When I was pregnant I did everything I could to prepare for the labor and birth experience. My husband and I took classes and read books. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to breastfeed, so we took a breastfeeding class as well. Ah, if only that class could have prepared me for the journey I was soon to face.
Breastfeeding was hands down the most challenging and trying time of my entire life. Avery was such an amazing baby. She hardly cried, and even as a newborn slept 5 hour stretches of time. I should have been in complete newborn heaven. Instead I spent those first few weeks crying and in a lot of physical pain. I wanted to share my experience with you, and offer up some "tips" or things I would have done differently. You can read my entire story here, but the cliffs notes version is that Avery had a very strong latch. My nipples were cracked and bleeding by the 2nd day, so when one of the nurses offered me a nipple shield I lept at the chance for some relief. Unfortunately, Avery had a hard time getting enough colostrum and milk through the shield (extremely common with these shields, which I didn't know at the time). Ultimately, she began to lose weight, and my milk supply began to dwindle. On the 5th day, we had Wendy from Latching with Love (miracle worker) come to our house. She helped me to get Avery to latch onto my nipple without the shield, and she also put me on a pumping schedule to get my supply back up. It was the longest week of my life, but in 3 days my supply had tripled and Avery was beginning to gain weight. I learned so much from Wendy that I wish I had known prior!
Soon I began talking with so many of my mom friends who started sharing their stories with me. I realized it was the same story over and over again. So many moms had struggled with nursing and were unsuccessful. Moms were having to supplement with formula because they weren't making enough milk on their own. It turns out these poor moms were either using a shield (which can drastically affect your supply), or had been told by doctors to supplement with formula before their poor milk could even come in! For most women it takes 3-5 days. If you can avoid supplementing with formula during that first week, and just let your baby nurse on demand you have a much better chance of a bountiful supply.
**Now I know I cannot speak for every woman as each situation is different and of course there might be other reasons that nursing is unsuccessful. The baby could have a poor latch or a tongue tie, mom could have a powerful letdown, etc. I can only speak for my own challenges.**
1. I would have pushed through the pain and refused a nipple shield. While the temporary relief is heavenly, it just isn't worth the risk of affecting your supply.
2. Have the phone number of a lactation consultant that will come to your home if you are having troubles. You won't want to scour to find someone once you're in the throes of hell. I had been crying for five days straight, was healing from my c-section surgery and the last thing I wanted to do was venture out of the house to a breastfeeding class. Having Wendy the LC come right to my home was a God send.
3. You will have people tell you "if it hurts you aren't doing it right" and that just isn't true. Some people don't experience anything more than mild discomfort, but the truth is, for a lot of women it is extremely painful. It DOES get better and I promise it's worth it. Within a couple of weeks it was much better, and by a couple of months you don't even feel it.
4. Invest in Lanolin! It is a nipple cream that you apply every time you are done nursing. It is safe for baby, so you don't have to wash your nipples before every feeding. It works like a chapstick. If you let them dry out, they will crack...and bleed, eek. Also, make sure to rub the cream between your fingers and get it warm, this thins it out and makes it easier to apply. It comes out of the tube rather thick. You can also buy gel soothies that you keep in the fridge and you put them in your bra after feedings. It is the BEST feeling.
5. At the beginning you will feel chained to your couch. Newborns eat every 2 hours (10-12 times a day!) and can take 45 minutes to eat! Which means that you could potentially be nursing every hour. I remember feeling like a recluse. I had no idea the time commitment and had a hard time imagining how I could possibly do this for a year. It gets SO much faster and easier as time goes by. Avery is 6 months now and takes about 20 minutes to eat (a lot of babies only take 10 min!) And she eats every 3 hours. I've also become a pro at nursing her in the car so I could stop planning my outings only 2 hours at a time. So enjoy the first few months as much as you can! My husband and I watched all 7 seasons of Modern Family those first few weeks. Now that she's older I would give anything for hour-long nursing sessions to blog or read :-)
6. Babies go through frequent "growth spurts" during the first few months. They will want to nurse constantly for 2-3 days. Do not be alarmed that this means you aren't making enough milk. Your baby is stimulating your breasts to make more as he/she grows.
7. And last but not least, do not beat yourself up if nursing isn't for you. Us mamas need to stop judging one another and start supporting one another. Even if you only nurse for a few weeks you are providing your baby with valuable antibodies they would otherwise not receive.
I thought these were neat statistics all of which I found at The Alpha Parent:
Breastfeeding Benefits Timeline
By exclusively breastfeeding for...
At least 1 month:
you have given your baby significant protection against food allergy at 3 years of age, and also against respiratory allergy at 17 years of age.
your child now has less risk of chest infections up to 7 years old (NCT).
you have given your baby a 27 percent reduction in the risk of asthma if you have no family history of asthma and a 40 percent reduction if you have a family history of asthma (Tufts-New England Medical Center Evidence-Based Practice Center).
If you have exclusively breastfed for this long, your baby will have enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to other children who were fed formula or a combination of formula and breastmilk (Dean et al).
By this stage you have also given your baby between a 19 and 27 percent reduction in incidence of childhood Type 1 Diabetes (Tufts-New England Medical Center Evidence-Based Practice Center).
you have reduced your baby’s risk of cot death.
you have given your baby significant protection against eczema during their first 3 years (Chandra et al).
You are now in the 1% of mothers who have breastfed for this long! Bravo! (BBC 2012).
You have also given your baby a 19 percent decrease in risk of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia and a 15 percent decrease in the risk of acute myelogenous leukemia (Tufts-New England Medical Center Evidence-Based Practice Center).
7 months - 9 months:
Babies breastfed for between seven and nine months have higher intelligence than those breastfed for less than seven months (Johnson)
As a result of receiving your breastmilk for at least a year your child is more likely to display better social adjustment when they begin school (Kneidel. S).
By breastfeeding for a year you have given your child a lower risk of becoming overweight in later life and lower risk factors for heart disease as an adult. Oh, and you've saved yourself at least $720 on formula! (NCT).
Good luck mamas! And just remember, YOU are the mama and know what's best for your baby :-)