I think #1 on the Mommy War stage is breastfeeding. This post is not about slamming moms who choose to formula feed or cannot breastfeed for whatever reason. This is simply a post about my breastfeeding journey and how we can and should better support moms who wish to breastfeed. It is my hope that some women, even one woman, reads my story and comes away with more confidence in themselves to nurse.
My breastfeeding journey is similar to many other moms. When asked if I planned to breastfeed, my answer was “I’ll try”. I signed up for free samples of formula “just in case”, and figured I would give it my best shot, but not beat myself up too much if I just couldn’t do it.
Lil Ziggy latched on and nursed immediately after birth, and I was able to pump a fair amount of colostrum in the hospital. I thought I was off to a great start.
Then I was sent home.
The first night, Ziggy cried incessantly. I tried over and over again to nurse him, but I had no idea if he was getting anything. I tried to remind myself that his stomach was the size of a bottle cap and that it took very little colostrum to feed him, but that just made me more worried that he wasn’t getting enough because he just kept crying. I’m sure many new and experienced moms can sympathize with this!
Finally, at 6am, I reached for one of those ready-to-go formula samples. He had a very small amount and promptly fell asleep for a few hours. I felt so guilty. I also thought, “wow, this is how the formula companies get you”. In the middle of your first night alone as a new mom, the formula is there, waiting. Just in case.
A few days later, I went to a breastfeeding clinic run through public health. I left reassured that I had adequate supply (my milk had come in by that point) but confused as to how to manage the “problem” of my fast letdown. I felt like Zig was drowning every time I fed him. He would cough and sputter and scream, over and over again. I was exhausted and sore, and I made sweeping declarations like, “if this doesn’t get better soon, I swear to God I’ll give up”.
The public health nurse (not a lactation consultant, as we don’t have any in my town) gave me a sheet that contained a long checklist, and nearly every item was checked. Dozens of things to do before, during, and after breastfeeding. I was overwhelmed. How can I do all of this? Will it really fix my problem?
Thankfully, my doula is part of a network of doulas, and over that first week pretty much every single one of them stopped by my condo to give me reassurance. One of them brought a South African trained and registered midwife and breastfeeding advocate by. Her name is Vilia, and she saved my breastfeeding.
My breasts are perfect
That’s what she said to me.
I told Vilia how I was having so much trouble, that I wasn’t shaped right, that I was exhausted and I wasn’t sure I could do it. She told me the simplest and most encouraging thing anyone has ever said to me in regards to breastfeeding.
You are perfect the way you are.
Your body was created to do this.
You are doing just fine.
I didn’t need to feed 10 minutes per side. I didn’t need to pump off foremilk (there’s no such thing as bad breastmilk, btw!). I didn’t need to use a warm compress before and a cold compress after.
There is nothing wrong with me.
I don’t need to be fixed.
Since then, I have been so much more confident with nursing. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult. It still is at times. At many times. But it’s getting easier and I’m so glad I was encouraged to trust my body instead of declaring it problematic at best and dysfunctional at worst.
I wish that so many more women could hear what I heard. Marketing, misinformation and negative attitudes towards breastfeeding and the female body are some of the biggest reasons why women don’t breastfeed successfully or for as long as they would like.
I go to a support group that Vilia helps to facilitate each week, whether I really “need” to or not. In my mind, I do need it. It gets me out of the house and it’s a great way for women to talk to each other mother-to-mother about nursing in a truly judgement-free environment, at least in my experience. I truly believe that if I hadn’t found support, information and education about breastfeeding, I very well may not be right now.
I’m sharing a video of Vilia giving a talk about breastfeeding and the modern woman. It’s definitely worth a look!
3 ways to support breastfeeding moms
1. Show her Love, compassion, and understanding.
Listen to the new mother. She is likely overwhelmed and frustrated. Both she and her baby are learning, but it’s not a fast process. When she talks about how overwhelmed and frustrated she is, give her a hug and avoid telling her how to “fix” it.
2. Help her trust herself.
Mothers are the experts of their babies. But modern healthcare and marketing have hurt the mothers ability to trust her own body and intuition. Encourage her, tell her that she’s got this, that there is nothing wrong with her body. Tell her that if she wants to breastfeed her baby, she can.
And if she’s on the verge of giving up, help her find support. There are lots of groups all over the place that provide education and encouragement for moms.
3. Feed the new mom
This one is easy. There are days when I feel like I’m glued to the couch, and Lil Ziggy is glued to me. I rarely eat enough during the day, but it is so important for helping to keep my energy levels up. A great idea for friends and family who want to support the new mom would be to bring over lots of healthy snacks that do not take any prep for her. Or make her a few healthy and filling breakfasts and lunches. It’s hard to be alone with a baby all day long, and the time goes by so quickly that often I don’t even realize that hours have passed since I last ate anything.
And if I can offer one more piece of advice… if you are an expectant mom who wants to breastfeed, I encourage you to seek out education and support before you even give birth. There are so many resources that you may not know existed, but they can make such a difference in your breastfeeding journey.
Feel free to share your breastfeeding story in the comments! Please keep the comment section civil, as it is a sensitive subject for many women. Thanks!
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