So you want to breastfeed? Breastfeeding Narrative #1

This will be one in a series of breastfeeding posts. I’m getting a bunch of search results of people looking for breastfeeding information. Really, I’m no expert – I’m not a doctor, I’m not a doula, I’m not a lactation consultant. I am simply a breastfeeding mom who has nursed one child to three years old, and am currently nursing another who is nearly a year old.
If you’re looking for specific answers, I recommend giving a visit to http://www.kellymom.com, a breastfeeding site written by a lactation consultant. These will simply be me blabbering about my experiences and is not medical advice.
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So, you’re thinking about breastfeeding. If it’s still a big maybe right now, then chances are you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. Good for you. Being a parent is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, but that isn’t to say it isn’t without its challenges. I can also say without a doubt, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Nothing in my life has ever required more commitment, education, patience, and dedication.
Breastfeeding is definitely one of those parenting things that takes all that and rolls it into one. You need a lot of commitment, education, patience, and dedication to be successful at the breastfeeding relationship with your baby.
First, let’s talk about the commitment. There’s no hard and fast rule about how long you should breastfeed. There are lots of schools of thought here. Just about anyone will tell you that some breastfeeding is better than no breastfeeding, in terms of the benefits the baby receives. I’m not going to take it upon myself to spout on about those benefits; kellymom.com is a good place to start, but I’ll give a couple book recommendations too. (That comes in the education part of it.) The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that it is ideal to nurse for at least a year, and then for as long as is desired by both parties. They set no upper limit on breastfeeding, much to the chagrin of all those internet tough guys who say that if the kid can ask for it, they’re too old to breastfeed. The World Health Organization says that it’s ideal for a child to breastfeed for a minimum of two years. Former Surgeon General Antonia Novello has said that “it’s the lucky baby, I feel, who continues to nurse until he’s two.” Quite an endorsement of extended breastfeeding.
Anyway, my point is, by choosing to breastfeed, you are making a commitment to your baby, and to yourself. You may choose to wean whenever you want, but I highly endorse trying to extend the relationship until at least two years old. There are a zillion reasons I can name from my personal experience, but the big one is that once you get into the second year of life, breastfeeding is a tool in your toolbox that I cannot imagine having to go without. Nothing calms an upset toddler like the breast. When a toddler’s not feeling well, he will often refuse to eat or drink, but he will very rarely refuse to nurse. (This phenomenon, according to her pediatrician, kept my daughter out of the hospital during a nasty tummy bug when she was 18 months old.) Toddlers can’t be reasoned with, and they don’t even always understand what you’re saying. They’re unsure of themselves but becoming more independent, they want to explore and be individuals, but they crave a safe, reliable home base. Nursing is a great (and granted, not the only way, but great nonetheless) way to provide that home base.
Oh I know, breastfeeding is so inconvenient. How will you ever get away? How will you ever get any sleep? How will you go back to work? The answer is, you’ll find ways. Breastfeeding parents have to be creative, and patient, and dedicated, and they have to be willing to put themselves out there a little more for their kids. I know, how inconvenient. But that’s parenting.

So, now let’s talk about the education piece of it. Breastfeeding ain’t easy, and it’s not instinctual. Well, it’s instinctual for the baby, but the way we give birth these days kind of interferes with baby’s instinct for breastfeeding. We use medication during the labor (there are studies that claim, while common pain relief methods like epidurals, narcotics, and tranquilizers will not harm the baby, they can make the baby more groggy when he’s born and interfere with initial breastfeeding). We have many more c-sections, which mean medication, and often a longer time before initial breastfeeding can take place. Too many times, we just simply can’t or aren’t allowed the opportunity to just put our baby skin-to-skin on our chest right after the baby is born, allow our own body heat to warm the baby, and allow the baby to find the breast on his own. That’s what’s instinctual and ideal.

Of course, instinctual and ideal can’t always happen. Even though I had vaginal, drug free births with both my kids, both my babies passed meconium (aka poop) in utero, and had to be treated by the neonatal team to ensure that none had been aspirated into their lungs. I didn’t even touch my daughter for nearly an hour after she was born; with my son it wasn’t nearly quite as long but it was still far from my ideal of having him placed on my chest immediately.

All of this is just a really long-winded way to say we probably all have this ideal in our heads that the baby will come out, latch on, and birds will tie ribbons in our hair and all will be well in the world. But even in an ideal birth with the ideal start, problems crop up along the way. Problems with the latch. Problems with reflux. Problems with milk imbalance. Problems with sore or cracked nipples. (And you can read about all those lovely things at kellymom.com!) This is where the education piece comes in. You need to know what you’re doing, before the baby shows up. You can’t count on instinct, and you can’t count on other people helping you (some hospitals have great lactation consultants and some… don’t), and if you wait until the baby’s born to catch up it may be too late. So I would recommend a few things. You could do some or all of these.

