What I Wish I’d Known About Breastfeeding
We celebrated Jude’s half birthday tonight, and I can’t believe we’re halfway to the big number ONE. Every parent says this and it’s so cliché, but I don’t know where the time goes. When I think back to that first week home or our time together in the hospital, it seems like it was yesterday, but then again so much has changed in our lives that it seems like a lifetime ago. For every mama, those first few weeks are filled with sweet memories of tiny little newborn diapers, sponge baths, lullabies, sleep deprivation, admiration of those awkward little arms and froggy legs, and laughing at squeaky newborn noises. And then there’s the hormones. The crying, crazy hormones that leave you so in love with this tiny creature one minute while the next you find yourself wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into or if you can handle the big task ahead.
My situation was much like most of yours except that it was further complicated by a few things.
There was the laboring for hours unmedicated (which was exactly what I wanted) and the unexpected cesarean at the end (which was exactly what I feared the most) and so many feelings of disappointment following those experiences.
There was the recovery that results from pushing for more than three hours only to have a doctor tell you to please hold on while I push him back up a little so we can wheel you to the O.R.
And then there was the breastfeeding.
Oh, the breastfeeding.
When I took my Bradley class* before I delivered Jude, we had a session on breastfeeding and all of the wonderful benefits that come along with it. Focused on unmedicated childbirth, the class informed me that there would be a beautiful moment when my child entered the world, when he was laid on me skin to skin, and he’d latch on beautifully and thus we would begin our loving breastfeeding relationship. There was some mention of a few latch problems that you can correct should they arise so that you can get the baby drinking most efficiently, but all in all, breastfeeding was introduced as a perfectly natural thing that our bodies were designed to do. It is beautiful and natural, of course, but what I was completely unprepared for is that it is HARD for some women.
Unfortunately, because of the nature of my delivery, Jude was about 3 hours old when I first got to hold him. After he was delivered by cesarean, I remained in surgery for about 2 hours. When we were finally in our postpartum room together, my wonderful doula helped me get proper positioning for breastfeeding. We tried, but little Jude just couldn’t stay awake. We’d missed the “magic window” just after birth, and he was so tired and I’m sure influenced by the drugs in my system as well. He never truly latched on, but at least we got the positioning down before she left and told me to call her the next day if I needed her.
The day following Jude’s birth, I had some colostrum coming in and we were working diligently on nursing. At the first sign of hunger, I’d bring him to my breast as you should, and he’d seem to be nursing hungrily. The lactation consultant who helped me that day, however, pointed out that we could see a deep dimple in his cheek and that was a clue he wasn’t latching on correctly. She assured me that he’d get it if we kept working, and so we did. Around the clock. Again and again. Subsequent LCs who came to help me noticed the same thing, and the third one vaguely mentioned Jude’s tongue-tie as a challenge, but that was it.
Meanwhile I was growing more and more tired and Jude was growing hungry. The evening before we left the hospital, Jude was angry. He would respond to my attempts to nurse him by crying at my breast and refusing to suck. I now understand that he’d learned to associate breastfeeding with frustration because he wasn’t getting much of anything as a result of his tight frenulum and my slow-to-happen milk. My milk hadn’t come in – partially because of the cesarean and, I think, partially because his inefficient latch wasn’t stimulating my milk production accurately. Frustrated and crying, I felt like a complete failure as I looked at my hungry baby and felt so helpless. Late that night, a nurse suggested that I give him formula, and I absolutely refused. I was scared of nipple confusion, and this was not the way things were supposed to be. What was wrong with me? First I couldn’t deliver my baby vaginally and now I can’t breastfeed. I was waiting for it all to “click” for the both of us. The next morning, however, the pediatrician came in and told us that Jude had lost a lot of weight (12 ounces down from his birth weight) and that supplementation would be a good idea. When she left, I cried my eyes out, and Scott gave Jude his first formula bottle.
I left the hospital feeling helpless and out of control and dependent on doctors and formula and bottles and pain meds and everything I wanted to avoid when I imagined my birth experience.
This story could become very long - even longer than it is – so I’ll spare you the details, but I will say that the days and weeks that followed were filled with many moments of excitement and joy, yes. But they were also filled with moments of intense frustration and feelings of inadequacy as I absolutely COULD NOT get Jude to latch on and my milk supply was meager. I sought the help of FIVE different lactation consultants and the counsel of my experienced doula after I left the hospital, and we tried every single day for 27 days before we got it. Let me re-phrase this, JUDE DID NOT TRULY FEED FROM ME, NOT EVEN ONCE, UNTIL HE WAS 27 DAYS OLD. Establishing breastfeeding was truthfully the most difficult and trying thing I have ever done in my life and, to date, it’s my proudest accomplishment. I’m proud to say we’re going strong at 6 months, and every second of hard work was worth it!
In conjunction with Amy’sFiner Things ‘s “Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me” series concerning pregnancy, babies, and birth, I’ve simplified the breastfeeding lessons I learned in my month-long journey to contribute. Oh, the things I wish I’d known!
