Three breastfeeding stints in, I marvel still over how something so natural does not always come so naturally. Breastfeeding is something that I have had to work hard at to maintain. It’s not always easy, but for me it has always been worth it. I think back on the struggles that I’ve had, and it’s humbling to realize that I may not have made it as long as I did each time without the strong backing of a dedicated husband and network of family and friends that always supported my goals. I received help in many forms, from something as simple as having someone bring me water and snacks while I was tethered to the couch nursing, to handing me the remote control that was always just out of my reach.
I am fortunate to have a husband that has completely taken on the tasks of tending to the older children, cooking, and cleaning on a daily basis so that I could focus solely on caring for baby and establishing my supply. He has fielded research, made store-runs for fenugreek and milk thistle, and kept me company during late-night feeding or pumping sessions. I understand that not every woman has this type of support system and without that village, breastfeeding can be that much harder. Even with this support, there were days that I still wanted to throw in the towel. On my worst days when I felt that I just couldn’t do it any longer, I would convince myself to stick it out just one more day, and if I felt the same way tomorrow then I would allow myself to stop without hesitation and guilt. And every time, that very next day ended up being just a little bit easier. And so I forged on, always keeping in mind the following things I learned during each of my journeys:
1) Take your breaks to pump! For many women, it may become more difficult to maintain milk supply when you return to work. I know how hard it can be when you have so much work piled up, but pumping will usually be a must, and you may have to do it even more than you would if you were simply feeding baby at the breast. You may not wish to appear like the co-worker who isn’t doing their part, but take it from me, if you don’t take the time to pump, you will dry up! Know your workplace rights with regard to sufficient break time for pumping.
2) Do not view how much (or how little) you pump as a true indicator of your milk supply. This is a tough one to believe because there is nothing more disheartening than pumping for minutes on end and finding absolutely nothing appear in the bottle. You may have to tell yourself this one over and over again: it doesn’t mean you do not have milk! Although pumps are amazing machines that enable women to continue to provide breast milk for their babies when they are separated, even the very best ones are still nowhere near effective as baby at removing milk. Many times I am not always able to pump out during any one pumping session the full amount that my baby eats in a single feeding but I still know that doesn’t mean my milk supply is low. Whenever he is with me all day, he nurses to contentment and does not fuss. He is able to extract the milk much better than the pump and he gets what he needs. I pump after feeding him for the extra stimulation and I hardly get anything out, but that’s ok. I still have to remind myself of this at times so as not to get freaked out and stressed over the empty bottles. You may encounter a low supply issue if you are struggling with output while separated from baby during regular feeding times. Even in these actual cases of low supply, it can typically be turned around with changes such as adjusting your equipment, frequency, water intake and galactagogue supplementation. http://www.kellymom.com will be your friend; bookmark it and refer to it often!
3) Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. It can certainly be uncomfortable at times, particularly in the beginning, but it shouldn’t be downright painful. Cracked and bleeding nipples are not par the course and are usually indicative of some other problem (e.g. shallow latch, baby with tongue tie) that can also be rectified. If you run into any issues with breastfeeding, it is imperative to seek help immediately. Nothing will make you want to quit more than being in pain at each and every feed. The sooner you can get help, the likelier you are to be able to continue your journey for your intended goal. Contact your hospital or pediatrician to be connected with a lactation consultant. If they cannot get you in for an immediate appointment and/or you are without insurance, you can likely receive free help from local breastfeeding support groups within your community. Some organizations you can contact are Women Infants and Children (WIC), La Leche League or a general Google or Facebook search for “breastfeeding support groups” in your city.
4) It really does get easier. Sore nipples, clogged ducts, mastitis, thrush…these are all issues that can unfortunately plague mothers right when they are at their most vulnerable. In the weeks right after delivery when mothers may already be suffering from severe fatigue, aching bodies, baby blues and even postpartum depression, these afore-mentioned complications can understandably impede on one’s ability to continue nursing. And when you are in that moment of darkness, it can be increasingly hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel.
To begin with, don’t let the fear that it will be too hard stop you from ever trying. Many women successfully breastfeed from the very first latch without any issues whatsoever. But even if you’re one (like me) who has many struggles getting started, know that it’s nothing that will last forever or that isn’t insurmountable. If you can seek and receive the help you and/or your baby requires, even a dicey beginning can turn into smooth sailing. And once you get through those initial hurdles, breastfeeding can truly be an enjoyable experience. No expensive formula to buy, no mixing and warming bottles (and if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, no washing bottles, either!) And the connection you can feel with your baby is truly an indescribable joy. It really is one of those things you have to trust will happen and allow your body and baby the time and dedication to get there. It used to be that I didn’t believe there was truly such a thing as a runner’s high until the time I really did experience euphoria from exercising. And in my first few days and weeks of breastfeeding, I was completely wary and skeptical that I would ever really enjoy it. That was, until the dust finally settled and we got into our groove, and then I was ecstatic to find out that it was true.
But, in keeping with total honesty, I have to admit that even when you reach the nursing sweet spot, it won’t always be enjoyable every single moment of every single day. By and large, I cherish breastfeeding my child, but certainly there are some moments I wish there was not a tiny human hanging off my chest. And let’s just be real, pumping is the pits. So, if at the end of the day, you find that you don’t enjoy it and/or it’s just not something you wish to continue with, then you must always do what is best for baby and you. However you decide to feed your baby is your personal decision and you should always feel confident and comfortable with the method of feeding that you choose. If you don’t feel at ease, recognize that it may be because you aren’t 100% certain about your decision, and in that case, find your village and any available options that can help you to reach your desired outcome, whatever that may be.