I want to start this post with a little disclaimer. Breastfeeding is a very sensitive topic for moms.
Many moms are SO very passionate about nursing while some aren’t into it at all. Some moms want to nurse their babies more than anything – and have gone to the ends of the earth to try – but for whatever reason, they aren’t able to. Some moms have been told not to nurse their children in public. Some moms have arrived at the comfort level of being able to nurse confidently anywhere and everywhere.
Some moms have family members – immediate and/or extended – who aren’t supportive of breastfeeding. Many moms have great partners, friends and professionals who have helped them along the way. Some moms can nurse their babies on cue, always at the breast, while others may have to be separated and work diligently to provide pumped milk. There are moms who have nursed their babies for 3 weeks and moms who have given their child the choice to wean on their own, past the age of 3 (and every amount of time on the spectrum before, in between and past).
We all have our opinions, emotions and experiences with breastfeeding – like all topics close to the heart. I am personally very passionate about it and wrote something that I hope could help a mom to begin a successful breastfeeding relationship with her baby. This is not meant to spark debate, offend or hurt feelings or cause anything negative whatsoever. If anything in this article helps or speaks to you, please take it…if not, leave it.
So, you’re about to embark upon the journey of motherhood. I’m sure you’ll hear the question “Are you planning to breastfeed?” more than once. You’ll probably hear the term “breast is best.” You’ll come across women sharing their advice, stories and experiences – both positive and negative. The truth is, we’re mammals and our babies are born to breastfeed. We mothers were born to breastfeed
Just as our bodies innately know how to grow and birth our babies, we also make the perfect food for them. Breastfeeding is not only about physical nourishment–it’s much more. When we nurse our babies, oxytocin flows through our blood and relaxes us. Our love for our baby is intensified and the cocktail of hormones coursing through our body naturally fortifies the mother-child bond. Research has found that breastfeeding is beneficial for mothers and babies in several different ways.
For mothers, breastfeeding has been found to:
- Lower the risk of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety- women who breastfeed at 15% less likely to develop postpartum depression and anxiety
- Increase weight loss postpartum
- Lower risk for disease like breast and ovarian cancer- women who nurse for over 12 months during their lifetime have a 28% lower risk of developing these diseases
- Lower risk for high blood pressure, arthritis, high blood fats heart disease, and type 2 diabetes by 10-50% when nursing for 1 to 2 years over their lifetime.
- Breastfeeding can save parents time and money, contributing to less stress during the early infancy stages.
- Breastfeeding delays menstruation and can helps to heal you body after birth
Breastfeeding also has several benefits for babies. Some of those benefits include:
- Better cognitive development
- Stronger bond with mother
- Protects against allergies and eczema
- Reduces the risk of diseases and viral infections- breastmilk contains a large amount of antibodies to help protect babies from infection and disease. The antibodies within breastmilk will even change so as to help protect the baby from illness.
- Reduces the risk of SIDS
- Reduces the risk of ear infections
To me, there isn’t a “choice” about it–breast milk is what babies eat. It isn’t “best” because there really is no comparison. It’s just normal. Think of any non-human animal. In most normal circumstances, people wouldn’t think of changing the way a horse, dog, cat, etc. feeds their baby. Nature and biology have figured it all out for us. All we have to do is keep it simple.
Related: Extended Breastfeeding: Why Nursing Beyond Infancy Is Normal and Natural
However, it is imperative to note that formula feeding is sometime necessary. Many premature babies need fortified supplementation, and some mothers struggle to nurse no matter how hard they try. A mother’s mental health is always one of the top priorities, and if a mother is struggling to nurse she be pressured to feel stress and guilt for not being able to breastfeed.
I am only one of millions of amazing mamas throughout history just feeding my children. Through pregnancy and tandem nursing with baby and big boy, I’ve experienced a wide range of situations, emotions, physical feelings, ebbs, flows, laughs, tears, and everything in between. I’ve grown, changed, and learned a lot along the way of my breastfeeding journey over the past four years, and feel passionately about helping to empower other women on their path.
For many moms, nursing is easy, simple, natural, effortless, beautiful. But sometimes there are issues and there are moms who truly need help when it comes to breastfeeding. There are those rare cases where a mom might need some intervention–maybe her body isn’t making milk the way it should or baby isn’t drinking as easily as mama had imagined. This is the fork in the road of motherhood where a lot of moms end up taking the path that leads away from nursing.
What I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding: We Need Support
The missing link for many women is support. Probably the most common reason moms wean early and introduce formula is lack of support and not knowing where to turn for help. There is always somewhere to turn for advice or an ear to listen. If you’re still awaiting your baby’s arrival, start preparing now and make a list of anyone you can call for breastfeeding support: your local La Leche League, a lactation consultant, or someone you know who has breastfed.
