Monday, October 26, 2009

Breastfeeding: Wish I'd Heard More Good Things!

This month I’m thrilled to be participating in Blacktating’s Carnival of Breastfeeding, where moms contribute posts on a theme. This month’s theme is “If I’d Known Then…” Links to other blogger’s thoughts on the topic are at the end of this post.

I’ve been breastfeeding for almost seven months now, and it’s been so much cooler than I expected. I wish I’d known ahead of time how wonderful and easy breastfeeding could be.

I’d heard terrible things about breastfeeding; how it hurt, how it was hard - general doomsday stuff. But I had a hunch it could be OK, because on my visits to my sister I saw her breastfeed my nephews and niece and it didn’t look that awful. In fact, she made it look easy. Maybe it will be that easy for me, I thought to myself. But when I was pregnant and people asked me, “Are you going to breastfeed?” I’d say, very casually, “I’m going to try.” I’d heard so many stories of failure that I dared not hope I’d be able to manage it. I think I also didn’t want to hear any more bad stories about breastfeeding, so I tried to give the most noncommittal answer possible. Now I hate to think of how wishy-washy I sounded, and I wish that I could have given a more confident answer.

So far I am amazed by how much I have enjoyed breastfeeding. I didn’t know that in those tired days after the baby is born, breastfeeding makes pleasant hormones course through your body. I didn’t know how breastfeeding teaches you to read your baby so well. I didn’t know how it was so convenient to be able to feed the baby at a restaurant, in the car, or while walking around Target without having to do anything but adjust my shirt. I didn’t know how easy breastfeeding made life with a baby. You can pacify a baby on a 6 hour flight to CA with hardly any effort. I had no idea! You can let a fussy baby nurse for an hour straight when nothing else works… and you can lie down doing it! Does it get much easier for an exhausted mom?

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had a few problems: bruised nipples from a bad latch at day five (my fault, not the baby’s), clogged ducts at month three, and a decreased supply after the baby nursed poorly at month five when he had a bad flu. I got through it all with the help of the lactation consultants at my local hospital. I cannot say enough about how much they have helped me. I was also lucky enough not to be working, so I had plenty of time at home to resolve the issues with little outside demands on me.

There are a few other things I wish I’d known. I knew I didn’t want many visitors at the hospital so I could focus on feeding the baby, but I didn’t know that even having a few visitors would impact my ability to feed my baby on demand. The baby was fussing while company was there, and I tried everything else except feeding him to calm him down. I was still too new at breastfeeding to be able to nurse in front of people I wasn’t fully comfortable with, and plus, I didn’t really understand that my baby was fussing because he was hungry. I couldn’t fully fathom that babies needed to eat ALL THE TIME those first days. I think back to how I rocked and shushed him until the visitors left, and I feel terrible because now I realize I ignored my baby’s hunger signals. I have to wonder if that’s why my milk took an extra day or two to come in, which made the baby a bit jaundiced and the doctor worry about his weight. It worked out fine, but with the next baby, I’ll do a better job of feeding the baby often right from the start.

I also wish I’d heard about cluster feedings before I experienced them. It’s hard to believe a baby would nurse for three hours straight… until midnight, 1 am, and a couple times, 2 am. It’s easy to start thinking you don’t have enough milk. A couple times we even broke into the formula cans we’d received in the mail and made a bottle, but each time, I looked at the bottle and said, “I’ll feed him just a little more.” I kept nursing him and eventually he fell asleep. If I weren’t such a stubborn person, I would have used the formula, and in doing so, possibly not allowed my breasts to know how much milk the baby really needed from me. Breastfeeding is a leap of faith, and you have to trust both yourself and the baby. If you trust that your baby really is hungry, even if it’s only been an hour or two after the last feed, the milk supply will most likely follow. My lactation consultant emphasized that theme in the hospital’s New Mothers group, and that lesson of listening to the baby and reading his signals has driven pretty much all of my breastfeeding decisions since then.

