Friday, December 11

A couple of things I've learned about breastfeeding

My blogger friend, Julie over at A Hopeful Hood mentioned that I should do a post on breastfeeding and I finally have a little time to do so. Therefore, I am sharing just a few things I've learned (though there is so much to cover!) in the last two years of nursing two babies. 

To start, I'll just share my experience so far. Be warned that I say the word "breast" like a thousand times so if that makes you uncomfortable, I'm quite sorry. 

With Tenley, I struggled to keep her latched as a newborn at the hospital. I later learned this was because I was so engorged when my milk came in that her tiny mouth could not latch. I resorted to using a Medala nipple shield, which was so useful and comfortable for me, I used it for four months. I was SO grateful for the shield which, in my opinion, saved my breastfeeding experience. This length of time using the shield is not typically recommended as it can supposedly affect the amount the baby is taking in, but Tenley was gaining weight and I was comfortable. When I grew tired of it, I weaned her off it within a week. I had never had any nipple soreness or redness until then. Tenley had no issues switching directly to breast, but boy, did her hard sucking hurt! And she already had a tooth or two by then. Once my nipples "toughened up" (and I used lots of lanolin), breastfeeding was great. It was easy for me, and I even stopped using a cover most of the time because I learned to feed discreetly with just my shirt or a little burp cloth. I felt comfortable and the bond with her was truly a joy. I fed her on demand mostly because it was easiest, but I now realize that was possibly the key to my "success." (I was also EXTREMELY lucky that she only woke up once or twice a night to nurse, I've now realized. She was an angel baby, I swear.) My milk began drying up when Tenley was eleven months. I had gotten pregnant again when she was nine months. I had planned to try and breastfeed through pregnancy since I'd been told it was possible, but with Tenley eating solids daily, my supply quickly diminished by eleven and a half months. I was sad at first, but happy that I'd lasted so long and looked forward to having an even better experience with my next child. 

Enter Declan. Declan also had a hard time latching on my very milk-engorged breasts as a newborn. So I used the nipple shield (for about two months this time) until he could handle nursing without it. My experience nursing Declan has been about the same. At ten months, I still feed him on demand (including at nighttime, which stinks because he loves to nurse way more at night than Tenley did) which makes breastfeeding a real sacrifice. I still go out without him occasionally, but I make sure to nurse him beforehand and I can't go longer than about three hours before I need to nurse him (for both of our sakes). He's ten months! I thought (or maybe hoped) we'd be slowing down by now. That said, he is also eating fewer solids than Tenley was at this time because I've realized it's just faster to feed him milk and I know he's getting the nutrition he needs. I will also add that breastfeeding Declan is certainly less of a sacrifice for me as a second-time mom who also stays at home, but if I were still in school or working, it would be an incredible challenge. 

