.
Chunky delicious breastfed baby!
And even more than all of that (and the nutrition and natural immunities you give through the milk) it becomes the BEST parenting tool. Baby upset and you dont really know why, the breast will solve it 9 times out of 10. Ori starting to get fussy because she’s tired but we’re out and wont be home for another 30 minutes, thebreast calms her. It’s an amazing thing. You can read a million times about studies that show that breastfed babies have higher IQ’s and even formula companies will tell you breast is best (but if you chose to give formula consider their brand). Listen, is someone not going to get into Harvard because they had formula instead of breastmilk, obviously not. For me though, knowing all of the wonderful benefits of breastmilk and the relationship it fostered with Ori was what HELPED me to keep going when it got tough. I would think about losing that closeness and special relationship only I get to share with her. I thought about our credit card bill and how expensive formula would be when I make the good stuff free of charge.
Two small practical bits to conclude…
1. I’ve read to not introduce a bottle until around 3-4 weeks or when breastfeeding is starting “well established”. That’s what all the books say. But also INTRODUCE A BOTTLE before 6 weeks and give him one or two a week at least. Not just because you might be going baack to work (Womanly Art of Breastfeeding has a great chapter about pumping/working moms). Ori had a hard time taking a bottle after we gave her one at like 5 weeks and concluded “Great she takes a bottle!”. And then a month later when I wanted to go to dinner with Ari, she wouldn’t take the bottle and we had to come home. So just giving the bottle once or twice a week to keep him in practice, is a great idea ESPECIALLY since you are going back to work. And hey, if you have to give a bottle just to keep it up, WHY NOT GO OUT AND ENJOY YOURSELF Grandma or Dad or whoever is giving it. Yea so you have to pump and really have no where you “have” to be. But go get a pedicure, grab a drink with a friend, take some time for yourself. It’s so important. And it will be a much easier transition for everyone if he isn’t fighting the bottle because he isn’t used to it.
2. Also, if you are engorged in the beginning DON’T PUMP. Supply and demand, if you keep taking milk out, your body will make more to replace it. I was tempted to pump it out when I was miserable but it would just prolong the problem. But do start pumping according to a schedule you find for working moms. It’s good I believe to start buliding up a stash slowly after the first month so you have a buffer for when you start going back to work. I also read some women who if they were very engorged, would pump just a little off the top (for a few minutes) just to relieve some of the discomfort. I think this really depends on you and your supply. Get to know yourself for a few weeks before you start messing with things. I learned after like 4 week around how long Ori would sleep for, so looking back I feel confident I could have pumped a little off the top and then fed her within 20 minutes and it was no big deal. But while I didn’t have an oversupply I definitely was producing a healthy amount of milk. If you don’t have as strong of a supply pumping like this might affect you negatively.
Breastfeeding is so much about just learning about your body and baby. There is no “normal” or “general” way of how things work. What worked for me was reading a lot and seeing how so many different people “did” it and then adapting all of that to my own experience, taking things here and there as it suited me and Ori.
If you look closely…you can see a nursing pad! No leaks here!
Both of these sites offer AMAZING information when you have a question, concern, etc. Plus you can like them on Facebook and see questions moms are asking. Reading answers and being able to ask questions yourself can be so helpful. Built in community without leaving your house.
I hope this was somewhat helpful. I tried no where to talk in absolutes. I hate when people gave me advice that made me feel like if I didn’t follow it I was letting them down and disrespecting them. This is my experience. I think breastfeeding is amazing. I think it takes work and will. I think you need to make sure your partner knows it can be hard in the beginning and it’s his/her role to support you, comfort you, let you cry and tell you that you are amazing and are doing great!
But whatever you decide, however things work out, remember that you are amazing! You will be an amazing mom. You will learn very quickly how to comfort and care for your child. And like I said, and never forget it, no matter what anyone says they are not an expert. You are an expert on your own child and no one else. Trust that you will be amazing because you will be and whatever is best for you, that is what is best for you child.
And just remember that it does get easier. So easy, breastfeeding becomes effortless. It definitely is not though, in the beginning. One day you won’t be engorged. One day your boobs will always be soft, and yet it will fill with enough milk to satisfy your child. You’ll
find a routine and a rhythm that works for you and your baby. In the beginning each feeding will last an hour or more. But then, it will last 5 minutes and you’ll be done. In the beginning there is some pain. And then one day (and forever after) there is none.
Breastfeeding is a time to cuddle together and be close with your child. I can always count on it if rocking or singing or whatever isn’t working to get her back to sleep if she wakes up. I know that if she eats and then leaves me but is still fussy she’s probably just still a bit hungry and I put her back on and a few minutes later she’s happy as can be. I know that, once she started eating solids, if she barely ate anything at lunch but then nursed to sleep for her nap that she got all the nutrition she needs and one day she’ll eat solids with reckless abandon and pass on the milk.
Whatever you chose, I hope the joy you get from nourishing your child brings you happiness and peace.
Happiness and Peace.