Support Leads to Breastfeeding Success
I recently read this article on breastfeeding and was really upset by the results: Many women think it’s unrealistic to expect women to breastfeed for the first 6 months.
What upset me the most was not that women think this but rather that women don’t have the support system to make breastfeeding success a reality. I’m not going to blog about how important breastfeeding is. Most moms-to-be or new moms have heard that message many times. What is disappointing to me and what I believe to be why many women don’t breastfeed or fail trying, is the fact that they don’t have the right support network to make breastfeeding a reality.
My father is an OB GYN and supports the benefits of breastfeeding and between my mother, mother-in-law and sister there were 11 children successfully breastfeed before I became pregnant (we’re now up to 17 in my immediate family!). So when my first child was born, there were no questions, I WAS going to breastfeed her. The reality though was much harder than I expected. My daughter wouldn’t latch. I had these expectations of how “natural” nursing would be and “natural” translated into “easy”. When she was first born she “latched” right on. The lactation consultant assured me it was okay that she wasn’t getting anything – my supply just hadn’t come in. Over the next day, I struggled to soothe and comfort my baby while waiting for my supply to come in. The last day I was at the hospital, the lactation consultant informed me that my baby in fact wasn’t latching. Her lips weren’t forming correctly. She armed me with a nipple shield and sent me home. Suddenly this very “natural” process became very mechanical to me. Here I was struggling with my strong desire to nurse but a host of challenges I was barely able to cope with.
I had not been prepared for nursing to be so difficult and was desperate to find someone to relate to. Words of wisdom from a co-worker kept echoing in my head. She encouraged me to go into nursing with the idea that I would commit to it for at least 6-weeks. After 6-weeks it would get so much easier. So I kept that date in mind. She was right, it did get easier. In addition, I had a dear friend who was just wrapping up year one of nursing her son. She provided me endless hours of encouragement, tips, even a card or two in the mail and overall justified the many thoughts and feelings I had. It was okay for breastfeeding not to be perfect or flawless. It wasn’t easy. There were embarrassing moments and times breastfeeding controlled your day to day. It was physically exhausting. You felt tied down to your chair and limited. Here’s the reality though that I heard repeatedly from her. All of these feelings I was having, had very little to do with JUST nursing. Having a baby turns your world upside down and the truth is, nursing or not you will be tired, you will have embarrassing moments, you will feel like you have very little control over your life.
Once I got through latching issues (just a few weeks after returning home, I weaned my daughter from the shield), the challenges were more around how I would nurse in the real world. What would I do at the mall? (The same amazing friend took the first excursion with me and brought me to Nordstrom’s which has fabulous bathrooms with a sitting area and was ironically filled with nursing women. I later learned there are many options at the mall beyond the high end department store including fitting rooms and your car.) If I went to a friend’s house or had friends over, I would use a blanket rather than banishing myself (or allowing myself to be banished) to another room. As a full-time working and nursing parent, I asked for a lock on my office door and some tinted windows. It took courage to do some of these things but having friends who had done this before me and talked me through it, helped.
Looking back, these were all minor things but at the time seemed like such difficult hurdles. I had friends who were not nursing and were constantly fretting over where to get hot water to mix formula or how to disinfect bottles or how to time their day around feedings. Not only was I equipped to feed my baby at any time but my breasts became an instant soother. Night feedings were tough but not because I was nursing, it was just simply being woken at night that was hard. I was lucky though because I could go into my daughter’s room, sit in a rocking chair in the dark and never have to turn on a light or warm up water while she cried. She could be feed, changed and back in bed within 15 minutes (unless she wanted to stay up and play but again that had nothing to do with nursing). Often when I nursed, I cherished being forced to sit and relax, running my fingers through my babies hair, playing with her toes, holding her tiny hand. Other days I would work on my laptop, play games on my iPod, email with friends or pick-up the phone to talk to friends going through what I was going through.
If you are a soon-to-be mom wishing to nurse your baby, my advice to you is to make it clear to your family and friends ahead of time that this is an important decision and you will need all the support you can get and LOTS of reassurance. Be sure you can easily gravitate to other moms who have recently been over the initial hump of breastfeeding. Without them, I don’t know if I would have lasted 15 months with my first and 12 months with my second (his choice, not mine). Six weeks IS an amazing milestone. From that moment on it will be much easier. And then, once your baby starts eating solids around 5 – 6 months, if you stick with it, you will finally have a balance for 6 – 12+ months where all those moments spent nursing will be more relaxed and moments you cherish forever. You CAN do it. Women are amazing and that includes you!