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Now I need to be honest with you right from the beginning. I’m not a breastfeeding expert. I’m not even a lactation consultant. I’m just a typical mom who decided to give breastfeeding a whirl. And despite all of the classes I took and self-help books I pored over, that’s not where I discovered the secret to breastfeeding success. Success isn’t lurking in the perfect latch or determined by how much milk you can make. It’s not even measured by how long you decide to breastfeed. Instead, “successful” breastfeeding lies in your heart, in your will, and with a great deal of encouragement from your friends and family. (Of course, having your body cooperate is a big plus!)
I thought I was simply making the more healthful, cost-effective choice when I decided to breastfeed. What I didn‟t realize is how that single decision would affect every facet of my life. All of a sudden you are not only caring for a new baby, you are basing your entire life (what you eat, what you drink, when you sleep, what you do—everything) around this hungry little bundle.
So why do I bring up these disadvantages in the midst of trying to encourage you to breastfeed? I bring them up so you understand that it IS difficult. It IS a lifestyle. It IS a commitment. But once you transcend those truths, you can embrace the challenges and face them head on.
And I‟ll let you in on my little secret, my source of power, when facing these challenges: my girlfriends. Just as they shared their trials and tribulations of pregnancy and delivery, they were there through breastfeeding too. And they all had a different perspective. I hope you appreciate the following stories as much as I have enjoyed the support I received from the women behind them.
Whether you plan to nurse for one week or two years, you will hit bumps (and lumps, and hiccups, and perhaps some unfortunate clogs) along the way. That’s when you’ll need characteristics like determination, humor, wisdom, and confidence to ensure breastfeeding success. For that reason, I have broken this book down into four sections, with stories that fit each of those characteristics. You can read the book from start to finish; or if you need encouragement dealing with a particular problem, you can jump to that section to find the type of encouragement you need. There is also a glossary and index in the back to guide you through even more specific needs.
I hope the sound advice from seasoned veterans helps you make decisions that are right for you and your family; and that these stories are a constant encouragement to you throughout your breastfeeding journey.
My Lessons Learned
I’ll leave my breastfeeding diary for the “whole milk” version, but I wanted to share a few of the kernels of wisdom I learned along the way. These lessons are not all scientifically tested, but they are definitely mother approved—confirmed through a battery of trials I ran on my three favorite test subjects.
Breastfeeding Does Hurt
You try running a marathon without having trained and tell me you aren’t raw! Everyone involved in the process is new to the experience. Your nipples will be raw; when your milk comes in, your breasts will be engorged and tender; and it may take a while for your baby to get the right latch; etc. Beginnings are tough, and breastfeeding is no exception.
If the pain continues past a week or your intuition tells you things aren‟t quite right, seek help from an expert. Most hospital lactation consultants will field calls long after your hospital stay is over. Stores that sell lactation supplies are also a tremendous help. Not only do they sell supplies and provide nursing bra fittings, they often have a lactation consultant on staff who can correct latching techniques, help you through an increase or decrease in milk production, and/or suggest improvements as necessary. Many even have a support group that you can attend or join. There are also a ton of online support groups. See the Helpful Websites section, Peggy’s story, Amy’s story, and Catherine’s story for more on breastfeeding pain and seeking help.
Let’s Get this Party Started
I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of moms while compiling this book. I was astounded at the number of moms who truly, madly, deeply wanted to nurse their babies and couldn’t because “their milk never came in.” To be honest, my initial thought was that they didn’t give themselves enough time. I do not mean they didn’t TRY. I mean they didn’t realize that although it usually takes 3-4 days for milk to really come in, that it can sometimes take as long as two weeks (in which case supplementation would obviously be necessary).
Experts cite many reasons this can happen…excessive blood loss during labor and delivery…if the entire placenta doesn’t pass…inability to get skin-to-skin contact right away after birth. While these are all valid reasons, I would say another big culprit is stress. And, really, who would argue that a mother who just underwent labor isn’t stressed? I would contend that all the pressure of fulfilling this one maternal task only a mother can perform—along with all the other stressors that go along with being a new mom—is enough to throw any mom’s body out of whack for a while!
Stress can be compounded when drugs are involved during labor and delivery. Although they have not found the drugs themselves to affect breast milk, they can affect the hormones associated with breastfeeding. Some pain medications (especially those used during and after a C-section) elevate dopamine levels which in turn inhibit prolactin’s job of making milk. (Those same drugs—used for epidurals and C-sections alike—may also cause you to have flat nipples.) Oxytocin, the hormone responsible for letdown, is also affected by stress.
If your milk isn’t coming in “right away,” there are obviously some things you can do to coax it out. Trying to nurse early and often as well as pumping between attempts will hopefully yield some results. I would also say that cutting yourself some slack for all that your body has just endured, resting whenever possible, and finding ways to relax can go a long way. You aren’t Supermom, and that’s ok. It will take a village to raise your baby, and it might just take a village to get nursing off to a good start, too. Take a deep breath, accept that it’s a tough situation (but one that’s hopefully worth getting through), and do what you can. Sometimes your body will slowly but surely cooperate. However, sometimes the advantages will never outweigh the disadvantages and supplementing or completely switching over to formula is the best option.
