When I dreamed of breastfeeding my first baby, I had no idea how to picture placing baby at my breast. I had zero exposure to other breastfeeding Moms: My Mom didn’t breastfeed, neither did hers and I personally didn’t know anyone who did. I did the next best thing. I read books, articles online and was determined to learn everything I could before he arrived. I looked forward to nursing my baby and providing liquid gold to the most precious being on earth. How hard could it be?
The first time I breastfed my baby I was in the hospital and everything had gone completely wrong. I endured a long induction/c-section and was recovering in a lot of pain. My son’s lab work came back with a very high biliruben and our pediatrician, our old pediatrician, ordered him formula after every breastfeeding and 24 hour lights. He was on a pen and paper nursing schedule for breastfeeding every 2 hours and then given formula by a nurse down the hall in the nursery. I sat alone in a hospital room in shock until a nurse wheeled my son in to breastfeed. She asked “How many minutes on which side?” Wrote it down on a form and then whisked him off again. I didn’t know my rights, realize that I could pump and provide breastmilk after nursing and my son quickly developed nipple confusion and bottle preference. I didn’t know that I was not in a breastfeeding friendly hospital. I didn’t know that I could say ‘no.’ From there on, our latch went downhill.
When I was discharged home, I was exhausted and in pain. Despite the fact that my nipples were sore, cracked and occasionally bleeding; I did not use the formula packed into my go-home formula marketing pack from the hospital. I called my sister in law for advice. She told me to nurse constantly to increase supply and I stuck with straight breastfeeding. I looked forward to placing baby in his bassinet and getting some much needed rest. However, rest was not waiting for me at home. My baby fussed and cried every time I tried to put him down, he nursed constantly and I cried. I bawled. My Mom offered to give my son formula so I could rest. The thought tormented me and I could not turn baby over to something I despised. I endured. Just one more week, I kept telling myself. Just one more week.
Six weeks later my nipples were finally healing, sore but healing and nursing began to get much easier. My supply was regulating, my engorgement and leaking slowing and I was getting the hang of being a Mom. I finally found some breastfeeding support from my local La Leche League and for the first time since my son was born was born, I saw the light. I met other breastfeeding Moms, saw other babies breastfeeding, got my latch checked and reassurance that I was doing well. My baby was healthy, nursing frequently and I was introduced to cosleeping, or safe bed sharing. For the first time since my son was born I began sleeping two hours in a clip and I felt like a new person. Why did it have to be so hard in the beginning?
What no one told me, or what someone should have told me, is that breastfeeding is hard. Really hard. The pictures you see of Moms with their hair done, all showered with makeup on are all staged photos. They are not what breastfeeding looks like. The photo of a Mom who can’t remember when she showered, in a fixed position holding and nursing baby watching her house fall completely apart is the true nursing experience. The first six weeks when supply is building, baby is learning to live outside of the womb and needs to nurse and be held constantly are character building weeks. Someone should have told me that a frequently eating baby, not a newborn nursing every 3-4 hours as my pediatrician described and a baby who eats multiple times at night was a normal baby. That a baby who needs to be held constantly was totally normal: I now firmly believe that all babies should come with a newborn baby carrier!
If someone had explained the true breastfeeding experience to me, I would have been prepared. I wouldn’t have listened to my pediatrician who told me my newborn should eat every 3-4 hours and only once or twice at night and felt inadequate. I wouldn’t have questioned my ability to produce milk or cried at the thought that I was starving my child when he nursed every hour. I would have watched wet diapers and listened for gulping instead of filling out a chart with how many minutes he nursed on each breast to turn in at my next appointment. I would have loved myself more, and been a happier new Mom and I would have cried less.
Four babies, and over 5.5 years of straight breastfeeding later, through pregnancies and all, I see and know many new Moms in the same situation. Induction, c-section and difficulty nursing with poor support and poor advice from the medical community. My experience has been one of total disconnect from what the medical community believes to be true about breastfeeding, and what each exclusively breastfeeding Mom, Doula, La Leche League member, Midwife and Holistic human being knows. Breastfeeding is hard. Newborns nurse constantly. Safe bedsharing can save Mommy brain cells and help with postpartum healing, ease night feeding fatigue and help bonding with baby. Breastfeeding is work! The best, most loving and oh my gosh is that what I smell like work.
I recently had a friend have nearly the same experience I did. Induction, c-section, formula ‘supplementing,’ discouragement from the pediatrician and encouragement for formula. I feel for her, I’ve been there. Will she make it? Will every Mom in that situation make it? No. How can new Moms, tired and worried about caring for their newborn baby not succumb to negativity about breastfeeding and pressure to use formula? I made it. I’m on the other side! My 4th baby is now 7 months old and going longer between feedings. Tasting a little food here and there and sleeping gently by my side at night. What do I wish someone would have told me? Breastfeeding can be challenging, babies eat all the time and are not on a schedule, they have growth spurts, babies need to nurse for comfort and to help adjust to life outside of the womb. Chores will go undone, showers will be missed but my God these will be the best days of your life!
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