I’m just coming off a weekend working in the newborn nursery, and these days there’s a lot of talk about breastfeeding. My hospital is in the process of becoming “Baby Friendly”, which means that the medical center is taking big steps to encourage the best way to feed that little one– with breast milk.
And it make good sense– the “delivery system” is built into us mamas; the nutrition is optimal (human milk for human babes, right?); and through antibodies in breast milk, babies get protection from certain diseases that they can’t build on their own just yet.
Now, don’t get me wrong– breastfeeding is awesome and I’ll be the first one to jump in and say that. But in all of our talk about the virtues of nursing, we often neglect to mention just how HARD it really is. It takes practice. And commitment. And it’s painful. Learning to breastfeed was harder than taking my medical boards. Really.
When I was pregnant with my little guy, I thought that breastfeeding would be a snap– moms have been doing this for centuries, right? Babies have built in reflexes to make them eat– what could possibly be hard about it? It would be like in the movies (if there were movies about nursing)– I would deliver my newborn (sans pain medication of course); within minutes he would immediately latch on; I would magically have gallons of colostrum. And all of this would happen with a warm glow of sunlight shining behind both of us– a halo, if you will. And my hair would not be messed up.
But what really went down was this: I was in active labor for 3 days (no kidding); I pushed for 5 hours (no kidding). I had to have a C-section and went on to have a postpartum hemorrhage with a uterine clot that had to be manually extracted (again, no kidding). So needless to say, there was no immediate latch, there was no magical let down, and there was no shining sunlight– I was in an operating room in Portland in the fall, for Pete’s sake. And most certainly, my hair was seriously messed up.
What I did have was an amazing nursery nurse who made it her priority to get that kid on the boob, in the recovery room no less, and even when I felt too tired and worn out to do anything. (I had the chance to watch her in action with a mom and baby this weekend, and she has mad skills!). My great husband kept us on track with the nursing schedule and kept ME on track with my own eating schedule. My lactation consultant’s constant support helped me realize we were doing a good job even when I felt like we weren’t. To me, this is what “Baby Friendly” means– in whatever way possible, supporting moms and babes through the feeding tough patches in order to ensure long term success.
A few tips to get things off to a good start:
— Breastfeed early and often. Having the baby latch on in the first hour after delivery, while he or she is still awake and active, is the first step to establishing nursing. Feeding often, up to 8-12 times a day, not only helps establish milk supply, but also helps mamas read hunger cues better.
— Lactation consultants are your best friends. They are there to help you make good decisions about feeding, and are often a part of a nursery care team. Definitely take advantage of their amazing knowledge and skills.
— Ask for help, and take it whenever and however you can get it. If having your father-in-law do a Target run buys you some time to rest between feedings, so be it. More support for the cause!
— Resist the urge to offer the bottle early on. Breast feeding is all about supply and demand– once the demand (the baby) is gone, the supply dwindles as well. Protect that supply!
— Pumping can help build and maintain supply. After the first couple of weeks, starting a pumping schedule can help establish a stash of milk and also increase demand by a little bit. Remember, when you first start out pumping, you may not get very much out– this doesn’t mean that your not making milk. Rather, your body has to make more supply to keep up with the new demand (pumping). So, more milk down the line.
— Be good to yourself. Eat well, laugh a lot, snuggle with that baby. And remember, no matter what happens, if you are trying to breast feed, you are doing a good job already.