Fed is Best, but Breastfeeding is Freaking Awesome, so if Your Goal is EBF, Don’t Give Up Too Soon! (Part 1/3)
Happy World Breastfeeding Week & National Breastfeeding Awareness Month!
This is Part 1 of a 3 part series (read Part 2 & read Part 3).
As many of you already know, I am a proud breastfeeding Mama, so this month’s posts are dedicated to my breastfeeding comunidad without which I would not have made it this far on my own breastfeeding journey!
When I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but it wasn’t until I was in the thick of learning how to breastfeed that I realized how little I knew about what to expect.
Had anyone told me during those first stressful weeks that I would still be nursing my almost two-year-old, I would not have believed them. I clearly remember thinking:
“Oh I totally understand why people don’t do this…”
It was hard. I was tired. And I didn’t know what I was doing.
Still… I knew the benefits for my son and for myself, and, perhaps more importantly, I had the resources and the support I needed to get over the hump. I had people I trusted assuring me that it gets better and that then it’s pretty amazing (it does and it is!).
Over the next few weeks (on a slightly different blog schedule), I’ll share some insights on what I wish I had known before we started our breastfeeding journey:
Part One (8/1): Fed is Best, but Breast is Freaking Awesome, so if Your Goal is EBF, Don’t Give Up Too Soon!
Part Two (8/15): Honor Your Cuarentena and Build Your Support Network
Part Three (8/30): Mechanics, Logistics, and Resources, Oh My
These three posts originated as one loooooong e-mail I sent to some friends after they announced their pregnancy. When I heard their news, I immediately thought, “OMG I need to let them know what’s up.”
Since writing that first e-mail, I’ve shared a version of it half a dozen times to other friends who are expecting.
When I was pregnant, I found advice about labor, delivery, baby sleep, and parenting all around, but I heard less about breastfeeding. It seemed like this fairly natural thing that would just happen if that’s what I wanted and I got a good latch.
I’m forever grateful for the breastfeeding Mamas in my life who knew better.
They gifted me breastfeeding books, gear, feeding protocols, and then checked in and gave in person support when I was struggling.
I wouldn’t have made it without them. Or without my spouse. Or without my Mami, who never breastfed me, but knew just how to feed me as a new mom, so I could focus on learning how to feed the baby.
May this post serve other Mamas as my family and friends have served me.
Abrazos Fuertes & En Solidaridad,
Disclaimer & Disclosure
Before we jump in, let’s get a few important points out of the way:
DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT a lactation consultant and this is NOT medical advice. The post below features things I learned from my personal experiences breastfeeding. I hope this post inspires you to find the help you need if you are having a hard time.
DISCLOSURE: Throughout this post, I link to book and product recommendations. I generally recommend products I’ve used myself and loved, but if I haven’t used a product myself, I make a note of that and explain why I’m linking to it. I participate in the Amazon Associates program and other affiliate programs, so if you use my links, I may earn a small commission for qualifying purchases at no cost to you.
First Things First
If you are struggling with breastfeeding right now, please read and bookmark this article:
“When Breastfeeding is Hard”
“Find the successes in your breastfeeding. If your baby fed well once that day – that is a success. If you are still committed to breastfeeding at the end of the day – that is a success. Concentrate on that success. A good IBCLC or breastfeeding counsellor will help you to find and celebrate the successes in your day. Work on the careplan that you have created with your IBCLC and remember that every skill takes practice. If you worked on new latching techniques in the session give yourself time for those new techniques to become more natural and easier for you. Everyone falls in the early days, but with the right support it gets better, and better.”
This article helped me feel SO MUCH BETTER about myself when I was feeling really down about how challenging things were and when I was wondering whether I would be able to actually continue breastfeeding at all.
Our son was jaundiced and had trouble latching deeply, so there were days I worried I wasn’t feeding him enough and I would just start crying and crying. Between hormonal changes, exhaustion, and the actual difficulties I was having getting a hang of breastfeeding, there were certain moments I was a complete mess.
The article helped me shift to a growth mindset and helped me realize that baby and I were slowly learning more and more together each day. I began to believe that if I slowed down and celebrated each tiny win, overtime the wins would outnumber the struggles. And in my case that is, in fact, what happened.
Kellymom.com overall is an invaluable resource, so I encourage you to bookmark that site as well.
