Tuesday, March 2, 2010

breastfeeding and the pregnant mother

Breastfeeding is one of the most wonderful gifts a new mother and baby can share. There are countless benefits to breastfeeding, many of which you hear about on a regular basis, the most important of which are the undeniable health benefits for both mother and baby. When someone asks me, I have a ton of tips on breastfeeding. I have nursed both of my daughters for 78 months and counting, and I am a huge advocate. Unfortunately, speaking about the postpartum period is considered taboo in the United States--and speaking of some of the benefits of breastfeeding is considered taboo as well. Most pregnant mothers unfortunately do not get to hear about them, except from another mother who is not afraid of being candid and honest.

I guess my first tip regarding breastfeeding is to make sure your pediatrician and ob-gyn or midwife are advocates for breastfeeding. You want to have good resources at your fingertips if you run into problems. Unfortunately, a lot of doctors these days do not know a single thing about breastfeeding and do not know how to differentiate normal aspects of breastfeeding from potential problems, nor do they know how to resolve problems if they arise, aside from prescribing a breastmilk substitute. It is just not something they are trained in, and is unfortunately one of the biggest downfalls of maternity care in the U.S. Heck, I almost stopped breastfeeding my oldest when we were still in the hospital because none of the staff knew the answers to my questions--but I stuck with it. I met with a lactation consultant in the hospital the next day, and she had so much helpful information.

I was also lucky that my mom's cousin was supportive. She nursed her two children for a total of four years, I think, so she had a lot of experience. She was the only person I knew who did not fill my head with breastfeeding horror stories and nonsense that was really based on lack of breastfeeding knowledge. Almost everyone I knew at the time only had negative experiences to share--and the biggest problem about that was that it was extremely discouraging. It literally made me, an inexperienced young pregnant woman, feel like breastfeeding was going to be waaaay too much work. But now that I am educated about breastfeeding, I realize now that a lot of the problems these women were facing were not problems at all, but just unfortunate misunderstandings that could be solved very easily had they known someone who knew something about breastfeeding--or else, for problems taking place in the days after birth, side effects of labor pain medication or as a result of circumcision procedures on baby boys. One of the worst kept secrets about breastfeeding is that it is actually very easy--I like to think of it as the lazy mother's way of caring for a baby!

Pregnant women will find out very quickly that the one thing mothers want to share with them once they are pregnant is their bad birthing and parenting experiences. They will talk about everything that went wrong for them during their pregnancies (swollen feet, fat butt, weight gain, high blood pressure), their births (baby is too big, long drawn out painful labor, c-sections), and breastfeeding (cracked and bleeding nipples, painful latch, not enough milk). I highly recommend that pregnant women disregard everything negative that comes their way. Instead, focus on exactly what YOU want from your pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. Think about the wonderful things happening to you during pregnancy (shiny beautiful hair, free massages, extra cleavage), birth (right of passage, meeting the baby your body created and nurtured, naming another human being), and breastfeeding (losing the baby fat, extra money and no dishes--you don't have to pay for formula or wash bottles, no period for months or even years).

Another extremely important tip: read books that are informative and unbiased rather than books that focus on complications and things that can go wrong. I must say that, despite its mass popularity, the "What To Expect..." series is a huge culprit of feeding the belief that everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Instead, try reading something like From the Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Becoming a Parent by R Odes and C Morris. It is a fantastic, fun, and truely cool book. While the book focuses mostly on pregnancy and childbirth, the authors have compiled some sound information on breastfeeding and a nice section on sorting through the advice that comes your way. There is also the very funny book So That's What They're For! Breastfeeding Basics by J Tamaro, which is my first recommendation for anyone to read regarding breastfeeding.

There are so many good books and resources out there--your biggest, of course, being the mothers you know who have successfully breastfed their children. Also, attend LLL meetings in the early months, especially before your baby arrives. Surround yourself with breastfeeding mothers--watch a baby latch on to the breast, notice the different ways the mother positions the baby. It can be weird at first, but to be honest, in cultures where breastfeeding is normal and children are not weaned until they are at least two years old, everyone breastfeeds, everywhere, and no one thinks anything of it. It is human nature--just another person having a snack. Hardly any women in those cultures have problems with breastfeeding because everyone knows how to do it--mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins have experienced countless babies nursing since they themselves were babies. Humans have survived for so long because of breastfeeding.

While some mothers may hit a rocky point or two at the beginning of a nursing relationship, once breastfeeding is established, given the appropriate knowledge and resources, they will hopefully realize how much breastfeeding really has to offer. Breastfeeding literally is so much more than nurturing--breastfeeding makes life with a baby easy!

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  1. Love this post.
    When I was pregnant with my daughter, I didn't read anything about breastfeeding. I know I wanted to try it, but I figured like everyone else in my family I would end up with a c section (which I did, but mine was more "exciting" than everyone elses) breastfeed for like a week and turn into a bottle feeder. Thank goodness I had my daughter a hospital with an amazing lactation team. I ended up having to pump in my milk for the first 4 days while they refused to let me nurse her. But I had amazing LC's that stayed with me while I sat in the NICU desperately trying to nurse her. The ONLY personal I knew personally who was on my side with breastfeeding was my husband. He would cheer like a cheerleader when she got latched on and he would cry when he saw her "milk coma".
    When I got home with her, my family kept insisting I wouldn't stick with it. In retrospect I thank them, because he made me rebellious to show them I could. I lived at the free LC's office in the hospital for the first three weeks. I called my local LLL (who was actually Kelly from www.kellymom.com) and everyday got easier. She was supplemented in the hospital because of protocol, but after one disastrous bottle at home, she was strictly breastfed.
    I am so glad that it worked out for me. I am so glad that somehow the stars aligned for me and it clicked so quickly, so easily. Nursing healed me from my birth trauma in ways I didn't think possible and after all that, and NO family support, except my mother came around after the first 4 months, we nursed for 3.5 years.

    Great post!


  2. Thank you for sharing your story, Kristen! It is very inspiring!