What I Wish I Had Known About Breastfeeding
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Sweet Peas, Pods & Papas: All About Birth, B@@bs & Babies

What I Wish I Had Known About Breastfeeding

At the La Leche League Meeting I attended on Tuesday, the leader had a great idea to get conversation going about "Getting Breastfeeding Off To A Good Start".  She pulled some answers from a question posted on the LLL facebook page and printed them on index cards.  She asked those of us with previous breastfeeding experience to also chime in with our own experiences since she ran out of cards (lots of people in attendance – yeah!).

I thought a recap of the meeting would be a perfect topic for today’s post as our mamas from our Fall 2012 class are still learning about breastfeeding, and we have a whole new group of mamas from our Winter 2012/2013 class getting ready to start their breastfeeding journey for the first time.

With that preface, here is a list of 
“Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Breastfeeding”:

1. Get help early and often. Nursing shouldn't hurt. If it hurts, it's probably not right.
     This was my "wish".  To illustrate my point, I shared this quote from our chiropractor, Dr. Ross, “Just because it’s common does not mean it is normal.”  If I had known that a simple chiropractic adjustment would prevent 30+ days of crying every time I breastfed, I would have been to a chiropractor much sooner.  It wasn’t until our third baby that we discovered pediatric chiropractic care.  Our case is specific, your case may be different – so my strongest encouragement is that if you are experiencing ANY pain, get in front of someone who can help you AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  A La Leche League leader (free), a lactation educator ($), an IBCLC ($$-$$$) – any or all of these people can provide reassurance and direction, and when necessary, refer you to the next level of provider for your specific issue that is causing pain at the breast.

2. When you get “it”, it's really awesome. It starts to be effortless when it's going well.
     After four nursing relationships, I couldn’t agree more.  It is a beautiful day when you realize there were no tears, baby is doing great and that you didn’t “think” about breastfeeding – it just happened!  You start to feel like you can start your “new normal” with you and your nursling, free to confidently go about your day without worrying about timing, leaking and keeping notes about everything (if you are prone to taking notes – lol).

3. It would be good to know you won't die of sleep deprivation.
     Ahh – so true.  We encourage all our students to “stock up” on sleep before baby arrives.  There is a learning curve with an infant; and then there are the hours of staring at them because you cannot believe that you grew this baby, this living, breathing proof of your love with your partner.  I comfort you with the thought that this is a season, and while you may not be sleeping “for now”, you will all get into a new groove and start sleeping again some day in the near future.

4. How often babies eat when they are firstborn and the timing of when they become more efficient. 
     The LLL leader shared that babies nurse about five hours in every 24 hour cycle - you do get breaks in between.  It may not feel that way, and that is why there is the age-old wisdom to sleep while the baby is sleeping.  The learning curve for each MotherBaby pair is different, so as both mama and baby get nursing “organized” it will start to feel more effortless.

5. I wish we had known we were going to co-sleep. It would have saved a lot of money.
     This was shared from a personal experience.  The mama shared that they spent a small fortune creating a “perfect” baby space that they hardly ever used.  She found that she slept better with her baby at her side, and preferred both of them sleeping well over using the nursery that kept her running back and forth all night.

6. Trust my instincts because well-meaning people tell you things that go against what you feel.
     This was another local, personal experience.  This mama heard all kinds of advice from family and friends, some of which she applied to her experience with her first baby because so many people couldn’t be wrong, right?  She has done more reading since then, and she has decided that this time around, she is going to follow her instincts with her baby – even if her instincts are going against the advice from folks who are wanting her to do something different.  After all, you have to live with the choices you make with your baby 24/7, not them.

7. Realizing that breastfed babies will gain weight and develop differently than a formula-fed baby.
     SO TRUE!  In fact, the World Health Organization has a growth chart specifically for breastfed babies.  If your pediatrician is encouraging you to supplement, check your baby against the WHO growth chart, and if your doctor doesn’t have it, take it to them.

8. It can be lonely having a baby. Get support from people who share your values.
     At first, there is the joy and excitement, a partner who is taking time off of work, and usually extended family to help with the baby.  Then your partner goes back to work.  Then your family leaves.  And it’s you and baby, all alone.  HERE are some ideas on building a like-minded community – go!  Get out of your comfort zone if necessary.  We are still friends with a family that we met at baby storytime 8 years ago.  If nothing else, it gives you a goal for the day, it gets you out in the sunlight, and hopefully another sleep-deprived mama on a learning curve with which you can share a smile, and maybe even a conversation that develops into a lasting friendship.

