Two weeks after giving birth to my now five and a half month old son I sent an email to all my mommy-to-be friends titled The Inconvenient Truth. The purpose of my email was to tell them everything I wished I’d been told prior to giving birth (about labor, not to scare, but to prepare them) but more importantly about the challenges of breastfeeding. I read a recent post by a friend of mine that reminded me that I wanted to share my experience with other moms-to-be in hopes of giving them the best chance of having a great breastfeeding experience.
Firstly, there is a lot of societal pressure surrounding breastfeeding today. Moms are made to feel that if they choose not to breastfeed they are somehow not giving their child the best chance at life. While it is well documented that breastmilk is the most nutritionally beneficial food source and specifically designed for each child, there are many reasons why breastfeeding might not be the right option for you, and your child. It is your choice whether or not to breastfeed and whatever you choose, for whatever reason, it is okay.
I had made the choice to breastfeed well before the birth of my son. I took a class (which I highly recommend), learned a few things, did some additional research but really thought I was just going to have to suffer through a few sore nipples and presto my son and I would be in breastfeeding bliss. Well, that is not exactly what happened. While breastfeeding is natural, the majority of women have a tough time with everything from the latch to milk supply. I had a pretty tough labor and birth experience and to this day I believe breastfeeding is more difficult. While the teacher in my class mentioned at one point you should try to stick it out for 6 weeks until giving up as did all the research I read, they really glazed over the reasoning. What I’ve outlined below is everything I wish had been told prior to starting to breastfeed so I was more prepared.
Take a Class – This is very important. The baby doesn’t naturally know how to latch and contrary to what most believe the baby doesn’t suck from the nipple. The baby “latches” with his top lip just over the nipple and the bottom lip well under the areola with the tongue pushing the milk out of the nipple and into the back of your baby’s throat. I think its important to understand how this works so you can visualize what you are trying to teach your child to do. Since you most likely will take the class prior to giving birth you won’t have a baby to practice with, but it gives you an idea of what is supposed to happen and a few tips and tricks.
Relax – Stress does not help produce milk and certainly does not help the baby feel comfortable enough to learn. For the first few weeks while you both are learning and you are working to regulate your milk supply, find a comfortable chair/rocker, in a calm environment and nurse there every time. It also helps to use a pillow to support your baby in the early days. My favorite is MyBrestFriend. I also liked to play soothing music. Baby lullabies work great too and the baby likes it.
Sleep – To produce enough milk you need enough sleep. Although it is difficult, try to block out the distractions of the world and sleep when your baby sleeps. Forget about the laundry and chores and focus on sleep, which will give you good milk, which your baby will eat to satisfaction and then sleep longer. It’s a great cycle.
Eat Right and Drink Water – You burn an enormous amount of calories breastfeeding. It’s a great way to lose weight quickly when you leave the hospital. But in order to produce adequate milk you need to take in more calories than normal. Protein is very important. It’s also important to drink LOTS OF WATER. I estimate I drank 90 ounces a day. Breastfeeding is very dehydrating so always have a glass of water handy while you nurse.
Surround Yourself With Supportive People – The women that have the most success with breastfeeding are surrounded by supportive people. Have your spouse, significant other, caretaker or parents that already support you in your choice to breastfeed help you through the tough times. I also found it helpful to take them to any breastfeeding classes, lactation consultant appointments and breastfeeding support groups.