This is the week you might see your Facebook News Feed pop up with some funny pictures or status updates with "fun facts" about breastfeeding.
If you run in "mommy" circles, you know that breastfeeding can lead to some seriously heated debate.
It's a tricky thing because breastfeeding is so heavily tied up in emotions. We want what is best for our babies, we learn that "Breast Is Best," and then we struggle, we quit, we fail, we are forced to stop for myriad reasons. We feel like we've failed because we can't do what is "Best" for baby.
There are many, many, many situations where a baby cannot be breastfed. There are many valid reasons for not being able to nurse. This post is not refuting any of that.
Breastfeeding is something that I am passionate about. It's something I've written about on several occassions. When I first started this blog, I was still nursing my son. Teagan was breastfed until she self-weaned at 25 months. Zach (mostly) self-weaned at 15 months. I pumped for my babies when I went back to work full time and made sure my child care provider knew how to handle breastmilk.
The research is abundant. Breastfeeding is the better choice. Breastmilk is specifically designed for the baby. My breastmilk was specifically designed for my babies. My milk would change as they grew. My milk provided them antibodies of the common cold or a flu I was fighting (or suffering).
It's hard work. I wasn't prepared for how challenging it was going to be. I read books and took classes. But there is nothing that prepares you for motherhood. Until you've experienced the sleepless nights and this new level of fear and anxiety that constantly simmers beneath the surface, you can't really grasp how challenging motherhood is for a new mom. One of my clearest memories after Teagan was born was the panic and overwhelming fear I felt about bringing her home from the hospital and no longer having a nurse call button to save me from explosive poops and spit up and to answer all my scaredy cat newbie questions about everything from belly buttons to toes to butt paste.
Breastfeeding took that one step further. Remember that emotional investment? When you're emotionally vulnerable, exhausted, terrified, and overwhelmed, the stress of breastfeeding problems can be the very end of the rope. That's why it's sometimes feels like the only choice is to throw in the towel.
What saved me was my husband and my mom. What saved me was my support system. I was good at asking questions; I was not good about letting anyone know how bad it was. We had latch issues early on with Teagan and my nipples took a real beating and I had serious pain and I was passing blood to the point that a pumped bottle of milk would be pink. The pain of nursing about killed me. But I'm ridiculously stubborn at times. And severely independent at times. And there was no way I was going to fail.
When I finally broke down and shared that I wanted to quit, that I wanted to go to formula, that I never wanted to nurse again... the help and support from my mom and husband overwhelmed me back to a healthy and strong place. We worked together to fix the latch problems and get my breasts back in good working order.
My advice for new moms who want to make breastfeeding work:
- Let other things go. Laundry, dishes, housework. Either ask someone to help you out for a couple of months or be willing to let things slide a bit and take shortcuts. Paper plates and plastic cutlery and cups to reduce dishes that need to be washed. Carry out or quick fix meals so you don't have to cook. We did learn early on that doing a daily load of laundry was actually easier in some ways. Just find the areas where you can cut corners.
- Ask for help. If you've got friends or family offering help, take it. Don't be afraid to say that you need someone to help you catch up on laundry, you need someone to bring a meal, you need someone to take care of your other child for an afternoon, you need someone to come hold the baby so you can sleep for 2 hours or shower without interruption. People want to help but often don't know what to offer.
- Know (and use) your resources. Knowing the big breastfeeding names is important. Kellymom, Dr. Sears, Dr. Newman are some of my favorites. Videos and more on Breastfeeding.com saved me- especially when figuring out latches and different holds. Beyond the experts, know who in your circles has successfully breastfed their kids and ask someone to mentor you. Ask questions, talk about your challenges and successes. If you've successfully breastfed, offer to mentor or be a source of supprot for a new mom. Having someone who can do some of the worrying about the issues you're facing can help relieve that stress.
- Medela Pump In Style Not only did this make it possible for me to pump efficiently at work, this pump was extremely useful before I went back to work. I was able to pump in the morning to relieve pressure and also build up a freezer stash. When I was having let down concerns, I could pump to get things going and then latch on.
- Lansinoh products I had 2 that I loved. Lansinoh breastmilk storage bags were my favorite. Lansinoh nipple cream (lanolin) was my favorite. Lansinoh breast pads were Da Bomb.
We're all doing the best we can. Not being able to breastfeed- for whatever reason- doesn't make you any less of a mother, doesn't determine if you're a good or bad mother, doesn't define you. Being able to breastfeed doesn't make you superior or smarter or better.
On a personal note, as someone who is learning more and more and committing more and more to a healthier diet of whole foods and eating "clean," breastfeeding makes sense. I want my food to come from a farm, free of chemicals, from animals that were properly raised. I want fresh produce that hasn't been trucked for days across the country to be jarred or canned. I want to know where my meat came from. Breastfeeding is the same idea. Formula is processed in a factory. Breastmilk- I intimately know the source.
Breastfeeding is a hard and sometimes brave choice. Breastfeeding is generally the best choice for your baby. This week is World Breastfeeding Week and I hope you will take some time to learn more about breastfeeding and the benefits it provides your baby and also the imapct that breastfeeding could have on populations around the world.