9. That it would get easier. Using expressed bottles while baby learned to breastfeed is not the end of the world.
     The formula companies have had the marketing advantage of a 100-year head-start.  That doesn’t mean that your milk isn’t just as good as their blend of corn syrup and chemicals.  There are many scientific studies demonstrating the clear advantages of breastmilk over formula.  You can supplement with your own milk, and if you are not making enough, there is a new community of milk-sharing that has emerged over the last few years.  Read more about safe milk-sharing HERE.

10. The problems that can arise from pacifier use.
     Ways to possible head this off is knowing how to get a good latch. It is difficult to predict which baby will have nipple confusion, so pacifier use is a choice for parents to consider carefully.  There is also a benefit to non-nutritive sucking at the breast – the body is still getting the message that the baby is there and needs milk.  A baby that likes their pacifier may also have problems with weight gain. If the baby is content with the pacifier, they may start skipping feedings.  The common consensus from the leaders was to wait until the breastfeeding relationship is well established, the learning curve is over and the mama’s supply is meeting her baby’s needs.

11. How hard it was - thought it was going to be easy. I thought it was going to be “natural” and didn't expect all the problems.
     Over the course of The Bradley Method® classes, we talk about the advantages of breastfeeding and attempt to dispel some common breastfeeding myths.  It is by no means a comprehensive tutorial on “how-to” breastfeed.  We encourage all our students to attend at least two La Leche League meetings so that they have a realistic expectation of what breastfeeding might be like, and to be plugged into a support system before their baby is born so that they have resources at the ready if they should need them after baby arrives.
     The good news is that with good help and support, you can learn to breastfeed over the first few weeks, and if the bumps are smoothed out in the early weeks, by the time your baby hits their three-month milestone, you may feel a lot more confident.

12. Didn't know how much time it would take in regards to time nursing and the learning curve.  It is all worth it.
     Cut yourself some slack as you're going down the transition from pregnancy to nursing. Set little goals for yourself – sometime it may be as immediate as “one more day”.  And be kind to yourself - remember that you are healing physically.  For some mamas, there may also be some emotional healing from a birth experience that did not go as they expected.

13. I wish I had known all kids are different.
     Roughly paraphrased from the mama. “Older son still doesn't sleep thru the night, and he has taught me a lot. You learn on the spot. You can't prepare for everything. The one thing we have learned is that breastfeeding has helped us through so much. For example, he had a lot of surgeries.  It was such a comfort for him to be able to nurse in recovery – breastfeeding is the ultimate in nurturing. I am so glad I did not wean him when I had thought about it - you never know when you'll need it.”

14. That it was hard to say, "No," nurses in the hospital.
     Another rough paraphrase, “ We got two minutes with Lactation Consultant because there were lots of babies born the same day as our child. We formula fed in hospital because of tongue-tie and neck problems. It was so hard to go to breast after using formula for a week. It's okay to say no – because we didn’t speak up, it caused a domino effect of other choices.”

15. Shoving the head into the breast is a no-no.
     This is an old nurse’s “trick” that has been around for a long time.  It can be one of the best ways to upset a baby and make the breast a scary place.  One of the leaders offered this example:  Tilt your head forward and try to swallow – can’t! If you need to support the baby’s head, hold head behind the ears.  As you tilt head back, the tongue should come forward.

16.  I wish I had known about laid-back breastfeeding.
     Babies can instinctively position themselves on the breast.  In this case, a video is the best explanation.  I encourage you to watch this short clip (click HERE) To see something else that is pretty neat, click HERE to watch a video of the breast crawl with a newborn
Both of these are instinctual processes that can happen when the MotherBaby are left to “get organized” without intrusion after a healthy, low-risk birth.  Contrary to popular belief, it does not have a specific time-window.  Moms have been able to do this with older infants as long as they are skin-to-skin and relaxed.  A bathtub may be a good place to try this as long as mom is alert and maybe there are an extra pair of hands to help just in case.

17. I wish I had taken any help that anyone offered so that I could have focused on breastfeeding.
     This is great advice that is so hard to accept.  We all seem to have a need to be “SUPER”.  Re-read number 12 on the list if you, like me, have a hard time letting go of control.  The postpartum period is the time in your life to breathe deeply and enjoy your baby while everything else is left alone.  EVERYTHING else.  
     If you must, pick one space to obsess about, and keep it tidy.  Then get back to enjoying your baby: their smell, their size, their sounds, their little grip on your big finger…you will never recapture these precious weeks as a newborn.  NEVER.  
     In the grand scheme of things, you will not remember what you freaked out about because you couldn’t let it go.  You will remember how sweet, perfect and innocent your sweet baby was when they are 8 going on 18 and walking independently away from you faster than you can blink.

What do you wish you had known before you started breastfeeding?
Please leave us a comment - it will be moderated and posted.  *I think* that the amount of traffic you so generously generate has led to a lot of spam posting.  In an effort to keep the spam to a minimum, I am taking the time to moderate comments now.   

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