FYI, it's World Breastfeeding Week, which is most definitely a thing. And who would've thought that I've never written a post exclusively about breastfeeding?
I've talked about it and reflected on it a bit but never just wrote out some of the things that maybe could help someone else out.
I've been blessed to nurse all five of my full term babies. The first four weaned or were weaned all around the two year mark. This newest little man is two months and God-willing will have about the same. So I've got eight plus years of lactating under my belt and I think that makes it fair to say I know a thing or two about breastfeeding. In honor of the week, here are some of the things I jotted down in no particular order that I've learned about nursing these little ones:
•Let's start with a happy one. The oxytocin bond thing is real and beautiful. To know that you are feeding your child with your very body and how Eucharistic that reality is? It's pretty amazing. That doesn't mean that every nursing is filled with fluffy feelings or euphoric rainbows - not in the least (hey, the Eucharist was attached to suffering and self-denial, right?) - but it gives a deeper reality and meaning than just filling your baby's stomach as an end in itself. And that's pretty sweet to experience firsthand.
•There is something pretty awesome when that baby gets weighed and you think to yourself, I did that. It's one of the reasons I think breastfeeding can be a significant in the life of women with body image issues, a puritanical background, or for those who struggled with infertility and the feeling of their body as broken. To look at your growing baby and know that every pound they gained was from you and that your body did that? It has the potential to be incredibly healing and powerful on a spiritual and emotional level.
•It doesn't always come naturally. Mothers need to learn and babies need to learn, too. Babies have a instinct to latch but they have to learn how to do it the most effective way possible. It can be frustrating and difficult and make you want to give up. Don't.
•A supportive husband is huge to success.
•Never ever go to your doctor for good breastfeeding advice. Okay, okay, fine. If your doctor has breastfed herself (successfully) or he has a wife that has successfully breastfed, then you can try. But most pediatricians and OBs do not get adequate training on the biology of milk production or the nursing relationship. I've heard and received awful information from the mouths and handouts of doctors. Information that could've sabotaged my breastfeeding success. If you need help go to a good lactation consultant (IBCLC) and to your friends that have successfully breastfed their babies. I promise they know more than the doctor when it comes to this.
•Wow, you save a lot of money.
•Color me surprised to learn that the milk comes out sprinkler-style rather than hose-style. Who knew?? (And when you're engorged that sprinkler is pretty powerful!)
•Learning to breastfeed can be painful. I knew that beforehand thanks to my sister preparing me but the actual learning curve was extremely difficult. Yes, I know. A perfect latch means that it shouldn't hurt but it takes some babies and mothers a while to learn that perfect latch or sometimes they have a tongue tie or flat nipples or a tiny mouth that makes a good latch very difficult. In the meantime, baby still needs to eat. Breastfeeding for the first two months of my oldest's life was excruciating at times. I should've gotten more help but was already overwhelmed with first time newborn life. I'm so thankful for the advice of my older sister to give it six weeks and just when you think you really can't take it anymore and will have to do something else, it starts to get better. It is so worth it.
•Having other nursing mothers around is a Godsend. For advice, yes, but also to just feel normal and be able to nurse your baby and not feel the need to cover up or like you're some sort of weirdo. That support is huge.
•Even so, learning to and being comfortable nursing in public is still a challenge. It depends on the circumstances as to whether I will use a cover but I can still feel very conspicuous and self conscious even after five babies. With my first I almost always left the room. Now I'll nurse in public but it still feels like either I'm trying to make a statement or that I'm trying to hide when really I'm just trying to feed my baby.
•There is a weird phenomenon called D-MER (dysphoric milk ejection reflex) and it's "characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes." I learned about this a few babies ago and I had no idea that this was a thing! I only get a mild reaction but there are often a few moments during letdown where I get a weird melancholic feeling and then it dissipates. It was pretty neat and a relief to realize this was an actual thing that some other women experience and not really anything to worry about or the sign of something deeper.
•Some people just won't get it. They'll make passive aggressive remarks or mock you. You'll do what's best for your baby and (try to) get over it.
•Every ten minutes is normal. So is every four hours. So is feeding all night long (especially in those first few days!). So is a baby that sleeps long stretches but then fills up his awake time with lots of feeding. Every baby is different. Normal doesn't always mean desirable, of course. But it does give you freedom to relax that nothing is "wrong" with your baby if they don't follow the books.
•In fact, the books and standard advice can work against you. I learned with my first that I am a superstar milk producer and that my body reacts very quickly to the demand of a baby. But I still followed the advice of the books I read of nursing both sides every feeding and switching every time. I ended up with a gassy fussy baby who would spit up constantly, breasts that were engorged, and a fear of leaving the house for six months due to the constant leaking. His nursing for a few minutes on one side would stimulate that side to produce more but he wasn't emptying the breast or getting the hind milk before I would switch him to the other side. So my breasts kept filling but never emptying fully and he wasn't getting that more satisfying fattier hind milk. I learned with subsequent babies to only nurse one side at a feeding and make sure it was empty before switching to the other side. I later learned the fancy term for this is called block feeding. For the first few days of nursing, it means that one side gets very engorged while I'm emptying that other side but I won't switch until that one side is mostly done. It takes a few days but then my body figures out the right amount to produce and it's made nursing SO much easier and better for everyone. (NOT everyone should do this, by the way!! Don't do this if your body doesn't produce milk as easily!)
•A great book to have on hand that helped with nursing? The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. That one is great. I think there are some other good ones out now but that's the one that helped me most with my first.
•Learning the whole supply/demand ways of breastfeeding and understanding how it works is really helpful for troubleshooting.
•What you eat can affect your milk and baby. Every person seems to be different with this. I've never had an issue with broccoli or spicy things but with the last two babies I've realized that chocolate makes them a bit edgy and restless. I did give up dairy for I think a year with my first and that helped his issues…though in hindsight I think it was much more the overactive production and letdown that was the issue.
•Breastmilk is very versatile. Ear or eye troubles? Drop some milk in. Stuffy nose? Drop some milk in. Infection? Rub some milk on. Older kid sick? Put it in a sippy cup. And it works. You may feel like a crazy hippie lady but it works and saves you a trip to the drugstore and a whole lot of money.
So there's just a few of the many things I've learned about and through breastfeeding. Not all by any means but just a few. I could probably add about a few dozen more, I think, but I'll stop there.
What would you add?