Two years into my breastfeeding journey, I look back at where I was when my son was a newborn and there are things I wish I knew then that I know now. (Besides the knowledge that it would all work out and that my son (and I) would survive!) So, I offer this list to those who are about to start their own breastfeeding relationship and to those who are in those first few weeks. I'm not a lactation consultant or a medical professional, so what I have to offer is very general and this is far from an exhaustive list.
1. All women are made to breastfeed.
For eons, the only way that human babies survived was on breastmilk. You are the product of all that successful breastfeeding evolution. You read a lot about how hard nursing is, but what you don't read so much about is how prepared you are to do it! You just might need some support. If no one in your family has breastfed and you don't have a lot of support around you, try to find a local La Leche League meeting. If you can't find one, look for support online from websites like Best for Babes or Kellymom. If you are in a lot of pain or are really struggling for whatever reason, don't be afraid to find a lactation consultant (just be wary of any consultant that has any affiliation with formula companies for obvious reasons). What you will save by not buying formula the first few month or two alone will pay their fee. A lot of women give up because they just don't have anyone to turn to and those around her are telling her that he life will be so much easier if she just used formula. That's not really true. Formula feeding has its own challenges and drawbacks; it should never be confused with an easy way out! Even women who work outside the home have been successful breastfeeding after they go to work! (Here are some tips about how to make the transition back to work from Breastfeeding Magazine.)
2. It may hurt in the beginning, but it will not hurt forever.
I remember hearing someone say that breastfeeding is like any other kind of physical activity. When you aren't used to it, it can feel awkward and you may be sore as both you and your baby figure out how to make it work, but once everyone falls into a pattern (which can take a few months), it really does become natural, I promise.
3. Breastfeeding is a relationship.
Like all relationships, there are good times and bad times and the getting to know each other time is probably the hardest. In the beginning, both you and your child are brand new to breastfeeding and that can mean that you are both a little on edge. Add in sleep deprivation, and all the fears, emotions, and hormones of new motherhood and it can all feel like the world's crashing in if the breastfeeding doesn't go as well as you thought it would. That does not mean that you can't do it or that you should give up. It just means that beginnings are hard. Your breastfeeding relationship with your child is like any other relationship in your life that is worthwhile. There are good times and bad times and lots of in between. Just let it be what it is and be patient. The more relaxed you are about it and the more time you give yourself and your child to work it out, the better it's going to be.
4. You cannot overfeed an exclusively breastfed baby.
A breastfed infant cannot have too much breast milk. Usually, your body makes exactly enough and your child eats exactly enough. Now, there may be some changes you will need to make to your diet if your child has reflux and you may need to make adjustments to your nursing routine (like holding him or her upright for at least twenty to thirty minutes after each feeding like I had to), but your baby will not become obese from breast milk (although he or she may become healthily chubby!). Offer to let your child nurse as often as possible in the beginning to make your milk supply strong. Breastfeed on demand and don't impose a schedule. Breastfeeding relies on a dance of hormones and it is a very individual relationship between you and your child. As long as you are nursing your child the minimum of daily required times (at least 8 times a day), you are likely fine. Some babies eat every hour, some eat every two, and some eat every three to four. A lot depends on your child and your body's individual production rate.
5. Exclusive Breastfeeding does not mean that no one can do anything for the baby but you.
Contrary to the claims of many frustrated new fathers and family members, breastfeeding does not mean that no one else can take care of your child. It just means no one else can feed him or her. Fathers and grandmothers/aunts/cousins/friends can do a lot to help you out and therefore help with the baby. They can make sure that you have food and drink by making dinners and dropping them off. They can help you clean. They can change diapers. They can hold the baby and wear the baby at times to give the new mother a break. Do not let someone else's complaining or jealousy of your relationship with your nursling guilt trip you into using a bottle just to make them feel better. Explain how much just giving your ten minutes to yourself so you can take a shower is so much more helpful than them getting the baby a bottle.
