World Breastfeeding Week! I am celebrating my 58th month of breastfeeding, not including the months when I was the baby, and not the mommy... If I count my own months of breastfeeding as a baby, I'm at around 82 months, right Mom?
I breastfeed mainly because I'm cheap and lazy. Formula costs a lot of money, and sterilizing bottles all the time would drive me insane. I do not want to have to get up in the middle of the night to make a bottle when my breasts are already right there in the bed with us, ready to go. Breastmilk is the ultimate convenience food.
I do NOT believe that any mother should feel guilty if she can't breastfeed, for whatever reason. It is a personal decision, and it's no one's business but the parents'. Our culture has built a lot of obstacles to successful breastfeeding - moms have to return to work way too early, in some groups/areas there is a bias against breastfeeding and an accompanying lack of support, moms get advice from all corners from the time the baby is born - and some of that advice sucks (pun intended), parents lack experience with breastfed babies - they haven't seen what a breastfeeding relationship looks like and therefore don't know how to proceed, and so on.
I'm a breastfeeding advocate because I truly believe that it's best for moms and babies, but I hope I'm able to be an advocate without being a "boob nazi." With that position in mind (the low-guilt, high-support position) I'd like to offer a little advice for those of you who might be pregnant, new to breastfeeding, or having trouble.
1) Seek expert advice. Bad advice is the enemy of successful breastfeeding. Sadly, some of the worst advice I got was from doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants. Keep seeking advice until you find the right person to help you. In my case it was Jeni, the local LLL leader at the time, who is now the lactation consultant at the hospital (if you're local and you want a referral, email me). I LOVE her. She saved my sanity when MG was a baby, and when she came in the room for the first time after Jack was born, I cried. She's wonderful.
2) Don't schedule. Sometimes Jack will go 4 hours in between feedings. His record is 7 hours right now - he slept that long, and was I ready to nurse when he woke up! Other times I think he's done, and 5 minutes later he wants to nurse again. He knows what he needs, whether it's milk or comfort. Sometimes the baby has the urge to suck so that he can help bring more milk in because he's getting ready to hit a growth spurt. Let him suck. I mean, not to the point where it drives you insane, but it's ok if he's not actively eating every minute that he's at the breast, know what I mean? I call it "noodling," and it's healthy and normal. It's how all three of my kids have gone to sleep, too, and it helps maintain a good milk supply.
3) Don't sweat it if you can't pump. I have breastfed for nearly 5 years of my life, and I have NEVER been able to pump more than a few drops of milk. Seriously. And none of my kids have accepted formula (well, that's not precisely true. MG spit it out like she was reenacting the movie The Exorcist, and I haven't bothered to try with Jack and Claire). It's only a few months before they can eat regular food, and so (if you're fortunate enough not to have to return to work, or to be able to take the baby to work as I do) you can just stay with the baby for the first 6 months. If you have to do something without the baby in the first 4-6 months, you can feed the baby right before you leave, and make sure that you're reunited with the baby within an hour or two. It's not necessary to be able to pump to be able to successfully breastfeed, and the amount that you're able to pump does not correlate to the amount the baby is getting. If it did, my kids would have wasted away long ago.
4) If you have a smartphone, there's a free app called LactMed that tells you whether or not medications are safe for breastfeeding mothers. It has come in really handy!
5) Breastfeeding helps you remember to take care of yourself. If you're nursing, you have to sleep (you make more milk when you're sleeping than when you're awake), drink (to thirst), and eat healthfully. If you learn to nurse while you're lying on your side (which I highly recommend), you can relax while baby eats. You may not be able to sleep, but at least you're giving your body a break, which it needs when you're healing from birthing! And it burns 300-500 calories per day. Can't beat that! Of course, I'm also eating an extra 300-500 calories a day... :)
6) It gets easier. Yes, it hurts when you're just learning how to breastfeed and your baby's mouth is tiny. It will get easier. That little mouth is growing every day. Your breasts will toughen up. It'll be ok. If you put your head down and get through the first few difficult weeks, I promise it'll get better. Meanwhile, see #1 and keep getting advice until it all clicks.
7) Breastfeed everywhere. In 58 months of breastfeeding, I have only had anyone give me a hard time once. I have nursed my kids in churches, museums, restaurants, malls, tourist attractions, universities, and walking down the street. 99% of the time I've done it without a blanket or shawl (they just won't tolerate being covered up, and I find it awkward, but if a shawl works for you, go for it!). I nursed Mary Grace at the top of the Eiffel Tower, I nursed Claire in the courthouse in St. Thomas where I got hassled, and I nursed Jack while I was sitting in the dentist's chair having my teeth cleaned! The more we mothers nurse in public, the more normal it will become, and the less any of us will have to deal with assholes who think we shouldn't. Find the law that protects you in your state, memorize it, and be prepared to shout it at
anyone who needs it. My speech is "Indiana Code 16-35-6 protects my right to breastfeed my child anywhere the law allows me to be." Save up all your sleep deprivation
and unleash it on the cretins who try to say, "No!" to your right to
8) If you see a nursing mom in public, especially if she looks like a new mom or a first-timer, please give her some positive feedback, because in the back of our minds we all worry that some idiot is going to throw us off a plane or out of a restaurant.
9) Practice changing the subject. There WILL be someone in your life who is unsupportive of your decision to nurse. That's ok. You can do everything you can to educate Great Aunt Myrtle, but in the end, she's probably not going to change her mind. And you might get the third degree from her every time your baby needs to nurse - and it's going to get worse as the baby gets older. Which is why you need to practice the fine art of changing the subject. I have found several successful strategies.
i) Backhanded Flattery, "Gosh, Aunt Myrtle, you're so wise. Tell me more about how you raised your kids back in the stone age!"
ii) Misdirection, "Oh my goodness, is that Tom Cruise over there?"
iii) Feeding a Different Fire, "I know you want to talk about breastfeeding, but what I'd really like to hear about is your opinion on [something that really gets her fired up and can distract her with a good rant - politics, religion, etc.]." Getting older relatives to talk about their current health concerns is especially effective. "Tell me more about your goiter!"
iv) Deferral to Experts, "Gosh, you know, I agree with you. But our doctor told us that we should breastfeed the baby because it's healthier. You know how those doctors are... always trying to make sure that the baby gets what's best! Sheesh... Speaking of doctors, how's your goiter?"
And when all else fails, there's always
v) Avoidance. You don't really need to see Great Aunt Myrtle until your baby's weaned. Send a card, and go hang out with someone who supports you, instead... At least until you get your confidence up and can give back as well as you get.
10) Recognize your own achievement. There are no trophies in parenting. You don't get awards for doing any of it. You don't even get a participation ribbon. So it's really important that you (and your partner) recognize the achievement that breastfeeding is - whether you can do it for a month, a year, or longer. Congratulate yourself. Buy yourself something pretty. Have a portrait taken of your baby and yourself while nursing and have it framed. Reward yourself in small ways, like ice cream, just for getting through the tough days, and celebrate the great days. Remember that it's hard work, but it goes by fast, and these are the days that you're going to look back on fondly when you're old.