This is a question I love to ask families after they've begun their breastfeeding journey. It's amazing to me the variety of answers I get, and it also allows the family to take a moment and really think about how breastfeeding has been for them - the good, the bad, and the surprising. I'm starting to spotlight these stories each week in an instagram series, #feedyourbabyfriday. This latest parent I reached out to had such a wonderful story to share that I didn't think a social media post alone would do it justice, so I am sharing her words here. This is a family I have worked with for many months, and I have witnessed an amazing amount of strength, perseverance, and support - it's been mind blowing and reinforces how lucky I feel to have the job I do!
"I was surprised at just how naturally Baby M knew how to find my breast/nipple and what to do with it. People always say, "it's natural", but I was just so amazed at how she did it just as soon as she was born. The instinctive nature of a newborn was a beautiful surprise.
I was surprised at how the "Baby Friendly Hospital" initiative didn't actually provide adequate support for breastfeeding. Personally, I gave birth on Friday and didn't even see the Nurse Lactation Consultant until Sunday. And when I did see her, she spent about 15 minutes with me and did not help me with my damaged nipples, or help me figure out that my newborn was constantly crying because she was hungry, because even though she was on my breast non stop, I had lost a lot of blood and unbeknownst to me, was already having major issues with supply. She certainly never offered me the compassion and relief of hearing the words "it's ok to give your baby some formula while you heal and so she's not hungry anymore". I was surprised at how if she had been my only interaction with a Lactation Consultant, that I very likely would NOT have continued breastfeeding at all!
I was surprised that while very natural, it is also very normal and very common, for breastfeeding to not come easily! I thought the baby was born, the milk came, and that was that! I had no idea that there were a host of reasons that breastfeeding could prove to be challenging!
I was surprised when I met you, to learn of all the different things I could do to try and improve my supply. Herbs, Acupuncture, a pumping schedule, (medications)... I had no idea. I was surprised that an IBCLC would say, feed your baby formula and breastfeed her too. I was surprised that it didn't have to be either/or. You telling me that I could give her formula AND breastfeed her is one of the most amazing things I've ever been told. I was surprised that there was compassion and not judgement.
But most of all, my "what surprised you about breastfeeding" answer would be-
When my wife and I talked about having a baby, she expressed very strongly that she wanted the baby to be breastfed for at least six months. My wife is a physician and cited all the medical benefits very matter of factly. I had my first child 15 years earlier and he was a 32 week preemie. Nobody at all encouraged me to breastfeed him and he was formula fed and he was fine. So, I was very apprehensive, but agreed that the benefits of breast milk couldn't be denied. I agreed to breastfeed for six months, and six months only. The surprise here for me, is that I have found breastfeeding to be SO amazing and I absolutely cherish the time I spend with my daughter doing it. Breastfeeding feels like this gift that is so incredibly special to give to my daughter. One that only I get to give her. I literally get to nourish her with it. I get to comfort her with it. I get to sneak away from the rest of the world for a little while and spend time gazing into her beautiful eyes while doing it. I get time to have intimate conversations with her while doing it. Breastfeeding has shown me that it's not just about the health benefits of breastmilk at all. What breastfeeding has really surprised me with is the time and space and energy that I get to share with the sweet little soul that is my daughter. Maybe it's because I've worked so hard to be able to breastfeed, or maybe because I'm being a little selfish, but now I'm hoping to continue breastfeeding until she's at least one year old. "
Feed your baby as often as you can!
The more stimulation your breasts get in the first few days after baby is born, the greater your milk supply will be. Put that baby to your breast as often as they will go, be sure baby is feeding 8 or more times in 24 hours, and never worry that your baby is at the breast too much, or feeding too often. Remember, it won’t always be this way, but the more your baby feeds in those first days, the more milk you’ll have as baby grows.
Your milk volume is low, but that’s ok!
Many moms worry that they don’t have milk in those early days, before their milk “comes in.” But they already have milk! The first milk, colostrum, is called “liquid gold” by lactation professionals. This is because tiny amounts of this amazing substance are nutrient dense, with high concentrations of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and antibodies. So your baby only needs a small amount to receive its benefits. Another thing to consider is that your baby’s belly is tiny, the size of a teaspoon on day 1. Your milk will transition from the low volume, nutrient packed first milk to the higher volume mature milk within 3-5 days of your baby’s birth.
