Last month, for the first time ever, I seriously contemplated quitting. I shocked myself, and then shocked myself again by thinking over and over about how much I wanted to be done and how awful it was going. Asher's teeth had started making giant gashes whenever he had a meal, which was (and is) quite frequently throughout the day.
I'm not sure how the next few months will go, but this hiccup in our breastfeeding journey has got me thinking and I'm using the space here to flesh out some thoughts, as well as to share some important things I've learned in the past couple years. It's World Breastfeeding Week, too, so I think the timing is right.
You've heard of an Achilles heel, right?
It seems breastfeeding had become mine. I can't believe how smoothly things went with feeding Charlotte, after the first couple weeks where she didn't gain weight quickly enough and I doubted my own supply for a while. When Asher was born he latched on instantly (seriously! He was a few minutes old and we were snuggling skin-to-skin when Joel said, "Kell, I think he's trying to nurse right now!"), and then he gained weight like a freaking sumo wrestler. It was like my body remembered nursing Charlotte for 14 months and just picked up where it left off, no questions asked, no holds barred. :)
In all my motherhood doubts and fears and uncertainties, breastfeeding has been low on my list of worries. I've been so fortunate to have an easy time if it; my milk has been plentiful, both kids seemed to be comforted at the breast, and the quiet, snuggly moments became a nice part of raising my babes.
But when Asher's teeth cut me and I was struggling with the constant pain, in addition to the strong desire to quit, it broke me. My spirit was crushed and I was so defeated and disappointed. I felt like a failure, and I felt mad at my baby, though of course it wasn't his fault at all. I cried A LOT, and spent a lot of time in prayer. Over a few days, my heart really softened. I asked for help, and spoke honestly about my doubts with others.
I realized that my confidence in breastfeeding had become a bit of a pride issue, and was something that made me think I was in control. After being brought back down to earth, and having my eyes opened to my own desperate need, I could view the situation more clearly and I could humbly ask for help and admit my own frustrations.
Over the past two weeks, I've cut back on Asher's nursing sessions so my skin can really heal. I've spent a lot of time pumping milk for him, and he's taking bottles like a champ. It's a bittersweet transition, and not without some very strong emotions (and a few tears!) on my part, but it's something that would have happened eventually anyway. Now is a good time to make that change, in order to protect my skin and allow for significant healing. I'm so grateful that our breastfeeding journey will continue for a while longer, and that we had a such a positive nine moths with no issues at all.
Though I'm not an expert on nursing, I do have a bit of personal experience. I'm going to share a few things I've learned below, and also give some resources that have been helpful in my journey to this point. Here goes.
1. When in doubt, nurse! Nurse frequently in the early days after a baby is born. It's so (so!!) time consuming and uncomfortable and exhausting. Just do it. Baby is fussy? Nurse. It's been three hours since the last feeding started? Nurse. It's only been an hour and you can't believe baby is hungry again? Nurse. Your breasts are kind of full/ uncomfortable? Offer baby to nurse. Baby won't settle down to sleep? Nurse. This is my number one piece of advice and I'm VERY serious about it (obviously!).
[I think in many cases, this advice applies to older babies as well; breastfeeding is a huge source of comfort and stress relief for babies of all ages. But it's especially important in the first few months of baby's life, when milk supply is being established and then maintained. And also, older babies can be fussy because they need to sleep so I believe teaching good sleep habits is important. That's another blog post all together ;) ]
2. Get help if you are struggling at all. Talk to a lactation consultant or a midwife (or your doctor, if he/ she is knowledgeable about breastfeeding). Call a friend who has breastfed a baby recently. Call me! Any time of the day or night! The website Kelly Mom is an amazing resource--- I have used the site many, many times, and it covers a huge range of difficulties you might face. This article is very helpful, too: https://www.romper.com/p/12-things-you-dont-have-to-do-when-breastfeeding-even-though-everyone-says-you-do-14870
3. Use a nipple shield if your baby won't latch right away but be careful!! Nipple shield are not meant to be permanent solutions, and, in my understanding, can really affect supply long term because they don't always allow baby to empty the breast. Try many times a day to get baby to latch without a shield, and work hard to make baby's latch be perfect! Watch videos of how to get a good latch and ask for help. Don't be shy about this! I thought Asher's latch was okay, but I should have made sure it was perfect because nine months later it was killing me!
4. Reserve judgement. This is very hard, but very important. Don't judge that momma giving her baby a bottle. Don't judge that momma who accidentally flashes the room while trying to get her babe to latch on quickly. Don't judge that momma using a nursing cover, or going into a dark, quiet room to feed her baby. Don't judge that dad giving his baby a bottle, or helping his wife nurse discreetly in a public place. Don't judge yourself for hating nursing, or loving it, or being in between about it. Don't judge yourself for decisions you have to make, or for difficulties that are beyond your control. Being a parent is hard! Feeding a baby is hard! Let's not make the whole thing harder by criticizing each other for the decisions we make, or the circumstances in which we live.
5. Talk about breastfeeding. With your friends. With your parents. With your husband. With your children (older kids and toddlers). I feel pretty strongly that most of the misconceptions and awkwardness surrounding breastfeeding won't be changed by women in coffee shops nursing without a cover simply to make a point that they can. (Which of course, they can.) But conversations about breastfeeding, exposure to the idea as well as to the difficulties with nursing, making efforts to normalize nursing... All of these things can go a long way toward moving past the stigma. Let's have some conversations, people.