If your baby is already here, it’s never too late! Get the help you need to meet your breastfeeding goals. Set small, attainable goals and take it one day (or minute, or hour) at a time. You can do this! Give yourself credit for asking for help. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a mom, quite the opposite: It takes a stronger person to admit they need help than to just give up and do what looks easier. Just like anything in life, its not always smooth sailing, there will probably be times of frustration, fatigue, and even despair.
Despite trials and tribulations, it’s beyond worth it: never again in your child’s life can you offer such a close, special, amazing bond, not to mention the nutritional and immunological benefits of breast milk! Breastfeeding not only offers physical benefits to you and your child, but benefits both of your souls: it’s the most comfort and physical love you can give, the gift of yourself, of your body. Breastfeeding is the natural extension of pregnancy: you are now caring for your child outside the womb, and baby’s home is at the breast.
What I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding: You Will Be Exhausted (And You Might Want to Quit)
One of the most exhausting parts of new motherhood is the act of breastfeeding. Sometimes you will feel like you are constantly nursing your little one. Nights will be awakened by your little one needing to eat, and most of you days will be spent with your newborn and infant attached to your body. When you are exclusively nursing, you will often feel lonely, exhausted, and overwhelmed. You might consider throwing in the towel for just a bit of a reprieve. But in the end, breastfeeding provides so many benefits to your and your little one that you will find the will to persevere.
Dad (Partner) Does Have a Role
Where does dad (or your partner) fit into the breastfeeding relationship? It certainly seems like good old dad has no place in the darling duet of mama nursing her child. Many people think that it’s crucial for dad to be able to feed baby too, so they encourage mama to pump her milk into a bottle so dad can share in the bond fest. Please don’t fall into this “booby trap!”
The best way a dad can be supportive to mom and baby is to be there for whatever mom needs; a glass of water, a warm body to lean into, help around the house (dads: this is huge!), holding baby while mom takes a shower (a.k.a. the most important thing of the day, which doesn’t always happen–you’ll see), and whatever else mom asks for.
There are plenty of other ways that dad can bond with baby. His relationship with his child really has nothing to do with food, that’s mom’s job. Dads are perfect for holding and cuddling, bathing, babywearing, making funny sounds and faces, reading books, singing, and anything else you can come up with. It’s obvious that men don’t lactate. Why should a mom pump her milk into a bottle with an artificial nipple, made to mimic the real thing, just so dad can bond? Bottles don’t equal bonding. My husband never had anything to do with our sons’ feeding and they share the most gorgeous, strong bond I’ve ever seen.
Of course, I’m not talking about a situation where mom has to be away from baby, and a bottle of pumped milk is the meal, not the actual breast. In fact, I really admire working moms who pump to keep their baby drinking their milk. What a beautiful, commendable commitment!
Related: 10 Things You Might Not Know About Breastfeeding
What I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding: Education Matters
The first step to a successful breastfeeding relationship is education. Unfortunately, our culture isn’t one where most people grow up around breastfeeding. We don’t learn from our mothers, sisters, and the other females in our lives like women did in the past. I don’t know if I had ever seen a breastfeeding mom in the course of my life before I became one myself, and this is the case for most women who become mothers.
The best advice I can give is this: take charge of your own life and educate yourself. Read. There are so many amazing and informative books out there about breastfeeding! Some of my favorite resources are Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (most current edition) by La Leche League International, Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher, and Kellymom.com is an amazing, fact-based website. Although our bodies don’t need instructions about how to make milk or bond with our babies, it’s helpful to understand the basics. Just like any other new thing you try in life, there’s always a learning curve.
There will be many people in your life (and, believe it or not, even people you don’t know) who will offer advice and opinions. Smile, thank them, and take what works for you. Some words of wisdom might be great and will resonate with your feelings and beliefs. Others might not sit well with your intuition. People might criticize your choices. This all comes with parenthood. As your child grows and changes, so will you–your confidence in yourself as a mom will grow, your philosophies and beliefs will change and evolve. Mother with your heart. When you need help and advice, seek it from a trusted source.
What I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding: The Basics Need to Be Covered
Think of the most comfortable, peaceful spot in your home and make that your little nursing nest. Ahead of time, prepare a basket to keep within reach. This could contain a book, journal, pens, phone, remote, water, snacks, nursing pads, burp cloths, diaper/potty supplies, whatever else you might need so you don’t have to get up. If you have an older child(ren), make another basket with books, crayons, paper, snacks, etc. Make yourself (or ask someone else to!) a snack, cup of tea, light a candle, turn on some music, massage your baby’s toes with essential oils, whatever helps you both relax. Use the bathroom so you don’t have to get up. If you’re comfortable, nurse baby skin-to-skin (releasing more of that awesome oxytocin).
