Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Words of Wisdom Shared From Personal Struggles with Breastfeeding

I am not a lactation specialist. I am not a medical practitioner. I have no work experience in the medical field.

I am a first-time mom; a first-time mother who struggled significantly with successfully breastfeeding her daughter. This is my story.

Making the decision to breastfeed or formula feed was an easy one for me. I simply chose breastfeeding. Little did I know, committing to that decision and trying to make breastfeeding work for my little and me would be quite challenging. I struggled.

At the hospital, after the birth of my child, I quickly became familiar with the terms inverted nipple, breastshells, nipple shield, and poor latch. My nerves quickly kicked in that I wouldn’t be able to deal with all of these issues, breastfeed, AND learn how to care for a newborn at the same time. Let's not forget, exhaustion was knocking on my door as well!

One of the issues I faced was that I was getting different information from everyone around me. My friends, family, nurses, doctor, and lactation specialist all gave me advice (sometimes the advice contradicted someone else’s advice but all were just trying to be helpful) and overwhelmed me. I was also stressed out. No one really mentioned to me that choosing to breastfeed would be hard!

Although all the advice was overwhelming and confusing for me, it was great to have such a strong support team! They kept me from giving up and switching to formula, even weeks later when I encountered different problems.

For those of you who hear the same words that I heard, there are tools out there that can help you! If you have access to a lactation specialist at the hospital, I suggest using them even if you aren’t having issues. I was able to be become educated by my lactation specialist on what a good latch looks like and the different holds there are. More importantly, she reassured me that what I was going through (feelings, struggles, etc.) was perfectly normal and that they would pass. She was right.

Those of you reading this and hoping to breastfeed your child when he/she is born, I would like you to know this:

1.   Breastfeeding can be challenging in the beginning as you and your child both learn about what works for the two of you.

2.   Everyone will have advice for you, solicited or unsolicited. Keep in mind they are well intentioned and at the end of the day they will become your biggest cheerleader as they support you with successfully breastfeeding!

3.   Drink lots of water! This does help with milk production.

4.   Make sure you are eating enough (typically your doctor will recommend an extra 500 calories/day). Check with your doctor to be sure and if you have any concerns.

5.   When breastfeeding correctly (good latch), there should be no pain. That being said, I would say though that there will most likely be some discomfort in the beginning. Looking back, I think that was because as first-timers, we do occasionally have a bad latch and don’t realize. It may not hurt immediately with a bad latch but eventually will hurt later when the nipples are dry and cracked. I also think that going from not breastfeeding (0 times/day) to breastfeeding frequently with an infant (6-12 times/day) can easily attribute to dry, cracked nipples.

Another form of pain that few seem to mention is engorgement. There will be times when you will have a full supply and your breasts will hurt because milk needs released. In the words of my lactation specialist, “Before your milk regulates, you will question if your body thinks you are feeding an army.” It’s true.

If your child isn’t hungry, this becomes quite challenging. Pumping could cause your body to regulate and have a supply ready at this time always (I chose this route and always woke up engorged at about 3AM). Not pumping means you have to endure the pain. I have heard that if you pump just a little (1-2 ounces) you could relieve some of the pain and not have your body make this time frame a habit. I did try this and it didn’t work for me. My breasts would continue to be engorged for months regardless of what I did. 

6.   Find nipple creams that work for you (I use Lanolin) and use them frequently during the first several weeks. I would suggest using them more as a preventative measure, rather than waiting for the discomfort to occur. It can be excruciating when your nipples are sore and hurting AND you still have to feed and/or pump. I also found dipping my breasts into a salt water mixture for a few minutes every day helped greatly!

7.   Expect that it could take a while before you are completely comfortable with breastfeeding and your routine. When I was so stressed out at the hospital a friend said to me that she didn’t feel completely certain of what she was doing until 8 weeks. She explained that it would just click one day and you will think, “why was this so hard?” That day didn’t actually come for me until 12 weeks. Now, at 6 months, I am already feeling a bit sad that I am at the half-way point for when I plan to quit breastfeeding. The end will be bittersweet. 

8.   It is typically recommended that your breastfeeding routine is established for 2 weeks before introducing a bottle. I was so exhausted in my first week with our little one that I had my husband get up one night and give a bottle. I actually had no issues with her latching back on to me after that, however, I later learned that I shouldn’t have done that. I guess this depends on your child. In my case, the option was to have a mother that was not appropriately taking care of herself (I seriously had not slept since she was born) or have someone who had been taking care of himself watch her (daddy did get sleep). In most cases, the best caregiver is the one that is taking good care of themselves first. This situation also created good bonding time for daddy and our newborn. My personal advice: do what you think is right. You are the parent.

9.   If you do have to use a nipple shield (for latch-on problems)  or breastshells (for dry and/or cracked nipples)you will most likely be advised to wean yourself off of using these as soon as possible. I definitely was and it made me put a lot of pressure on myself to stop using the shield as soon as possible. It still took me 6 weeks before I stopped. I have since met people who have used the shield for various time frames (one mom used for 16 weeks) and everything turned out okay. Rest assured in knowing that the transition off of the nipple shield will come in time, don’t rush it! I tried several times and became so frustrated I turned right back to the nipple shield. One day, my child was in such a hurry to eat, I didn’t have time to put the shield on and she latched with NO ISSUES. The transition was that easy! 

10.    Take a deep breathe. I can tell you, if you are facing challenges, you will feel so much more accomplished when you are successfully breastfeeding just from overcoming your obstacles. Hang in there!

Contact me if you have questions or just need a cheerleader as you maneuver through the world of breastfeeding your child!

I know there are moms out there who wish they could breastfeed, but can't for various reasons. I am so grateful that, at least for our first child, I have been able to successfully breastfeed her. 

What is/was your biggest concern with breastfeeding?

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