Notes For My Sister On Having A Baby: What To Do When Breastfeeding Is Hard
OH FPC. You know your big sister loves you when she decides to have opinions about breastfeeding and publishes them on the internet. HERE GOES.
Breastfeeding: you should try it. And my reasons are:
- It's free
- It's convenient
- It has potential to be the most useful baby-soothing tool you have
There are a whole slew of other reasons to breastfeed (most notably: it's the best food for your baby!) but those just happen to be MY top reasons, or, rather, the things that kept me going when it was hard. Which is what the rest of this post is about. Breastfeeding is hard.
I'm sure it is not hard for SOME people, but I don't know those people. Every single mom friend I have has struggled with some aspect of breastfeeding, even the ones who've had a scandalously easy time of it. I mean, you can be the most pro-breastfeeding, hard core, exclusive, rah rah "lactivist" out there and still get mastitis. So I just wanted to give you a list of things you could do when it's hard, because it's worth it to TRY.
- Call me. At the very least I am always good for sympathy.
- Have other people to call. I did this with Jack and I was so thankful I did. I'd gone to some bridal shower right before he was born and met a woman who was a doula and lactation consultant. I asked her if I could call her if I ever had problems and I did, MONTHS later. Jack was probably four or five months old and I can't remember the specific problem, but I was worried about it, wondering if this was going to be the end, not sure if I should keep trying, not knowing HOW to try, and she is basically the one who kept me going another few months. The first thing she did was listen, sympathize, and completely validate my experience. The second thing she did was give me practical advice and things to try. Just knowing I had someone on my team, breastfeeding-wise, was incredibly helpful. It is really hard to build your own self up.
- Have a professional to call. We had so many problems with Jack at the beginning that we went to see a lactation consultant in her OFFICE. I will give you the number. The nurses at the hospital were nice, but gave me conflicting information, and I still wasn't sure what to do when I got home. Getting a pro to check me out and give me advice was so helpful. Like, it wasn't before I went to see her that I found out babies make a little soft, throaty "kuh!" sound when they swallow - I'd had no idea if Jack was swallowing or not!
- Visit the Big Baby Box Store. The breastfeeding aisles are PACKED with stuff to help you out. Lansinoh cream is your best friend, and you can leave it on while the baby eats. Nipple shields get a bad rap, but they saved me with Jack (who was so tiny he couldn't quite manage a good latch) and Emma (whose latch was KILLER). There are gel pads you keep in the refrigerator, and though they didn't work for me, they help a lot of other women.
- Go to www.kellymom.com or Ask Moxie, my two favorite feeding-a-baby resources on the internet. Kellymom just has tons of good info and Ask Moxie is packed with real life experiences (and not just about breastfeeding, but EVERYTHING baby- and kid-related.)
- Pump! I hate pumping. I'm pretty sure no one hates pumping more than me. But in the early days, pumping can be WAY easier than letting the baby eat, plus it boosts your supply, plus it allows someone else to feed the baby, plus IT GIVES YOU A BREAK.
- And if pumping is too horrible, try giving Baby FPC a bottle of formula every now and then, or every other feeding (which is what I did with Emma). This has potential to come with a side of guilt (see the end of this post!), but those intermittent bottles of formula allowed me to get to a place (ie: HEAL) where I COULD breastfeed near-exclusively for quite a while.
Some random things to consider:
- I know we briefly talked about a breastfeeding class and yes, it does seem strange to do that WITHOUT A BABY, but when I look back I think a breastfeeding class would have been WAY more helpful than a birth class. I didn't even know how to HOLD the baby. I think I could have at least picked that up in a class!
- Some people have super huge problems with leaking. I didn't! But use those extra pads I gave you, or pick up some Lilypadz - I used those with Jack (the only time I had leaking issues) and they were AWESOME.
- It is worth it to buy good nursing bras. GOOD ONES. EXPENSIVE ONES. WORTH IT. The ladies at the U Village maternity store saved my life.
- Get some nursing tanks too. I know you, you'll like those.
- Pain seems to taper off around six weeks. I know that sounds like forever. But it gradually gets better? And then you really do get to a point where it doesn't hurt. I have no idea how that works, but it DOES work, and if you can stick it out for six weeks, you're probably past the worst of it.
- If you have low supply, if you don't feel like your baby is eating enough, if she's not gaining enough weight, if THAT'S how breastfeeding is hard: call your people. There are a lot of things you can do. Call them! Don't be afraid! Do it!
- If your feet start to ache at night, it might be because you're sitting funny (with your toes pointed, boosting your lap higher) to breastfeed. Or maybe this was just me.
- Learning how to feed the baby while lying down in bed is, quite possibly, the best thing you could ever EVER teach yourself to do.
- If people around you are not supportive, call the people who are. It's worth it to try and make this work.
Clearly this is not an exhaustive list. I'm hopeful the comment section will have plenty more tips and tricks and messages of encouragement. These are just the things I'm remembering off the top of my head, on a day where I woke up at 4AM to change a peed-in bed.
And all that said, FPC, another huge HUUUUGE thing I want to tell you is that it is okay to not breastfeed. It is. It is okay. You are probably thinking, "Um, duh, I know that." But I think that when you HAVE the baby and you have REALLY TRIED to make breastfeeding work and for whatever reason (AND THERE ARE MANY GOOD REASONS) it is just not working, it can feel pretty awful. Mom guilt is like no other (and I know my guilt, right?) So anyway, my next post to you is going to be about Why It Is Okay To Stop (And What To Do Then).
XOXO, YOUR CRAZY SISTER WHO OVERSHARES ON THE INTERNET (BUT USUALLY AVOIDS THE BREASTFEEDING TOPIC BECAUSE OMG)