The Breastfeeding Journey

Breastfeeding is natural, but not always easy.  The first few weeks can be pretty rough and my own breastfeeding journeys were no different. Back when my first children were born, pain was expected and moms were told it was normal until our nipples toughened up.  The prescribed preparation for breastfeeding was to rub our breasts with a rough cloth while showering. Please don’t do that!

My first child was born just after midnight and there definitely was no skin to skin.  She was taken from the doctor to the warmer to be checked, cleaned and wrapped up so all we could see was her face. After a quick look, she was taken to the nursery and I did not see her until later that morning. At 8 am, a bell rang and all the mothers in the ward walked to the nursery. There were two rows of rocking chairs with donut pillows covered with pads that had our last name on them.  One row was for bottle feeding moms and the other for breastfeeding moms, with a divider between them. 

Newborn Michelle

One by one, the babies were wheeled in by a nurse to the waiting moms.  The nurse handed Michelle to me and told me to open my gown, then grabbed my breast with one hand, Michelle’s head with the other and when Michelle opened her mouth, she rammed her head onto my breast. The initial latch was a bit shocking!  When I told the nurse that it was painful, she said I would get used to it and went on to the next mom.  

The instructions were to nurse on each side for 5 minutes, burping in between sides.  Michelle spat up what seemed to me everything she had eaten. I called for the nurse in a panic and was told this was normal and perhaps I had not burped her correctly.  When the feeding was up, the babies went back in their bassinets and to the nursery. The bell went off every 3 hours during the day for feedings and at night were given bottles of formula.  After 3 days, we were discharged with instructions to continue the routine, adding in night feedings. Bottles of glucose water were provided to give them a few times a day and formula for just in case.

The first night home was difficult. Mature milk was not in and Michelle was quite unhappy when the bottle of formula did not make its appearance.  I was fortunate that my mother was with me and had breastfed all of us, which was somewhat unusual. Her support and encouragement were invaluable, but the pain and bleeding nipples was difficult. 

Mothers were told to work our way up to longer feeds, but should do more than about 15 minutes on a side.  Water several times a day was also recommended so baby would not become dehydrated. That just filled Michelle up so she did not nurse well after.  Michelle was slow to gain weight so doctors often suggested adding formula and that maybe my milk was not good enough.  

When she was a few months old, I was told to add rice cereal to her diet and perhaps some formula.  I discovered La Leche League around the same time, which was a great source of support and was what allowed me to continue to breastfeed her until she was 9 months. At that time, an OB said I should have stopped nursing her months before and it was detrimental to her health to continue.  I regret to say I believed him. Fortunately, she was eating regular food and drinking milk from a cup at this point and I was able to easily wean her.

The breastfeeding journey with my others was better, though some did have their own unique struggles.  Our 4th child was in the NICU for a few weeks and was not able to start nursing until he was a week and a half old.  This led to a poor latch and a weak suck and we had to use expressed milk for some time before he would exclusively nurse.  Several of my babies had significant reflux, and in hindsight, I realized so did Michelle. 

I was able to room in with the others and to nurse day and night from the beginning.  However, I expected the painful nursing the first few weeks and accepted it as normal with all of them.  How I wish I had known what I know now: that pain and bleeding nipples is not normal! If someone had taken the time to help me get a good latch, that would have helped tremendously!

Let me share what I learned from my journeys and helping clients so you don’t have to learn the hard way!

  1.  For the most part, doctors know next to nothing about breastfeeding and much of what they do share is from workshops often put on by formula companies!
  2. Babies are expected to lose weight in the first week and to not return to birth weight until 2 weeks of age.
  3. Nurses in hospitals often have limited experience with breastfeeding. It is not something that is taught to much extent in nursing school.  Much of what they share has been learned from their own experience; unfortunately breastfeeding and assisting breastfeeding are not interchangeable. This I learned quickly when I became a doula!
  4. Breastfeeding can be uncomfortable in the beginning, put should not be painful!  If it is, there is an issue with the latch which needs to be corrected ASAP.
  5. Limiting the time at the breast during a feeding is neither necessary nor beneficial.
  6. Babies do not need glucose water or any kind of water!  They get that from breast milk. Giving a bottle of water artificially fills baby up so they aren’t nursing as much; this leads to poor weight gain and decreased milk supply.
  7. Someone holding baby’s head in one hand and your breast in the other and bringing them together is not helpful and can actually lead to breast refusal. Think how you would feel if someone pushed your head like that!
  8. After you get home from the hospital, returning there for breastfeeding help is often more stressful than helpful. Sitting in an unfamiliar environment and having to feed when baby might not be hungry is difficult.  Having someone come to your house is much more beneficial and less stressful for you. Certified lactation counselors and doulas will usually come to you. I know I do!
  9. Attending La Leche League meetings before your baby is born is so helpful. Just being in a room with other breastfeeding moms and seeing them breastfeeding is so encouraging.  Continue to attend after baby is born for support and help 
  10. Try and take a breastfeeding class and line up help for after baby arrives home. You will not regret it!
  11. Breastfeeding success can mean many different things. For some, breastfeeding a week, a month, a year, or longer is their success. Pumping and giving bottles of breastmilk is success, and breastfeeding and supplementing with formula can also be success. There are times that mom does all the right things and for whatever reason does not produce enough milk. Whether baby gets a teaspoon or gallons of breastmilk, giving your baby any amount is amazing, so good for your baby and is your success!
  12. There are lots of products on the market that can ease the potential discomforts and inconveniences of breastfeeding. Two good breastfeeding books to use for reference are Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding.  They are available for clients from my lending library too.  Good websites are La Leche League, Breastfeeding Inc. and Kelly Mom.  Nipple creams are very good to have on hand, with options available from Lansinoh, Bamboobies and others.  I really like a newer product, the Haakaa, which is a hand-held suction pump.  Breast pads help with leaking and Bamboobies is a great brand that clients have liked.  Lansinoh has great heat and cold packs as well as gel soothie pads.  If you know of other good products please share in the comments!
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