Now onto my little tidbits of advice: 
  • We've all heard that "breast is best," whether you believe it or not, but did you know that your body is capable of making exactly the milk that your baby needs? Besides being nutrient-rich, your milk will adapt to your individual baby! I read this great article about how your baby's saliva actually alters the composition of your milk! If your child is sick, the saliva also helps create antibodies to help fight the illness. Our bodies are simply incredible. 
  • Once you get past the initial discomfort or pain that breastfeeding can cause (read: major soreness and dryness for some women) one of the biggest struggles I hear from other nursing moms is the complaint of not having enough milk. While a mother's milk can easily dry up from certain medicines, with pregnancy, and other causes, low supply is not all that common. Often around two or three months, nursing moms notice a "dip" in their supply. Usually, this has nothing to do with the baby's weight gain or number of wet diapers, but solely with how full their breasts feel. They also might be judging their supply based on the amount they are pumping, but pumping is not an accurate way to measure milk supply! Direct mouth contact with nipple is much more effective at procuring milk than most any pump. What many women do not realize is how effectively our bodies regulate our milk supply. Babies that feed on demand may seem to be feeding at random, but our bodies adjust to their unique pattern and supply milk as needed. This can result in a less "full" feeling breast, but it's actually just producing more efficiently. Babies also learn to nurse more efficiently as they get older. Some can drain a breast in five minutes and still have received all the nutrients their body needs. Other babies nurse slowly and the mother's body accommodates that. 
  • Low supply can also be caused by pumping, scheduling feedings, and supplementing (among other things). I read another great article about why moms should stop scheduling their baby's feedings or worrying about how often they nurse. The average baby will nurse when he or she needs it. For some, that's every couple hours, even at a few months old. For others, they can go long stretches (like Tenley used to at night) and be perfectly okay. Expecting a newborn to feed on your schedule is not the way to keep your supply up. There is nothing wrong with trying to plan feedings to some extent, but if your "ideal" spacing of feedings is interfering with your baby's need to eat, then that will affect your milk supply and most likely your baby's weight gain. Which brings me to my next point. 
  • Breastfeeding is a huge sacrifice. Having a baby in general is a sacrifice of course, but breastfeeding is a truly BIG sacrifice if you're determined to continue past six months. There are rules you have to follow. Feeding on demand is key (this part is purely my opinion--I haven't done research but it makes sense to me). Your baby doesn't eat for pleasure at this point. When they get older, they may enjoy nursing for comfort but your baby, especially in the beginning, should eat what he or she needs. 
  • Breastfed babies tend to be longer and more slender than formula-fed babies. This is not always the case. Some moms have super amazing fatty milk and their babies have rolls to spare, but both of my babies were on the lower end for weight-gain. Tenley was in the 10th percentile or less for a while. Declan has been consistently in the 30th percentile. If your doctor is concerned about your baby's weight-gain, recognize that they are going by national averages and charts. Tenley never looked skinny. She was very proportional and even a little chubby. My doctor was never seriously worried, but he did want me to nurse her a little more often to make sure she was at least gaining some weight. Eventually she caught up (she was just on her own curve) and my doctor said she was fine as long as her weight-gain was consistent for her
  • Nursing is messy. Milk squirts everywhere, it's sticky, you might wake up at 4am with your bra and t-shirt soaked, and if you've ever spilled a full bottle of pumped milk, you will know how tragic that is. You have to have nursing pads, which can be expensive if you don't get reusable ones, and it's painful to pay the price of good nursing bras. You may get a breast infection (mastitis is just awful and starts with a fever), or a clogged duct (which will make you try anything to fix it (cabbage leaves, hot showers, rubbing the spot, a compress, hand expressing milk, you'll try it all), and you're more than likely to get some redness or soreness, dryness, and possibly even cracked or dried nipples. You might begrudge your spouse a few times in the middle of the night while you're awake with the baby and he's snoring away next to you with a valid excuse as to why he can't help you out. You will probably be bitten at least once which will make you question if you'll ever breastfeed again. It's not easy, and for some people that's the hardest part of having a new baby. 
  • But it can also be wonderful. Your baby will snuggle up against you and you'll be able to cuddle and smell his or her hair as long as you want. You'll spend hours (and I mean hours) staring at your baby's profile memorizing it. You'll get really good at accessing your bra quickly through many layers of clothing. At some point, you'll cherish those long but quiet nights with your little one pressed against you. You'll love when your baby's older and reaches her hand up and strokes your chest lovingly or stares into your eyes with so much love for you, their mother. That physical bond with your baby will be priceless. 
I love breastfeeding quite a bit. Besides that it's free and convenient in some ways, it forges a very tender bond with your child that is hard to replace. Even though there are times when I long to have to freedom to get up at will or have my body "to myself" again, I remember how quickly this time passes. Even just looking at Tenley, I find it hard to believe that she isn't a baby anymore who needs and depends on me for everything. These trying times are fleeting and I've already found that I look back on them with longing. Whether you breastfeed or not, enjoy your time with your baby. You will see soon enough how short a time they stay little. 

I hope that this helps at least one mom out there have an easier, and even enjoyable breastfeeding experience. Any questions are so welcome! I'll do my best to help you if I can (though I am absolutely positively not an expert)!

Good luck, Mamas. Hang in there this weekend! 

Please pardon my frumpiness here. I had just had a baby and was quite tired and swollen from the I/V. 
Clarifying note: Let me just quickly add that I know their are exceptions to everything. There are babies who wean early and women with special conditions that lead to more difficulties or lower supply. I am only sharing what I have learned from my experience and by talking to other moms who have breastfed successfully. No matter what you choose, making choices as a parent is not easy. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I absolutely love to hear from you & will reply if I can!