Thursday, February 26, 2009

Breastfeeding - not always easy...

This post is about how hard breastfeeding can be at the beginning. It is NOT about formula vs. breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding. It seems like a simple concept. But really, it can be hard work. It's a skill that takes practice and doesn't come totally naturally. It seems like it should come naturally, since after all, it is natural. But I really do think that pregnant women need to learn as much as they can about breastfeeding before their baby is born. I think it helps to read about it, and most of all, to talk to women who have successfully breastfed. I also think that going to a LLL meeting is a good idea when pregnant. It's just good to hear about other women's experiences with this totally natural experience.

A great website on breastfeeding is Dr. Jack Newman's. If you are planning to breastfeed please check it out! He even has video's to show what a proper latch is like. And definitely read the section called Starting Out Right.

I want to share a little about my experience starting out with breastfeeding. I have two close friends, Alisha and Sandra, who I like to credit for my breastfeeding success. Both were mothers who had breastfed their babies past one year old (which is a whole other topic!). They really encouraged me and gave me realistic expectations. Alisha had a hard time with breastfeeding at first and gave me some really good advice. Talking with her really gave me the heads up - that it might not be easy. After Stinx was born she dragged me to a LLL meeting just so I could connect with other breastfeeding moms. At the time I didn't see why it was important, but now looking back, it could have been crucial. Thankfully for me, breastfeeding had gone pretty smoothly, but if it hadn't, I would have got plenty of excellent advice at the meeting. And I also remember phoning Sandra all the time in the first month after Stinx was born. I'd just call her with all these random questions. Heck, I still ask her random questions all the time! These 2 friends were a HUGE support to me in the begining, and still are.

It must have been both of them that really pressed the importance of the latch. And perhaps I had a really good nurse who knew what she was talking about when showing me how to nurse Stinx. After all, she had nursed 2 children as well. Somehow, I knew the latch was important. Every single time, and I mean, EVERY single time I nursed Stinx while in the hospital, I would get a nurse to check his latch. I wanted to make sure it was right.

When Stinx was 3 days old and it was our last day in the hospital, a nurse told me he had lost 10 % of his body weight. (Which is totally normal!!) She said we should supplement with formula. Thinking back, it must have been Alisha who told me that supplementing was not a good idea. I told the nurse no way. I said I would try pumping if they insisted. I did so and pumped 1 oz. I remember thinking, "oh no! That's all I got?" A doctor came in and was so thrilled I had pumped that measly ounce. She told me how newborns have tiny tummies and can only drink 1-2 oz's to start. AND, if I could pump 1oz, Stinx was definitely drinking more than that. And that is because babies are much more efficient nursers than a pump can be. They sent us home with the instructions to pump and then breastfeed. I only really remember pumping occasionally in the first week to relieve my engorging breasts! I pretty much stuck to nursing Stinx on demand... which is by far, the best breastfeeding advice I could give anyone. Nurse on demand!! The day after we got home the public health nurse came and weighed Stinx. He had gained all his weight back... which normally occurs 2-3 weeks after birth... I am so glad I didn't bother supplementing - it would have been totally unnecessary and may have caused more problems.

The first few weeks after having a baby are pretty rough, and on top of that, you are nursing your baby every couple hours. Your breasts are sore from all that attention! It is really is hard work. The biggest trouble I had with breastfeeding was a couple tiny sores I had got from a not so great latch (even a couple feeds with imperfect latches can give you trouble) and my doctor was worried I would get Mastitis so she gave me some really awful advice.. She basically told me to put some Canesten on the sore, heat it under a lamp and then wash it off before I nursed Stinx again. She wanted me to do that after every nurse! I did it for a few days and then saw a lactation consultant because I didn't trust my doctors advice. The LC checked our latch and said it looked good. She checked the sore and told me it wasn't infected and to stop with the poor advice my doctor gave me. I went back to using Lanolin (which is a life saver!!!) and it went away very quickly. Things went pretty smoothly from there, and the only other time I had some trouble was when Stinx was 11 months old and cutting a new tooth. I went to a LLL meeting then and got some good advice. It seems over time the latch can become lazy, and since Stinx had a tooth coming in, it was rubbing in the same spot every time, and I had been nursing him in the same position, hence a sore was starting. So I started nursing him in a different positions every time, and put some lanolin on, and made sure the latch was good and presto, all better. And since then I have payed close attention, every time Stinx gets a new tooth, breastfeeding is a little uncomfortable and I have to remember the advice I got.

