Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Some Thoughts on Breastfeeding

When I was pregnant with Shepherd, I didn't do much to prepare for breastfeeding until the last few weeks before his birth. I knew I wanted to nurse Shepherd, but I was very conscious that, no matter how hard some families try, it just doesn't work for everyone. These thoughts are based on my experiences with breastfeeding.

Here are a few things I found helpful:

I took a breastfeeding education class offered by a local nurse and lactation consultant. The instructor recommended bringing husbands along, and so Aaron skeptically joined in. Neither of us knew what to expect, and Aaron kept me laughing with the assumptions he was making about what the class would entail. You can only imagine. In actuality, we spent about two hours just discussing situations regarding breastfeeding, nursing a newborn, schedules, latch issues and where to find support. It was a thorough education for many things, but it didn't cover the main thing I thought we would learn, which is how to actually do it. We did go home with a couple exceptional little books, more like brochures, that taught me a lot more about the actual process.

The lactation consultant stressed a few things that stuck with me in the first few months.

  • your baby will pick up on the stress cues you give him or her. Try to calm yourself by breathing deeply before the baby latches. Eventually, you won't have to think about it, but for the first couple of weeks, this advice kept me relaxed and comfortable with a new, slightly uncomfortable, task.
  • Find a support person who will encourage you to "stay with" breastfeeding if you are committed to it. For me, that person was Aaron, but it could have easily been my mom, my mother-in-law or any one else who would willingly support me through those first trying days. Ideally, your support person will be with you through the first week.
  • Ask your support person to be in charge of writing down the time and duration of each nursing session, wet diaper and dirty diaper. Aaron kept a log of this information for the first week, and after that, I kept the log. It was very helpful to have Aaron in charge of this for the first few days, when I was exhausted and not very good about remembering to write down information. Although he was exhausted, too, he always made sure this task was done, and it gave us great peace of mind and let us know we were on the right track until Shepherd's first doctor appointment. You can use an old-fashioned pen and paper or one of many apps. We used the (free) iBreastfeed app from Medela. It has a timer and charts to log all of the important stuff. 
  • Have an overarching goal about how long you want to breastfeed, but focus on short-term goals. The LC and nurses at the hospital where Shep was born both gave us this advice, which I am paraphrasing: 
    • At your baby's birth: Nurse your baby as soon as he or she is born. 
    • For the baby's first two weeks: Set a goal that you are going to do everything you can to breastfeed for two weeks. Seek all of the support you need if you have trouble during that time. This is the hardest period, and it does get easier every single day.
    • Three weeks to a month and a half: Set a goal to breastfeed for a month. Then, set a goal for another month. Most women find they are more comfortable with nursing by this mark, and they can continue to successfully breast feed for as long as they want at that point.

I read, but not too much. I read The Nursing Mother's Companion and I read the literature provided at our breastfeeding education class. I just wanted an idea of what to expect, both in good situations and bad. 

I asked friends for their advice and experiences. There's nothing like talking with somebody who has been there. This is my favorite piece of advice for pretty much any aspect of pregnancy, birth, postpartum and baby care. My friends were so generous with their stories, and they told me the whole truth, which was invaluable. I am glad I asked the questions I did, and I am happy to share my own experiences and what worked for us and what didn't work for us.

Utilize the nurses and lactation consultants. At our hospital, all of the nurses and lactation consultants were willing to help me immediately. They knew I was a first-time mom, and I was really blunt with them in stating that I had no idea what I was doing and just needed them to help me and teach me. They did, and they were angels. Don't be afraid to ask again and again and again, as many times as you need to, and don't think your questions are stupid. You are likely spending a lot of money to be in their care, and it's important to take advantage of all of the wisdom they offer. Don't be shy in telling them that you are uncomfortable, that you don't like a certain latch, etc., as there are myriad ways to nurse a baby.  

Find out what supplies work best for you. I posted some of my favorite things about nursing in the early days here. Earth Mama Angel Baby makes good products that I liked a lot and used religiously for about a month. Get a stack of pillows, a Boppy, or a My Brest Friend pillow to help you with positioning. Drink a lot of water, and keep a water bottle and some healthy snacks nearby. I made a nest on our chair/couch with my phone, a blanket, remote control, drinks and snacks, pillows and just rested for a few weeks. It was nice to have everything at arm's reach. 

Immediately following Shep's birth and for the first few months, these tips helped me out tremendously. I'd also note that you should feel free to call your pediatrician at all times, and keep a lactation consultant or nurse's number nearby if you need it. Don't worry about feeling silly for calling; that little baby is worth far more than feeling silly for asking a question! And, most importantly, relax. Enjoy the tiny baby. Seriously. Enjoy every blessed moment!

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