Lessons on Breastfeeding

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Breastfeeding_MegEsau
Photo courtesy of Meg Esau.

It is official; Adelyn is now weaned. She last breastfed about a week ago, bringing a bittersweet ending to our nursing. This morning I was looking back and realized that I spent nearly four years breastfeeding my children. Four years. That’s a long time. Actually, for over three years straight, I was either pregnant and/or nursing. My body needed a rest after that. When my second child weaned, my Unexpectant cohort, Steph, and I went out for martinis to celebrate. Interestingly enough, that was when Unexpectant began to take shape.

Even though I nursed for so long, I in no way consider myself a lactation expert. But, I do want to share a few things that I have learned along the way. So, to anyone thinking of breastfeeding, consider this:

Make it a priority from the moment your child is born and even before that. Tell your midwife, doula, OB, nurses, partner, parents, best friend, Facebook friends…that you want to breastfeed, so they can help you get a good start. You might have to really speak up for yourself to make sure the baby nurses shortly after birth and consistently thereafter. Don’t be afraid to make your desire known. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your baby.

It will be tough. Sometimes there is physical pain or discomfort that comes with breastfeeding. And sometimes there is frustration, confusion, exasperation and even anger when things aren’t going right. My first two children were easy nursers, but number three wasn’t so much. I spent more feeding sessions than I’d like to admit being frustrated and near tears.

It’s not as natural as it seems. Sure, your body was designed to breastfeed your babies, but that doesn’t mean it will be a 100% natural, reflexive experience for you and your baby from your first post-birth moment. Generally speaking, our society is too far removed from the breastfeeding process for that to be the case. So prepare before your baby arrives. Take a class, talk to nursing mothers, observe nursing mothers, ask questions, visit a lactation group, read books, do a Google search. The more familiar you are with the holds, proper latch techniques, feeding cues, etc., before your baby arrives, the more likely you are to have a good start to breastfeeding.

It takes time. A lot of time. Especially in those early days, much of your time will be spent nursing, if you are breastfeeding on demand. I remember one dinner party we attempted to have a few weeks after our first was born. Our son began crying and I couldn’t figure out why. After all, he had just nursed before our guests had arrived. That was my introduction to growth spurts. The little guy was hungry and I had been too distracted to notice. Babies feed on their own schedules, especially in those early days. A good friend of mine tells of how her husband would come home from work in those first newborn weeks and ask what she did all day. She told him all she could do was sit on the couch and nurse. That. Was. It.

It takes more time. For me, my babies preferred the real thing to a bottle. My first two never took to a bottle, so for the 15+ months that they nursed, I was there for every feeding. I had to pass up a lot of nights out with friends because of needing to be home, hence the importance of those post-breastfeeding martinis! I also spent a fair amount of family functions breastfeeding my little one. Since I chose to nurse in quiet areas, I missed out on a lot of conversations.

You might not always like it. I definitely had my moments, especially with Adelyn, when I doubted my resolve to nurse for at least the first year. She was difficult, fussy and easily distracted when it came to breastfeeding. For months, I fed her standing up, while walking around the room because that was the only way I could get her to latch. I sweated. I even swore at times. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fun. But we made it through and I’m glad I stuck with it.

It is worth it. In the end, those lost conversations and missed nights out weren’t as important as the healthy start that I was providing for my babies. Plus, any inconveniences were short-term. As for those walking breastfeeding sessions that Addie and I had, I see them as extra calorie burns…and lessons on perseverance.

What about you? Can you relate? What did you learn from your breastfeeding experience?

 

 

 

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