My sweet girl is getting bigger and the time has gone by in a blur. Breastfeeding is a simple part of our routine; I know the dance and all the steps. But, the days are short and soon this beautiful chapter in our life will be a memory. When I reflect back to the beginning, there are so many things I wish that I’d known about breastfeeding before my daughter was born.
My journey through breastfeeding was difficult. It is my hope that by sharing my story, I am able to help other women going through a similar journey. When I was pregnant, I was hoping to breastfeed so I signed up for a class because I wanted to be prepared. I felt awkward as I held a plastic baby and practiced holds thinking maybe it would feel more natural with my real baby. I watched videos of newborns who opened their mouths into a perfect O and latched effortlessly. I was not ready for the challenges ahead because I didn’t even know what the challenges were or how to overcome them. I certainly didn’t know that breastfeeding was about to become one of the hardest things that I had ever done.
When I reflect upon my experience, what I wish I would have known about breastfeeding is all of the potential challenges. I would have been more prepared and better able to emotionally handle the setbacks if I had known in advance that they were normal. I remember countless tears, feeling lost, the constant wonder of why I was trying to do this, but most of all feeling like I was failing.
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself this…
- It is likely that you will have one (or more) struggles with nursing. Your baby might not latch or your baby might latch well and stop. Your baby might have a tongue tie that needs to be corrected. You might need to use a supplemental nursing system. You might need a nipple shield if your baby has trouble latching. You might have to stop eating certain foods if your baby has an allergy. Nursing might be painful for a few days, weeks or even months. You might get thrush or you might get mastitis. You might have under supply or you might have over supply. Lastly, your baby might love nursing and refuse to take a bottle.
- But, and girl, this is so important to remember. Nursing is a dance that you and your baby are learning together and neither of you know all of the steps. Your baby can learn to latch or re-learn latching. You can reintroduce those foods into your diet as your baby gets bigger. A good pediatric dentist or ENT can correct a tongue tie. Thrush and mastitis can both be treated. You can try to increase your supply with certain foods and teas, but if that doesn’t work, you can always supplement with formula. You can donate milk to a NICU through a milk bank if you have too much. You can introduce a sippy cup at four months to help your baby learn to drink if they won’t take a bottle. Every obstacle has a potential solution.
- You should know how to use your pump before you leave the hospital. I didn’t learn because my baby was latching and seemed to be nursing well. When my milk came in and she refused to latch, I went into panic mode. I didn’t know how to feed her because I was terrified she would get nipple confusion if I gave her a bottle, so we tried feeding her with a syringe and milk that I had hand expressed because I didn’t know how to use my pump. When I saw the lactation consultant that morning, she taught me how to use the pump and helped set me up with the correct parts.
- One bottle won’t cause nipple confusion for most babies. Just make sure you use the slowest flow nipple for your bottle; you ideally want a preemie flow if they make one for your bottle brand. If your baby is having trouble latching or you’re having trouble with painful nursing, you still have to feed them somehow.
- The first lactation consultant that you see might not be able to help you. When my daughter wouldn’t latch, I figured as soon as we got to the lactation consultant, we’d be fixed. It turned out, my baby was the first one in 15 years she couldn’t get to latch. So, our pediatrician sent us to a breastfeeding medicine doctor, who had her latching within the first 5 minutes of our appointment. But as it turns out, the first lactation consultant that I saw helped me later with other nursing issues and was one of my biggest supporters. If at first you don’t succeed, see someone else. See if your pediatric hospital has a breastfeeding medicine team or find a member of La Leche League.
- Stock up on all the supplies and have them ready to go. Organic nipple balm, nursing tanks, breast pads, the hot/cold gel inserts, sterilizer bags for pump parts, nipples for your bottles. It is far better to have the supplies you need on hand than to be scrambling to get them.
- Build your tribe. Reach out to other moms that you know that have breastfed. They can relate to your struggles with nursing and they will just get it. My sister-in-law and several of my friends were there for me in some of the absolute hardest moments.
- It will be hard and then in an instant, it will be easy. Literally, it will happen just like that. I felt like we struggled for so long and then one day it was as easy as breathing.
- It can become everything they said it would be. In the beginning, I longed to feel the closeness that I had heard about with breastfeeding. It just felt awkward and uncomfortable. But then, I remember being at a family member’s house when my daughter was a month old and her crying uncontrollably; I took her in a room to nurse and I realized that in the midst of feeling like I didn’t know how to do anything right, this was the one thing I was doing that seemed to magically calm her in a second. It was a glimmer of what was to come. I can say with absolute certainty that it has been one of my favorite parts of motherhood.
- Quit on your own terms and remember, it doesn’t always work out how we want it to. When I told the breastfeeding medicine doctor at my second appointment that I was going to quit, she told me not to quit when I was down. Quit when you’re up, quit when you can decide to quit on your own terms, she said. It was advice I still carry with me for the day this dance is done. But it’s advice for all stages of the road, no matter when your dance ends. Some mamas nurse for a day, a week, a month, a few months, a year, beyond a year. It doesn’t always end the way we want it to. So, quit when you’ve decided that you’re really truly done in your heart and celebrate the times that you did have, no matter how long they lasted.
Hang in there mamas. Here’s a big hug from me to you.