I’ve been sitting on this piece for months now. I’m hesitant to write about breastfeeding for fear of dividing women or offending those who haven’t been able to nurse their babies successfully. Hear me say this loud and clear – the way you choose to feed your baby is just that… a choice! And I support it. That said, I feel that I am at a place in my life where I can speak to moms who want to commit to breastfeeding. I’ve been there. I’ve been all over.
I’ve given my babies my friends’ milk when mine refused to come in. I’ve sat on toilets to nurse and pump, tears flowing because the milk wouldn’t. I’ve drunk the tea. I’ve drunk the water. I’ve eaten the oatmeal. I’ve eaten the cookies. I’ve treated myself and my babies for yeast and thrush over and over. I’ve cracked and bled and cursed. I’ve threatened to stop nursing my babies at ten weeks, and I’ve threatened to nurse my babies until they’re ten years old.
I also breastfed my son to twelve months and my twins to sixteen, while working full-time and tending to a growing family. I’m in a good place with my current nursling, and I figured it might be time to share a few tips that have worked well for me. If this is a trigger post for some of you, no worries! I’m not offended. Skip right on through and come back another day. Again, I’m writing this from a place of support and encouragement, okay? So here we go.
Breastfeeding hurts at first. Whoever told you it shouldn’t, shouldn’t have. Babies must learn, and mamas must learn. It will become easier and more comfortable once you’ve been doing it for several weeks. But there is nothing easy or comfortable about the beginning. You will find little tricks that make things more bearable. But regardless, no matter how many babies you’ve had or how perfect the latch is, it will hurt. I found a very easy solution for this. I just sucked it up. I gritted my teeth, I dug my toes into the carpet, and I went for it. Setting the bar low made things easier. Try committing to one month of breastfeeding. Most of the time, moms report relief much earlier than this. But I remember hitting one month with all four of my babies and celebrating. I remember looking at the date, taking a deep breath, and smiling at how much easier and more comfortable nursing had become.
Next, your milk might take a long time to come in. With one of my babies, it was a full seven days. Seven. I nursed every two hours those first few days, though nothing came out. So I followed each session with a bottle of my friend’s breastmilk. When my milk actually arrived, it came in like a stealth bomber. No swelling, no pain, no tingling. Just white stuff dribbling down my son’s chin. Weird, right? It can’t all be like the textbooks, folks.
Speaking of textbooks, get some. I think mamas could benefit taking more responsibility in this department. I feel like a lot of us go through our pregnancies without too much prep work. We make decisions about baby gear and baby names and baby sleeping arrangements, and we just assume that the breastfeeding part will come easily. It doesn’t. It may be natural, but it’s probably the hardest part of the newborn stage. Make it a point to spend a week doing some serious research. Don’t listen to your friend or your mom or your mother-in-law for a few days. Just dig in to the literature. Learn about terms like foremilk and hindmilk. I still refer to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and KellyMom when I have a question or concern.
I’ve written about this before, but moms… you should really consider covering up your clocks at the beginning. Stop counting hours between and hours before and hours after. Stop keeping track of the side last nursed. You don’t need the bracelets or the iPhone apps as much as you might think. I’ve done this both ways, and I must admit my method with Hadassah has left me far more peaceful and content. When she seems hungry, I feed her. I don’t worry about training her to go longer, and I don’t waste time trying to pacify her with other things. I just stop what I’m doing and I feed her. The other day, she started wailing as soon as I pulled into the driveway from church. The old me would have dragged all four little kids out of the truck and into the house. The old me would have shushed the baby with one hand and tossed lunch on plates for the toddlers with the other, trying to keep the foul language at bay and reminding myself that these kids are in fact blessings. This time, I just let the pigs play in the yard for twenty minutes while I nursed Haddie Lee in the driver’s seat. Everyone seemed much happier with this plan. When I can’t remember which side I last nursed, or how long it’s been, I just bounce each breast in my hand. Too much? Believe me, it’s silly. My husband and coworkers both have called me out on it, but it works.
Lastly, find your support!
Buy the things that work. I would be a wet mess without my nursing pads. This is the first time I’ve used Bamboobies, and it’s also the first time I’ve avoided yeast and thrush. I can’t praise them enough. Use KIPA20 for a 20% discount through the end of the year! I’m also a staunch support of nipple shields. From my experience, you will not spoil your baby or ruin your breastfeeding experience by using things that make it easier. Ask for these things as baby shower gifts, if you need to. Get the things that work, and get them within your reach before your baby ever arrives.
Reach out to the women who help. I avoid conversations with moms who snub their noses at pacifiers, because I need those things in my life. I high-five moms who encourage whatever sleeping arrangement works for the entire family’s sake. At the same time, it’s become very sweet to surround myself with friends who support without caring too much. Some of my biggest cheerleaders have been women who don’t breastfeed, or women who don’t even have children. Don’t let it get more important than the baby, okay?
Tell the man in your life exactly how you’re feeling and how you envision his role. My husband has always been the nighttime diaper changer. I might be awake, battling the dark night and the dark feelings, but I know he’s just an elbow nudge away. He hops right up to change babies and swaddle them back to sleep. I cannot emphasize how important that teamwork is. And for those of you who have been around this blog for awhile, you know how I feel about both parents being up at night. It’s absolutely vital for my own sanity and marriage. Regardless of which one of us has to get up earliest or work hardest the next day, we are both committed to putting forth effort in the middle of the night. I really can’t speak to that enough. Oh, and for the love… Learn how to nurse lying down!
This very may well be the last breastfeeding post I ever write, and I want to serve that community well. But I also feel that women have allowed these topics to get far too heated and divisive, and I want to do my part to fight that. Mama… no matter how you feed your baby today, I support you. You’re doing a great work.