Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Breastfeeding: An Afterthought

Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten quite a few emails regarding the topic of breastfeeding, compelling me to comment a little bit more on the subject…

When it comes to this particular subject, I believe there are three types of people (and, no I am not trying to compartmentalize people or trivialize this-- I just want to offer some point of reference). First, there are those mothers who plan on breastfeeding and, as soon as the baby is born, the infant takes to it like the whole process is old hat. Everything works well, goes according to plan, and the experience is wonderful.

Second are the mothers who have absolutely no desire to breastfeed. Either they can’t picture themselves doing it, or the thought of it grosses them out a bit and the decision to go with the bottle is an easy one. The experience of bottle feeding is ideal for them, and the baby takes to the bottle very well, with mild tweeking in regard to the right formula. As with the first mother, everything goes according to plan, the experience is perfect and mother and child are better for the decision she made.

The third types of mothers are those of us on the fence. They really want to breastfeed or do a mix of breast and bottle, but things don’t go according to plan. From painful feedings, to trouble with latching, not knowing if the baby is getting enough, and even (yikes!) Mastitis, the experience is not good. This often leads to real sadness as a hope is not realized. Frustration and guilt weigh heavy on an already sore, sleep deprived woman who is trying to figure out what is best for her child. Many turn to constant pumping (resulting in unexpected empathy for cows), or just decide to go with formula full time.

For the first two types of moms, congratulations on your success and your satisfaction with making the right choice for you and your child. Whether your infant is feeding from the breast or bottle, nothing is better than that little one looking up at you as they happily guzzle away, knowing they are taken care of.

For the last set of moms (who seem to make up a majority), please know that you are not alone in your frustration. It is so hard, and if it doesn’t work out it is easy to feel like you failed. The reality: trying to do what you believe is best for your child is never a failure. Your child knows he or she is cared for and loved, and the best thing you can do is to find a course that brings you happiness (and some sense of accomplishment) and, in turn, your baby will be happy too. It doesn’t matter who says what, that is the greatest gift you can give your newborn.

For those of you considering breastfeeding, I figured now might also be a good time to list some of things I wished someone had told me before I decided to breastfeed. It would have made those initial weeks seem less confusing and frustrating.

1) Breastfeeding is a full time job. In the beginning, as you try to master technique and timing, it may seem like your nursing around the clock. That will pass, but you have to look at it as a learning process for the both of you. You’ll probably start with 10-12 feedings in a 24 hour period (I know!!...but it gets easier)…fortunately for you, your social datebook is probably pretty clear.

2) Breastfeeding is not instinctive. Building on the previous point, the baby is not a little bird that will instinctively open its mouth at the first sign of milk. You have to teach them how to nurse, while also trying to keep them awake through a feeding (tickle their feet, blow on their hair, etc), and burping them periodically.

3) Drink water. Every time you nurse, try to keep a glass of water at your side. After almost passing out on Walnut Street, I was convinced I had Shigella (word to Eric) or some other exotic disease, but, according to my doctor, I was not drinking enough water. Keeping yourself hydrated is just as important of keeping your calorie intake up. Nursing is the equivalent of burning over 700 calories a day! Imagine working out that much and not drinking water after? That may be why breastfeeding moms drop the weight a lot faster, but it’s also why they readily get bouts of dizziness.

4) Someone will have a problem with your decision. Just like someone would criticize you with going with the bottle, it seems like people just love to dispense unsolicited advice. A lot of this comes from a need to validate their own choices and so they down yours. Ignore them. Mute them. Hang up the phone. As I have been saying, your choice is your happiness, and your baby’ as well.

5) Watch what you eat. Breastmilk passes on some of your food and drink to the baby and not all foods (especially gassy ones) go well with new little tummies. In the beginning, try to avoid very gassy foods (too much fruit, broccoli, onions, etc) and cow’s milk/dairy products. It will help cut down on the gas and fussiness a great deal and then, over time, gradually introduce things back into your diet to see how the baby does.

6) Surround yourself with people who know what they’re talking about. Whether you have a friend that is also a lactation consultant or just someone who has been through it successfully, listen to their advice and mix it with your own instincts to ensure success.

7) Never, ever beat yourself up if things don’t work out. As a mother, you will provide your child with immeasurable gifts and, again, passing your happiness on to your child is the best thing you can feed them.

Again, check out
www.kellymom.com if you’re looking for a good source. And I’d like to send my own thanks to Julie, Beckee, and Mary Jo for their advice and support….they were a large part of my success at this.

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