One Day / Hour / Minute At A Time: Have Realistic Expectations and Be Gentle on Yourself
Breastfeedinf can be hard. Which surprised me.
What completely makes sense, but also surprised me is that it’s hard for everyone in a different way, so there’s no easy template or instruction manual that will work on each Mama.
Think about it, we each have different breasts, babies come in all different shapes, sizes, states of health, and temperaments. Not to mention the fact that birthing itself can affect early breastfeeding, and we all know each birth story is gloriously unique.
Like with any new relationship, you and your breastfeeding baby will need time to learn each other and help each other out. And as you learn each other, you are going to learn a whole lot about yourself and your body too.
It might be hard, but it’s not a sprint — it’s a marathon — so train slowly.
Tackle one thing at a time and trust that with good advice, support, and a little time you’ll get to a good place that works for everyone.
In my experience, realistic expectations for the first two weeks looked something like:
Breast & Nipple Care Must Haves:
The importance of taking care of the girls cannot be overstated. I'll discuss this at greater length in part three of this blog series, but here's a preview of some useful products for breast and nipple care:
bras allow you to wear nursing pads and not soak your bed, but they are loose and flexible which is good for avoiding plugged ducts. I’ve linked to one option but bras are super woman specific, so do try to make time to try some on before you need them.
ones I used and loved aren’t being sold anymore, but these seem even better because they provide more coverage.
Fed is Best...
In case there is any question of where I stand, I am 100% in camp #fedisbest
We are blessed to live in a time when problems or an inability to breastfeed do not equal a death sentence. We have options. Formula can be the supplement that gets you to your ultimate breastfeeding goals. Or it can be the best option for your baby and your family. I say thank goodness it exists and is an option.
While we are blessed that we have access to formula, we are simultaneously cursed to live in a country (if you are in the US) that does not provide universal health coverage and that has some of the worst maternity and family leave policies in the world.
The reality is that there is a steep learning curve for breastfeeding mothers and I believe it’s almost impossible to succeed without time and easy access to knowledgeable support.
If you only have a few weeks of unpaid leave before you need to return to a workplace that will not support your need to pump several times a day in a private and clean place (even though they are legally required to do so), I ain’t mad at you if you say “F” this and just give baby a bottle so you can actually recover from birthing a freaking baby and spend the few weeks you have away from work bonding with baby as opposed to struggling through figuring out breastfeeding.
Our society doesn’t support breastfeeding—and I’m not talking about not being jerks to women breastfeeding in public, that goes without saying.
I’m talking about the deep systemic disregard for what families, particularly mothers and babies, actually need in the period after the birthing process.
The fact that our society doesn’t honor the postpartum period means that it doesn’t support breastfeeding for mothers.
In our society as its set up, no mother should feel guilty or like a failure for not breastfeeding.
The deck is stacked against any mother who wants to breastfeed but doesn’t have or doesn’t even know to have the right supports in place.
So proudly feed your baby however you can!
You got this Mama.
You’re doing great and don’t let any of the haters tell you any differently!
...But Breast is Freaking Awesome...
All of that being said, I’m also super pro-breastfeeding as long you can make it work for your family.
So if you want to learn more about why and how you might make breastfeeding work for you and your family, read on...
I absolutely love breastfeeding. I love the bond we share through our regular close cuddled contact (though it’s by no means the only way to bond with baby).
I love all the health benefits I know I get to provide baby from my own body.
Check out Human Milk: Tailor-Made for Tiny Humans to learn about all the amazing things your breastmilk gives your little one.
I love how rarely he’s gotten sick in the last two years.
I love how convenient it is. I mean I have a snack for him wherever we go. I don’t have to think about packing formula, water, bottles, etc. I don’t ever have to wash bottles (we used the kiinde breastmlik storage system, so even when he drinks from a bottle it’s from the same storage pouch I pumped into, so we just toss the kiinde nipples into the dishwasher as opposed to constantly washing bottles).
I love the extra $$ in our pocket we didn’t have to use to buy formula.
I love that nursing is as a source of comfort for him — besides nutrition, kiddo will nurse to settle down when upset, ease into sleep, or just for the extra snuggles.
It’s definitely a commitment, but it has been SO worth it for us.
That being said the beginning was SUPER TOUGH for me and is challenging in some way for just about every breastfeeding Mama I know.
