Postpartum Thoughts: What I wish I’d paid attention to concerning breastfeeding

“Isn’t it sweet?”

My Mom poised this question to me as I nursed my newborn. Although I nodded my head and replied with a weak “yes,” I felt quite the contrary to my response. Sweet was not the word I quite had in mind. Painful? Ouch! Difficult? Yes! Exhausting? Terribly!

With this post I simply hope to share some about my experiences the first several weeks of breastfeeding. I began to recognize that sometimes when I mention breastfeeding around someone who did not nurse their child, that mother either feels the need to defend herself, or she interprets my choice as an instant judgment of her choice. Please do not make such assumptions. If you currently do not breastfeed your child, please don’t interpret me as condemning or judging you in any way. That would be arrogant, self-centered and just plain ridiculous on my own part. I’m simply hoping to provide some suggestions and offer encouragement for those who are considering breastfeeding, based on what I’ve learned.

Breastfeeding is hard. HARD. For some reason I underestimated the challenges that accompanied it. I knew I wanted to breastfeed. No one needed to convince me that I should, and so I simply skipped over the many chapters where books spend time trying to convince mothers to breastfeed. I didn’t see what the big deal was. It seemed like a simple decision to me. When doing a strengths’ finder test for my job, discipline proved to be my main strength. I felt confident in my ability to persevere and stick with it, no matter the challenges.

Then I had a baby. I was not one of those mothers that instantly and miraculously nursed my child with no problems. It was hard – physically and emotionally! I questioned multiple times whether or not I could continue it. Honestly, it probably took a good 5-6 weeks before I felt like we had it down. Having a c-section combined with the stress from B’s return to the NICU made it seem like my milk would never come in. While B was in the NICU and I was waiting to produce milk, he had to have bottles of formula instead of nursing. He wouldn’t latch well. Even after he was several weeks old, he would cry for maybe 30-45 minutes before finally latching and nursing. There were multiple times when B was crying and I was crying and I’d simply have to hand him to Nick so that we both could settle down before trying again. In addition to it being difficult, it just plain hurt! I felt like my breasts would never feel normal again. In essence? Breastfeeding is hard.

If you plan on breastfeeding, here are a few things I learned along the way:

1.) Surround yourself with a support group of friends and mothers. The NICU nurses, my doctors, B’s doctors, my mother, my mother-in-law, my sister, and several other mothers/friends encouraged and supported me. I felt like I had multiple reasons to stop nursing (see the list above), but no one let me believe that. Everyone encouraged me. Without these people and their support, I am doubtful that I would have continued breastfeeding.

2.) Utilize lactation consultants at your hospital and in your surrounding area (some will come to your house for free!). I wish I’d taken advantage of the LCs at our hospital more. Do this. You won’t regret it. And if you hire a doula like Becky, she will help you as well. Becky was there to help B latch the first time I tried to nurse him. It wasn’t some random nurse I didn’t know. It was Becky, whom I trusted. Have I mentioned before that I recommend using a doula? 🙂

3.) Don’t diagnose yourself with any problems or issues with your own milk production – let a doctor do that. You’ll just drive yourself crazy if you try to determine that there’s a problem with you or your baby. If you suspect something, go see your doctor or pediatrician. I really believe, based on the multiple problems that I had with breastfeeding, that almost any issue can be overcome with the proper support and resources. If for some reason you or your child cannot breastfeed, let a doctor tell you that. When B was in the NICU, I kept expecting nurses and doctors to tell me I couldn’t breastfeed anymore. Instead, they kept expecting and encouraging me to continue. I’m so glad they did.

4.) Get your husband involved. (This is a great suggestion whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed!) A friend gave us this advice and it truly was a life-saver for me. Remember how I said that breastfeeding is emotionally draining and difficult?  During those first few weeks, I seemed to dread the approach of the next feeding with its tears, frustration and exhaustion. However, Nick and I worked out a system. When B awoke, Nick picked him up and changed his diaper while I situated myself for a feeding. Nick then brought B to me and helped begin the feeding (it often seemed like I needed several extra hands!), and kept my ice water filled as I nursed B (I always found myself extremely thirsty). He even took B from me and burped him in the middle of the feeding so I could relax for a moment. When B finished nursing, Nick took him back from me and was responsible for putting B back to bed. No matter how frustrating, exhausting or draining that feeding was, I knew that I was able to go back to bed when it was over – Nick would take over again and could spend time bonding with B while getting him to go back to sleep. I highly recommend this to everyone. It worked wonderfully with our family.

Ultimately, know that it’s worth it. Like most things challenging, there is great joy that eventually accompanies the difficulty. I am so grateful for those who encouraged me along the way, and I already dread the day that I wean B. To me, breastfeeding is simply one of many very practical ways as a mother to serve my child, laying aside my own interests for the good of his. Sure, this is only one of many ways to care for my child, but I daresay it’s been my favorite thus far. Did I mourn my independence initially? Yes. Did I love it from the beginning? Absolutely not. But with God’s grace (and the use of lanolin!) in the steady perseverance through the difficult days, I began to experience the joy that comes with caring for my child in this specific way. It truly is a beautiful, natural, God-given gift.

Now I understand my Mom’s question and am able to answer affirmatively and truthfully. I recognize and now relate to the joy that arises in her eyes from memories of nursing her own girls. It is a sweet, precious experience.

Yes, sweet, indeed.

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