This week, for Mommy Mondays, I want to discuss some tips for learning the tricky up-hill slope that is breastfeeding. No man understands all the feelings attached to this word. Before you have your first baby, you can almost write a book about the horror stories you have heard about breastfeeding- crazy things, like bleeding nipples, pink or green breast milk, babies that lose weight from not getting enough, moms that say it is the hardest thing they have ever done in their life.... There really is a lot of hype about breastfeeding. Not to mention all the breastfeeding guilt-trippers. "You know, if you aren't successful at breastfeeding, your child will get sick about 15 extra times each year. Do you REALLY want to be responsible for that?" or "If you don't breastfeed your child, then their IQ will be 10 points lower- how'd you like THAT for you kid?"
Honestly. It's just like that.
So, here is a less-complicated viewpoint. Breastfeeding is great for you and your baby if it is done right. Some women can't or won't breastfeed, but that doesn't make them bad moms. If you want to be a successful breast feeder, it can be tough or confusing. If you really want to breastfeed that little darling of yours, you will need some help. Here are some tips to help you make that happen.
Read up on successful stories. You will hear some CRAZY things if you talk to other women about breastfeeding. Crazy. So, make sure you know the facts and that you hear some success stories.
Arm yourself with a buddy. Find a woman (mom, grandma, bff, aunt, cousin, whoever) that you are comfortable talking openly with and that has breastfed successfully. Let them know that you will be coming to them with questions- they can be a great resource. It can really be one to the best things that you can do to help you succeed. Don't know anyone you feel comfortable with? Join a mommy website and post in their forums.
Visit a lactation consultant. Will you have a chance to meet with someone in the hospital? Probably. Are there so many things going on in the hospital (oh, I don't know, trying to recover mentally and physically from making a baby?) that are going to make it hard to really pay attention and do well? I'll say yes. So, go ahead and spend a week or two on your own, trying to figure things out, then visit a lactation consultant. They will be able to tell you if your breastfeeding methods are working or not. Even if you feel like you are doing well, the effects of poor latching, etc., are often not manifest until several weeks after delivery, because if it can be difficult to distinguish sore nipples from breastfeeding and the sore nipples from poor latch when you haven't had previous experience. The worst thing that can happen is that they tell you that you are doing a fantastic job and don't need to do a thing. The visit is totally worthwhile.
Find something extra. Some may say to not watch tv or read or sew or do ANYTHING while breastfeeding so that you can bond with your child. There is some truth to that- there will definitely be times when doing something else will make you miss out on some bonding- but honestly, you will have plenty of times and ways to bond with your child all throughout their life. If you do pick something you enjoy that you can do sometimes during breastfeeding (hand-held Yahtzee, Oprah on TiVo, your favorite book, some fruit snacks... whatever) it can help. In the first few weeks of breastfeeding, it will sometimes feel like you only get a long enough break from breastfeeding to run to the bathroom and back. That can be frustrating. If you can have some other distraction that you look forward to, it will help you to not associate breastfeeding with negativity. If every time you think about breastfeeding you feel frustrated, your experience with breastfeeding will probably be a short one. So, find something extra that will make breastfeeding more of a pleasure.
Don't pump for the first month. Your body still doesn't know what kind of eater your baby is going to be. Will they need 3 ounces every two hours? Will your baby want 4 ounces every 3 hours? You, your baby, and your body are trying to figure that out. So, in that first month, give your body a chance to figure out how much milk it really needs to make for your baby and when. Once your body is accustomed to how much it needs to make, you can up the supply a bit by pumping. If you start pumping before then, there is a good chance that your body will get a little messed up on timing and you may end up with less milk than your baby needs when they need it, giving you a sad, cranky baby.
Hard-core pumping planned? Get a good pump. There is a whole market of pumps out there, from inexpensive hand pumps to pro-pumps that cost hundreds of dollars. If you intend to pump just here and there, every once in a while, a cheap pump will get you through just fine. If you intend to pump daily, you need to spring for an expensive one. Why? If your nipples are hurting, your breastfeeding days are probably numbered. Cheaper pumps pull unnecessarily on your nipples and cause minor irritation, sometimes directly after use and sometimes weeks after use. If you only intend to use your pump here and there, that's not a problem. If, however, you know you will be using your pump day-in-day-out, that added soreness and discomfort from a bad pump are going to do you no good. So, if you intend to pump often, pay the big bucks and get a Medela or similar breast pump.
Buy nipple cream ahead of time. Some people (very few!) just breeze into breastfeeding easily. For the rest of us, it is only a matter of time before you will need nipple cream to help soothe your nipples. Buy it and have it on hand so that you can use it right when you need it, instead of sending your hubby to the store at 3 am.
It's like learning a language. Let's say you want to learn French. It takes practice, learning, practice, practice, oh, and I think you need to practice. Breastfeeding is its own little language between you and baby. At birth, neither of you speak this language, so you need to learn it together. Both you and your baby will figure out the nuances of this language a bit at a time, so be patient with yourself and with your little one as you figure things out. It won't happen overnight.
Support. Tell your hubby (or boyfriend or partner) that you want to breastfeed and that you don't know how you are going to do. Tell them that it might be easy or tough, but that no matter what they do, they need to have your back. If you can tell them that clearly before you actually start breastfeeding, then they will be less likely to say, "Hey, it looks weird when you try that" right at the moment that you are crazy hormonal and feel like you are going to break down and cry. Think of it as preventative maintenance, like changing the oil in your car so it doesn't break down later.
Don't stress it. You aren't a bad mom if everything isn't hunky-dory perfect. You aren't a bad person if it takes a hundred years to get a good latch. If you end up giving your baby formula, don't think you deserve CPS called on you- your kids are going to grow up and eat hot dogs, for goodness sakes. Believe me, formula is not going to be the worst thing that your kids will ingest. Just do all you can and don't worry about the rest. You'll be fine.
Hope these tips help ya' out when you are maneuvering that crazy road of breastfeeding for the very first time. Don't stress, get good support, and love that little baby of yours!
(PS, I wasn't able to successfully breastfeed my first- I ended up pumping and then feeding her with pumped bottles, but with numero dos, I haven't had any problems at all! So, if at first you don't succeed- don't give up!)