Monday, August 11, 2014

Mama Monday: Thoughts on Breastfeeding

I'm a bit late on this, but in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I wanted to throw out my thoughts on the past 17.5 months of breastfeeding. (Hans says I should include a warning: Breastfeeding pictures included. Stop now if that kind of thing bothers you.) If you've spent any amount of time with me, you know I'm a huge advocate of nursing. Maybe not as big or as informed advocate as some of my friends, but it is still something near and dear to my heart.

Before Emma was born, I knew that I wanted to nurse, but I hadn't really given it much thought. It's just... what you do. I'd read all the material about how much baby benefits from it. But I had this idea in my head that it just kind of happened. This is how our species has existed for thousands of years, right? It's what our bodies are made to do! Nursing will be easy.

So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that breastfeeding is HARD. I don't think anyone adequately prepared me for that. Sometimes the struggle was so hard I almost gave up. But something else interesting happened the very first time I nursed Emma. I fell in love with it. I loved feeling her tiny body next to mine. I loved having this quiet, still time to just watch her and marvel at her. I loved the feeling that comes from knowing that I am providing my baby with exactly what she needs. This love of nursing offset the hard times. I was determined that I would exclusively breastfeed until 6 months when we introduced solid food, and then continue to a year.
When her first birthday rolled around, we were still nursing 5-6 times a day. It was still a special time of day for us and continues to strengthen our bond. So we kept going. We weened off feedings and we are currently down to two a day. Most recently, my "goal" was to ween the morning feeding at 17 months and finish nursing at 18. Buuuuttt.... I couldn't give it up. So for now we will keep the two-a-days. I no longer have a goal, we will just see how it goes! I know the end is coming and I get incredibly emotional and teary when I think about it. So for now I'll just enjoy each moment.
I know it doesn't look like I'm "enjoying" it here... but we were just making faces at each other.
But I'm digressing from what I wanted to talk about. The hard stuff. Because it IS hard. And when I first hit the hard part, I felt very lost and alone and like I was just.... failing. I'm definitely no expert, but I'm hoping that my experience can help some new mom out there who is wondering whether she's doing this right and maybe it can help her. So without further ado...

Why breastfeed?
Once again, I'm not an expert, so I'll refer you to other reading materials. My choice to breastfeed has been primarily because of the benefits for baby: the perfect balance of vitamins, proteins, carbs, and fat that baby needs; antibodies and other immunities; and increased brain health (studies show that breastfed babies have higher intelligence). As an added bonus, breastfeeding has helped me emotionally and physically. The previously-mentioned bonding helped with the roller-coaster of emotions associated with new motherhood, and all those calories needed for producing milk helped me drop baby weight like crazy. And no, breastfeeding isn't necessarily free (nursing pads and bras, bottles, pumps, cost of food, etc), I'd argue it's way cheaper than formula, and you always have it with you. I remember being caught a couple places longer than we expected and being relieved that I could just go find a quiet place to nurse - and that I had an abundant supply of food for her always ready. If you need more convincing:

Also, the Huffington Post had some neat infographics last week that had some pretty interesting data on breastfeeding in the U.S.

