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Thursday, August 7, 2014

10 Things I've Learned Breastfeeding

Currently it's World Breastfeeding Week. As this is my first year to ever be breastfeeding I thought I should probably write a post about it! (Admittedly I've never been aware in previous years that such a week existed.)

Dreamer, in her baby carrier... I think she's trying to tell
me something! Haha
Little Dreamer is 11 weeks old today, so I've had exactly 11 weeks of experience. That's not that long, but it's long enough I figure I can reflect on how it's going so far and maybe pass on some encouragement.

Before I start I do want to say to formula feeding moms: you also rock. Please don't let anyone put you down. Maybe you made the best decision for your family: I stay at home for example, I can't imagine the pressure of working while exclusively breastfeeding. Or maybe you really, really wanted to breastfeed but found yourself unable to for medical or practical reasons. There's no judgment here. Your baby is hungry and you're feeding them. You're a good mom. But I am writing to breastfeeding moms because I am a breastfeeding mom. So far Dreamer has never had any formula and I see no reason she would need to have any, though unforeseen things happen.

1. It gets better. The first few weeks I found it challenging. Actually, the first time Dreamer was
handed to me to feed, she latched on like a champ and ate for like forty-five minutes straight.. but after that first feed, I had some difficulty with latch. She especially would nom down at the area around my nipple, not actually getting it, or she would only grab the tip, which hurts like knives. But this passes, at least for most women. Now some breastfeeding resources says it doesn't hurt at all if they're latched correctly but they forget your nipples may need to toughen a bit. Some moms quit because they think they can't take the pain, but if they're latching right it does pass. Even when she does get an incorrect latch from time to time now it doesn't hurt so bad because I've toughened up.

Also, she has learned to latch better. Remember, she has never done this before either and it's probably the first skill a baby learns. Before this they just get all their nutrients pumped to them versus the umbilical cord. Suckling is the very first "work" a baby has to do for him/herself and with all new skills, it gets better with practice.

By week three I was pain free, maybe before that.

a younger Dreamer, going to nom her hand to signal hunger
I remember wanting to quit twice those first few weeks. Once was in the hospital itself. I hadn't gotten to have any sleep since giving birth and had been awake for way too many hours and was literally the most exhausted, physically, I had ever been in my entire life. And Dreamer just would not sleep. She was keeping both Ryan and I up fussing and having trouble latching and I turned to him and asked him if maybe we should just ask a nurse to take her to the nursery and give her formula so we could sleep... but he told me to persist. Which was good, because that's what I wanted him to tell me. And not long after she fell asleep and so did we.

The second time was after I'd been home a few weeks, or maybe just one. That time period is a blur! And I was still worn out and recovering and she needed to feed again and I was pretty much in tears. This time it was Ryan who suggested we try formula. I snapped at him no, even though I really was tempted, and I persisted... and I am glad I did, because not long after that it got much better and now it's really no big deal at all. So when it's tough at first, if this is something you really want, just endure. It does get better.

2. It's only exhausting at first and during growth spurts. Which sadly, are the same thing. That is, when you first get home from the hospital you've endured a grueling labor or an abdominal surgery and are very weak. The baby is literally sucking the energy out of your body (in the form of calorie rich colostrum or early milk) and you're just wiped out. You start feeling better a few weeks later, but at week three bam another growth spurt hit. Dreamer had three in the first six weeks. I actually forget which growth spurt it was, but Ryan came home from work and saw the house looked like a tornado had hit and gave me a raised eyebrow and I just said wearily, "Growth spurt." It was all I needed to say. When baby's going through a growth spurt, it's hard to do anything else. However, they don't last long and if you just power through them it'll be okay. And after the first two months I've found breastfeeding relaxing, but not tiring. Before I would start feeding her and often fell asleep myself, even if I didn't feel tired at first, because this wave of exhaustion would sweep over me. That's gone and instead I just feel peaceful about it.

3. Babies get more efficient at feeding. I didn't know this, but I welcome it! I read somewhere (but can't find it to link it!) that at about two months many babies generally can get 90% of milk in the first five minutes, so the overall length a feed has to last can go down. It also means if I only have a few minutes to nurse her and then have to leave for a few minutes, she's less likely to be upset. Earlier if I tried to feed her for five minutes, do something (say tend something on the stove) for five and then come back, well the world was ending. Now she normally rolls with it. I think this is mainly I'm leaving her with a fuller stomach, but also I'm assuming she's starting to trust me. I won't starve her!

