Updated: Sep 16
World Breastfeeding Week earlier this month inspired me to write about my own nursing journey.
I remember preparing for my little one’s arrival. I knew I would breastfeed, but had never watched anyone close to me do it. To be honest, I did not know how. My husband and I took a great labor prep course that included some information on breastfeeding. That was just a tiny taste. Per my usual style, I read a book - The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. That book really helped set expectations for me on what a real breastfeeding journey can look like. It’s so different for everyone. I needed to realize that. It was a great read and mentioned the La Leche League. I am so thankful that I found a local chapter on Facebook and got connected. It’s one thing to read about breastfeeding, but experiencing it is a whole new world. Since I had never done it before, I didn’t really have context for the terms I was reading about or foresee the questions and issues I would have.
On June 13th, 2017 the day came that my son was born and all of the theoretical would be put into practice. Immediately after Micah was born, he was laid on my chest where he stayed until he was taken to get measured, then came right back to me. We didn’t wash him right away, so we got lots of skin to skin in those early moments. I knew that if I laid him on my chest, he would wiggle his way to my breast when he was ready to eat. That’s exactly what happened… he rooted around and latched on. It was all going as I expected. I continued to think it was going smoothly for at least a day, then I felt like something was wrong.
While my baby continued to nurse and was doing well, I was in so much pain. Could this amount of soreness, cracking, bleeding and pain be normal? The hospital lactation consultant said everything was going normally and didn’t have any suggestions for me.
The next six weeks were a blur. Micah wanted to nurse every 30 minutes to two hours for many weeks. I don’t remember when he started sleeping longer periods, but it took a while. I didn’t want to give him a pacifier and potentially cause nipple confusion, but after around 3 weeks when we finally tried one, it helped tremendously with the nursing frequency. Turns out, he was using me for food and as a pacifier. He was a busy boy already!
For those six weeks, I was in so much pain, toe curling pain, at the start of each feeding that I couldn’t be comforted. I didn’t want my husband around in those moments. I tried nipple shields, different positions, nothing seemed to help. I was confused because the lactation consultant in the hospital said all was well. At this point though, I wanted to quit. So, I started to reach out on the La Leche League FB page. A very kind woman told me about Mom’s Place in Austin. You can go there for free breastfeeding support!
I made an appointment and was amazed at my experience. My lactation consultant tested my milk for nutrient content, she weighed the baby and all looked great. Here’s the kicker though, she watched me breastfeed. She showed me how to get into a supported position and she showed me how to get a better latch! All this time, the latch was too shallow and that was what caused the terrible pain. So simple but so easily missed. She saved my breastfeeding journey. I am so thankful to her. With my new skills, I was able to get to let my body heal and breastfeed pain free. I had to let a stranger watch me breastfeed, which was outside of my comfort zone.
I had no idea so many people would be seeing my breasts while I was navigating new motherhood. It was all worth it though.
Looking back to that first latch in the hospital, it was so shallow, but I had no idea. I’m sure I had read about a good latch, but I didn’t know what that looked like. New moms have so much to navigate. We need to know how much and how often to feed. We may need to learn how to pump and how often. When my son was three months old, I started 9 weeks straight of full time supervised practice to finish up my training as a dietitian. I had to pump 3 times a day at numerous different worksites. Navigating all of that (not to mention, which pump to buy, how to store milk, etc) was daunting at times. That experience put a soft spot on my heart for mothers. No mama should feel alone or lack access to the information and support she needs to succeed. So I’ve made it my mission to help support women on their journeys.
I had my own struggles, but how do I know I’m not alone?
Here are some statistics. In the US, only 58% of infants are breastfed through 6 months. Only 35% of infants are still breastfed at 1 year of age.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months with continued breastfeeding along with introducing appropriate complementary foods for 1 year or longer.” - The CDC
There are many professionals and mom advocates working to support women to increase breastfeeding rates, for the good of our children. I want to acknowledge that this information can be painful for moms who cannot breastfeed or who have chosen not to. I want you to feel accepted anyway. The truth is, most moms do not have actual physical issues with breastfeeding and there can be a higher rate of success. I don’t believe it does anyone good to downplay the benefits of breastfeeding or to treat breast milk and formula like equally good options. Human milk is far superior as it boasts perfect nutrition, along with protective factors like antibodies, white blood cells, good bacteria, beneficial hormones, enzymes to support digestion and more, none of which formula can replicate. Mom’s milk changes as the baby’s needs change. It’s incredible, really. The baby also gets to experience varying flavors based on what mom eats. This is really helpful come time for little ones to start solids. They are already accustomed to more flavors than those babies who have only had formula. Simply put, the research shows that breastfed babies are healthier and do better in life.
So how can we take better care of ourselves as moms and our babies?
One of the best things we can do as moms is give it our best shot. Still, no woman should be shamed for not breastfeeding, whether she chose it or not. Instead, my hope is that women will experience the support we need to be successful.
Moms, we need support in many forms when it comes to breastfeeding.
We need physical support like plenty of hydration and food despite sleep deprivation and the practical challenges of the fourth trimester.
We need help getting set up sometimes. Having a great breastfeeding support pillow and someone to help get comfortable goes a long way.
We need to understand how it all works - a good latch, positioning, how much the baby will drink and how often.
We need to understand that the journey looks different for everyone - that point needs to be normalized in our minds and in our culture.
We need to know we are good moms; we are loved.
Confidence matters - believe you can. While most of us do not have physical issues that prevent us from breastfeeding, we face very real barriers. The challenges lie with confidence, knowledge, logistics, cultural expectations and confusion due to opinions from just about everyone on the subject. If you need someone to come alongside you on this journey, please reach out. You are not alone in this.