Let me preface by telling you that my husband and I were both formula-fed. And believe it or not, we were awesome, healthy, non-colicky kids.
That being said, we are both health nuts. And for us, it was never a question. Our baby would be breastfed.
I distinctly remember a comparison being made between formula-fed babies and McDonald’s-fed adults. Surely I didn’t want my baby eating fast food. I wanted him to have the all-natural, good stuff.
I still had my hesitations, but I took a breastfeeding class and left feeling reassured that, in fact, anyone could breastfeed. And if they couldn’t, then they probably weren’t trying hard enough. They weren’t doing enough skin to skin. They weren’t getting enough stimulation. They just hadn’t tapped their potential.
Oh man, was I in for a rude awakening.
In the past two and a half months, I have learned a lot! Admittedly, it has gotten significantly easier. But here are 4 things that I wish I would have known going into it.
1. It is exhausting!
I knew breastfeeding was going to be tough. I also knew I had the discipline required. If my friends could do it, then I could, too. I was 100% committed.
But I never expected it to be so exhausting! Especially if you’re pumping — it’s even more work. When I finally finished a feeding (which sometimes took me 45 minutes to an hour), then it was time to get my babe down for a nap. And if I’m being honest, the first few weeks he only napped in my arms. Which meant no pumping.
And if I didn’t pump between feedings? If I went more than 2-3 hours (which happened all the time)… Well first off, my supply would inevitably diminish. But then I discovered clogged ducts! And ended up getting mastitis! Who knew breastfeeding could lead to a 101 degree temperature and cold sweats?!
Breastfeeding is hands down the most physically and mentally exhausting thing I have ever done. And it is also my biggest accomplishment.
2. It takes two to tango.
You know that saying, it’s not you, it’s me? There were a few occasions that I felt so guilt-ridden and emotional that I couldn’t do the one thing my body was made to do: feed my child. I would sit there wrestling with my wiggling infant, begging and pleading for him to just stay latched and eat. And as the tears rolled down my face, I would catch my little man looking up at me, and I’m pretty confident he was saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Momma, be gentle with yourself. No matter how hard you try, your babe is half of the equation, too. Remember that this is new to them. They are learning. They feed off of your energy. If you are frustrated, they will be, too. Rooting comes natural to them, but sometimes breastfeeding itself doesn’t.
3. It gets easier.
Breastfeeding is like riding a bike. You don’t just hop on and start popping wheelies. You start with the training wheels, you take time to learn, and eventually you progress.
If all else fails, give it time. My little one needed a nipple shield for the first 2 1/2 months. I would nurse him for an hour, only to find him hungry 10 minutes later. So I ended up exclusively pumping and bottle feeding. It was significantly faster, but caused more frustration when I would try to offer the breast.
We worked with a lactation consultant, a baby chiropractor, and even a pediatric dentist. We spent a lot of money on fancy equipment, doctor’s visits, and second opinions. Then one day, I tried to breastfeed and he latched. No fancy shield, no wrestling match. He just latched and fed.
4. It’s not for everyone.
The truth is, sometimes it’s ok to quit. Sometimes it’s ok to throw in the towel if it’s causing you and your baby stress and impacting your happiness and relationship. Because breast feeding on demand is hard work. And being a human milk-machine is challenging. Whatever you choose to do is the right decision. I promise, your baby will turn out just fine.
We have found a happy medium with a combination of nursing, pumping, and bottle feeding. Our son is happy, healthy, well-fed, and well-rested. He drinks both breast milk and formula. Mommy and Daddy both take time to bond and feed, and our son does not have nipple confusion.
As a side note, we are in the middle of pursuing a tongue tie procedure to maximize our breastfeeding relationship and avoid long-term speech problems and dental consequences. We have had an incredible lactation consultant who has provided tremendous support and insight. One of the most important things you can do if you’re struggling with breastfeeding is get help.
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