One of her very first "milk comas"
4. You never run dry. That is, the second the baby starts nursing from you, the milk production starts up again. If she's really hungry though, she can take away all the milk that was stored in your breast from the start so it seems "empty" and still be hungry. However, there will be a trickle of milk coming, but it may only be a tiny trickle. This is also why there is two breasts. If your breast seems "empty" you can switch her to the other one while that trickle starts building it back up. Personally though, I've never even thought I've run dry. I had thought you were supposed to actually nurse the baby long enough to "empty" and was wondering if my baby ever got "hind milk" which I assumed was followed by no more milk. (It's actually just a gradual transition that happens as the baby is on one side for a time.) Instead when I'd think one side was empty and transfer her to the other the first side generally kept leaking! Now that I understand it's more like a stream than a water tank though, I understand. And even if you're not leaking like me, just keep nursing as your body adjusts the supply to the demand put on it. So if you keep nursing your baby, even while he/she cries a bit because the milk isn't coming fast enough, your body will go "Oh! Baby is still hungry! I need to up the supply!!" and more milk will come. If, however, you go "ugh, I'm empty" and supplement with formula then your body will assume "Good. That was enough to satisfy the baby. That's how much I'll make next time too" and you'll be more likely to have to supplement again and again. (Formula is not evil. And occasional supplementing, like during a growth spurt, is probably not going to ruin your supply. But if your goal is to be exclusively breastfeeding, supplementing can derail you this way if you're not careful.)

5. Leaking happens. As I eluded to in #4, I leak. But what I didn't say is at first I literally turned into a fountain. Still happens occasionally. For me and many, but not all, moms when the baby nurses on one side it triggers "let down" in the other side. So for me what that means is while she's feeding on the left I will literally have milk shooting into the air on the right. It's insane. It's slowed down a bit, but I would often have puddles on my bedsheet (I most often nurse in bed) two feet in diameter after nursing the first few weeks. But your body adjusts to your specific baby's needs and while I still leak I am only leaking a few inches now. Some of this however is also from me learning how to deal with it. Tip for new, fountain creating moms: apply pressure to the leaking side, it stems it 90% of the time. You may have to keep holding it down the whole time, but a lot of times after 60 seconds or so of pressure the breast gets the hint.

One of the special looks I only see on her face while feeding
6. You sync up with your baby. I can't always predict it, but more and more I know just when she needs to feed. The other day I was at my in-laws and they had her in the bedroom and I turned to Ryan and said, "She's going to need to eat in the next ten minutes." Four minutes later they were calling me, saying she's hungry. How did I know? My breasts told me. Sometimes it's leaking, sometimes it's just a throbbing feeling but I often can predict just when she'll be waking up with an empty stomach or she's about to stop giggling and start pouting. (If you're trying to feed on a schedule that might not seem impressive, but she's not on any predictable schedule and we're very 'feed on demand' so this feels like a superpower sometimes.)


7. You can get embarrassed. I'm a member of the blogosphere and on social media all day, so I've seen the campaign to normalize breastfeeding in public in America and the UK. I support it. It's not so much happening here in India though. But covered is okay, in some places. But I'm finding that personally I feel weird about it. Not ashamed. I totally think it's normal and am glad to be doing it. But it is strange to taking out your breast in a public location, even discreetly. And in this era of women (rightfully) standing up and saying breastfeeding in public shouldn't be indecent I think it's also good to say, simultaneously, that feeling awkward about it can be natural. That's why I strategically cropped the photo above. (Part of this is definitely due to the fact that I am a larger breasted woman and while I've read stuff about how the baby's head covers it from view, well my baby isn't quite that big yet!)

Oh, it's one thing to feel a little awkward when discreetly doing it when you're out and about. But I admit it's a whole different awkward while visiting relatives when I retreat to a bedroom to nurse in private and my mother-in-law comes in without warning. She'll walk up and look... yes, she's looking at the baby, not really me, but unlike strangers when I'm out who discreetly glance or look the other way, she's staring directly and it feels very, very weird. Haha.

8. Breastfeeding moms get more sleep. Say what? They think on average breastfeeding moms get 45 minutes per sleep daily. Why? Because when the baby wakes us up we don't have to put the bottle together. There's no mixing, there's no shaking, there's no heating, there's no making sure the water is purified/has been boiled. It's just offering her a breast and bam, she's fed.

It's also more convenient during the day. If I want to go out I just need diapers, wipes, my changing mat, and a few changes of clothes for her. No need to worry about bottles, making sure I have the right kind of water, formula.

