The Truth About Breastfeeding
It is not easy. In fact, it's really difficult for a lot of new mothers.
When I was pregnant with my first son, I decided (without question) that I would breastfeed him. All of the research I had done showed that breastfeeding was the best for of nutrition for babies, on multiple levels. What I didn't research, however, was just how difficult it may actually be to breastfeed. I saw all these beautiful pictures of mothers breastfeeding their children on social media and so I just assumed breastfeeding was so natural, that the baby would come out and just pop on my breast. Boy was I so wrong.
Adam was born early because he had stopped growing in utero (something they never figured out why either) and I had to be induced. The obstetrician ("OB") told me that breastfeeding was best for him and to have a lot of skin to skin contact since I had to be induced early. He was very small, weighing only 5 lbs and 13 oz. The OB told me that a lot of cuddling, holding, and nursing was crucial to his development because he was so small and born so early.
What I didn't expect, however, was that every time Adam would latch, he would scream. He would scream and scream and it took anywhere from 10-15 minutes to calm him down enough that he would latch. And even when he did latch, he nursed minimally - popping on and off screaming the whole time. For a new mother, I was seriously concerned and stressed.
So I met with the lactation consultants ("LCs") in the hospital. They told me (incorrectly I might add) that my nipples were inverted and I would need a nipple shield to nurse him because he couldn't latch properly. They told me that the plastic nipple shield would press some pressure point in his mouth and he would know to nurse. He still screamed.
I endured three days of screaming every 30 minutes in my attempt to nurse until my milk finally came in. Then I just resigned to pumping because I couldn't stand the screaming. It gave me anxiety. I thought I was doing something wrong. I thought there was something wrong with myself. And most of all, I just wanted my son to get the nutrition he needed. I was determined to give him breast milk.
After a week, I went back to the LCs at the hospital. They had me strip the baby down to nothing but a diaper in a freezing cold room. He wouldn't nurse but they said his latch "was fine." Reiterated I should use the nipple shield and "keep trying." I never went back.
Remember at this point, I was pumping. I had no idea what I was doing so logically, I figured it would be best to pump after every feeding to keep my milk supply up with his intake. Well when you have a newborn waking every hour, and it takes 20 minutes to pump, you get approximately 30-45 minutes of sleep before the baby wakes up again. In short, it was torture and I was desperate. I was ready to give up. I did this before six weeks before I couldn't take it anymore.
Thankfully, on the day I went to introduce the baby to my co-workers, one of them mentioned La Leche League. He told me they had local chapters that had volunteers that helped women nurse their children. He said that his wife would've never nursed their son without La Leche League's help. I immediately found my local chapter and went. It changed my life and relationship with my son.
What I learned at La Leche League was simple and life changing:
1. I actually didn't have inverted nipples.
2. I needed to feed the baby half a bottle so he wasn't super hungry and upset before I tried to nurse him.
3. I needed to wean him off the shield because it would do more harm in the long run. See, they get used to the plastic feeling in their mouth and nursing from plastic is a different mouth movement. I had to teach him to nurse on a natural nipple as opposed to a piece of plastic.
4. I needed to take advantage of his sleepiness so he wouldn't fight nursing.
5. I needed to do more babywearing and skin to skin to increase the bond better between myself and my son.
6. And most importantly, at 6 weeks, they go through some developmental process that makes nursing and latching easier for them.
I took all of their advice and within a week my son was nursing 100% with no bottles and no nipple shield. I was amazed at the difference and could never be more thankful for everything they taught me because it saved me both sleep and sanity. Ultimately, I nursed my first son for 13 months until eventually my milk dried up because I was pregnant with my second son (and had extreme nursing aversion).
But even those children like my second son that come out nursing with no problems what-so-ever, are not easy. What moms have to remember (and what everyone needs to understand) is that nursing moms cannot just take whatever medications they want when they need them. A lot of medications are fine, but things like simple cold medicines can actually dry up your milk supply. I suggest downloading the app Mommy Meds app to check all medications that you can take while pregnant and nursing. It was developed by Dr. Hale, the lead researcher in the U.S. on breastfeeding and medication transfer through breastmilk. He runs the Infant Risk Center and you can also call directly and speak with someone about specific medications.
Another great resource for all things breastfeeding and pumping is Kelly Mom. I like to use Kelly Mom's resources because she links all of the peer reviewed literature and studies right in her articles. That way you know you are getting legitimate, good medical information. And of course, you can always use these resources and bring them to our physician in the case that they are not always up to date on the most recent breastfeeding information.
While my second son nursed easily, he was highly sensitive to milk and dairy products. I had to change my entire diet for months so his stomach wouldn't be upset. Can you imagine no cheese? It was torture. I had to change my whole diet for months, but I did it and we successfully breastfed for 24 months. I was able to reincorporate milk and dairy back into my diet when he was around three months old and grew out of his allergy.
And then you have the people that judge you if you need to nurse in public. You also have the people that judge you if you have to walk away while nursing and go into another room. Or those that think you're nursing "too long" once baby gets older. Nursing is not easy and no matter what choice you decide to make, just know that you are making a choice that is best for you and your baby. What others think should not matter.
To all the new moms or veteran moms struggling with breastfeeding, know that you can do it. Do not give up. Pump until six weeks if you have to and then try again. Find your local La Leche League chapter (linked above) and seek help. Ask moms who have nursed before about their struggles and how they overcame them. There is nothing more rewarding and more bonding than nursing a child. Though it comes with many sacrifices, just know that it is worth the sacrifice and struggles you may need to overcome. And if you're ever feeling overwhelmed, reach out to whatever support network you have or message us on here. We are always happy to help moms and their babies.