Several of my veteran nursing moms warned me of engorgement like the graduating 2nd graders warned our incoming class about Mrs. Hellert. I wasn’t really sure what I was in for, but I knew it wouldn’t be fun. My breasts had already grown exponentially throughout pregnancy. But that was nothing compared to a day or two after leaving the hospital when I woke up to boobs literally twice the size they were the day before! Under normal circumstances, this would be a dream come true for a barely-B woman such as myself. Finally! Redemption! Not. so. much. My breasts were painful to the touch and screaming to be popped like a balloon.
Here were the saving graces that got me through engorgement, because BIG boobs + baby’s tiny mouth = mounds of frustration:
- I used a hand pump before even attempting to get Lena to latch on the first week or so. (And if that wasn’t close enough, squirting some into a nearby sink worked just as well.) The hand pump relieved some of the pressure and made it much easier for her to latch on. If you use this approach, just remember the law of supply and demand. Your body will continue to make that extra 2-3 ounces of milk long after engorgement is over. This can be a blessing for those with low milk supply and a curse for those with an overabundance!
- A friend of mine recommended placing cabbage leaves on my breasts a few times a day to relieve the swelling. While your hubby is at the store filling all your postpartum needs, have him pick up a head of cabbage and you’ll be glad you did. Tea leaves are reported to have similar pain-relieving qualities. Just don’t overdo it or you may begin to dry up your supply.
- Engorgement should only last a few days while your body is equalizing to meet the needs of baby. That’s why consultants are so passionate that you try not to supplement at the beginning. They know your body is busy doing some higher-order math to ensure baby gets just the right amount of nutrition in every meal.
- Lastly, in my case at least, engorgement got much less intense with each child.
9 Out of 10 Experts Do Not Agree
Perhaps the second-most burning question on the hearts and minds of nursing moms (right after “is baby getting enough to eat?”) is “when is this baby going to start sleeping through the night?” And the answer to that question can be quite dubious. The link between nursing and sleeping cannot be overstated. And a new mom will do just about anything to get her baby to sleep—which can lead to some habits that may be hard to break later (more on that in the Some Habits Die Hard section on page 40).
When Lena was a baby, I continued to attend LLL meetings as a way to glean valuable information about nursing as well as a way to get out of the house! I often left those meetings feeling like less of a mom, though, because I hadn’t fully embraced the breastfeeding subculture. My daughter loved her binky; I could not figure out how to use a sling to save my life; she wore disposable diapers; and after a brief stint of co-sleeping, we realized it just wasn’t working for our family. For me, attachment parenting was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
I don’t share this experience as a means to criticize other moms. Quite the contrary. I share it to emphasize that there is more than one mothering/nursing lifestyle to choose from, and it’s up to you and your family to forge that path.
Neither choice is more right or wrong than the other, but it is awfully isolating to think you are somehow not “mom enough” because you don’t follow the advice of a popular book or you do things differently than your family or friends.
Consider this decision as a microcosm of your parenting style. Determining what type of nursing mother (and family) you will be sets the stage for future decisions. And the two schools of thought on parenting breastfed babies (attachment parenting and parent-directed feeding …not to mention all the styles that fall somewhere in between) couldn’t be more conflicting. Both styles have data to back up their effectiveness—they just go about it in completely different ways.
is a term coined by Dr. William and Martha Sears and shared in The Baby Book as well as in several other books penned by the dynamic duo. Attachment parenting strives to develop an infant’s need for trust, empathy, and affection by creating a secure, peaceful, and enduring relationship. This style requires a consistent, loving, and responsive caregiver—especially during the first few years of life. More often than not this style of parenting involves co-sleeping, on-demand breastfeeding, and little separation from baby. If this lifestyle appeals to you and your family, LLL; The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding; books by Dr. William and Martha Sears (and their sons in some cases); and Elizabeth Pantley’s No-Cry Sleep Solution Book can guide you through breastfeeding and sleep.
strives to get baby accustomed to the family’s routine—instead of the other way around. The parent-directed method is made up of three basic activities that are repeated in a rhythmical cycle throughout the day: feeding time, wake time, and nap time (note the order). These cycles are both routine and predictable to help baby feel safe and secure.
If you prefer a more structured approach yet still want to exclusively breastfeed, sleeping advice can be a bit more complicated but NOT impossible! First off, I want to make it clear that on-demand feeding is crucial the first month or so of breastfeeding regardless of the long-term lifestyle you choose. I caution nursing moms against any book that recommends stringent ideals about sleeping/eating times.
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Category: Book Reviews
Tags: guest post