The hospital gave us one can of formula (we technically paid for it) when we left. We've never
opened it. I own one bottle. I've never taken it out of the box. So far none of it has been necessary, and it's great to say that. Just that much less to worry about. (I do have a pump and maybe in a while I'll use that bottle to pump some breastmilk and get a few hours out... but right now I stay at home and with sterilization and the extra things to clean out it just seems more trouble than it's worth.)

9. It can slow you down. In a good way. Sometimes I'm super busy, doing stuff all helter skelter and guess what? Dreamer gets hungry.

Not to mention it's very satisfying to see her
plump up!
Slowing down to hold her and let her feed... sometimes my revved up mind and body resist it... but then I look at her little face and my heart melts. And I remind myself this too will pass and to slow down and "smell the roses", or in this case appreciate the moments. I'm not sure I'd do the same if I did formula. I think I'd be likely to pass it on to Ryan when I was in that kind of mental state, "Honey, I'm really busy, can you feed the baby?" or I'd turn feeding her into another stress source. I'd be scrambling to find a clean disinfected nipple or freaking out I didn't boil water in advance.

Sometimes it's hard that you're the only one who can breastfeed her. You're stressed or tired or busy and you'd like to share the burden. It's understandable and it's okay. But...


10. I'm the only one who can do this for her... and that's marvelous. As I said in #1 it was hard the first few weeks. There were some days I passed her off to her dad or grandparents and then wanted to snap their heads off when they said "I think the baby is hungry" because I was exhausted. But now I'm normally happy to feed her. Sometimes I'm in the middle of things and I have a moment of irritation that my "to do" list just got backtracked again, that stressful feeling of "I'm getting behind!!"...

But then I sigh the stress out of my body. And I smile down at my darling daughter, who looks up at me with her big brown eyes and if she happens to catch my gaze breaks out in the most delightful grin. And I pause. I breathe deeply and cherish her face as she latches on to her mommy for her sustenance. With dirty diapers and burpings and other baby things if I am overwhelmed I can ask for help. But with feedings she needs me. Mommy. It's our thing.

I think in many ways God designed breastfeeding not just to feed little babies, but to wean Mommies.
Isn't she beautiful? 
Months ago she was mine alone, so emotionally it's harder than I realized to relinquish that exclusivity. However, breastfeeding as a gift from God in that I can slowly ease into this "she's growing up" thing. There may be times another family member sweeps her into another room and I find myself without her... but there's comfort in knowing when she gets hungry, she's coming back to my arms. In many ways that makes it actually easier to share her because I know they can't keep her away from me for long. (My mother-in-law is already talking about having her spend the night at their house 'when she's older' and while I don't disagree in principle my heart can not handle the idea right now, or any time soon!)

For nine months my body cradled her under my heart. She couldn't live without me, literally, and every breath I breathed I shared with her. I felt her first kicks in wonder, all alone, then gradually I could lead my husband's hand there. Later I birthed her, and she was introduced to the world. Right now, I get to see little expressions that she only makes when I feed her. I get to treasure these little moments. Soon, very soon, we'll start giving her mashed up bananas and other things and gradually, day by day, year by year, she'll leave me. In near moments she'll be crawling, walking, running away from me. One day I'll say "let's do something together" and she'll sigh and say she'd rather be with her friends. One day she'll move out.

But for now, she needs me, Mommy. I'm the only one with the magic boobies. Daddy is great and more and more loved ones will grow dear to her over the years. But I came first and for now I'll cherish breastfeeding.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing! 11 weeks is awesome! At 11 weeks I was still not liking nursing. It took a couple months for us to get into the swing of things, and then it was the best. I was sad when she weaned off just after a year. It was a great experience and I'm always happy when others have the ability to experience with their kids too! But, like you said...your baby is hungry and you are feeding them, that is all you need! Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Breastfeeding is an amazing things. I have heard mamas who wouldnt even try to bf bc of the horror stories they heard. That is sad. We were made for this! Is it weird that I am super ready to pop out my seond already (she is due in Dec) just so I can have mommy time & breastfeed?! :)

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  3. Amazing post, I loved it and you are so right on every point! I also have never felt comfortable breastfeeding in public, even though I think there's nothing wrong with it. There's just SOMETHING about my naked boob + strangers that makes me awkwardized lol. Totally with ya.

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Thanks so much for comments, they delight me! Please keep your comments civil and while I read every comment, I reserve the right to delete ones that are especially negative. Thanks!

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