One lesson I continue to re-learn is that life is all about expectations. When you expect things to go a certain way, even if you don’t realize it, you get attached to your expectation, and any differing outcome turns out to be a disappointment. One of my main reasons for desiring a birth free of medical interventions was to give myself and my baby the best chance for developing a successful breastfeeding relationship. I expected that because I was successful in achieving my natural childbirth, that breastfeeding would come easily. And while I will say that I now have a beautiful breastfeeding relationship with my baby, I will also say that it was harder than I expected.
Here are a few things I learned during the first 5 weeks of my breastfeeding journey:
1. Pain is an indicator that something may be wrong.
As with anything, there is an adjustment period and a learning curve to breastfeeding. Some initial pain or weirdness is normal, but pain at every feeding and pain between feedings is an indication that you should check with a lactation consultant.
2. Nurses and pediatricians are not a substitute for certified lactation consultants.
Even though I birthed in a baby-friendly hospital, the advice I received was not in line with my personal ideas. For example, I was told to use a nipple shield and I was also given medicated ointment that must be washed off before feeding baby. These unnatural things did help in the short-term, but I wanted a more natural solution and to be able to latch without the use of these items. My pediatrician, who I have come to adore, missed my baby’s tongue tie. In fact, she told us we had nothing to worry about. But I still had pain and I knew something was wrong. One night I was in so much pain that I was crying and seriously considered giving up on breastfeeding. The next day, I visited a different lactation consultant who referred me to a pediatric dentist who specializes in tongue tie revisions. I got my baby revised (in four places) and that put us on the path to pain-free breastfeeding.
3. You might have to teach baby how to latch.
I am sure that some babies do it perfectly without help, but after the tongue tie revision, I had to teach baby how to latch correctly. This was the biggest turning point for me. It was NOT easy. It took lots of practice and hands-on assistance from a certified lactation consultant. The latching advice that saved me: 1) bring baby to you, not breast to baby and 2) if it hurts, it’s wrong – take baby off and try again.
4. You WILL question your supply, even if your baby is perfectly happy and gaining weight.
I am 11 weeks into breastfeeding and I still question my supply sometimes, like when my baby cries right after feeding, or when my breasts don’t feel full after 8 hours of sleep. But please, please, please, do not give up if you think you have low supply. Chances are, you don’t! From what I’ve learned, the majority of mamas are fully capable of producing enough milk for their babes. Seek the help of a lactation consultant before you make any decisions!
5.Oxytocin is a powerful thing.
You may have heard that one of the benefits of breastfeeding is the happy hormone that you produce which helps you bond with baby. However, the release of oxytocin can also exacerbate feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Because I was feeling alone and anxious already, breastfeeding was fueling my anxiety. If this same thing happens to you, this does not mean you’re not bonding with baby, it means you’re a normal human being who potentially just went from interacting with hundreds of people a day to sitting alone nursing a baby who can’t yet speak or even grin in the early days. The loneliness can only be cured by connection. Find yourself a tribe of other mamas – I promise they’re going through the same things you are!
I never even considered the option of not breastfeeding when I was pregnant, but there were definitely days in those first five weeks I wanted to give up. I would not have been successful without finding a knowledgeable lactation consultant, pediatric oral surgeon, and my wonderful Milk Mamas. If breastfeeding is your desire, you can do it – just know that you may experience some hard times before smooth sailing. Get the right help, find your tribe, and just keep loving that baby with all you’ve got!