I hope to be able to spread the good word about breastfeeding. I know some people have a hard time, but for me, it has been intuitive, calming, and yes- easy. I don’t want other people to end up with a long list of “things I wish I’d known,” so I offer simple advice to my friends who are pregnant. I tell them to line up a lactation consultant ahead of time, so they know they can call someone in the morning for help (after a 3 am freakout!). I also tell them to get a copy of The Nursing Mother’s Companion, which I think is one of the easiest to use and most organized breastfeeding books. I think every nursing mother needs support, even the ones who have a relatively easy time like me.

Read other mothers' stories:

--When breastfeeding begins badly, and what I should have done about it by The Milk Mama

--What I Wish I'd Known Back Then About Breastfeeding by Christina at Massachusetts Friends of Midwives

--If I'd Known Then... by Whozat

--You don't have to grin and bear it by Melodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite!

--Robin Elise Weiss at Birth Activist

--Barbara at Three Girl Pile Up

--Adria at Happy Bambino

--What I Wish I'd Known Then: A Poem by Lisa at My World Edenwild

--AP Principle #2: What I wish I'd known when I started breastfeeding by Hobo Mama

--I wish I would've known! by strwberryjoy (Maria)

--Rebekah at Momma's Angel

--Breastfeeding Mums: 15 Breastfeeding Facts I Wish I'd Known as a First Time Breastfeeding Mum

--Rita at Fighting Off Frumpy: When Breastfeeding Feels Wrong

--Cave Mother: Nursing Wisdom

--Breastfeeding 1-2-3: Trust Yourself and Your Body

--Breastfeeding is life changing at Blacktating

--Claire at Mum Unplugged


Melodie said...

This is such an excellent post and it reminds me so much of my best friend from high school who has said so many of the same things you said when you were pregnant. (She is currently due any day now with her first). I will pass this on to her. Thank you!

Cave Mother said...

Great post! I had (correction: am still having) a similarly positive experience. I do think we get overly hung up on the difficulties of bfing, which makes new mums worry instead of going with the flow and enjoying it.

Elita said...

Whenever people say they are going to "try" to breastfeed, it always reminds me of that quote from Yoda:

"There is no try, only do or do not."

I think that's especially true of breastfeeding. Sometimes you have to really want it and be ridiculously committed to it because of all the barriers to breastfeeding we've set up.

Rita/Fighting Off Frumpy said...

I had kind of an opposite experience - all I heard were stories about how wonderful and convenient breastfeeding is, and then when I had trouble I thought something was wrong with me. Fortunately I learned that isn't the case, and that breastfeeding really IS a great experience - if you let it be your OWN experience and no one else's, you know? We tend to listen to everyone else so much, and have all these pre-conceived notions about nursing before we even experience it ourselves.

You're so lucky to have had such an easy time with breastfeeding. I didn't start out that way, but I'm getting there. :)

Lisa - edenwild said...

What would be a good thing to say to expectant mothers? How about "Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience, but you HAVE to be committed. For some it's easy, and for some it's very difficult." Isn't that the truth??

Anyway, I love this line "Breastfeeding is a leap of faith"
YES, yes it is!!!!

Fancy Pancakes said...

Very true that you can't half-ass breastfeeding, although it seems way easier than bottle feeding to me!
Definitely a leap of faith, just like any other relationship. Bfing is so much more of a relationship, rather than an act of feeding, than I realized it would be.

Anonymous said...

I too am having a wonderful breastfeeding experience. Before the Boy, I would also say I would try to bf him if I could because I didn't want to see too confident. It is working out well. Yeah, there was the 3rd day home when he got dehydrated as my milk came in and the 10th week when I got a nursing blister and had to pump on my one side to keep my supply up but doesn't everything have its ups and downs?!

I am going to stop feeling guilty for loving it and doing it exclusively. So many moms have told me I need to bottlefeed him so I can get a life. Well, this is what I want and this is my life right now. And I love it!