Note: The following article was written by our good friend Michelle. Michelle is a new mom living with her husband and 8 week old son Xander in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her breastfeeding experience has been nothing short of an adventure; one we can all learn from to say the least. If you are a new mom who wants to succeed at breastfeeding your baby but feel overwhelmed by all of the information (or lack thereof) out there, this article is for you.
In the hospital before delivering my baby, I was asked if I planned to breast or formula feed. To be completely honest, my husband and I hadn’t talked about this prior to going to the hospital. I assumed I would breastfeed, and hadn’t thought much past that. When asked if we planned to exclusively breastfeed, we both just nodded yes– not realizing what we were committing to.
There are tons of reasons to breastfeed. It really is quite an amazing gift to give a child. This article isn’t focused on describing the benefits, because it’s such an expansive topic– look below for resources on the benefits to baby (and mom!) of breastfeeding.
Now that you’ve decided breastmilk is best, and you’d like to try this path, let’s get down to the nitty gritty on what you should understand before entering in to this commitment. Yes, it’s a commitment!
1). It’s Painful!
Don’t listen to all the experts on breastfeeding that tell you if it hurts, you’re doing something wrong. This statement, that I read over and over, had me convinced I wasn’t breastfeeding properly for weeks and weeks (and weeks!). It wasn’t until I talked to many friends that I found many women find breastfeeding painful way beyond the first 2 weeks, regardless of whether or not your baby has a “good latch.”
For me it was more like 8 weeks (with some bad days after!), although it gradually got better and better between weeks 6-8. There was a night around 5 weeks where I sat and cried for 10 minutes while feeding him, and burst into loud sobs as I unlatched him, unable to continue taking the pain. I was convinced our breastfeeding journey would be halted early– it was too intense. Instead of continuing to feed him on the other breast, my husband took him and made him a bottle of formula, and sent me to bed.
With fear, I brought him to my breast 2 hours later, wincing as I let him latch on. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt for more than a few seconds, and it continued to be comfortable throughout the night.
I found that after the initial “super rawness” wore off, I had good days and bad days, good nights and bad nights. Even at 8 weeks, I still occasionally have pain that subsides from one feeding to the next. But, it does get better. I promise. You’ll make it!
So, to all those “experts” out there who say it’s not painful- you were either INCREDIBLY lucky, have super woman pain tolerance, or you’re just a liar.
2). If it feels wrong, get help sooner rather than later
I recently gave birth in Malaysia, where I have been living and working the past 5 years. I am sure my experience here was different than what would happen in most Western hospitals. Although I asked many questions about breastfeeding while at the hospital, I never met with a lactation consultant (and didn’t even know it was necessary).
The nurses showed me how to hold him cradle, and he latched on without a problem. In fact, not only did he have no problem latching, at a day old, he could suck for 40-60 minutes each time! As the days went on, he was able to suck even longer than that. Wow, my baby must have been hungry!
Then, not only did he continue to feed for long periods of time, he started eating at closer and closer intervals. There were days he literally fed for 4-7 hours with short 20 minute breaks. I finally decided there was something wrong, and took him to the doctor (more on that pediatrician visit in point #3!).
It turned out that even though my baby was a “champion eater,” he hadn’t been gaining adequate weight. Although he was sucking for hours, he wasn’t getting enough nutrition to grow well. This I found out at week 3, but if I had listened to my intuition telling me eating every hour was not normal, I would have discovered the problem earlier.
3). Pediatricians are NOT Lactation Consultants
At the pediatrician appointment, after we discovered his poor weight gain, I was evaluated by a nurse. She watched me nurse my baby, and told me my feeding technique was good. Then she pumped the other breast and found she could only get about 1/2 an ounce of milk.
The pediatrician told me I wasn’t producing enough milk, and I needed to begin cutting my feeding sessions to 10 minutes to not tire my baby, then supplementing with formula. Panicked I had been starving him, I went straight to the drugstore, bought formula, and started supplementing right away.
I had already made an appointment with a midwife for a few days later, and met with her anyway. This was my first experience with an expert in lactation, and I had been breastfeeding for 3 weeks. Within 5 minutes of arriving, she was able to pinpoint our problem and correct it.
While most women are able to adequately stimulate milk production in cradle hold, I was not. She showed me how to breastfeed with the “football” hold, and I instantly could tell the difference. I could actually hear milk “gush” into my baby’s mouth, something I had never heard before.
By that afternoon, I was, not leaking, but gushing milk at feeding times. I was losing so much milk the midwife suggested buying breast shells, which are similar to a turtle shell and surround your nipples, catching any leaking fluid. I was leaking over an ounce at each feeding, more than I had been able to pump in any prior attempt!
As it turned out, I didn’t have a supply problem at all- but that doctor telling me I did really got into my head, and I continued to struggle mentally (and physically) with breastfeeding for weeks after that experience.
