By Emily Parker, www.journeyofparenthood.com
There are many areas of parenting that are debatable. We all have our own opinions and ideas about what is “best” and many times those ideas may clash with what others believe is “best” for their children. One of the few parenting choices that is not debatable is regarding breastfeeding. Everyone knows that breast milk is the BEST nutrition for our babies. Even formula companies compete with each other to see who can be the “closest thing to breast milk.”
While we all know breast milk is the best source of nutrition, we all have to make the personal choice whether or not to breastfeed. I know many, many mothers choose not to nurse their babies and this isn’t a post to make anyone feel guilt over that choice. Instead, this is a post to encourage those who do want to breastfeed and to share my personal experiences and what helped me to be successful with it when nursing my children.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my son, I wasn’t sure what kind of mom I would be. The idea of nursing kinda bugged me and I didn’t know if I even wanted to do it. Yet the more I learned about the benefits of breast milk for my baby, the more passionate about it I became. I nursed my son exclusively for nine months and he had a mixture of breast milk and formula until a year old. With my daughter I was very confident in my nursing abilities and nursed her exclusively until 11 months when I started to introduce whole milk into her diet then fully weaned her at 13 months.
If you’re pregnant and considering breastfeeding, here are some things I have learned that can help you be successful, and NONE of them have to do with the actual nursing process itself!
1. Pretend formula doesn’t exist: You know that years ago moms didn’t have any other option. Nursing was the ONLY method available. It may sound silly but if you pretend like there ISN’T any other option out there, then you are more likely to be successful in nursing, because you simply aren’t going to consider anything else!
2. Buy a top of the line breast pump and OPEN it: I bought a Medela Freestyle pump when I was pregnant with my son. That junk ain’t cheap. We spent well over $300 on it. I was hesitant to open it. What if I couldn’t nurse? What if I didn’t want to? What if I gave up? My husband told me to open it because knowing we couldn’t return it would be a BIG motivator to keep on nursing, no matter what!
3. Don’t buy ANY formula: Keep your house formula free. Throw out (or sell!) those samples you get in the mail. Turn down offers from people who are getting rid of their left over cans. During times when you feel like throwing in the towel it will not be EASY to give up. It will require a trip to the store to buy the formula and by the time you actually go get it you will probably just decide to continue nursing. :)
4. Know that you CAN do it: I think most new moms, like myself, worry we won’t be able to breastfeed. It was my #1 fear when I became a mom for the first time. My husband actually asked during our breastfeeding basics class at the hospital about how many women really cannot breastfeed at all. The lactation specialist said that with the right attitude and motivation, pretty much everyone CAN do it!
5. Share your goals: Husband support is SO critical. Without Zach being there, helping me, supporting me, encouraging me, and even giving me some “tough love” in the early days of breastfeeding, I truly do not think I would have been successful with it. As mothers we tend to have our first concern be for our children. Our husbands tend to have their first concerns be about US. So when we struggle with nursing and feel like giving in, they just naturally want to help us and make our lives easier. They can’t understand what we are going through with nursing and many husbands will suggest quitting because they think it’s what will be best for us. Share your goals with your husband. He needs to be your biggest cheerleader!!!
6. Know it WILL be hard: I personally believe the #1 reason so many women don’t try or stop nursing early on is because we feel like we are failing when it is harder than we expect it to be. The media tends to paint this pretty picture of nursing…it’s supposed to come “naturally” and it should never hurt, etc. As a new mom everything is scary. You’re thrown into this entirely new situation and have a little life depending on YOU. When nursing does hurt, or it doesn’t come naturally, we freak out. We automatically feel like we are failing at our most important job as a parent, feeding our baby! We take it personally, like something is wrong with US and then we end up quitting because it gives us one less thing to worry about. I know because I’ve been there. I couldn’t for the life of me get my baby to latch properly. It hurt. I bled. I cried and cried during feedings for awhile. I’ve had mastitis, three times. I kept going through it all and guess what? The hard phase passes. It gets EASIER. Not just that, but it gets ENJOYABLE. There is nothing better than nursing a sweet baby and sharing that close bond together! I truly believe if new moms went into the nursing experience being prepared for it to be a little difficult and knowing that there will be struggles that more moms would tough it out. Just always, always remind yourself that the hard days will be over soon and that it is going to be worth it!!!
7. Have a goal, but take it one feeding at a time: With my son, my goal was to nurse him for three months. Once I got there, my goal became six months. Once I got there, my goal became nine months. With my daughter, my goal was a year and I went beyond that as well. I think having a long-term goal is great! However, it can also make you feel exhausted. On those tough days it can feel discouraging to think “omg, I have another year of this?” During those times it’s so important to just take it one feeding at a time. Get through that feeding and then have the goal of getting through the next. I had a close friend of mine who felt discouraged and frustrated with nursing but she kept going one feeding at a time and nursed much longer than when she initially wanted to stop. Every little drop of breast milk is SO good for your baby so even “one more feeding” is better than quitting!
While I am no breastfeeding expert by any means, I know that my personal success with nursing had more to do with my MIND than with my BODY. I truly believe that if moms who want to nurse go into it with these things on their mind, then they WILL be successful in it! Whether your goal is a week, a month, or a year, you CAN do it and you will be so thankful you did! :)
Editor’s Note: Maureen here! Thanks for the wonderful post, Emily! I feel compelled to interject with a bit of my own personal breastfeeding experience — primarily to dispel a myth surrounding breastfeeding. Emily mentions a lactation specialist who told her that everyone can breastfeed. Well, I’m living proof that this is not true. When I was pregnant, I never considered anything but breastfeeding, and I went through all the trials and tribulations to get my son to latch properly and manage the pain and sensitivity of nursing. On top of that, we discovered his dairy intolerance at 6 weeks, and I spent 4 months off dairy so I could nurse my baby. Well, when he was about 3 months old and he didn’t have much baby chub, I realized that something wasn’t going according to plan. I saw a couple lactation consultants and was told that I was going to have to supplement with formula. Despite the colic and natural childbirth, this was one of the most painful days for me as a new mom.
So just know that if you aren’t able to breastfeed, you are not a failure. I agree with Emily that we should do all we can to successfully breastfeed. But if you can’t, it’s not the end of the world. Formula is not poison. You can love, care for, bond with, and nourish your baby in so many other ways. And here’s my little secret: I always felt closer to my babies when I was feeding them a bottle. I loved when they would look up, with both of their eyes, into my eyes while they ate. That right there made all the struggles so worth it.