- The breast pump can be your saving grace. Hopefully you will have an easier time than me, and you won’t have to deal with the pump until later if ever. For me though, it is the only reason I’m still breastfeeding. My milk came in a tiny little trickle on day 5, but it didn’t really come in until day 8. And in order for that to happen (and to keep it going until Jude latched), I had to pump 8-12 times a day around the clock. There is nothing more draining than getting a newborn back to sleep, and then sitting on the floor of the nursery in your sleep-deprived haze and staying awake for another 20 minutes to pump. It stinks, I know. But if I hadn’t done this, I am confident that I’d be one of those women saying that I just never made milk. Even with the pump, I didn’t have tons. Without it, I think I would have leaked and then dried.
- Don’t underestimate the benefits of skin-to-skin. We all know it’s important in the moments after birth, but did you know it’s helpful in the weeks following delivery as well? The 4th LC I spoke with told me to sit around as often as I could with no shirt on and Jude in his diaper lying on my chest. We lounged like this every hour of every day unless we had company. We co-slept at night like this for 2 months. The day after I started doing more skin-to-skin (around day 12, I think), I saw my milk supply double. It works, I swear. My husband started calling me “The Native” because of my shirtless habits, but I think it was a sort of rebirth for Jude and I after our difficult journey.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you have to supplement. I really really did not want to use any formula. That said, my milk wasn’t there till day 8. What was the other option? After my milk came in, the pump was all I could do for 27 days. A breast pump is less efficient than a baby, so even pumping around the clock, I had to supplement with about 8-10 ounces of formula daily. Once Jude latched on, however, my supply went up to accommodate his needs within about a week. At that time, I swore off all formula which brings me to the next point.
- Never use formula for the sake of convenience. Nursing is “putting in your order” for the next day. If you ask your body for 20 ounces, it will deliver. If you ask for 24, it will deliver. (Usually anyway. There are, of course, thyroid issues and breast surgeries that can interfere with milk production.) If you have issues with milk production, don’t worry. Lots of women do, myself included. There are a number of remedies and such to help it. A quick internet search can tell you some, but fenugreek works especially well for me. That and LOTS of WATER. Trust that God will allow you to provide for your baby.
- Surround yourself with positivity. Ignore the nay-sayers. In that difficult month of establishing breastfeeding, I completely avoided the conversation with someone if I knew that person was not 110% pro-breastfeeding. I have a few friends and in-laws who are not necessarily anti-breastfeeding, but they have a sort of take-it-or-leave-it attitude about it, thinking that breast and formula feeding are basically equal and formula is more convenient. I didn’t want those people influencing my determination or convincing me that lots of women can’t breastfeed. (Some people say this is true…. I just read that over 60% of women say they can’t breastfeed! Realize that statistically that number is actually 2-5%. With the right support and determination, almost anyone can do it. ) Tell yourself you CAN do it, and surround yourself with people who realize how important it is to you and support your journey. I would not be breastfeeding Jude if it weren’t for the encouragement of my mom, my sister, my husband, and my breastfeeding friends.
- Don’t give up! Just look at my story. Know that your body and your baby were designed for this very task, and it will work if you keep trying and be patient. When I tell a childless person that it took us 27 days, she doesn’t really seem that affected. When I tell a mother that it took 27 days, she is amazed…knowing how incredibly LONG that first month can feel. There were moments when I was afraid our window had passed, but I refused to accept failure and knew that Jude would catch on eventually and my body would provide.
- Set a goal and commit to it. For me, when Jude wasn’t latching on, I said even if I had to pump around the clock, I was committed to 10 weeks. Once he latched on, I soon had to go back to work. Nevertheless, I decided no matter how much I hated pumping, I refused to stop before 6 months. Now we’ve met that goal, and I intend to make it to 10 months. At that time, I’l reassess. Set a goal and hold yourself accountable.
- Read about the benefits of breastfeeding. It’ll motivate you to not give up. You can find articles everywhere but here, here and here are a few to get you started.
- Use the experts. It took a team of people to get me breastfeeding! As I said before, I saw FIVE LCs after I left the hospital, a pediatric ENT (to evaluate Jude’s tongue-tie and clip the frenulum), and a pediatric OT (who gave me daily exercises to do with him to improve his overly compressed suck). Most major hospitals have a Lactation Department. Use them.
- The rewards are better than you can imagine. It helps you bond with your baby, and it allowed me to feel so much more confidence as a mother. You can rest assured you are making the best choices for your baby. Plus there’s no sterilizing and filling bottles in the middle of the night or as you pack the diaper bag!
When it all gets to be too much, just relax. Babies can tell when mama is stressed. There were moments I was intensely frustrated with my situation and disappointed with myself. When those feelings became overwhelming, I’d take a deep breath and rest with the baby. Know it will work for you if you keep trying.
*I don’t mean for this to be a negative statement about my experiences in a Bradley class. It taught me so much about labor and delivery and the many modern interventions that can occur. When it comes to breastfeeding, however, it wasn’t extensive. I would suggest that you take a class specifically devoted to breastfeeding information.