Frequent feeds aren’t a sign that baby isn’t getting enough!
Many parents worry when their brand new infant seems to want to feed around the clock - they mistake this as a sign that baby isn’t getting enough from those feeds. This isn’t true - babies feed often for many biologically appropriate reasons. During pregnancy, babies are swallowing amniotic fluid, and are born with bellies full of thick, black stool, known as meconium. The act of feeding and sucking initiates peristalsis which moves that meconium through baby’s gut and helps them to eliminate it. Frequent feedings also increase prolactin (the milk making hormone) receptor sites in the breast and the more receptor sites present, the more prolactin available which will translate into a larger milk supply.
Seek help when things aren’t going well
The information above assumes that baby was born at full-term gestation and breastfeeding is going well - but that sometimes isn’t the case. Here are some signs within the first few days that there are problems present and help from an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) is necessary:
There are other signs that problems are present, but these are the most important and common ones in the first few days of life. If you are experiencing any of the issues listed above, contact a board certified lactation consultant right away - many are available to come to your home within 24 hours of your call. With the right help, early on, you will be be able to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship with your new baby.
I originally wrote this blog for the San Diego Breastfeeding Center - you can read it here. While it hasn't been 7 years, I can still look back on the mom I was 2.5 years ago and see that she was doing her best.
Ease Up on Yourself
Picture it: You’re having coffee with a good friend and she’s confiding in you about her guilt over not knowing her son had a double ear infection when he was running a fever recently. He wasn’t pulling at his ears or crying when she laid him down. He ran a fever for a few days, but had no other symptoms, and when she took him into his pediatrician, they diagnosed a double ear infection and prescribed antibiotics. Your friend is feeling awful that she waited a few days to take her baby in. She’s calling herself a bad mom.
What’s your response?
You tell her that she IS a bad mom, that she should have known that more was going on with her baby, even though he wasn’t showing any signs that he was in pain. She obviously doesn’t have the instincts it takes to be a good mom. You’d probably even tell her that her child would be better off if he was parented by someone else.
OF COURSE NOT.
We would NEVER say these words to a friend. Why? Because they’re aggressive, mean, and meant to tear someone down. And most of all…. because they aren’t true. We would never say these words to a friend for fear of hurting her. So why are we so quick to treat ourselves this way? Don’t we deserve the same gentleness and support our friends do?
From the moment my first was born, a heavy layer of guilt settled over me - and breastfeeding was the first manifestation of this new guilt. Breastfeeding hurt. I mean, *really* hurt. By the time I left the hospital two days after my daughter was born, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and I was having anxiety attacks every time she began to show hunger signs. Because of this, I made the decision to pump my milk and feed it to her in a bottle. I had failed. I had failed to do the one thing I was meant to do as a new mother. I didn’t want to take her out of the house, in fear that she’d get hungry and people would see me feed her a bottle, and know that I had failed.
Looking back, I realize the amount of dedication and perseverance it took for me to strap myself to that pump, every 3 hours, around the clock, so that I could feed my baby my breast milk, but at the time, I could only see my shortcomings, my weakness. Looking back, I remember the sheer and overwhelming devotion I felt for my baby - she filled up my every day. I was an amazing mother. Her every need was met. I look back at myself, almost 7 years ago, and wish I had half the patience and gentleness I did then. I hadn’t failed at all.
The thing is, almost 7 years later, I still feel like I’m failing. Every time the television goes on so that I can cook dinner (which is sometimes (often) frozen fish sticks), or I find myself screeching at my girls to ‘hurrrrry up!’ as our hectic morning rages on. Every time I cut a chapter in half at bedtime because I’m too worn out to read the entire thing, and especially every time I hear my oldest daughter’s loud, disgusted sigh - that she learned from me. I feed my kids non organic fruit. I spend too much time on my iPhone. I let them eat Otter Pops. In my mind, I’m a complete and utter failure at the one job I was built to do.
But you know who I need to hear from? Myself, 7 years from now, looking back. She will remind me that every day, before my kids went to sleep, I laid in bed with each of them and snuggled them. That my girls went to bed every night with the comfort that comes with being loved completely. That I was totally devoted to both of them, and their every need was met. And I have something to say to this woman - myself in 7 years. I want to thank her for her reassurance, and then I want to tell her “Ease up on yourself.”