Erika's oh-so-expert (cough cough) tips

  • Prepare ahead of time - A couple weeks before I gave birth, a sweet woman from our ward took me into the mother's lounge to talk to me about nursing. She advised me that each time I got out of the shower, I should rub a towel over my nipples, fairly roughly, to help toughen them up in preparation for nursing. Confession: I didn't do it. And I wish I would have. Because the first few days hurt like I have never hurt. Better bet I'll be doing this next time.
  • Find your "helps" - There are so many products out there to help. Oh, sure, you can get by without them. But I certainly appreciated having them. The ones that came in most handy for me were a nipple shield (to help Em learn how to latch), these little ice packs that looked like donuts, and Mother Love nipple cream. Girls, I tried other ones, but this one was different and WONDERFUL. Don't waste your time on those other ones, get this one. Found at Central Market or People's Pharmacy, probably Whole Foods, and on Amazon.
  • Before you get started, ask another mom - I had no clue where to begin. They handed me a tiny person and told me to nurse her. I didn't know how to hold her, I didn't know how to latch her, I didn't know how long she should eat, I didn't know it mattered which side. I made the mistake of leaving her on one side for almost half an hour the first day... it was so sore and raw I couldn't hardly nurse on that side for the next week. I was fortunate that on my very first night home from the hospital when I couldn't get the hang of nursing, I had three mommy friends show up at my house in the wee hours of the morning to help me out. That "takes a village" thing is no joke. Ask other moms who have been through it to walk you through it. I can promise they either had someone who helped them learn or they wish that they had.
  • Try different positions - Em nurses lying down, in my bed (side-along nursing). We have tried other positions and she just doesn't like it. She likes to stretch out. If we are out and about and she has to nurse in public, obviously she will accept the traditional cradle-hold, but she's easily distracted and she won't nurse as long or as well. At times of desperation, when it was hardest to get her to nurse, we tried everything. I swore I'd never show anyone this picture, but we are far enough removed from that night that I can swallow my pride and fear of embarrassment and laugh about how ridiculous this was.
    We tried everything and couldn't get her to nurse. This is what finally worked. She was smiling the whole time like she knew *exactly* what she was doing. "Ha ha, look what I'm making mama do." Punk. Here's a good reference from if you're looking for different positions to try. I never knew there was anything besides the cradle!
  • Drink water - This is pretty much the number one rule with nursing. Drink water until you feel like it's going to leak out your pores and eyeballs. My boss told me that her rule of thumb was that every time she sat down to nurse, she would drink a Big Gulp size cup of water. Thought you went to the bathroom a lot when you were pregnant? Ha. That doesn't end. Drink, Drink, Drink. 
  • Eat enough and the right things -
    I know there's an urge to "get your body back" after baby and so you want to curtail what you eat. Don't. Your body needs the calories to make that milk! And if you're like me, you'll be hungry as a horse after nursing. Listen to your body and feed it. My doctor told me she didn't care if all I ate was snickers bars, just keep eating. If you're struggling with milk production, there are things you can eat and drink to help stimulate milk production. Yeast (especially brewer's yeast), oats, flax, fennel, - all these things help get that milk flowing. I ate a lot of these cookies (mostly because they are delicious) and would immediately see an increase in production. KellyMom (Love that site!) has a great list of tips if you are having production issues.
  • Don't kill it at the gym - This goes hand-in-hand with the diet one. It's a delicate balance between wanting to lose the baby weight and wanting to be able to produce enough milk. Exercise is a good thing and I can say it really helped me deal with some baby blues, among other things. So I'm definitely not saying "don't work out." I'm just saying... Don't go to the extreme. I can't remember where I read it, but when I started doing more serious running again (about six months post partum) I did some research to make sure my milk would be ok and the general consensus I found was to keep hard, vigorous exercise to 30 minutes or less. Additionally, I like what La Leche League has to say about exercise and breastfeeding:
  • Pump - Eek. Not my favorite thing. Actually, I hate it. But I did it every night until Em was a year old. I know I'm probably gonna get some hate mail for this, but my kid was one of those rare ones who was doing 10-12 hour nights by three months old. Yeah that whole midnight feeding thing? We really didn't do that much. Sorry. Send the hate mail. It's cool. I can take it. I sleep all night :) But since she was sleeping so much, I didn't want to go 12 hours without anything. So I would pump every night before I went to bed. It gave me a good supply in the freezer for supplementing as needed, but I did end up having a ton of milk that I donated to other mothers. Especially in the beginning, if you can't feed your baby every 2-3 hours, make sure you pump. Your body produces as much milk as your baby needs. So pumping can help to stimulate production.
  • Ask for help - I'm listing this twice because you need to do it in the beginning, but down the road you will have questions. I went to local La Leche League meetings and they were extraordinarily helpful. I was nervous for the first one I went to, but it's just a bunch of moms all bringing their questions to the table. You learn what you need to and sometimes you get to share something you know, that you didn't realize you know. That's a cool feeling.
  • Bonus suggestion: Get a good app - This is a bit of my OCD coming out here... but I track everything. This was after the first two nights at the hospital the nurse kept asking me "Well how long did she nurse for?" and I had no clue. Shortly after getting home, I downloaded the Sprout Baby app.
    You can track feedings (bottle and breast), sleep, medications, diapers, you name it. I use it mostly for feeding and sleeping. I think of it a lot like people who count calories. Sometimes our perceptions of how we are doing just don't match how we're actually doing. I thought she was getting enough sleep but when I started tracking it, I realized it was all over the map and not as much as I thought she was getting. The feeding app really helped me keep track of how often ("What? Really, it's been three hours? I swear I JUST did it!!") and, to an extent, how much. It's hard with breastfeeding to know if baby's getting enough milk. It's not like with a bottle you know she got 4 ounces. The app helped me identify patterns. I could pinpoint when my letdowns came (one minute and again around 8-9 minutes). I could see that she likes shorter feeds in the morning and then 20 minutes for every feeding after that. Keeping track also let me pinpoint days where she ate for less time than usual and I would pump to compensate or give her an extra feeding to make sure she was getting enough that day. I know it's a bit Type-A of me to track everything, but it's really made me feel more organized and on top of my nursing habits.

After allllll of this, I would like to say that while I strongly urge breastfeeding for as long as possible, I also feel it's so important to note that not everyone can. And that doesn't make you any less of a good mom. I have a close friend who, due to her own health complications, was only able to breastfeed each of her children for one week. And I think it is incredibly awesome that she was able to do that. Every bit of breastmilk your baby can have is chock full of benefits. How great is this mom that she wanted that for her kids?

Maybe you can't exclusively breastfeed and you supplement. AWESOME. Maybe you don't produce milk at all or you simply choose to bottle-feed. AWESOME. Good for you for knowing what you can and can't do and making sure your baby has a full, happy tummy. I really don't like some of the "I'm better than you because I breastfeed" things I see out in the blogosphere these days so I really want to stress that while it's something special and important to me, I don't think anyone is less of a fantastic mom because they don't. We cool?

Yes, breastfeeding can be difficult. But it can also be really wonderful. Know that if you're having trouble, you're not alone. I'm definitely no expert, but I have learned so much from my experience and if you ever need me to be your breastfeeding cheerleader, just let me know!

1 comment:

  1. Love this! And good for you for not having a goal...just going as long as she needs:) I'm sad that we are finally pretty much done nursing now...but luckily we had about 3 successful years! Breastfeeding works different for everyone so it's important to remember there are no rules, just what works for you and your baby! ❤️