Thu 4 Aug 2011
Breastfeeding only served to strengthen my awe of Mother Nature. The fact that the human body can grow another human being is pretty impressive. So is the ability to feed them with ZERO IMPACT to the environment and without spending a DIME. When your baby needs more milk, your body simply makes it. When your baby requires less, the body slows its production. Not an unnecessary drop is produced or wasted. Totally amazing, isn’t it? It is because of this amazing feat that I am surprised Mother Nature did not think to also deliver us one more set of arms with the baby. The extra arms would really come in handy and could simply go away again, like the milk, when we weaned the baby. Who knows …maybe in a future evolution?
I have nursed three babies to whole milk and sippy cups. I am a big proponent of nursing. However, what I want to share with you today is not all the reasons why one should breastfeed. Rather, I want to share some straight talk about some of the challenges many encounter when they first breastfeed. Things you can’t see in all those sweet, peaceful pictures of mothers nursing their babies. My goal is most definitely not to dissuade you from breastfeeding. But to let you know that you are not alone. That mother who so sweetly sits nursing her baby in the picture. She had to get through some challenges first.
While breastfeeding is natural that does not mean it is necessarily instinctive. Very few of us easily and naturally take to breastfeeding like a duck to water. There are many things that trip us up along the way. Many of them so powerful and intimating that many give up.
For instance, nothing feels natural about forcing this gigantic breast (somehow your boob has swelled to a size that is twice as large as your babies head) into your sweet baby’s tiny mouth trying to get them to latch on. This sight and act alone can turn many off. Trust me, even those of us who have enjoyed the benefits and bliss of breastfeeding moments will tell you that this is definitely not one of them.
Then there is the matter that you can’t see your baby actually getting anything. A formula bottle gives you the confidence of actually seeing milk consumed. As a breastfeeding mother you sometimes have to rely on the baby’s diapers and the soft spot on their head to help you know they are getting enough sustenance. If a baby gets dehydrated their soft spot sinks. As far as diapers go…you have to be getting something in, to be getting something out. It can be really hard to remain calm when you fear you are starving your baby.
There is also the uncomfortable pressure one may feel when an anxious husband or loved one asks…“Are you sure they are getting enough?” “Why will the baby not latch on?” “Why is the baby crying or hungry again, you just fed them?” “Are you sure you are doing it right?” And you think, “Hell if I know. Yesterday these were my breasts and today they are baby bottles that DID NOT COME WITH INSTRUCTIONS!”
Now having delivered and nursed three children, I have the gift of experience and hindsight. During the first night in the hospital when my third baby was born, I saw clearly how quickly and easily all these factors could add up and leave one believing breastfeeding was not going to work for them. The nurse came into my room in the middle of the night to check on me and the baby. She asked how I was doing. I was honest. I rolled my tired, sore, just-popped-a-baby-out-of-it body to nurse and calm my crying newborn on the other breast, YET AGAIN. I answered the nurse, “I am at the point where many new moms give up breastfeeding.” She smiled knowing exactly what I meant. She had probably seen that moment a million times.
In that moment (through the lens my experience and understanding gave me) I could see very clearly how this moment could easily push me away from nursing forever. I was tired. I was sore. It had been a big 24 hours. The baby woke up fussing what seemed like every 15 minutes. My husband was asleep on the couch and all I wanted was a little sleep too. The fastest way to get it would have been to give the baby a bottle. But my experience told me this is just the baby getting my milk to come in. In a few hours we will all be sleeping and safely on the other side of this stage. Had I been a new mother I may have opted for a bottle and the nursery. Especially if I had more challenges like not being able to get the baby to latch on or not having a strong and calm support group.
So should you find yourself in a similar situation, know that you are not alone. You are not some misfit mother who did not get the breastfeeding gene. You are perfectly normal and this is precisely why they have lactation consultants at the hospital (notice when you are in the hospital how the lactation consultant is always busy…that is not because you are the only one who needs help) and support groups such as the Le Leche League. Lean on your support group and network. Call in that lactation consultant, even if she was just there an hour ago. Let them help you. Reach out to your friends, family and colleagues who have gotten through these hurdles. Trust me they will want to help. While not a lactation specialist or trained individual, I am happy to offer my support and share from my experience. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you ASAP. If you can push through these hurdles, very quickly you will be the mother in that picture sweetly and peacefully nursing their baby with ZERO IMPACT to the environment and without spending a DIME.
Happy World Breastfeeding Week!