4). Not all Babies are Experts at When to Eat
Experts advise to feed newborns on demand. Some newborns (apparently) are good at sending the right signals and will cue every couple of hours, and be ready to eat when mom responds.
My son did great at letting me know for a while, and then something changed. After we sorted out how to hold him to properly stimulate my breasts, and proved I did not have a supply problem, my baby suddenly started wanting to eat every hour for several hours in the afternoon. This problem escalated until suddenly we were back where we started, feeding over and over again in an endless cycle.
The midwife swooped in to our rescue once again. She described my baby as a “sucky baby,” and explained he was using the same cues commonly used to signal hunger for sleepiness. So, he would signal for food, I’d feed him, and less than an hour later he would be crying signaling for food again. And he would eat every time! He really loved to suck.
Once I realized I needed to help him know what he really needed, our experience dramatically improved. I knew if he’d already been fed, he was dry, and he was being comforted, when I saw those cues again, it was really time for him to sleep. Figuring this out cut our daily feeding time IN HALF! (4 fewer hours spent feeding in the day felt like such luxury!).
5). Your Husband is Likely to Feel “Left Out”
Many of my friends explained that their husbands felt left out during their baby’s infancy because the mother-baby bond is so tight. This is especially true if you’re breastfeeding. Every two hours, the baby needs mother, and there’s no getting around that.
Some husbands respond by backing away, feeling like they aren’t needed, and beginning to spend more and more time away from home. My husband was determined to become more of a part of our baby’s life. He gave our baby every bath, and changed the baby’s diaper halfway through breastfeeding so I didn’t have to wash my hands again.
He still was feeling left out. With all his good intentions, and all the fun playtime the two of them spent together, there is something incredibly special about being the source of life for your baby.
This is something every couple will have to work out for themselves, and all husbands will have a different level of interest in helping during the early months. I found it best to leave our baby with my husband for a couple of hours in the evening, and even if he was struggling, I didn’t swoop in and fix it. I was home with the baby all day, so I had time to learn how to respond to his cries, fusses, and signals. He needed time to figure it out for himself, and me removing myself from their time together was the best way for him to build his connection with our son.
6). You’re IT, babe! (at least for a while!)
Breastfeeding means you’re on call, every two to four hours, for a long, long time. The immensity of this didn’t hit me for a couple of weeks. There was no relief. Through all the pain, anxiety, and exhaustion, the cycle just kept going and going and going.
It’s not recommended to bottle feed until breastfeeding is well established, after about 4 weeks or so. A friend of mine introduced one much earlier, and her husband was able to give their baby a bottle in the middle of the night to give her one longer stretch of sleep. I wasn’t comfortable with that right off, and dived right into the round-the-clock exclusive breastfeeding.
It’s tiring. At times you’ll feel like a milk cow. At times you’ll feel that’s all you are to the baby, because during the time you’re not feeding, you’re rushing to go to the bathroom, shoving food in your mouth, or showering to rinse the sticky milk residue off your body.
7). You’ll discover a tenacity you didn’t know you had.
Pain, exhaustion, anxiety, and dealing with a partner who may feel a bit jealous aren’t the best combination. I didn’t even know I was such a staunch believer in breastfeeding until I began it. With each challenge (and we had many!), I found myself renew my resolve to make it through.
The fear of losing my supply from supplementing or not pumping or not eating enough or not drinking enough water… etc., etc., etc., was constantly on my mind. I didn’t want to do anything to compromise the relationship I was having to work so hard to build.
I didn’t want to give up. In fact, I knew I wouldn’t. I knew that with each hurdle I passed, our path to a happy breastfeeding relationship was getting closer and closer.
8). Through all the pain, exhaustion, and anxiety, you’ll love every minute of it.
There is no other human experience that can compare to creating another human, and then providing all the nutrition your child needs to survive. It’s empowering beyond words.
And as you wince in pain, you’ll find yourself soothing your child, rubbing his head, stroking his cheek, watching his funny expressions. My little boy occasionally gets a bit aggressive, slapping my breast, whipping his head back and forth, and making little grunting noises. I liken it to a terrier fighting with the mailman’s pant leg.
Even though I was tired, and sometimes wanted to sit and read a book for an hour by myself, or go to a yoga class and decompress, I knew there will be plenty of time for that in the future. At the time, he, and the bond we were building, was the most important thing.
Recommended Reading on the Benefits of Breastfeeding:
For support with breastfeeding, and to find a lactation consultant near you, contact Le Leche League International at http://www.llli.org/
Michelle is an American expat, soaking up the sun in Kuala Lumpur, with her husband Alex and their adorable 8 week old son Xander. As an advocate for healthy eating, Michelle creates inventive, produce-heavy meals that are allergy friendly (peanut & soy free), gluten free, and mostly lactose free. Check out her amazing recipes on her blog, Vitamin Sunshine. If you’re a new mom looking for easy to make, nutrient filled recipes, this blog will have you hooked in no time!