“Oh my goodness”, is the newest vocabulary I have picked up with the arrival of our angel. Our baby girl, born on March 31st, 6:40 am at 7.4lbs, is in good health and has the cutest Mongolian spots. With our daughter reaching 5 weeks and feeding well, I can now reflect on the many ups and downs of my new full-time job, breastfeeding. It is so complex that, according to the CDC, about 38% of infants globally are exclusively breastfed during their first six months of life. At 6 months only 25% remained exclusively breastfed in the United States, short of the AAP goal of 1 year and WHO goal of 2 years. Knowing these numbers now reflects the complexity of breastfeeding. That it gets harder with time, and, for a myriad of personal reasons, not everyone can breastfeed. How ever a baby is fed it is knowing and believing that whatever choice is made for the family is the right thing. There really isn’t a right or a wrong way when it comes to this stuff, so no matter what you think or how you feel you’re doing a good job mama and you should be so proud of yourself, I am!
As a first-time mom, I thought the most difficult part was going to be the birth, but for me, it was breastfeeding. I had no idea how long I wanted to breastfeed, but I knew I wanted to try. If I was capable I was going to give it my best. It turns out breastfeeding is not as graceful or “natural” as I had imagined. It’s a learned skill that we mothers and babies need to work together on to establish. Prior to the birth, I had let my obstetrician-gynecologist, pediatrician, and birth doula know that I planned to breastfeed. All gave me a reassuring “Good for you”. With their support, I didn’t think I needed a lactation consultant on my care team at all. I had a few complications postpartum (see par. Mastitis) that required me to take extra bed rest and medication but breastfeeding is not medical so I couldn’t turn to them. With this sudden ability to supply for our babies the pressure to provide and do it right is immense. As breastfeeding is unique to each family I am providing the holistic and practical information I found that helped me on my journey.
I never understood why mothers say “If I can breastfeed I will” until now. No amount of milk omits the variables that come with breastfeeding. One might think that oversupply is luck, but the rock-hard engorgement with mastitis and clogged ducts pain did not feel lucky. While I understand that many mothers do not produce enough milk and it can be stressful for them, my experience with over-production is equally as frustrating as we don’t have an option but to produce. For milk production, it’s not the size of the breast that matters. Large-breasted women do not have more milk ducts but rather more fatty tissue; however, “the grass is always greener on the other side”. In the end, if you choose to breastfeed, you will feed 6-8 hours a day in the first month of the baby’s life. What matters is that you are latching correctly, relaxed, and feeding on demand to establish your supply and regulate with your baby.
For moms who have mastitis, clogged ducts, or feel pain when breastfeeding, consult with your doctor or a lactation consultant first for treatment. Along with antibiotics, my breast recovery kit consists of a cold compress, sunflower lecithin (7), pumping at low intensity for a shorter time on the clock (6), hakka, lots of skin-to-skin, and breastfeeding in different positions, so the baby’s chin would help to massage a clogged area. When I took antibiotics thought that I should pump and dump; however, on a call with Stephanie, my lactation consultant, she explained that the milk is not tainted as the acid in our gut breaks everything down and wouldn’t be able to pass through the body’s filtration system.
The honest truth is that we are going to have to separate from our babies at some time. Not to stress. Take your time to establish a pumping routine within your breastfeeding routine. It’s not recommended to give a baby a bottle or pacifier until breastfeeding is well established; however, depending on your own timeline, expressing milk and storing it is never a bad thing. In the first weeks of life, it is natural for the baby to lose weight. Many parents worry that they will need to supplement and that they are not providing enough milk. This is when education and a professional support team are key to drowning out the noise (see par. my breast friend #10). When pumping we often want to see large volumes; however, as we are pumping as an extra feed, it takes time for our body to adjust to heightened demand. We will often only pump as much as our babies are taking, which may only be an ounce at first. Stress is the enemy to “let down” because milk is regulated by our hormones. This is contradictory cause there are so many hormones shifting in our bodies that it’s even harder to sit and let the experience unfold. Wah! Breathe mama, it will all be ok.
With all this pumping and feeding we are going to be ravenous. While lactating we need an extra 500 calories a day. While breastfeeding does support our body’s return to pre-baby weight, not all moms lose weight. Exercising on top of this deficit is difficult, but we should reintroduce the exercise we enjoyed prepartum after clearance from our doctor. Breastfeeding moms worry that what they eat has an effect on the baby. All babies, of course, pass gas. We burp them after feeds, but sometimes they have gastrointestinal upset, bloat, and cry more than usual. When this happened me and my friends immediately went to the internet and discovered the world of elimination diet. Yikes. Research shows only a very small percentage of infants are allergic with the highest percentage of them allergic to cow’s milk. I would take this into consideration before restricting healthy foods that “cause gas”. Remember, breastmilk is made from your blood and body stores, and is 90% water, so we should make a point to drink at least 2L of water daily while eating healthfully. If we want to lose weight we must eat nutritious food for our bodies to replenish. Eating wholesome home-cooked food will help with feeding ourselves, so we can feed our babies.
Getting a good night’s sleep seems almost impossible postpartum; however, rest is key to recovery and feeling good enough to feed your baby. Birth is a traumatic somatic experience because the body has gone through major anatomical and hormonal shifts. Whether you lean towards getting a masseuse or specialist I would recommend seeking therapy, bodywork, and incorporating extra self-care techniques to help you cope with the changes and get the needed rest.
You’ll want to include a gentle breast massage in your self-care and maintenance routine. With blocked ducts I’ll use an ice pack to reduce inflammation before gently massaging with my hands prior to pumping or during feeding to encourage the milk to head toward the nipple and unclog blocked ducts. It’s important to maintain good circulation and lymphatic drainage.
Don’t be discouraged! Your breasts are intelligent and your baby is perfect. It takes time to get in sync, but it is worth it, and you can do it. In the end, it took us about 2 months to regulate, but Lyla and I made it to 19 months of exclusively breastfeeding! In the beginning breastfeeding, pumping, and all the things you need sound like a new language to learn. Trust that you will learn in time. The demand from yourself and your baby will feel immense and difficult at times which will make us stressed and worried – the enemy of breastfeeding. In any moment of doubt, our intuition is key to knowing what to do, to connect with the baby, and our bodies and to find a solution. If you are having difficulty breastfeeding don’t hesitate to reach out to me, your friends, family, or doctors anytime you need advice. We, mothers, are warriors – our medals being healthy happy babies.
*This article is written personally by Liv. If you find it insightful, please copy the link & share it with friends. Sharing is caring 💞
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