Breastfeeding my first born (who’ll be 14 next month!) was a short, bitter-sweet experience for me. Grace only exclusively breastfed for about two months before I started her on formula due to “low milk supply”. By six months she was basically weaned. I think I said it a few entries ago … “If only I had hired ME as an IBCLC back then ….”
I offer myself as a model of what not to do as I share with you ways to avoid breastfeeding sabotage!
I worked against my own instincts as a new mother. I didn’t come from a place of intuitive parenting. I was an ordinary, mainstream kind of gal with not a lot of resources around me that I knew of. I was also first among my girlfriends to have a baby. I put my trust in places that were not supportive of my breastfeeding goals. More importantly I’m not sure I even had breastfeeding goals. I was insecure and vulnerable to poor advice.
Fortunately, I wound up blazing a trail through new motherhood with tremendous victory and new confidence, and a gorgeous, empowered and happy (now teenage) daughter. But there were many stumbling blocks and lost battles along the way.
If you’re about to become a nursing mom for the first time (or second or third) or you know someone who is expecting, keep these points in mind …
1. Trust your gut! Never be afraid to listen to you inner voice, it’s talking to you for a reason!
Red Flag: a red flag is precisely that. If you are given some advice, like “just one bottle won’t hurt” or “didn’t you just feed it, give it to me and you go get some rest” … and that little voice inside you says, “hmm, wait a minute …” well, something in your heart is telling you “slow down”. The values, instincts, sense of wellbeing and wholeness that keep you bonded to your baby are the same instincts that ask you to question advice that doesn’t feel right. Green Flag: You are an intuitive being. Mother’s Intuition is there for us all to use. It may be lying dormant at the time of your birthing, but allow it to blossom. With each red flag raised in you grows a seed of confidence and faith that you can meet your baby’s needs, and to do what you know to be best for your family.
2. Have breastfeeding goals. Talk about them, think about them, journal them, draw them, get them churning in your head. Don’t go into breastfeeding blindly. Do this while you’re pregnant. Especially if you’re the first among your girlfriends having a baby!
Red Flag: Just assuming that since you have mammary glands all will be alright doesn’t work. Green Flag: breastfeeding does not come easily for many women. While I don’t want you to obsess, do check in with a La Leche League group while pregnant, hire an IBCLC to come for a private home class, ask women in your life about their experiences so you know who might be potential support and who might be a potential saboteur. I also recommend you know your anatomy – take “inventory” of your breast shape and nipple shape. If your nipples are flat or inverted, you should know this and what to do about it before you give birth.
3. Know where to turn for help, accurate, up-to-date, compassionate help from people and individuals that will treat you kindly, with respect and who you trust!
Red flag: If your chosen pediatrician continually dismisses your concerns about breastfeeding with replies of supplementation, “not enough milk” or “too big a baby” it’s time to find another pediatrician. If it’s your mother, that presents a different challenge but remember, trust your gut. When a healthy baby is born, run, don’t walk from hospital staff who might suggest baby is “starving” and needs supplementation in those first 48 hours because your milk hasn’t come in. Green Flag: they all mean well but remember that they may not have the background in breastfeeding that an IBCLC, LLLL or lactation professional may have. Everyone wants to see a baby grow “fat and happy”. Not everyone will care how that happens and will not think twice about setting you off course from your breastfeeding goals.
Commit this picture to memory (courtesy of Kellymom.com) It clearly shows the volume capacity of a baby’s stomach. It takes 2 – 4 days for milk to come after a normal, healthy birth. Colostrum lines the intestine and stomach with immunity building antibodies and readies the gut for digestion. You are meant to only give your baby colostrum in those first few days! See how the volume naturally increases as milk supply builds? Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she planned it this way.
4. Nipple confusion or preference can happen. Not for every baby, but many babies at some point express a clear preference of what they want in their mouth, when they want it and how they want to take their milk.
Red Flag: A loving grandma, family member or even dad may want to lessen your burden by offering to feed the baby “one bottle” or give the baby a pacifier when baby seems fussy. A sleepy baby may be allowed to sleep longer intervals than is optimal. The problem this can create is every time a baby is not at your breast suckling, an opportunity for baby to tell the breast to produce more milk is lost. Emptying your breast every 2 – 3 hours is critical for success. If your baby seems to have a fussy time, giving a pacifier and having dad take baby out for a stroll around the block may seem like he’s helping you to sooth baby, but in fact, it can really sabotage milk production. Green Flag: there are many ways family and new dads can support you. Cuddle time, skin to skin for dad, rocking, napping, changing diapers, bathing, helping you with a myriad of home care and comfort support ideas. It does not have to be feeding the baby. If it feels like you have this baby latched on to you every two hours in those first weeks that is NORMAL! Your new clock is a 24 hour one, and milk supply is the simple economics of supply and demand. Expect to nurse every 2 – 3 hours to create an abundant supply.
5. Pain? no gain! A good latch should not be painful. Red Flag: Don’t let anyone tell you that pain while breastfeeding is just “one of those things” or “you’ll get used to it” or (in my case) “you’re fair-skinned, you’re always going to have trouble”. Green Flag: If breastfeeding were that painful to most women, we would have died out as a species long ago! I’ll grant that in the first few days tenderness, discomfort and even pain my occur. But after your milk comes in, and baby starts good rhythmic sucking pain should absolutely start to resolve itself and stop altogether. If pain persists past the first 2 – 4 days get help!
There are certainly other ways one could stumble upon breastfeeding sabotage, but we’re going to not worry about it now. Know that there are way, way more ways breastfeeding can go RIGHT though, than wrong! It doesn’t have to be a huge struggle if you prepare a little in advance. With the right wisdom in hand before baby is born you can have a beautiful, long-lasting and mutually beloved experience. Get help early, trust your gut, and your maternal instinct will carry you far.