Where do I even begin? The past (almost) 7 weeks have been blissfully beautiful. Seriously. I’m not sure if it’s the knowledge that this is my last baby or the fact that I’m an “experienced” mom or the gripping nostalgia for my son’s babyhood every time I look at my placid baby girl – whatever it is, I have never been more happy, nor felt more complete.
If you’ve read recent posts then you are aware that my breastfeeding experience with my first born was difficult at best. After having had my daughter, I can clearly see why.
The day before my daughter was born, the universe was really looking out for me because it brought into my lap this book:
It was handed over by a dear friend who recently had twins and was able to breastfeed both. She became my nursing hero and guru – especially once I witnessed her in her customary hurricane-style whip out a nursing pillow, plop each baby down beside her and latch them on comfortably within seconds at our friends’ house then proceed to chit chat and catch up with all of us as we stared in awe.
The day before delivery, I passed by her home and she passed along this book. I was not feeling well that day and so laid on the couch for the rest of the day and perused The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I didn’t want to get too engrossed because one of two things would happen: I would feel overwhelmed and put the breaks on nursing before even having my baby or I would tap into my neurotic self, memorize every detail and then drive myself crazy because things were not going as described in “the book”.
The book is pretty hard-core and I felt intimidated. However, one passage resonated. One passage stuck with me and I knew I would take it with me into the delivery room (little did I know that that would be about 12 hours later!)
The book naturally sings the praises of skin-to-skin – which I thought I had done with my son. According to the book, skin-to-skin should occur immediately after birth where the naked infant is placed on the mother’s bare chest. It is a calm, peaceful and quiet introduction of you to your baby. It should take as long as you need – not as long as the hospital deems necessary or appropriate. I immediately saw flashes of my son being shoved onto my chest, then quickly whisked away to be cleaned, checked etc. only to be returned to me swaddled in blankets. I shuddered and vowed the same would not occur with my daughter.
According to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, during skin-to-skin time the following occurs:
When a baby is born, his instincts and reflexes help him crawl to the nipple and latch on, even if you don’t help at all. [...] As she recovers from the journey from womb to world, she’ll begin to think about sucking, usually sometime in that first hour. She may start by drooling, or making sucking movements with her lips or bringing her fist to her mouth and bob her face on and off your skin. You can help her move closer to the breast or support her as she finds her way down. [...] At some point, when her face is near your nipples, she’ll lift her head, open her mouth wide, latch, and begin to suck. She’s breastfeeding! (page 63-64)
Another flash of a nurse shoving my son’s face and mouth onto my breast. She tried to latch him on and when he didn’t want to latch on (who would with that kind of treatment?), she blamed me for not preparing my nipples for nursing! I was like WTF??? How was I supposed to prepare my nipples? How come that never came up in the birthing course? That nurse set my son and I on a path toward breastfeeding disaster. Again I vowed: the same would not occur with my daughter.
6 hours later, after I had put my son to bed, labour began. It was a calm, easy (albeit painful), labour and delivery. My daughter entered this world with serenity, a short cry and eager to know me. We lounged with each other for hours. She was cleaned up, checked and brought back to me in her adorable naked glory and she laid on my chest forever. We chatted and met each other face to face. And, before I knew it, my perfect little girl began her downward wiggle. Her head bobbed and her body moved and I let her do what she needed. She got herself to my breast and with little help from me, she found what she was looking for and ate. I was stunned. It actually happened as described in the book!
From that moment forward I knew I would be able to nurse my baby. It was not easy. I had sore nipples, engorged breasts and after pains (the lovely labour-like pains that accompany breastfeeding with second and subsequent children). I fed her every three hours to get milk production going – which meant about an hour and a half of sleep between feedings. My phone was always within reach so I could text my “nursing-coach-mama-of-twins” and my mother was always within reach to hug me, reassure me and bring me water, tea or her delicious, Colombian “colada de pan” because breastfeeding made me so bloody hungry at three a.m.
It has been 6.5 weeks and we are successfully breastfeeding. I have (mostly) dealt with my mommy guilt of not being able to see breastfeeding through with my son who is now 4 and awesome. I hope my experience can help one mom out there as she begins her breastfeeding journey or one pregnant woman out there who is considering breastfeeding. It is after all a very personal journey.
My Lessons Learned:
- Empower yourself and read parts of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.
- Skin-to-skin is not only essential, it is the most beautiful moment you can experience. After hours of pain, breathing, waiting, pushing it is a most calming, joyful reward to simply be with your newborn. If you have complications and cannot do skin-to-skin immediately after birth, then as soon as you have your baby in your arms, unswaddle her, bare your chest and snuggle her onto you. Get under a warm blanket. Enjoy.
- Natural birth or not…it is up to you. Everything I’ve heard or read points to natural birth and I was all for “natural birth” when I had my son. 5 cm in I got an epidural and watched Meet the Parents until it was time to push. He was a sleepy baby that fell asleep at the breast…so I thought maybe I shouldn’t have succumbed to a pain-free delivery. I got an epidural at 3 cm with my daughter, and took a 2 hour nap before it was time to push. She was not sleepy and ate well from the start. Same epidural – two completely different experiences. Just make sure you own your labour/delivery experience. The rest will fall into place.
- The first few weeks of breastfeeding are hell. I’m no expert. I haven’t polled thousands of women. The women I know who have breastfed basically concur. However, we also all agree – it really does get easier! Every time you think “I can’t do this” picture a video of your future self telling you “Don’t give up! It does get easier. I promise. The pain will go away, your nips and breasts will heal and your baby will feed.”
- Stay hydrated. Eat well. Sleep as much as you can.
- Have a breastfeeding partner – someone who you know will be there for you every step of the way without putting an ounce of doubt in your mind. Now is not the time for negativity or reverse psychology. Besides, you’ll need another pair of hands to pass you your water or phone or tissue etc.
- Surrender. This is temporary. It will not always be this demanding. It will pass. The more relaxed you are and accepting that this new normal will be over soon the easier it will be. (This was the toughest lesson for me because I love to be in control of my environment).
- Housework. Cooking. Laundry. Can. All. Wait.
- Say yes to all offers of help.
- Seek assistance…breastfeeding clinics, lactation consultants, other moms, friends etc. If the advice of one does not help you, seek another. If you can, have a few phone numbers stored or websites bookmarked before baby arrives. Or have your breastfeeding partner do some research for you while you sleep.
My next mission: pump and store. I hope a few bottle feeds a week will give me more sleep and offer me a little more freedom.
Lastly, if it doesn’t work for you – it doesn’t work. Find a way to feed your baby that will give you peace of mind and don’t look back. I formula fed my first after 5 weeks of breastfeeding hell and am now breastfeeding my second after 6 weeks of not-so-bad and I know I’m a good mother to both.