Friday, May 21, 2010

What breastfeeding means to me and some advice for successfully breastfeeding...

Since I am a proud booby mama and haven't blogged much about breastfeeding, I thought I'd post here a response I wrote to a post on a forum about what breastfeeding means to me (from a post by a mom who hadn't successfully breastfed yet but determined to breastfeed her next baby):

Here is my response:

I say if you can get past the first 6-8 weeks, it is so worth it! In the beginning, I honestly thought I would not last 6 days breastfeeding (my milk was slow to come in, not until 5 days postpartum, up to a week is normal & your baby will be fine on colostrum up to a week as long as diaper output is sufficient and there aren't signs of dehydration, it is NORMAL to for the little one to lose weight while waiting on the milk to come in, to encourage your milk production, nurse, nurse, nurse!) let alone 6 months or a year, and here I am still breastfeeding my 2.5 year old toddler, and I love it! When she weans, I know it will definitely be bittersweet.

First, be sure you have yourself a very breastfeeding-friendly pedi. This is HUGE!! I didn't realize at the time I was choosing pediatricians how important this is, but I lucked out with a non-pushy male pedi. and then because I was a newer patient, the clinic turned me over to a newer female pediatrician the practice had taken on by my baby's 1 month well baby visit. I only learned through time that she breastfed her child well past 1 and knew all the benefits of breastfeeding firsthand as well as extended breastfeeding. Truly a blessing in disguise as she wasn't pushing formula on me because my baby remained at 3-7% for weight (and she is still a skinny one at 2.5 yr. old!) and wasn't diagnosing my baby as failure to thrive at her 1 yr. appt. She was just pleased that my child was consistently remaining in her percentage on the growth curve (she was born quite small, too, and I was well past my due date at the time).

Also, I would try to attend your local LLL (La Leche League) BEFORE your baby is born. The meetings are free and it can be great to get contact info before you are in the midst of it all, sleep-deprived with a newborn and trying to establish a breastfeeding relationship.

If I could do that first year over again, I'd stress much less about weight and focus on how my little one is meeting milestones, diaper output, does she look healthy and pink, etc.

Anyway, the beginning was hard for me, and I didn't have issues - no bad latch, no sore nips even. I just hadn't known breastfeeding an infant would be so time-consuming. All my daughter wanted to do was breastfeed and sleep until she was roughly 2.5 - 3 months old (and she did precious little of the sleep part!) Even after 3 months, she loved nursing, though I had to do it in a dark quiet place once distractability hit around 4 months. I'm an avid reader, and I haven't had that much time to read or sit around watching DVDs & reading books since DD was a newborn because I was nursing constantly. I would have enjoyed that "me" time more if I could (though with other little ones, it will be different for you, obviously).

Especially if you're a SAHM, get comfortable with NIP (nursing in public). The more often you do it, the less self-conscious you become about it. I have LOVED having a booby baby while flying on a plane or sitting in an airport terminal. Even when she was 2, I nursed her on the airplane, and I had absolutely no toddler tantrums because she nursed herself to sleep during the flight, unlike the poor mom in front of me whose toddler kept throwing her sippy cup into the aisle and screaming. There are many other instances with my daughter, both as a baby and toddler when she's been whiny & cranky in public, and I pop a boob into her mouth, and it's all better (very soothing for after vaccinations, waiting & waiting for an appt. in a doctor's office or elsewhere, fussy at restaurant meals, etc.).

For me, the biggest benefit in the first year was the nutrition aspect. I had a little one who was very slow to take to solids (wouldn't start them at all until around 8 months & she was 15 months old before she would even sometimes eat what I'd consider an actual meal for a toddler). She wouldn't drink cow's milk either at 12 months, so it felt natural to me to keep offering the boob.

Around 18 months, my daughter got a horrible stomach virus. For days, she refused most clear liquids and threw up everything she ate - water, juice, popsicles, broth, etc. But she nursed like a newborn during that period and she barely threw up any breastmilk at all. I am sure that if she had not been breastfeeding, we would have gone to the emergency room, and she would have needed to be hydrated with an IV, definitely a trauma worth avoiding.

I started out wondering how women who loved BF'ing managed it. I didn't see anything to like about it and felt like a milk cow and resented it especially as I got a very high needs child who transitioned by 6 weeks to full-time cosleeping and I would get woken at all hours of the night to nurse. But at some point, she did switch to nursing once, maybe twice a night, and I could handle that, pop the boob in her mouth and go back to sleep.

If you breastfeed beyond one, and there are many moms who do go on beyond that, there comes a point where breastfeeding is more about comfort than nutrition (though I am sure my daughter still gets some nutrition from it). I feel strongly that the comfort aspect of BF'ing is just as important as the nutrition aspect. Plus, toddler nursing, while challenging at times, can still be the sweetest and cutest thing. I've had my daughter "sharing" the booby with dolls, stuffed animals, even a paper lunch sack she wore as a puppet. They will say the silliest things about the boobs. (For example, we pray before we eat. My daughter will say, "Thank you Jesus for our food and for the boobies! Amen!"  We didn't teach her to thank Jesus for the boobies; she just came up with that on her own!) At this point, I enjoy the connectedness with my daughter when she nurses (mostly comfort nurses now)...and also nice for a SAHM chasing after a no-napping 2.5 year old all day, my daughter will lie on my chest and nurse for 30 min. or so on the couch when she watches a video, and I can actually read a book or something then and catch a bit of a break).

I didn't have moments of actually loving breastfeeding until my daughter was 2.5 - 3 months old and even then, there were many moments when I didn't love breastfeeding. From the beginning, I kept her to the breast (whenever she wanted, didn't follow any clock or schedule). I remember evacuating when Hurricane Ike came through in 2008 (DD was around 9 months old), we were stuck in traffic for hours & it was not a worry if I had enough water for formula along (the most important thing I had to take with me I felt was my pumped breast milk!). When we returned, we had power, but the neighbors across the street didn't for another 2 weeks and the water system was iffy (had to boil the water & water supplies in the nearby stores were low to none). I was sure glad to be a booby mama then!

There are lots of precious moments to list if you go on breastfeeding - the first time your little one signs "milk" for nursing, the first time my daughter said "booby", etc. Especially if you nurse beyond 1, you will find more often than not, breastfeeding can cure toddler ouchies & soothe tantrums and maybe get Mama a moment of down time in her day.

The best advice I have for anyone starting out breastfeeding is don't set lofty goals for yourself that seem undoable. I'd tell myself I could make it 1 week then stop if breastfeeding was so horrible and 1 week came and I thought maybe I could breastfeed another day after the beginning, it was day by day "I'll get through this day and I think I still can do this tomorrow", then 2 weeks, 3 weeks (a difficult time here, many through in the towel because of constant growth spurts), just do it day by day and tell yourself if breastfeeding is still so hard/impossible/tiring tomorrow, you can stop then, and the next day would come and I'd tell myself the say thing over again thinking I can make it just this 1 more day and really, this philosophy got me through the first 8 weeks breastfeeding and by then we were well and truly on our way. I would also say, keep yourself open to cosleeping - this also a practice I swore I'd never do, but it ended up being a lifesaver for me because I got more sleep that way too, my daughter slept better, and I was a much better Mama for having had more rest!

Sorry for the book...obviously, breastfeeding has been such a wonderful part of my relationship with my daughter that I hate to think of all the things I might have missed if I'd thrown in the towel the first 8 weeks.