Monday, February 24, 2014

What I wish I had known about breastfeeding

(I wrote this post because I want to remember my experience breastfeeding and I hope another mom will find encouragement from it. Please understand that this isn't meant to hurt anyone who has had a different experience or who feels differently.) 

nursing strike

My daughter quit breastfeeding at 11 months and 1 week old. If someone had told me how far we would make it on the day she was born I probably would have been overjoyed. What I wish I had known was that when she gave it up I wouldn't be ready. I would cry and spend weeks hoping she would continue; I would look back at all those nursing sessions with fondness. You see, when you do something every day, many times a day, it starts out as hard work. But after months of investing your time in it it's an accomplishment you feel proud of.

When I actually started planning to breastfeed it seemed kind of strange. I read books and even watched how-to videos. I thought, wow, can I really do that? I knew formula would be hard to afford and I really wanted to be successful so I did everything I could to be prepared. Right after birth Lola was ready to nurse. It took a few tries but she latched on and nursed off and on for an hour. I'm glad that I delayed finding out her weight and a bath because she just seemed so hungry. That night she slept in my arms and continued to nurse often. I will always cherish that memory.We didn't encounter too many problems and I feel very blessed for that. Of course it was painful at first. The first few weeks and when my milk first came in it was extremely uncomfortable. I remember crying when I would be woken up (again!!) in the night to nurse because of exhaustion and the pain of nursing. Not to mention the weight of knowing it was only me who could feed our baby felt like a heavy blanket. It was hard and I remember thinking that 12 months seemed like an eternity.

But at the same time, I was glad that I could feed her. For nine months she had grown inside me, and now I was still able to help her grow. It was so gratifying to find out that she had gained nearly 2.5 pounds in the first month all because of my milk. It didn't take long before her little legs got oh so cute and chunky. Soon breastfeeding turned from hard work to something I enjoyed. After breastfeeding every day for about 8 months, I realized that I could honestly say that I loved it. Nursing just a few times a day was easy and didn't take much time at all. It was our special snuggle time. As Lola learned to crawl and then walk at just 10 months old, those snuggles were precious. I loved having that closeness, knowing that she still needed me. I also felt a huge sense of accomplishment and realized that I didn't want to quit at a year just because we made it to a year. I decided I would continue until we were both ready to stop.

I had no idea that for her that day would come much sooner then I expected. 11 months and 1 week old. I still remember the afternoon after I nursed her for the last time. I noticed a new tooth coming through, with several more on the way. She wasn't being especially grouchy, but she refused to nurse before I put her to bed, although she fell asleep just fine. That was the start of many sad days for me, as I tried to convince her to continue nursing. I figured her teeth were the problem so I tried every teething remedy I thought might work. Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Orajel, a homeopathic medicine. Teething rings, frozen wash clothes, mesh teether bag with frozen fruit. I tried feeding her less solid food, only gave her my milk in a cup so she wouldn't get attached to a bottle, and made time for lots of skin to skin. I took her to the doctor. There was nothing wrong with her ears or throat. I took suggestions from two very helpful and sympathetic lactation consultants. I read online everything I could about nursing strikes. I tried things that I'm too embarrassed to admit. All the while I was pumping milk and giving it to Lola in a cup who seemed just fine with that (how could she!?). I was most sad at night when she would fall asleep after refusing to nurse. I missed it so much and felt incredibly rejected. I wanted to continue nursing, but as the days went by, weeks went by, I started losing hope. After 3 weeks, on her 1st birthday I figured that I had done my best and I quit pumping.

Now looking back I'm just glad that I have such a happy and healthy little girl. While it's not what I was hoping for at the time, I'm proud of her for making the transition to whole milk in a cup and more solids so easy. We had a great run at breastfeeding, we made it to 12 months! I'm so proud of both of us! The feeling of accomplishment that I have now makes it all worth it.

If I could give a new mom advice about breastfeeding this is what I would say

-Support is HUGE when it comes to breastfeeding. Please PLEASE read this article: It really gave me encouragement. It says that women will rate social support as more important than anything else in how long they breastfed. This article pushed me to write about my positive experience because other moms need to hear it. I remember wondering, are other moms breastfeeding?? I rarely saw anyone nursing, even in rooms dedicated to that.

-Learn as much as you can about breastfeeding before the baby is born. There are tons of great     resources. Books, classes, videos. The truth is, breastfeeding is simple. But there is a lot to it if you encounter problems, and people will give you terrible advice. Have the number to a lactation consultant. Those ladies were so wonderful in helping me through. The first few weeks as a new mother can be overwhelming as it is, don't find yourself in the dark when it comes to solving breastfeeding problems.

-Realize that those first few hours and days can really affect breastfeeding. Do your research. Ask questions. Write "I want to exclusively breastfeed" in your birth plan.

-Request skin to skin immediately after birth. It doesn't matter what kind of birth you have, if baby is doing well you should be able to hold them. There are many benefits to immediate skin to skin with baby. Other things can wait, like weighing and bathing. This may be the time when your baby is most alert and ready to breastfeed.

-The first few weeks, even few months will be hard. Some women will experience pain at first even when the latch is right. For me I remember the pain lasting for about 2 weeks. And then there is the exhaustion. It's so incredibly hard to wake up every few hours in the middle of the night to feed your baby. I promise there will be times when you want to give up. Don't. You can do it! It might take a lot of practice and perseverance, but YOU CAN DO IT.

-I really think it's best to delay using bottles and pacifiers. Those first few days and weeks are so critical in establishing your milk supply. The more you breastfeed before your milk comes in, the more milk you will have! It took 5 days for me, but when it came I had an oversupply. Don't think you have to give formula just because your milk hasn't come in. Colostrum is super calorie dense and perfect for the tiny tummy of a newborn. Some babies like to suck all the time so using a pacifier might be best for your sanity, but delaying those first few days could mean your baby nurses more and you will produce more milk. I decided to wait about 3 weeks before trying a pacifier and 6 weeks before a bottle. Lola never took to a pacifier and I'm actually glad.

-If you do give a bottle, don't forget to pump. It's supply and demand when it comes to making milk! The best way to keep up your supply is to breastfeed.

-Don't forget to enjoy it! This is such a unique time in your life as a mother. You are providing the perfect food for your baby. Maybe even take a picture of your sweet baby nursing, because someday you just might miss it.