When my daughter was born, she did not come out suckling. During the magic first hour, she had no interest in latching on. Though it sounds like an urban legend, I have heard firsthand accounts of babies finding their way to the boob on the first try. After being placed in their mother's arms, these seemingly mythical babies find their mother's nipple, latch on and nurse. Easy, right?
This was not my experience.
My daughter latched on but didn't have the patience to wait for my milk to drop so she'd unlatch before getting anything. She spent much of her first week a very hangry baby. This constant unlatching caused her to lose almost an entire pound leading to a bout of jaundice as well as an extra night in the hospital under the phototherapy lights. Needless to say, I was freaked out.
I felt like a failure unable to feed my child and terrified she wouldn't gain back her birth weight. I almost gave up, but my mom friends (you know, those friends you talk to about poo colors and rashes) encouraged me to keep trying, which ended up being a gift of encouragement I will be forever grateful for.
With the help of the pediatrician's office, I was able to get my daughter's latch to improve and I have been breastfeeding for almost a year now.
As I look back, I wish I'd known these five things from the get-go.
1. Breastfeeding is messy
I can remember the first night home with my baby. My milk had come in with a vengeance. I had to change my clothes constantly because my shirts would be soaked with milk. My dog would follow me around because I'd be leaking milk all over the floor as I raced to nurse or pump.
I had to buy cups to collect the excess milk and even those would overflow. I used paper nursing pads and cloth pads. I kept thinking about how no one ever mentions how messy this is. I felt kind of gross at times—like I smelt of old sour milk. This was not exactly what I had expected.
2. Breastfeeding is an art, not a science
In the hospital, you will be visited by what seems like 100 different people a day. From the pediatricians and OB-GYNs to lactation specialists and nurses, everyone bombards your room at all hours of the day and night.
They will all come to help you with breastfeeding and guess what? They will likely all tell you something (at least) slightly different! One lactation specialist was a little too aggressive. In a moment of frustration, she exclaimed, "Do you even want to breastfeed?". Another one had me pumping. Yet, the doctor said not to pump because that may cause oversupply issues. One nurse said hold her this way and another said hold her that way.
Don't get me wrong, they were all well-meaning—what they were trying to do was help us achieve success. But it can be very confusing and frustrating for a new mom when you're getting so many differing opinions.
It was all sound advice, but in the end, I had to go with my gut and find my own way. The last day in the hospital my husband and I discovered that singing songs while I nursed helped to relax the baby and she was able to latch on longer. ("Yellow Submarine" was her favorite.)
3. Sometimes the rules don’t apply
Before my daughter was born, my husband and I went to all the prenatal classes available to us. We were taught all the right ways to hold the baby while nursing and how to get a good latch. I came into breastfeeding thinking everything was black and white.
You had to hold the baby the "right" way and latch on the "right" way and then it would all work from there. And yes, there are definitely better ways to hold the baby and better ways for baby to latch but it is not so rigid as one simple way for every single mother out there. Sometimes my daughter 's latch wasn't great, but it got the job done.
In my humble opinion, as long as the baby is comfortable and you are comfortable and the baby is getting milk—you're doing it the "right" way.
4. Don’t be afraid of the nipple shield
The nipple shield! When I was first handed the nipple shield, I was not feeling it. It looks exactly like it sounds—a clear, plastic shield that goes over your nipple. It's for flat nipples that are hard for the baby to latch onto.
I felt ashamed and annoyed that I needed it. I hated the thought that I couldn't breastfeed without this plastic barrier between me and my baby. But once someone showed me how to use it properly, it worked for us, and my baby could latch. I was surprised to learn of how many people used them.After a couple months, I decided to try nursing without it. As time wore on, eventually my daughter could latch on without it. So I say, don't be afraid of the shield! It can be a big help.
5. Just do you
It's okay if you can't breastfeed for a whole year as recommended or even at all. It's okay to try it and realize you can't continue for whatever reason. It's okay to supplement. It's okay to decide that nursing is not for you. It's okay to pump exclusively or never pump at all. It's okay to breastfeed exclusively for as long as you wish.
I was happy to be able to breastfeed for a year, but I know many women who had different experiences and made different decisions. One breastfed for a couple of months, one supplemented with formula and one pumped exclusively. Guess what? All of their babies are happy and healthy children!
You have to do what's right for you and your baby.
If you're like me and you've been reading a sea of articles on breastfeeding, please let this be your takeaway: You know what's best for your child.
Breastfeeding has been a journey, an adventure, and a challenge. If I've learned one thing, it's that no one baby is the same. I'm sure with the next baby, there will be five more things I wish I knew, but at least I'll know any decision I make will be the right one.