When my first son was born, I was 20 years old. I mistakenly thought that breastfeeding would come naturally. I took a quick class, but I thought the tough part would be the latch. They don't teach you that the tough part is getting virtually no sleep the first couple of weeks because you are the sole provider of food for your baby. Yes, it is natural, but "natural" does not necessarily equate to "easy". Three weeks after my son was born, I went back to school. I was in one of my evening classes and my milk "let down"--which is a fancy way of saying that my body thought the baby was ready to eat and the milk starts flowing. Needless to say, with no place at school to pump and no where to store the milk, I soon sadly decided that breastfeeding and getting through the remainder of my college years wasn't going to work. I felt terribly guilty (and defensive) that I had "failed" at breastfeeding.
This time around, I had the opportunity to do it differently. It took me at least 2 months to find a rhythm and feel completely comfortable with the breastfeeding. It was hard but I didn't give up! Knowing what I know now, I have figured out that the first time around I just didn't have enough time/resources/information/support to get used to it and creatively find a way to finish school and breastfeed at the same time. I cannot go back and change the past, but I learned from it and now I can do it a better way moving forward.
So why would I work so hard to breastfeed?
- Your milk is specially designed for your baby. The formula makers are finding more and more nutrients/vitamins every year in breast milk that they synthetically try to replicate in formula. Chances are there are things they are still missing.
- Your milk is constantly changing to meet the needs of your baby depending on what your baby needs in the moment. Your milk is different from day to day and week to week. Your milk's fat content is different in the morning than it is before your baby goes to bed. Formula is stagnant. It would be like eating rice cereal every day for every meal fortified with a multivitamin. Would you think that would be healthiest option for your body? Well, it isn't the healthiest for them either.
- Babies who are breastfed have the benefit of the protection of mom's immune system, as antibodies are passed from mother to baby in the milk.
- Babies who are breastfed have a significantly lower chance of dying of SIDS and other respiratory diseases.
- Babies who are breastfed digest better and have lowered risk of developing obesity.
- Babies who are breastfed have lowered risks of health and dental issues.
- Your body was designed to breastfeed your baby. It helps you contract and strengthen your uterus postpartum, lose the extra baby weight, and reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.
- You get to bond and be close to your baby very differently than using a bottle.
That being said, there is more to breastfeeding that just sticking your baby on your chest once you give birth. There are whole professions (lactation consultants) dedicated to breastfeeding support for moms. There is a lot of information out there on how to ensure you have an adequate milk supply. There are tons of places to find support and information. You can start are www.zipmilk.com and http://www.llli.org/.
A couple of hints to start that I have found in books, from my lactation consultants, and online articles (keep in mind that I am NOT a lactation consultant and if you have questions/concerns you should see a licensed professional):
- The first few days your baby is born is really important to set the stage for your milk supply. Do not send your baby to sleep in the nursery and let the nurses determine when he/she needs to be fed. And don't let them supplement with formula or water (this can affect your supply). Keep your baby near you. When he/she starts to fuss to eat, then put him/her to breast. Feed him/her at least every 2-3 hours. Even if you think nothing is coming out!
- If you go to your pediatrician and your baby hasn't regained weight to his/her birth weight. Request another appointment a few days later for a weight check and keep breastfeeding! Typically within the week the baby will start gaining again.
- If your doctor has requested you supplement with formula, talk to a lactation consultant immediately. They can assess whether he/she is latching correctly (this affects how long they eat and how much comes out!) and they can help you to increase your milk supply if necessary. If you need to supplement, they can help guide you to ensure it doesn't compromise your milk supply. Believe it or not, if you give your baby a bottle of formula and you don't stimulate your milk supply--you body doesn't think you need more milk and will start producing less (so the situation will become worse). It doesn't necessarily mean you will never have enough milk. Let someone help you!
- Don't necessarily go by a strict "schedule" and don't limit feedings in duration or in time between. If you fed your baby and he/she is rooting an hour later. Feed him/her again! Feed at least every 2-3 hours.
- The 2-week and 6-week growth spurts are normal. If you feel like your baby is eating constantly all day--it is normal and won't last forever. You DO have enough milk! If you don't, as long as you keep feeding, your body will catch up and start producing more milk!
- Call for help early if you think something is wrong.
In health and wellness,