The decision to breastfeed is a personal one. For some women, it's a no-brainer, but for others, it's not a consideration.
I decided from the the beginning that I would breastfeed my baby, but I'm going to share a secret with you: I was a bit weirded out by the idea. It was a quick decision for me for financial reasons at first. Once I saw how expensive formula was and considered the cost of daycare, I knew we could save big. But beyond the savings, I wasn't so sure. I knew it was best for the baby, too, but I couldn't wrap my mind around it. What would it be like to feed a baby — my baby — from my breast? As if the thought of meeting my baby for the first time wasn't profound enough! Something told me, despite my fears about the unknown, that it was right for me. And it was the best decision I ever made. But, it was a struggle in the beginning. Here's w hat helped:
1. Decide you're going to commit and do it before birth. I think it really helped that I'd already made the decision. I'd already weighed the options way before the birth, so by the time baby arrived, it was set. I would nurse him. I had done all the research in advance, read several books, and I was familiar with basic latch techniques. Had I still been up in the air when he arrived, I likely would have given up. I even dug out my old Cabbage Patch doll and practiced different nursing holds and nursing covers. Who says a grown woman can't play with dolls?!
2. Don't wait until the baby gets here to get help. One of the best things I did before the birth was ask, ask, ask. I wasn't afraid to bombard anyone (and everyone) I knew who nursed their babies with questions. Did it hurt? (Everyone said yes, in the beginning!) Does it get better? (Yes!) What worked best? I also attended a local La Leche League meeting. I'm so glad I did. There were other pregnant women there and women nursing their babies. Yep, they do it right there! And that's what I needed. It made breastfeeding a real thing to me — an act of nutrition, not something to be freaked out by. As a bonus, I met women I could call day or night for help if I needed it. Many hospitals and birthing centers also offer weekly meetings for nursing moms.
3. Be patient. The first few times will be difficult! That's okay. Yeah, nature will take over and... blah, blah, blah. Nature- schmature. It takes work! You're new at this and so is your baby. He may not latch on perfectly the first few... well, even several times. There's a boob there. He knows where it goes. He'll worry about the logistics later. You're learning together. Your baby won't just pop out, do a double axle, and gracefully land in a perfect-ten nipple latch. Just like anything, practice makes perfect (and even then, it's not always perfect!)
4. It will hurt, but not forever. I don't care what the books say. It's a-gonna hurt, gals. So many of the things I read said that breastfeeding shouldn't hurt — it should feel like a gentle tugging sensation. Uh, ya, like after you get the hang of it. I'll never forget my first night in the hospital. The lactation nurse stopped by to check in. "How are your nipples, are they sore?" I explained that I did have one sore nipple that was bleeding (and sticking to my shirt — ouch!), but that the other one was still ship-shape. "Do you mind if I look?" I proudly unclipped my nursing tank to show my newly minted baby fountains — I was especially proud of my non-obliterated nipple. "Oooh, that one doesn't look good either, hon." Oh. But with the lactation nurse's help, we tried all sorts of different nursing positions and she really helped with my latch (along with a whole tube of nipple cream). Turns out, baby just wanted to tuck his lip under a bit too much. Once we corrected that, and found a position that suited us both, the healing began and we were on our way. Soon, the sting became a mild discomfort, that became the gentle tugging sensation all the books promised.
5. Get your partner involved. My husband was so supportive of my decision to nurse. This was great because he helped — a lot. When I couldn't quite get the baby positioned, he was right there trying to help, offering a pillow for under my arm, a glass of water (which I constantly whined for — nursing makes you thirsty), or whatever I needed. He was very much part of it all and encouraged me even when I felt discouraged. It was a way for him to be involved in the feeding process, too.
6. Don't beat yourself up. Breastfeeding works great for some, and not for others. I remember one night when my baby was crying and my milk had not come in yet. Some things I had read said to just keep switching breasts, but keep nursing. Others said to supplement with formula until your milk came in. Some said, that may cause nipple confusion, and some said... well, you_ get the picture._ My baby was crying. He was hungry. And was freaking out. I shakily (and reluctantly) cracked open a bottle of the formula we got free from the hospital. I felt ashamed. Like I had failed. What a ridiculous notion! Two days later, my milk arrived like high tide, and we were golden. I hate that I stressed myself out like that, and I vow to never do that again. There's so much pressure on mothers to do this or don't do that. Our babies can feel that stress! Relax! You're doing the best you can for your little bean — that's all that matters at the end of the day (or in the middle of the night). You do what you feel is best for your baby. Sometimes we need to take our books and chuck 'em out the window. Sometimes nursing just doesn't work out. What's important is the love and care you provide to your baby.
7. It really is amazing. And totally, completely, and utterly (pun intended) worth it. It was a difficult skill to master, but baby and I were a team and we won in the end. Remember how I said I was weirded out, wondering what it was like? Well, there are no words, but I'll try: Nursing your baby creates a bond like nothing I can describe. You'll look down and see those rosy little cheeks, little body with baby hands and legs all curled up and snuggled into you, getting his nourishment from your amazing body. As the months go on, he'll pause in the middle of nursing and look at you with his big eyes and grin with as much adorable toothlessness as he can muster, as if to say, "Remember when we didn't know how to do this?"
Was breastfeeding difficult for you? Share your tips!