From my conversations with some Mamas, one of the main differences between Mamas who were able to breastfeed past the first few weeks and those who stopped earlier than they wanted seemed to be whether they had access to:
ROBUST & KNOWLEDGEABLE SUPPORT SYSTEMS.
The best way to meet YOUR breastfeeding goals is to make sure you have a team in place to help support you through any rough patches.
My support system included:
Beyond medical support though, getting to a place where I exclusively breastfed our baby would have literally been impossible without him — he took care of me so I could learn to feed our son.
If you do not have a spouse, think about who could serve as dedicated support person(s) for at least 2-4 weeks. If you can have live-in support that is usually ideal. New babies are no joke.
My friend added me to this Facebook group when she found out I was having a tough time. They provided so much virtual support. And I found some in person BF support groups in the area through this group.
In other words, don’t try to do this alone.
Surround yourself with people who:
(1) love you and are supportive of your decision to breastfeed.
(2) are BF-ing themselves or are experts in BF-ing (Lactation Consultants) and can give you expert advice to help you get over any challenges you might face.
...So if Your Goal is Exclusively Breastfeeding (EBF), Don't Give Up Too Soon!
Every bit of breastmilk you get into your baby’s tummy is a win—no matter how you manage it. Pat yourself on the back Mama and keep it moving.
We ended up supplementing with a little formula at first because baby didn’t swallow (or “transfer” as the LCs call it) enough milk, so he was losing weight.
So we gave him formula. So what? A little formula on the route to EBF certainly didn’t hurt our little one.
He needed to eat and we needed more time to figure stuff out, so we FED him.
We gave a few oz of half pumped breastmilk and half formula to top him off after he breastfed (as per our doctor’s office LC advice) to help him gain weight.
Again, consult with your doctors and lactation consultant(s) to find the best approaches for you and your family.
Once my milk came in, it CAME IN, so we were able to put the formula away fairly quickly, but we still topped him off with pumped breastmilk after every feeding until we knew he had gotten the hang of things and was swallowing enough and gaining weight from nursing directly.
Even though we didn’t mind supplementing, we knew we wanted to get to EBF, so we found ways of supplementing that still prioritized our BF relationship.
For example, I almost always offered the breast first (20min/side until he became more efficient) before using a syringe to supplement.
After a while supplementing with a syringe became way too cumbersome, so we switched to an SNS (supplemental nursing system). With an SNS a small tube gets taped to the breast, so baby gets milk from mama and the tube at the same time. Read more on using an SNS here and here.
Using a syringe and SNS to supplement instead of a bottle helped us avoid him preferring a bottle over breast.
We also learned about paced bottle feeding for when we were ready to introduce a bottle (more on paced bottle feeding and introducing a bottle in the third post in this series).
Overall we didn’t let the challenges of supplementing and lazy latch deter us from our goal of eventually getting to EBF. Instead we hunted down the advice, support, and tools we needed to get him to latch and swallow properly.
I’ll get into more specifics about our support systems and the advice we received in order to reach our family's breastfeeding goals in the next two posts in this series.
Once again, Happy World Breastfeeding Week & National Breastfeeding Awareness Month!
I hope you have found this first post in my three part series useful.
If you’re having a hard time, read “When Breastfeeding is Hard” right now.
Take it One Day / Hour / Minute At A Time.
And remember Fed is Best, but Breast is Freaking Awesome, so if Your Goal is EBF, Don’t Give Up Too Soon!
Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3:
Part Two (8/15): Honor Your Cuarentena and Build Your Support Network
Part Three (8/30): Mechanics, Logistics, and More Resources, Oh My
The Nursing Mother’s Companion
ORDER THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW!
You’ll want The Nursing Mother’s Companion by your nightstand to help you troubleshoot those first few days and beyond. Reading parts of it beforehand will also give you some good info — but if you don’t get around to that at least you’ll have it once you need it.
I highly recommend this book to all mothers who want to nurse because it includes quick troubleshooting guides. Instead of having to search through a whole book when I was having trouble, I was able to look up my specific problem and quickly read through the straightforward troubleshooting guide that gave me specific actionable steps that I could implement immediately.
Here is a list of a few more good reads related to today’s post:
Before You Go...
Stay in touch:
Li Yun Alvarado
Puerto Rican Poet, Scholar & Parent
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