Anyways, breastfeeding can be tough at first but it is soooo worth it! It is such a special experience. When I nursed Stinx for the very first time, the only word I could use to describe it was "Beautiful". Thankfully we didn't have too many battles to face and it was fairly uncomplicated. But after talking with so many other breastfeeding moms, or moms who tried really really hard to breastfeed, it can be a difficult path. I have several friends who tried for months to breastfeed their babies but due to problems had to give up in the end. I know for both friends this was a difficult time for them. Thankfully, both of these friends went on to nurse their 2nd babies successfuly!

There are so many things that can make it a difficult to breastfeed, even starting with the birth. Sometimes women who have emergency c-births have trouble getting started. Many women have supply issues, too little milk being the most common. And I have even met a woman who said she had too much milk to breastfeed(Hmm... I think that's a very poor excuse to quit breastfeeding! I know women who would kill for that breatmilk! Sure, having too much milk can have it's own complications but a reason to quit??)... I don't know about that. Anyways! My point is that it is hard, and MUCH of the advice new mothers get from medical professionals is contradictory. Many mothers just don't know which advice to follow. It's heartbreaking really!

I know this is getting kinda ranty.. my point is that breastfeeding is hard and if a new mom doesn't do her research and educate herself, and just thinks it will go smoothly because it seems so natural, she might find herself struggling. I think many moms end up using formula because some of the medical professionals gave them poor advice. They are pushed formula at the hospital and it seems like the best answer because they know their baby is being fed (as they can watch their baby drink it down) but it can really hinder the start of breastfeeding. Obviously in some circumstances babies do need to be supplemented but for the most part women have enough milk, and the more they nurse the more their milk will come in. And for some women they are comfortable using formula but for the women who had their hearts set on breastfeeding it can be really hard on them.

Ok.. seriously, I'll end this now. If your heart is set on breastfeeding, do your research prior to baby's arrival! With some knowledge and a lot of determination, most women can successfully breastfeed!

So if you could give a new mother breastfeeding advice, what would it be?


Alisha said...

I think that you should look into becoming an LC. I mean if you feel passionate about it and want to help moms get the right advice. Or become a LLL leader. :)

The one piece of advice that I would give to any new mom is to seek out likeminded moms. *IF* you *want* to breastfeed, find another mom who does. :) (that goes for everything.)

Deb said...

Great post. I wish I had read it before giving birth to Spud.

I'm trying to think of just one piece of advice and having trouble coming up with it. You said everything so eloquently, I don't know if I can sum it up so nicely.

Maybe I'll come back with my advice.

Kelly said...

Great post! I had SUCH a hard time nursing Judith. Everything that could go wrong did. I got the full spectrum of the difficult nursing experience. Except that I always had lots of milk which I am thankful for. Even now the smell of sour breastmilk + sweat + bo gives me horrible flashbacks! But we didn't have any other options when we were living in Australia, then once we got back to Canada when Judith was 3 months I had fought too long and suffered too much to give up, lol. It took until she was 5 months until we had a wonderful, problem-free nursing relationship. It didn't help that she had reflux so food=pain for her. But I went on nursing her for 19 months until she weaned herself, and I am so glad I stuck with it! The best advice I got from another mama during the first few weeks of Judith's life was just to persevere. I didn't want to hear it at the time, but it truly was the best advice. Just take it one feeding at a time and stick it out. I had a really hard time when Gideon was first born too. He couldn't figure out the latch and I kept drowning him with my supply. So I had to pump before every feeding, then attempt to breastfeed him, then once he was completely freaking out because he was hungry and nursing wasn't working, I would feed him the pumped milk from a little cup. It was like that for about 3 weeks I think. It was so hard and frustrating! But we got through it and now we have a great nursing relationship. The long run makes all of the trouble at first worthwhile.

Stinx' Mom said...

Thanks for the comments ladies!