I purposely called this post the "art" of breastfeeding because breastfeeding can seem like an art at times. It is both beautiful and complicated. It's benefits are based in science, but it doesn't come with clear steps for success. Women have breastfed for centuries, but the experience varies greatly from person to person. I love breastfeeding, but I don't always enjoy it. It is so natural, but doesn't always come naturally.
Some women and babies are lucky and breastfeeding comes perfectly naturally. Henry and I weren't one of those duos. We were unable to latch during our first "golden hour" together and we had to pump and syringe feed during our first days in the hospital. We needed the nipple shield for weeks, my nipples bled, and I dealt with unbearable pain at times. Being completely honest, there were moments at the beginning of this journey when I wasn't sure if we were going to make it, but I'm so glad I stuck with it. My hope is that this post will provide you with some comfort that you are not alone if you are struggling, some advice, and maybe some encouragement to keep going. I won't tell you that it will get better and easier because I hated that advice. When we were in the midst of our struggles hearing that it would get better was not encouraging because there were times when I didn't think it would. Maybe it gets easier for some women, but I may not be one of them, I thought. Thankfully it did and it has, and, if you're one of those women, I hope it improves for you too.
Having just gotten out of the fourth trimester (Henry is 3 months old today), here is my breastfeeding advice:
- Be patient. This is easier said than done, but be patient with yourself, your baby, and the process. It took us a while to get comfortable breastfeeding and we still have our moments. As frustrated as you may feel, try to breathe. Frustration, anger, and anxiety will only make things worse.
- Focus. You can't always multitask while breastfeeding. Some women make it look easy; they babywear while cooking, talking on the phone, and breastfeeding. Yes, every so often I am impressed with my multitasking ability (right now I'm typing while breastfeeding and I've even breastfed on the toilet--gross I know), but often times (especially in the beginning) I have to just sit and hold my boob in his mouth, helping him latch. That's okay. You probably won't get it all done, but you will feed your baby.
- Trust the two of you. There are books and articles and forums and even this blog that will give you all sorts of advice. You will read about what you should do, how your baby should be latching, how often he should be feeding. but ultimately trust yourself as a parent, your baby in his or her ability to get his/her needs met, and your ability to work this out together.
- Don't compare yourself. The advice that you read will tell you the "norm," but you may not fall into that norm. That's okay. Don't worry if your mom or your sister or your best friend all breastfed with ease. Don't worry if they never supplemented. Don't worry if you need to use a nipple shield or start pumping and bottle feeding early on. Comparison is the thief of joy, don't give in to it!
- There are no rules. I started to worry when Henry always needed the nipple shield, when we gave him a pacifier early, when I pumped and bottle fed him before we had breastfeeding down. The "rules" I read told me not to do these things. We did them, and Henry is breastfeeding fine. He doesn't breastfeed every 3 hours like the "rules" state, he breastfeeds every 5 minutes sometimes, but he's happy and healthy and it's what works for our family and our baby. You too will find what works for you.
- There will be ups and downs. Progress isn't a clear upward slope. I'd get excited because we were getting better and then we'd take steps back. We had ups and downs, but gradually improved. On his one month old birthday we fed on the left side for the first time without the nipple shield, but then for a while after that we needed it at least partially during every feed. At 7 weeks we finally felt like we had a better handle on breastfeeding and could do it regularly without the shield. At 10 weeks I experienced horrible engorgement pain from a night of Henry sleeping longer than normal. I already fear what I assume will be our next big milestone, teething, as Henry already thinks my boobs are either to go cups or toys.
- It won't always look pretty. For the first few weeks I never had a top on at home. I still wear breast pads every day because I leak during my let downs (which, side note, don't worry about all the terminology. At first I had no idea what people were talking about when I'd read about breastfeeding, one day it'll all make sense). Sometimes I have one boob hanging out while I walk around because Henry has blown through is diaper while breastfeeding. It's okay. I've been there. Like I said earlier, I breastfed on the toilet. It's not a glamorous job.
- Struggling doesn't say anything about you, your baby, or your relationship. Other moms and babies may make it look easy. You may have an easy time, you may have a difficult time. It doesn't make you a good or bad mom. It doesn't make your baby a good or bad baby. It doesn't mean your relationship is better or worse than any other mother-baby duo.
- You can't overfeed a breastfed baby. You'll probably hear this often, but "you can't overfeed a breastfed baby." What that means is you can't breastfeed too much. You can overfeed a baby breast milk, but your baby can't breastfeed from the boob too often. Henry loves the boob. He wants it when he's hungry, sad, scared, tired, bored, excited, and when it's near him. At first I used to worry that I was giving it to him too often, but I learned that babies breastfeed for a lot of reasons, food is only one of those reasons. Every time they seek to feed, there is something they need. Whether it is comfort or bonding or hunger, they are looking for something that only you can provide. My days are so full with feeding. It's often exhausting. My boobs, neck, shoulders, and back hurt. I'm sleep deprived and I would like to have a moment to myself every now and then, BUT I realize that these days won't last forever and I'm okay with being a human pacifier. That brings me to my final piece of advice...
- Enjoy this time with your baby. Through all the ups and downs, sleepless nights, and pain, I recognize that this is such an incredibly special time that I alone get to share with my baby. When nothing can console him, I can. When he is tired, he will fall asleep in my arms as I feed him. He stares into my eyes, rests his hands against my chest, and relaxes completely in my arms. It's moments like these when I know I will miss breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is nature's way of ensuring that we have time together. I am blessed enough to have these most special and intimate moments and to continue to provide for, comfort, and feed my son like I did for the 9 months he was inside of me.
My hope is to continue breastfeeding as long as Henry wants, until he starts weaning himself, hopefully past the year mark. Until that day comes, I will take it one day at a time and cherish this special bond that we share.