Yes, every mom knows that breastfeeding is best. How can we not know? The news media reports on studies about it frequently ("babies who breastfeed are smarter", "babies who breastfeed are healthier", etc), we read it on signs in our OB/GYN and pediatrician's offices, and every parenting book or website is sure to hit this message home. We got it. We know that breastfeeding is best. Thank you very much.
The reality for moms is what's less frequently talked about.
Breastfeeding is hard -- emotionally and physically. It's stressful. It means a lot of sleepless nights. It means being attached to your newborn almost constantly day and night (at least for the first couple of months) -- and although it's a wonderful feeling, it's also ... after awhile ... very frustrating as you really can't do anything else (like shower, exercise, do a load of laundry, etc). And I'm not saying we moms aren't up for it. I mean we can take on a lot.
But there's a reason why many moms don't breastfeed ... and if they do, they don't do it for very long. While expert groups recommend breastfeeding for a year, the stats say something different: one study found that while 77 percent of moms start off breastfeeding, only about 36 percent are still doing it at six months.
As a mom of three, my goal has always been to breastfeed for an entire year. And I accomplished this with all of my children, but exactly how I did it is not something you'll find in parenting books.
Here's my secret (shhh...): I gave my babies formula, too. Yes, there it is: out in the open. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. I breastfed, I pumped, and yes, I gave formula, too.
I felt guilty about it, at first. That's why, during my last pregnancy, I hired a lactation consultant to help me--to not give formula (because I thought I had done something horribly wrong with my first two children). And she was nice enough and knowledgeable enough.
But I remember calling her crying shortly after my son was born: "I've been up all night, he's crying all the time, I don't seem to have enough milk. He's hungry. Why don't I just give him some formula so I can get some sleep?"
"NO!!!" was her emphatic response. "If you do that, your milk won't come in, he'll get used to the formula and won't want breast milk...," she rattled off a list of horrible things that would happen to him. In essence, his entire nutritional future would essentially be messed up.
Talk about a guilt trip.
I gave him formula anyway ... and he (and I) got a few hours of sleep. And guess what? My son was never nipple confused and he continued to get mostly breast milk the entire first year. And he's pretty darn healthy, too. Not bad for a mom who did everything "wrong".
So I decided to put together a few tried-and-true tips for pregnant moms, new moms, and even moms who are thinking of having another. Hope these help you as much as they helped me:
1) Some breast milk is better than no breast milk. I would love to read this somewhere: "Moms, don't give up on breastfeeding. Some breast milk is better than no breast milk! Even if you can't feed your baby breast milk exclusively, try to give him a bottle (or two or three) a day!" If you're finding it hard to breastfeed every two to three hours, give a bottle of formula if that's what it will take to keep you from giving up on breastfeeding.
2) Invest in a good electric dual breast pump. And then get yourself a hands-free pumping bra so you can sit and do other things while you're pumping. This was my favourite time to get things done. And, if I had to drive somewhere during the time I was supposed to be pumping, I actually pumped while I drove. I just hooked up with a battery pack, before I started driving, and wore a cardigan or pulled my shirt over the pumps to maintain privacy. Just make sure you've got a water bottle handy; breastfeeding makes you thirsty. And stay focused on the road; don't try to detach or reattach while you're driving. Too dangerous!
3) Be diligent about pumping (or breastfeeding) every two or three hours for the first two months. If my son wasn't breastfeeding (or taking a formula bottle), I was pumping... on a regular schedule that worked for me and my baby (no, it's not selfish to think about your needs, too, no matter what anyone says). Sometimes I quietly pumped while reading, working, or yes, even driving. This allows you to have a much-needed sanity break while someone else (a spouse, a friend, a grandparent, etc.) feeds your baby a bottle (with breastmilk -- if you have it -- or formula -- if you don't; no judgment). It's these sanity breaks that will allow you to breastfeed longer. And the good news is: once your breast milk is regulated, you'll be able to go longer (e.g. get a blissful six-hour sleep overnight!) without pumping... and without having your milk dry up (as it can if you skip too many feeding/pumping sessions the first couple of months).
4) Try some lactation helpers. I drank a special organic nursing tea (available in the tea section at grocery stores or online) all day long: I brewed a batch, cooled it, and then put it in my water bottle. And I took special supplements with fenugreek seed in it, too; this is an herb that's supposed to help your milk come in... and stay in. I can't vouch for the truth of this, but can only say that it seemed to help me.
5) Do what's right for you! I can't stress this enough. So many moms listen to what other people are telling them: "you must breastfeed exclusively", "you cannot give formula and breastfeed", "you'll create nipple confusion", "you'll be messing up your child for life"... the long horrible list of atrocities you'll be committing goes on! But guess what: you're the mom... and regardless of what anyone says, we all know that moms do know best!
© Valerie Latona LLC 2014
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