Monday, September 16, 2013

Breastfeeding for beginners: What they don't tell you

I originally planned to formula feed my son, and I had several reasons why I thought that would be best. I wanted my baby to be able to bond with other people through feeding, especially his father.  I wanted him to sleep well, which is a much easier feat to achieve using formula than breast milk since formula keeps them full longer.

At the end of my pregnancy - and we are talking 37 weeks plus, I changed my mind and decided to breast feed.  I had been leaning that way, but honestly, it kind of freaked me out.  I know, I know - "It's natural," and "It's the way God intended us to feed our babies," but still, I was kind of feeling a bit "ew" on the whole thing.

But reading about all the health benefits for my little guy (and me) made me decide that I would just bite the bullet and make it happen.  I got a book from the library and read up on breastfeeding as I waited out the last few weeks.  I went into the hospital ready to rock and roll.  Things went pretty well from the start, apart from a few initial latching issues.  Once we found a position that worked for both of us - my 10 pound, 2 ounce baby necessitated a c-section, which left me in quite a bit of pain - we were off to a good start.

Our first night home, however, my son would not sleep, and all he did was cry when I put him to bed.  I could tell he was hungry, so I kept nursing him for hours.  I was still in excruciating pain from the surgery, not to mention absolutely wiped out from the surgery and the Percocet.  The pediatrician had told us to consider supplementing with formula because Clayton lost a good bit of weight in the hospital.  That first night home, I finally gave him 2 ounces of formula, which was enough to fill him up and allow him - and me - to sleep.

When it comes to breastfeeding, it seems there are so many rules out there that are touted as being absolute, as well as so many things that are said in such a way that they do not really prepare you for life as a nursing mom.  So, first a disclaimer, then on to breastfeeding as I see it.

Disclaimer:  I am not a medical professional, nor have I been educated in breastfeeding, lactation, childbirth, child rearing, or anything to do with any of these things.  The following comments are based solely on my experience and should be taken as such.  Consult a medical professional or lactation consultant for expert advice because this is not it.

Breastfeeding, as I see it:

  1. Virtually every breastfeeding resource out there will tell you that it is normal to experience sore nipples in the first couple days or weeks of breastfeeding.  This is absolutely true.  However, having just gone through pregnancy, that translated to me as, "Sore, but not a huge deal."  In the first two weeks of my son's life, I experienced excruciating pain to the point where I had to stop using one side or the other for days at a time, just to allow some healing.  (I still used a breast pump, which was much less painful than nursing and kept the sorest boob from getting engorged and even more sore.)  Seriously, I used to have to do lamaze breathing to get through the first few minutes after my son latched.  After about two weeks, things improved rapidly, and even during his growth spurts when he is eating ALL DAY, it has never been nearly that bad.  To get through it, I imagined that by dealing with the pain of nursing, I was sparing my son the pain of an illness he might otherwise get if I was not breastfeeding.  Stay strong, ladies.  This, too, shall pass.  (And if it doesn't, talk to a lactation consultant because it really isn't supposed to be like that all the time.)
  2. There is a lot of talk about nipple confusion and how you should not give a baby a bottle or a pacifier until he is about a month old because he will forget how to nurse.  My son had his first bottle (Tommy Tippee) at 5 days old.  We never had a problem with nipple confusion.  I was afraid to give him a bottle at all, but when the pediatrician recommended supplementing with formula, I asked if I should give it to him in a dropper.  Her response was, "Yeah, sure.  Or a bottle.  As long as you are putting him on the breast regularly, he's not going to get confused."  And he didn't.  (See disclaimer above before freaking out.)
  3. When it comes to waiting for your milk to come in or growth spurts, there is a lot of talk about how you should never supplement with formula.  When my son hit his first growth spurt at 3 weeks, I was floored by how much he was eating.  He has always been a big eater, probably because of his size, but he was eating almost constantly during his growth spurt.  The first two days, I tried so hard to keep up with him, but in the evenings, I could not keep up anymore.  There was no milk coming out of me, and he was hungry.  So, guess what.  I did supplement with formula.  I gave him a couple ounces to help him fill up, and then I popped my breast pump on and let it do its thing.  That way, my body would still get the signal to produce more, but my son did not have to starve.  People like to say, "Oh, your breasts are never empty," but mine might as well have been because there was nothing coming out of them.  Today, we no longer have to supplement, and even at his last growth spurt, we made it through without formula.  But if you are a little low on milk, don't let other people make you feel bad about using a little formula so that your child doesn't have to be hungry.  This is not the stone ages.  Thanks to formula and breast pumps, we can feed our kids from bottles and trick our bodies into thinking we are nursing so we can produce more.  I am not about to let my poor son cry from hunger out of some misguided devotion to breast milk.
  4. There will be growth spurts around 3 weeks and 6 weeks of age.  These are no joke.  When your child is having a growth spurt, try to avoid having company or going out because he is going to need to eat A LOT.  (On a side note, by the time your child is 3 weeks old, you will probably know his hunger cues like the back of your hand.  No matter how little experience you had with babies before having one of your own, do not let anyone try to tell you he does not need to eat when you know he is hungry.  You know your child.  In my house, the rule is, "If he's hungry, he's allowed to eat.")

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