A letter to myself: What I wish I knew about breastfeeding as a new mom

by Lindsay Maurer

Sara McCracken Photography

Congratulations!  You’re having a baby!  I’m sure you’ve prepared for everything.  You have the best crib, the safest car seat, the tiny clothes and the cutest diaper bag.  You’ve likely made a decision on how you plan to feed your baby and regardless of your choice I’m so thrilled for you, Mama!

Let me first preface this blog to say that I am not an expert in breastfeeding.  What I am is a mom who has had two babies (who are almost 3 and almost 7!),  one of which I breastfed and one of which I did not.  Now if you’re looking for a blog of facts and figures to support that breastfeeding is the ONLY way to feed your baby then please keep looking.  I will not be sharing a one-sided story. What I will be sharing is real-life tips on surviving this “joyous and natural” decision that you’ve made.  Most importantly, I will be sharing my support of you, regardless of what you’ve chosen.

I would like to share my top 5 tips for keeping it real and having a good time while you figure out what can be one of the harder things that having a new baby entails.  These are the things that I wish someone had told me before I began breastfeeding.  Hopefully, you will learn something that you can use as well as have a good laugh!  

  1. Breastfeeding hurts, but it shouldn’t for very long

I know that this is something that you’ve heard before. Having a tiny human piranha attach itself to one of your most tender bits isn’t exactly a day at the spa.  Initially, your breasts are going to be extraordinarily sore and tender.  Yes, breastfeeding is a natural thing and breasts are there for feeding our infants, but that doesn’t mean that they are ready to be handled like a raccoon tearing into a trash bag.  This feeling of soreness and tenderness and yes…even bleeding is totally normal in the first few days of beginning breastfeeding.  You’ll want to have your baby’s latch evaluated by a lactation consultant during your postpartum stay to make sure it’s correct.  The good news is, after some time and with a correct latch, that pain should subside.  If it continues, please find a great breastfeeding support group and continue to work with your doctor, midwife, doula or lactation consultant.

  1. You won’t feel like your baby is getting anything to eat at the beginning…and that’s ok

In the beginning, you will be feeding your baby A LOT.  The funny thing about this is that it won’t feel like they are actually getting anything out of their 198,456 feedings a day. Many new moms fear that they are not producing enough milk when their baby is first born, and that can be an extraordinarily discouraging feeling.  Let me share just a few facts with you.  A newborn stomach is only the size of a small walnut.  That means that they don’t need a lot to eat at once, but they need to eat often to keep it full.  In the first few days after delivery, you will be producing colostrum, and that’s all your baby really needs at that point.  Experts call colostrum “liquid gold” which I’ve always hated because it makes moms who aren’t breastfeeding feel like crap because their baby isn’t getting it.  It is full of the good stuff but let me be (hopefully not) the first to tell you that your baby will survive without it if you have chosen not to breastfeed.

  1. Set your goal – persistence is key

It’s likely that you’ve already done this part for the long term.  I encourage you to set a short-term goal to get started. Maybe it’s 4 weeks, maybe it’s day by day, maybe it’s to make it through the next feeding.  During your first week of breastfeeding, it’s going to feel like your milk is never going to come in. This can be discouraging and painful as your breasts adjust to their new role. Many new moms will make the decision to stop breastfeeding during this time because it feels as though they aren’t producing enough.  For some, that is the case, but for most, it’s just a transitionary time.  If breastfeeding is important to you, KEEP TRYING.  I made up my mind that I was going to give breastfeeding a 4-week try, regardless of what happened, and I am immensely glad that I did.  Had I made the choice to stop in those first few weeks I would have missed out on a great experience.  Take it one day at a time.

  1. Mega-Boob

Guess what?!  It’s 3-7 days after delivery, and your milk has decided to come in and stay a while.  Hooray right?! Maybe not if your breasts aren’t used to being 15 times their normal size.  Enter…MEGA BOOB.  Engorgement is likely the more appropriate term for this condition, and it can literally be a pain. If this is happening to you, don’t panic.  Hand expression is a great way to lessen the amount of milk that is in your breast before you pump for or feed your baby.  It’s a good idea to soften your breasts by relieving some pressure before you try to feed your baby, so you don’t inadvertently choke them or squirt them in the eye with an errant stream of milk. Also, unless you want to ruin a lot of your shirts, wear those breast pads.

This doesn’t happen to everyone.  Many, many women struggle with being able to produce enough milk for their babies and in that case formula is an amazing and healthy way to either supplement or fully provide your baby’s nutrition.  Please, please, please never hesitate to use it if your instinct is telling you to or if you just don’t feel comfortable with breastfeeding.

  1. Breast is best unless it’s not

This is where I share my story.

Yes, breastmilk is considered the best nutritional substance for your new bundle of joy.

Yes, breastfeeding can be an amazing experience for you as a new mama.

No, breastfeeding is not always the best choice for YOU.

As I mentioned above, I breastfed one of my children, and I didn’t breastfeed the other.  When my oldest was born, I didn’t breastfeed him.  There are various reasons as to why I didn’t, but that’s for another blog.  We fed him a high quality, breast milk substitute called….FORMULA (pause for surprised gasp from the audience), and from day one I was judged for that.  What was worse was that HE was judged for it.  HIM!  My newborn child.  Because he was a formula fed baby, suddenly he was apparently predisposed to be obese, sickly, and not as smart as breastfed babies. The worst part about this judgment was that it was coming from other mothers! The people who were supposed to be my “village” and my “tribe” were single-handedly tearing me apart for making the decision to feed my baby. It took me a loooooong time to get over that.

When I was expecting my second baby, I made the decision to breastfeed.  I knew we weren’t planning to have more children after her and I wanted to see what all the hype was about.  I had a successful breastfeeding experience, and I’m glad that I stuck with it.  What’s funny about this is that I was also judged for this choice.  Breastfeeding in public, to cover or not to cover, pumping, nipple confusion, what I could and couldn’t eat and more all come to mind when I reflect on the conversations I had with others while breastfeeding.

Now that I have outlined my experience with both forms of feeding, let me break down the differences between my two children for you:

HE is handsome

HE is brilliant

HE is healthy and happy

HE was formula fed

 

 

SHE is beautiful

SHE is brilliant

SHE is healthy and happy

SHE was breastfed

So, there you have it. Mamas, if you don’t want to breastfeed your baby then don’t. If you do want to breastfeed your baby, then do.  Whatever you decide, own your choice and move forward. The way that you choose to feed your baby is your business and no one else’s.  Breastfeeding doesn’t make you a better mom.  Loving your baby is what makes you the best mom in the whole, entire world.  Luckily, I have found the most amazing tribe of women where we pride ourselves in accepting each-other regardless of parenting choices.  We celebrate the love we have for our children and the love we have for each-other.  I encourage you to find that too…you’re more than welcome to join mine.

Best of luck breastfeeding….or not, and welcome to the hardest and best job that you’ll ever have!

Editor’s note: Mesa County Public Health’s Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program offers breastfeeding information and support with a certified lactation consultant on-site.  For more information about WIC, please visit health.mesacounty.us. 

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