By: Dr. Lindsey Moore
My son, Henry, is now 3 years old. For the first 2 years of his life, he was breastfed. Initially, it was incredibly hard with concerns of poor weight gain, struggles with a tongue tie and the pain of a disorganized latch. However, with the help of friends, our monthly breastfeeding support group, my amazing husband, and an angel of an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), we finally caught our stride and were successful. Warming my heart, Henry is now able to tell people that he used to have “Mama’s Milk”. Here are some things that I learned on my breastfeeding journey that I wish I had known at the outset!
It can be hard.
While some new moms sail through breastfeeding and make it look easy, many of us struggle – with supply, with pain, with feelings of guilt and isolation. Having a village of people who support you and can talk you through the struggles can make a world of difference.(For more on the importance of a village, please see this attached article!)
If the latch “looks perfect”, but it still hurts, then it is definitely not perfect.
A little pain at the beginning of the latch and at the beginning of the breastfeeding journey can be normal, but your nipples should not be painful for the duration of feeds, painful after, or raw or misshapen once a feed is complete. If you are experiencing anything beyond mild pain or discomfort at the beginning of the latch, it is time to seek some assistance.
Breastfeeding looks different for everyone, and this is entirely fine.
Some people are able to exclusively breastfeed their baby directly from their breasts, some people exclusively pump breast milk for their babies, some people have to supplement with formula, and some people exclusively use formula for a variety of reasons. All of these journeys look different, but are driven by the desire to do what is best for the baby and the mother. As your pediatrician, we are here to support you no matter what your journey looks like. As parents, we should all support one another and recognize that parenting is hard and that having compassion for one another is the best way to make it through.
Feed the baby, not the freezer.
Some moms are oversuppliers (meaning they make more milk than their baby consumes) and accordingly, have very well-stocked freezers. As a new mom returning to work, it can be tempting to try to have a freezer full of pumped breast milk stock-piled. However, for most of us, we are exact-producers and can only stockpile a little milk away at a time. For me personally, it was comforting to remember that I only needed enough pumped milk for the next day when I was away from my son.
Feed the baby, not the clock.
It can be very tempting to try to get a baby “on a schedule”. However, babies cannot yet tell time and can become hungry at any point during the day. If your baby is showing hunger cues by lip-smacking, turning towards your breast, or trying to pull at your shirt, it is time to feed them, no matter when their last feed was.
Breastfed babies often like to eat frequently in the middle of the night.
Breast milk is digested differently than formula, and breast milk production, thanks to the release of a hormone called Prolactin, peaks in the early morning hours. Thanks to these factors, as well as a few others, most breastfed babies awaken frequently to eat overnight. This is normal, but setting a good bedtime routine and having good sleep hygiene habits early on can help combat the parental fatigue that this can lead to.
Breastfeeding can sometimes be isolating and feel lonely.
Many new moms feel comfortable nursing in public and on the go, but many of us are also scared about what people may think about the way we are choosing to feed our babies or about how much skin is exposed when we are feeding babies. Many moms and babies have favorite positions, including ones such as the side-lying or laid back position, which can be difficult to replicate in public places or have a favorite breastfeeding pillow that can seem ungainly to use when out of the house. Surrounding yourself with a village that supports you and will help you work through these situations can be invaluable. Using a resource such as a breastfeeding support group where the feeding of infants is talked about in open and honest manners and where breastfeeding is normalized can be an amazing source of support.
There will be highs.
The first time you have a successful latch, the first time you use your pump successfully, the first time you pump in the car, the first smile you get when a nursing session is complete, the amazing feeling of having a baby fall asleep in your arms contentedly – these are the things that will warm your heart and soul.
There will be lows.
Low milk supply, breast infections, clogged ducts, pressure from family or friends, pressure from yourself. There will be times when breastfeeding feels less than ideal – when you have these moments, and they will come, reach out for support.
It’s okay to stop.
Any amount of breast milk you are able to provide to your baby is worth celebrating. Focus on the positives of your breastfeeding journey, no matter how short or long, and don’t let anyone, especially yourself, make you feel guilty about what your journey looks like.
It’s okay to keep going.
Nursing a toddler is something that our culture is still learning to accept. However, increasing evidence shows benefits of prolonged nursing – in fact, the World Health Organization, recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for their first 6 months of life and to continue breastfeeding, along with nutritious, complementary foods up to the age of 2 years or beyond, if mutually desired. You should never feel embarrassed or unnatural by continuing to breastfeed your baby. You know your body and baby best, and the decision to breastfeed, and for how long, is yours to make.
At Cedar Park Pediatric Family and Medicine, we are deeply committed to helping you achieve your feeding goals. All of our pediatricians strive to stay up to date on the latest and greatest in breastfeeding medicine, we offer complimentary initial LATCH assessments (an evidence-based approach to help trouble-shoot breastfeeding difficulties) done by an area IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) to all nursing families every Friday afternoon by appointment at our Ronald Reagan location, and we have a monthly breastfeeding support group where we discuss the highs and lows of nursing journeys and answer any and all questions. Happy National Breastfeeding Month to each and every one of you!