Photo Courtesy of Addi
So far I have spent over two years of my life nursing babies. Two full years providing nutrients so that my little one can grow and develop. It is something that I truly love and have become passionate about. I mean not only does it save my family money, but I am also providing my babies with tons of nutrients to help them grow and develop to be healthy and strong kids and adults.
But with that said, breastfeeding is not all sunshine and daisies. Breastfeeding is hard y’all, it’s really freaking hard. Which is why it isn’t surprising the only 13% of new moms successfully breastfeed exclusively for the first six months (according to a 2013 study from the UC Davis Medical Center). And unfortunately many women are left unsupported thanks to a mixture of social taboos and pure ignorance on benefits of a mother’s milk.
I myself stopped breastfeeding Addi at two months after an ER doctor gave me a medication that was not breastfeeding friendly when I came down to with a bout of pneumonia. I was told I would need to pump and dump for two weeks to keep my supply up. I had a small supply of pumped milk in my freezer that was gone within two days, and Addi was moved to formula. I tried y’all, I tried really hard, but I was only 19 and the whispers of “Isn’t pumping too much work” and “You know it’s not a badge of honor, you don’t HAVE to keep nursing.” soon got to me, and I gave up.
If I am being honest, I felt like a failure. I felt like not only had I let my baby down, I had let myself down.
When Atlas was born I was determined that this time I would be able to breastfeed successfully. When I was preparing to breastfeed Addi I did very little actual preparing. I thought it would just happen, and it did for the first two months, but I felt that maybe if I had prepared more for the possibility of failure it might not have happened.
So while pregnant with Atlas I read. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I didn’t stop there. I watched YouTube videos and asked for tips and tricks from professionals and other moms like me. I felt like I was preparing for the boob olympics or something.
I was amazed at the range of advice that I got, and I do believe it helped me a ton when it came to nursing him. He successfully breastfed for 14 months, when he decided to wean himself, and never got a drop of formula. Austen is going strong at almost 9 months, and is showing no signs of slowing down!
But with that said I would like to pay it forward, and share with you some tips, tricks, and tidbits of advice that I have found beneficial during my breastfeeding journey.
It is not one size fits all. Just as breasts come in many different shapes and sizes, so do breastfeeding journeys. No two journeys are going to be exactly the same. Some people have no problems at all, breastfeeding is a breeze to them. Other’s experience cracking and bleeding, engorgement and mastitis. But just because your journey is different than the woman’s next to you, doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong, or that you cannot succeed. You just have to find your own path and go with it.
Cracking? Bleeding? Yep, I said it. Breastfeeding freaking hurts. I honestly didn’t believe this one at first, because breastfeeding Addi was super easy (please don’t throw tomatoes at me). Until I got sick we literally never had any problems. She had an awesome latch, I had a good supply, we must did it. I seriously thought everyones horror stories were complete exaggerations.
But then I watched my best friend try to nurse.
I’ll never forget her calling me after her son was born. She was crying and saying this whole breastfeeding thing just wasn’t going to work out. I went over to her house to see if I could help at all, and she showed me her boobs (when you’ve been best friends since you were nine, privacy doesn’t really exist) and my jaw hit the floor. I had never seen anything so painful looking in my life. She said she was in tears every time she tried to nurse, and I believed her.
I’m still grateful that I never had to experience such pain, but if you do there are ways to help. A good nipple balm can soothe and help to heal cracked and sore skin. Some women have also found that a warm tea bag used as a compress, or even rubbing some of their own breastmilk into the nipple helps them to heal.
As for the cause of the pain? Often it is as simple as the babies latch, or positioning when they nurse. A lactation consultant, nurse, or even your pediatrician can often help you trouble shoot and find a more comfortable nursing style for you and baby.
It’s a rollercoaster. Your emotions are going to go up and down, even after the post part hormones level out. Sometimes you will feel amazing about your breastfeeding journey, other times you will be in tears holing yourself up in the bathroom. There will be times when you feel that your body is not your own, and you will fear that it never will be again. Then there will be times when you feel amazing about nursing. You will love the bond it gives you with your baby, and the way they smile at you in between latches will simply melt your heart. If I am being honest, hanging onto my emotions has often seemed just as daunting as the act of nursing itself. But I have learned to just roll with it, and realize that tomorrow my feelings will probably be completely different.
It’s like a marathon, not a sprint. As your baby grows and changes, so does their nutritional needs. But your body is seriously amazing. As your babies needs change, your baby will signal to your body that it needs more milk through actions such as cluster feeding. You might think it means that your baby isn’t getting enough, and you might be tempted to supplement with formula. But your baby is more than likely getting exactly what they need, and the cluster feeds are telling your body to produce more milk for them. Soon enough your babies feedings will level out again. Until their next growth spurt, that is.
And finally, my last piece of advice is that sometimes breastfeeding is simply not for everyone. While I love what breastfeeding has done for my family, and fully advocate the benefits of it for both mom and baby, sometimes it’s just not the right fit for a particular mommy or baby. That is OKAY! When I had first stopped nursing Addi another mama comforted me with these words of advice “It doesn’t matter how you feed your baby, as long as you feed your baby.” So simple, and yet so, so true! We all make the choices we do in parenting because we want whats best for us and for our kids. I don’t know the girl next to me’s story, I don’t know if she bottle feeds because it is medically necessary, or works full-time, or is an adoptive mama, or because she simply doesn’t want to. Whatever her reasons, they are hers, and I’m okay with that.
Just as I feel an outsider has no right to tell me where I can feed my baby, I feel that I have no right telling a bottle-feeding mom what she can feed her baby.
So bottle or boob, choose what feels right to you, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’ve got this mama, your baby trusts your instincts, and so do I!