I’ve been thinking for quite some time about this post, and whether or not it was appropriate, and/or too personal. Breastfeeding in the United States is still such a mysterious thing, for better or for worse, thereby making it a somewhat difficult topic to write about. However, I have often wanted to share my experiences with other new mamas in similar situations, and though they may not want to hear it, this is a forum where I can share freely.
Since I spent the majority of my pregnancy in Mexico, it wasn’t until the final months when I was back in the U.S. that I thought about taking a breastfeeding class. I had watched a few YouTube videos, and my mom breastfed so I had talked to her some, but for the most part I was still craving knowledge. I found a free class to attend at Destination Maternity, but in a twist of fate, the teacher didn’t show up that day and the next class wasn’t until after my due date. I also took a Birthing from Within class with a doula, but her review of breastfeeding was pretty standard and mostly things I had heard before.
So, when little Cora arrived, I vaguely knew what to expect when it came to breastfeeding and did my best to settle in to a routine. Fast forward three months and she had gained very little weight, I was beyond frustrated, and the free samples of formula were beginning to look more and more tempting. Looking back now, it’s almost embarassing the mistakes I made and how little I understood about the process. If there’s anyone out there in the same position with a little one on the way, I hope I can save them the heartache and the tears that we endured.
1. I didn’t truly understand “nurse on demand”.
Perhaps the most basic principle everyone tells you is that you will be nursing every two hours or so, for about twenty minutes on each side. I took that to mean that when I FINISHED nursing, we would start again two hours from that point. In fact, it’s two hours from when you START. This may not seem like a big deal, but when it takes an hour to feed, it means the difference between feeding every two hours to feeding every three. In the beginning Cora would be content for about 45 minutes after a feeding, and then start fussing. We assumed this was because she must be sleepy, tired, bored, etc. But in hindsight, the poor little thing was probably just hungry. I would do everything I could do distract her and delay feeding, when I should have just been letting her latch on as she pleased.
Since then, I have heard the phrase, “Think of your breasts like a factory, not a storage facility.” And I couldn’t agree more. Let your little eat as often and as much as he/she wants. Your body will match that need and then some. I wish I would have had the strength to trust my body and know that it would provide for my little one, no matter if she wanted to eat again in five minutes or fifty.
2. I tried to control it.
For the first few months of Cora’s life, I was obsessive about tracking her every move on the What To Expect iPhone app. It came in handy for diaper changes, helping me see that she was pooping and peeing regularly. But when it came to timing her feedings, I would consistently let her go for twenty minutes, or thirty minutes and then force her to either switch sides or stop nursing altogether. It sounds so OCD in hindsight, but as a new mom I was simply trying to gather my bearings, and organize breastfeeding the only way my Type A personality knew how. Now I know I should have been letting her feed as long as her little heart desired, put away the timer, and just enjoyed her first few months of life.
3. I waited too long to call a lactation consultant.
Laura Gruber at www.breastfeedinghousecalls.com was absolutely, 100%, a lifesaver for me. My mom was in town visiting and was helping me get back on track nursing, but I distinctly remember sitting in the nursery, crying while feeding my baby and thinking this is just not how it’s supposed to be. On impulse, I googled “san antonio lactation consultants” and called one of the hospitals, who referred me to Laura. I dialed the number and, I kid you not, Laura not only picked up, but said she was literally down the street from my condo. Two hours later she was at my house, gently helping me to realize where I had taken some missteps, and helping me get back on my feet in terms of breastfeeding my baby. Although God’s timing was perfect, a part of me will always wish that I had just reached out and called for help sooner. If anyone in the San Antonio area is in need of support like I was, I highly recommend giving Laura a call.
4. I chose a General Practitioner instead of a Pediatrician.
In Indiana, where I’m originally from, unless your child is unusually ill, most people simply see a family doctor for all their needs. Cora was happy and healthy for the most part, so we settled into a check-up routine with a General Practitioner in San Antonio that we were reasonably satisfied with. The problem was, this General Practitioner didn’t see enough infants to be able to tell that Cora was unusually thin, especially for starting out at an above average birth weight. They didn’t ask me the right questions, and I didn’t give the right answers. It wasn’t until Laura stepped in to the picture that she immediately referred us to Dr. Adetona at Practical Approach Pediatrics, a warm and caring pediatrician who was able to see Cora immediately. He was available to us 24/7 while we fought to get my breastfeeding back on track. Although, in the end, we had to supplement with formula for about 3 months to get Cora up to a weight we were all comfortable with, Dr. Adetona supported our decision to keep breastfeeding 100%, and truly made me feel empowered as a mother, not defeated.
5. I was self-conscious about nursing in public.
Nursing in public has been controversial as of late, and I wasn’t immune to the social misconceptions people have about breastfeeding. My mom gently urged me to take Cora out and become comfortable with feeding her while out and about, but I just wasn’t confident in my own abilities. What helped me more than anything was attending a San Antonio Natural Parenting play group where I saw women breastfeeding their little ones, sans cover or any hint of embarrassment. After that, I found my inner strength, and now I’m able to breastfeed when and where Cora needs to. Yes, I still usually use a nursing cover, but I completely and 100% support mamas who don’t want to cover their babies. For me, the freedom to nurse is something that is imperative for a new mom to be successful at breastfeeding. I know it certainly would have made my situation less stressful.
As a disclaimer, please do not take my situation as medical advice, and understand that we are all unique. What may have caused issues for Cora and myself may never even cross the mind of the next mom. Also, I’m sure there are General Practitioners out there who can provide for the needs of an infant. We were just in a bad situation from multiple standpoints, but it doesn’t mean GP’s are that way for everyone. And if formula is in your past, present, or future, please understand that I am aware all mothers make choices for their babies in order to provide them with the best life possible. But for my family, breastfeeding has become an integral part of my relationship to Cora, one that I am eternally thankful to STILL have, and that I can’t envision stopping any time soon.