I knew breastfeeding wouldn’t be easy. It’s not like I imagined I would be lounging on a couch with my feet propped up and my baby chomping away while I sipped on champagne. I knew it would be hard work. I just didn’t realize how hard.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my son was born with jaundice. I didn’t even realize that was something many babies have right after birth. I was totally unprepared and horrified at the thought of being discharged from the hospital without my child.
The lactation consultants pushed me to breastfeed immediately. One even stuck her head in the room to tell me I needed to ask my family to leave so I could breastfeed. My family was shuffled out of the room and my baby was plopped down on my breast. The consultant forced him to turn his head and stuck the breast in his mouth. No surprise that he refused to eat.
Over the course of the next few days, I attempted to feed my baby. The second day in the hospital was the day he was circumcised and naturally they did it in the morning so he was a hot mess for the rest of the day. He was tired one minute and fussy the next and just did not want to eat. I was sleep deprived and hormonal – not a good combo when one is tackling breastfeeding. I cried as I tried to get him to latch. I latched and unlatched over and over until my nipples were raw. Finally the lactation consultant had me pump a few drops of colostrum and feed it to my baby so at least he could get some nutrients in him. I felt like the worst mom on the face of the earth.
The guilt didn’t end when I went home. I sat upstairs in the nursery crying because my son wouldn’t eat. When he finally did eat, his latch was completely off and I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t imagine enduring this for the next six months to a year.
Nearly four months later, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself what I know now. Since time travel is impossible, I’m sharing advice in the hope that it can help other new mom in similar situations. So here it is – seven things I’ve learned about breastfeeding:
Stay patient – no matter what happens.
As a new mom, patience isn’t something that comes naturally. But with breastfeeding, it’s so important. You and your child are new to this whole thing. It’s going to take some time. Give yourself that time. Don’t expect to become a pro at breastfeeding overnight – almost no one is. Think of it as trial and error. And remember that this time of learning will help strengthen the bond you share with your child.
Take cues from your baby.
Babies know more than we give them credit for. I’m a control freak and I was determined to succeed at breastfeeding. I stayed up till all hours googling perfect latches. If the latch wasn’t 100% perfect. I’d pop my son off the breast and try again. I must have done that 30 times a feeding and it always ended with both of us in tears. Once I gave up the reins and allowed my baby to be an active participant in breastfeeding, we made real progress.
I highly encourage you to check out resources about baby-led latching. Skin-to-skin is also a HUGE help in getting baby to latch better. Whenever my baby and I were struggling to latch, I would strip down and lo and behold – he’d find the breast and latch immediately.
Tend to your needs.
In the early days, you’re breastfeeding every 1-2 hours. That doesn’t leave much time for yourself (I went four days without showering once. Not my finest moment). In order for breastfeeding to be successful, you need to approach it in the right frame of mind. That can only be achieved when you’ve showered, put on clean clothes (and underwear), had a meal and slept. I don’t care what anyone says – breastfeeding is ten times harder when you’re exhausted and hungry. Why make it harder on yourself?
Ask for help – as many times as you need it.
Attending to your needs also means asking for help. I hate delegating. I feel like I’m the only one who can get something right. In the first few days home after giving birth, I struggled to accept help. It was strange to have difficulty doing things that came so easily to me before. But once I received help, I found that I was a better mother.
There’s a reason lactation consultants encourage you to bring your spouse, partner, or family member with you to breastfeeding classes. It’s so that you have someone to lean on when things aren’t going so well. That person can show you what you’re doing wrong or give you a tip on what you can do to make things easier. It’s hard to step outside of our bodies and watch ourselves breastfeed (if anyone’s mastered that, let me know). We need another set of eyes to guide us through the process.
Seek support from other moms.
My husband was an awesome support while I was breastfeeding. But he didn’t understand what I was going through – and how could he? It’s not like he just pushed a child out of him. I needed support from other moms who had been through it or were going through it.
A week or so after I came home from the hospital, a friend invited me to join a private group on Facebook for breastfeeding moms. It was one of the best things I ever did. I posted questions daily about latching, length of feedings, you name it. And I always got at least ten responses from other moms who gave me great suggestions or simply commiserated with me on the challenges of breastfeeding. No matter how things were going, I never felt alone. (Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in joining this group and I’d be happy to have you added).
Consider all options.
For some reason, many moms feel guilty for giving their babies formula. The sad thing is, they often feel judged by other moms. Why are we forcing moms to breastfeed? There are other options out there and every mother should decide for herself and her baby. No one should feel condemned because they chose formula over the breast. If breastfeeding isn’t working and formula is going to give a mom peace of mind, I say go for it. A mother’s mental health is way more important than how they’re feeding their child. We’re hard enough on ourselves – let’s not be hard on each other too.
This too shall pass.
When all else fails, remember that this too shall pass. Breastfeeding is a brief destination on the journey of your child’s life. When your child learns to drive or graduates from college, you’re not going to be thinking about the challenges you faced while you were breastfeeding. Life will go on – and your child will love you no matter what.
Moms: any advice or tips from your experiences breastfeeding?
To follow my journey as a new mom, check me out on snapchat (username: michellelvroom)!