1. Read! There are three books I can personally recommend. I found them indispensible.

  • So That’s What They’re For! by Janet Tamaro. Certainly short of being a ‘definitive’ resource, this book is an enjoyable, easy read, and is a great starting point to lots of breastfeeding knowledge and breastfeeding with confidence. If you don’t do anything else to prepare for breastfeeding, READ THIS BOOK.
  • The Breastfeeding Book by Martha and Dr. William Sears. The Searses are by far my favorite baby/child book authors. They also have a great web site, http://www.askdrsears.com. They espouse the ‘attachment parenting’ approach, and it’s really what I do naturally with my kids. I’ve read a few of their books and have enjoyed them all.
  • The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers by Dr. Jack Newman and Teresa Pitman. This is another really excellent resource, to help you deal with nearly any breastfeeding issue that may crop up. It’s always in my nightstand for easy reference.

2. Attend a breastfeeding seminar at the hospital you’ll birth at.

3. Find a La Leche League meeting to attend before you give birth and after you give birth.

4. Hire a doula. There are two types of doulas, birth doulas and postpartum doulas. A birth doula is sort of like an extra support person for you during birth. They do not offer medical advice; they will help you work through labor and birth and just be on your team and try to help you get the best birthing experience you can have, which can do a lot for getting breastfeeding started the right way. A postpartum doula is someone who comes to your house after you’ve given birth. They do stuff to give you more mom/baby time. They can also offer breastfeeding and general baby care advice, but again they are not medical professionals. A postpartum doula might watch the baby for a while so you can take a nap, they might play with your older kids to get your more uninterrupted baby time, they might cook dinner, clean for you, etc. But I would say mainly they are about education – breastfeeding and baby care, and showing the dad and the baby’s other siblings why it is so important to get you as much baby time as possible in the first few weeks. A postpartum doula is really a jack of all trades, baby-wise.

Now, let’s talk about patience; I mentioned earlier you need patience to breastfeed. It’s so true. A big difference I’ve observed between breastfeeding and bottle feeding is that breastfeeding takes more of the mom’s time. With bottle feeding, anyone can prepare and give the bottles. Also, the babies I have observed bottle feeding, they seem to be done with a bottle feeding faster and last longer between feedings. Breastfeeding can be a big hunk of time out of your day, especially in the early weeks. Babies can take 20-30 minutes or more to finish a feeding, and then they might want to nurse again an hour later. That’s OK and normal and not unexpected. What’s ‘normal’ for length of feeding and time between feedings for breastfed babies varies enormously from one baby to the next. If your baby’s hungry, then he’s hungry, so nurse him. Again, there’s that inconvenience factor popping up.  Babies are demanding and you can’t reason with them.

Then, you need patience for other things, too. You need patience to get your husband on board, maybe. You need patience when dealing with (hopefully) well-intentioned but meddling relatives and friends. You also need to teach patience to others. A big challenge for me when Jake was born was helping Lane understand that when Jake was nursing I couldn’t just get up and attend to her; she had to learn to be patient and wait until he was done nursing. Parenting in general is a giant exercise in patience. Breastfeeding just adds another facet to that.

So lastly, let me talk for a moment about dedication.

Miyagi: Now, ready?
Daniel: Yeah, I guess so.
Miyagi: Daniel-san, must talk. Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later [makes squish gesture] get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do “yes” or karate do “no.” You karate do “guess so,”[makes squish gesture] just like grape.

Breastfeeding is the same way. Either you will breastfeed, or you won’t. If you “think you’ll try”, or you’ll “give it a shot”, or you’ll “see how it goes”, you’re not going to end up breastfeeding. You might, for a few days, or maybe a couple weeks even, but if you don’t have the resolve to stick through the first six weeks, which is by and far the toughest part, then you’ll find soon you’re reaching for that free sample of formula you got in the mail.

So if you really, truly want to breastfeed, you need to dedicate yourself to it. You’re not going to “try” to breastfeed, you are GOING TO BREASTFEED.

Luke: All right, I’ll give it a try.
Yoda: No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.

I say, make a promise to yourself that you’re going to breastfeed for six weeks. Six weeks is not a long time – it’s 42 days. If you can make it through those first six weeks, you can breastfeed forever. Because right after week 4 or 5, you’ll realize, hey, this isn’t bad at all. We have the hang of this! And from that point on, it will be smooth sailing.

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2 responses to “So you want to breastfeed? Breastfeeding Narrative #1

  1. This is great! I’m actually thinking about making a zine about breastfeeding- maybe you’d be interested in contributing?

    I love that your talking about the resolve issue. I hear “I’ll try…” so often. In fact, I remember being asked, “Are you gonna try to breastfeed?” and I didn’t want to be rude but I wanted to say, “Oh, I’ll make it happen. You just watch!!!”

    🙂

  2. Daisybones,

    You sound like my very good friend who is now pregnant and expecting her first baby. She’s all like “Oh, I am GOING to breastfeed.” I love it.

    Keep me in the loop on your breastfeeding zine. I’d love to be involved!

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