But, one of my closest friends is days away from giving birth to her first baby. (Incidentally, she is due on my birthday! Guess what special gift I am hoping for!) And, she plans to exclusively breastfeed. And, I have promised to guide her along her journey offering my support and advice when needed. After all, as I have previously mentioned, I truly believe that it is with the support and encouragement of our friends and family that breastfeeding relationships can thrive.
It is my experience that despite the fact that the United States government and the American Academy of Pediatrics, in addition to countless other countries, recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first year (plus!) of your child's life, that at least in the U.S. little breastfeeding education and preparation is automatically given to new moms PRIOR to and AFTER baby's arrival. It is further my experience that this lack of education leaves these new moms (myself included) feeling scared, lost, confused, and worried in those first days. Particularly if there are any difficulties.
I will not attempt to reinvent the wheel. Much has already been written about the mechanics of those first days and weeks. The place I always go to for breastfeeding information is a well-known blog offering evidence-based breastfeeding information and there is a great post detailing all of what a new mom needs to know in those first days as far as feeding times, how much milk, physical changes in your body, and milk supply.
Instead, what I want to offer to you is what I was not told, did not read, and therefore did not know in my first days and weeks of nursing, sugar-coating not included.
So, here we go.
1. Nursing is hard work. It's important to remember that both you and your baby are completely new to breastfeeding. You need to learn the right way to do it and so does your baby. They do not come out knowing the proper latch, you have to teach them. The great news is that they are very coachable and they learn quick.
2. Just because your friends have problems breast feeding their babies, doesn't mean you will too! This one cannot be stressed enough. I cannot count the number of friends who have said to me something along the lines of "My sister/friend/cousin had all of these problems, so I don't know if I will be able to breast feed." This is completely not true. Also, your experience will certainly not be what your friend experienced, especially if you persevere through the lows that will definitely happen.
3. Nurse on Demand. I am sure you have heard this one before. But, it is worth repeating because this is so true. When those babies want to nurse every 11 minutes, it's because they are HUNGRY, but not because they are using you as a pacifier. Their stomachs are just itty bitty right now and breast milk digests very quickly. They are growing at ridiculous rates and there are growth spurts all the time in the first few weeks. So, when they want to eat, feed them. Plus, all this nursing truly is what establishes a good milk supply for your entire nursing relationship (and that doubly goes for the night nursing). Yes, some babies seem to be hungrier than others and your friend who has a baby that slept 6 hours at night after 6 weeks is considered lucky. But, I promise that the length between nursing sessions will get longer over time and more importantly, it will get more manageable too.
3. Don't second guess yourself. If you feel something is wrong, or something you are trying is not working, you ultimately know what's best for you and your baby. Get all the advice and information you can from doctors, lactation consultants, friends, and family, but in the end, remember that its your journey and your decision.
4. Pick a resource/consultant/friend and stick with it. There are a myriad of different, and often contradicting, philosophies and techniques when it comes to breast feeding. This can be incredibly confusing to a new mom seeking information from multiple resources and can lead to second guessing both yourself and the information you are given. So, pick the source(s) you trust the most and that align with your own beliefs and pledge your loyalty.
5. There will be difficulties. Note, I did not say there will be problems. Difficulties can be overcome and nearly every issue you will have in your early days of breastfeeding can be resolved. It may not be easy, it may involve tears, swollen (rock-hard) painful breasts, cracked and bleeding nipples, not to mention completely off-the-chart hormone levels, but you CAN breastfeed! You just have to work at it like you would learning any new skill. (See #1)
6. It gets easier. Finally, some good news. Once you weather those first days of learning how to breastfeed, I promise, it will definitely get easier. And, less exhausting, all-consuming, overwhelming and then turn into something you actually enjoy. Hang in there.
This list is definitely not exhaustive, and of course, everyone has a different experience. I also want to stress that if breastfeeding doesn't work for you, for whatever the reason, the most important factor in your baby's life is the bonding they will do with their parents in these early days. Love counts more.
What would you add to this list? What were the early days of nursing your first baby like for you? I would love to hear from you on this subject because I truly feel that this is something that is just not talked about enough and just by talking about it we might help another mom to not have to experience this phase all alone.
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