6. It gets easier!
It really, honestly does. When you have a newborn, time almost stands still. Everything seems to take forever. A week can seem like an eternity, but really, it gets easier. One of the best advice articles I ever read on breastfeeding suggested that each mother look at the first six weeks as on trial unit. Just say to yourself, I'm off work anyway, let's just see if we can get this to work. If it's not better in six weeks, it's your body, your baby, your call, but just tell yourself that until then, you can make this work. I will also tell you that if you can make the first six months work, the next six months are easier and if you can make the first year work, the second is a breeze! Anytime you feel like quitting, just say to yourself, I'm giving it two weeks. Often two weeks is all it takes for things to be completely different.
7. You cannot hold your baby too much.
Well meaning people will tell you that you will "spoil" your child by holding him or her too much. They are wrong. My son was an especially needy baby and I probably held him or wore him in a carrier for 18 to 20 hours of every day through the first six or seven months. (He had a lot of problems with reflux and was just generally a high needs baby.) Now, he is one of the most independent little guys you've ever met. He rolled over at four months, sat up at seven months, crawled at eight months, walked at ten months, and by the time he was eighteen months he was fearless around different people. There is nothing wrong with babying a baby and the more you hold your baby and smell him or her, the easier it will be for you body to keep up with milk production. This is where going back to work at six weeks is so tough. If you do not sleep in the same room with your child or if your child is sleeping through the night and you are gone from them all day long, it becomes difficult to keep your supply going, but difficult is not the same thing as impossible. This is where internet and LLL support is invaluable!
8. Breastfeeding is worth it even when it doesn't seem like it.
I can completely understand why bottlefeeding took off the way it did. If I hadn't known better and someone had handed me a bottle and said, "I'll just feed your baby this while you go sleep. Don't worry, it's even better than breastmilk for your baby." I would have taken it in a heartbeat because in the short term, it feels good to think your might get even a little more sleep that way (although you certainly aren't guaranteed more sleep when you have to run to the kitchen every time your baby wakes up) and it must be nice to know exactly how much your baby has eaten. However, breastfeeding is a lot like working out or saving money. In the short term, it may seem inconvenient and even pretty awful, but in the long term it makes a huge difference. I know it's hard to think long term when each day or week feels like an eternity, so just take it one day at a time and say, "today I'm going to keep going. I don't know what will happen tomorrow or the next day, but today, I'm going to believe in myself and keep going."
9. Invest in good nursing pads, lanolin, resource books, and a nursing pillow. (And a good electric pump if you are going back to work.)
The quality of your nursing accessories can make a big difference. When I was in the hospital for my c-section, I remember nursing my son and having to do all kinds of complex piles of pillows to get him into position. Then I went home and opened my boppy. What difference that made! In the beginning, I used paper nursing pads (Lansinoh) which weren't bad, but later I switched to nice work at home mom cloth ones that were way more comfortable. Your comfort and your child's health are worth the expense and it still won't cost as much as six months of formula. Also, besides internet resources and all the other resources I listed before, I found it helpful to have a couple of print resources. My personal stash includes: The Nursing Mother's Companion by Kathleen Huggins, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding published by La Leche League, and Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley, but I wish I also owned Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding and Dr. Sears The Breastfeeding Book. (By the way, in case you are wondering, I and this blog have no affiliation with betterworldbooks.com, I just really like their mission and their free shipping with optional carbon offset for a few extra cents! Everything I have recommended here is because I have used it and like it. No company, website, or author knows I'm suggesting them.)
10. Every little bit counts.
Even if you do have supply problems, the fact you tried at all gave your child benefit! Sometimes, even when you have all the support, knowledge and help in the world, you still may end up formula feeding and that's okay. That doesn't make you a failure; that makes you a mom who is willing to do everything for your child and you can always try again with subsequent children. Every nursing relationship is different and sometimes it goes better the second (or third) time around!
Here are some more advice from moms who have been there.
God Bless you and your little one on your journey!