When you’re ready to nurse your baby. First, take a deep, cleansing breath and relax. Remember: you are a mammal and your body was made to nurse your baby. You can do this and you will! Inhale the scent of your sweet baby’s head and exhale out any negativity. Close your eyes and imagine your milk flowing plentifully from your breast into your baby’s perfect little body. Nourishing and satisfying. Lift baby to breast–pillows are what you need for this! (Always bring baby up to your breast, don’t lower down to baby.) I love using a pillow designed to help your baby get in a good breastfeeding position, but any plain pillows will do the job. Have as many nearby as you want–under baby, under your legs, behind your neck–whatever it takes to make you and baby comfortable!
Latching Can Be Hard at First
Make a ‘nipple sandwich’ by holding your breast in your hand like you would a sandwich (with your hand in a ‘c’ shape), grabbing a nice ‘bite’ for baby to latch onto the areola, not only the nipple. Remind baby to ‘open wide’ and demonstrate with your mouth. Aim the nipple toward the roof of baby’s mouth. Baby should latch on and begin suckling. If it’s at all painful for you, use your pinky finger and gently slide between baby’s lips and your breast to unlatch. Make that nipple sandwich again and re-latch.
One of the most important parts to successful breastfeeding is a good latch. If you feel uncomfortable or even think for a second that the latch doesn’t feel good, stop and get help. That’s what La Leche League is for–mother to mother support and advice. Call a leader and she will be happy to do all she can to help. A lactation consultant can be an awesome resource too. I’m more inclined to suggest LLL because I really believe in the system of experienced moms helping other moms–much like women of past times–something about it is non-threatening and comforting. Teaching and helping a mom to help herself is so empowering.
There is No One Right Position
Experiment with positions. There are many books that have illustrations and complicated explanations of positions to try. This is great if you need some inspiration and can figure them out. But all those different names and pictures can be a little intimidating so know this: there is no right or wrong way to hold your baby while nursing. Whatever works for you is right. It can be helpful to have someone show you some positions if you need guidance. Do yourself a favor and master the side-lying position–this will make your life so much easier: lay down on either side, lie baby next to you at the breast with your bottom arm cradled above baby’s head or tucked under a pillow. Latch baby on and relax, sleep, read, stare at your beautiful baby! Play around with it and see what works for you. Many moms sleep this way at night. I do.
You Might Get Sick
Mastitis occurs to most nursing mothers at least once. Mastitis is a breast infection caused by inflammation of the breast tissue that can cause breast pain, swelling, warmth, and redness. It can also cause fever and chills. You will more than likely need antibiotics to help with the infection, but nursing and pumping are the best ways to help alleviate the pain.
Feeding Baby a Lot is Normal
You can’t nurse your baby too much. Follow baby’s hunger cues: suckling or opening and closing his mouth, bringing his fist towards his mouth, nuzzling and rooting toward your breast. Keep in mind that crying is often baby’s last resort to get your attention, and offer your breast whenever baby wants it, even if only twenty minutes have gone by since his last nursing. That’s what those early months are about: getting to know each other and building up a good nursing relationship. Lots of milk is what keeps your baby growing strong and healthy. Counting the number of times you nurse your baby is like counting how many times you kiss your baby all day.
In infancy, a baby’s wants are his needs. It is impossible to spoil a baby, and babies are incapable of manipulation. It really helps to wear your baby during the day, it is absolutely beneficial to nursing, as well as being the natural way mothers have kept their babes close for all of history. In the history of mankind, it is only a recent phenomenon for babies to be placed for hours on end in rockers, swings, seats, and chairs.
How Much Baby Eats Will Change Over Time
Keep the size of your baby’s stomach in mind. In the first few days to a week, you’ll be producing colostrum. It won’t be a lot and you might worry that baby’s not eating enough. Don’t stress. Baby’s stomach is tiny and only needs a tiny amount. As your milk comes in, baby’s stomach is able to handle a little more at a time. Nursing on cue, all day and night, ensures a plentiful supply, custom-made by you to fit your baby’s exact needs. As long as baby is peeing and pooping, you know the milk is going in and being digested.
If you are worried about your baby not getting enough from breastfeeding, you can do a simple weight check to see how many ounces they are taking in. Weigh your baby before they nurse and again after they nurse, on the same scale with the same clothes on, and note the difference in weight. If your baby is older, your doctor can let you know in between well-baby checkups if they are slipping down their growth pattern and what other causes it may be.
Moms, please focus on mothering your baby. Delegate chores and meals to family members and friends who want to help. I’m not one who likes to ask others for help around the house, but I know that it’s more important to be with baby and take it easy after giving birth. We owe it to our bodies to spend some down time recovering, after not only growing another human for nearly ten months, but also the marathon of labor and birth. Baby and mama belong together. I will confess that I didn’t allow anyone other than my husband and older son to hold my baby after he was born for about a month. His gentle, peaceful home birth was sacred to me that I was like a protective mama bear.
Whether your baby breastfeeds for a day, a week, a month, a year, or five years, the benefits are huge and plentiful–for both baby and mother. Be proud of yourself for nourishing your baby’s body and soul with the magical, amazing milk that your body has made.
You are Mother Earth.