When you were contemplating motherhood or perhaps when you were pregnant, you probably saw those picturesque images of mothers nursing their babies. You may have even imagined yourself in that role; nursing a sleepy newborn while rocking in a chair.
Fast forward to actual motherhood and you’ve probably realized that breastfeeding is not always snuggles and serene. For many of us, it can turn out to be one of the hardest things we’ve ever done—but also the most rewarding.
Some of us have struggled with latch problems, insufficient supply, mastitis, and soreness. By the time our little ones are ready to wean, however, most of us have found a peace with the balance of challenge and reward that comes with nursing.
To me, it’s just about the perfect analogy for motherhood itself—an ongoing dynamic between self-sacrifice and reward; between struggle and peace; between myself and my child.
If breastfeeding seems more overwhelming than rewarding for you, here are a few mantras that might help.
1. It’s not just about the milk.
It’s good to remember the big picture. Yes, breastmilk is wonderful, but you are also bonding with your baby. Moms who don’t breastfeed can still do all these bonding activities. Step back for a moment, look into your baby’s eyes and see the beauty of the relationship you are building. Picking up on baby’s cues and reading to her are not activities exclusive to breastfeeding moms. So whether you nurse or bottle feed, the beneficial bonding can still happen.
2. It’s a learning process.
Although breastfeeding is natural, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Humans are complex beings, even little newborns. You and your baby are learning a new skill and it takes time to learn. Each mother-baby pair has a unique anatomy, unique personalities and preferences. It usually takes 6-8 weeks to get all the kinks worked out with breastfeeding. Give yourself and your baby patience and time.
3. It’s a relationship.
Breastfeeding is such a unique situation. It is a functional activity (provides food), but it’s not just that; it’s a relationship. How, why and when your baby nurses may differ from day to day or even hour to hour. Sometimes he nurses because he’s hungry; sometimes he nurses because he’s upset or nervous.
In the beginning this was difficult for me to understand. Why was my newborn nursing all the time? Is he not getting enough milk? Well, as we went along in our relationship I realized it was different depending on his needs at the time.
My first son just loved the nursing/sucking motion; it calmed him. My second son nursed much more just for nutrition, not as much for soothing. Each nursing relationship is unique and it takes time to allow this to develop and understand its meaning.
4. It is NOT a competition.
I would hope that in today’s world the notion that “who breastfeeds the longest, wins motherhood” would be thrown out the window. We are all moms, we all struggle, and we all love our children. Whether you nurse for six months, three years or not at all, it does not make you a better mom to your child. You know your child best and you know yourself best. Each mother makes choices about feeding their child based on those factors.
As a new mom, it’s easy to feel judged when your baby is crying or you are trying to nurse in public. I found it helpful to remember that my priority was my baby and myself, not trying to make the situation comfortable for onlookers.
Another key to feeling secure instead of competitive is support. Support from your spouse, family members and perhaps even a moms group can make all the difference. It can take a while to find the moms group with whom you feel comfortable, supported and not judged. Once you find your tribe, however, you will know it. With help from other moms, you may find that all things motherhood, including breastfeeding, seem a little less intimidating.
5. Be kind to yourself.
Breastfeeding mamas, do not forget the magnitude of what you are doing—you are nourishing a complete new little person with your own body. It is really a miracle of nature.
Go easy on yourself and remember that you do not have to do everything that you did prior to motherhood right away. Over time you will learn how to nurse with one hand, while eating with the other. You might even manage nursing while simultaneously helping your toddler get dressed.
Take one day at a time and just focus on nourishing that baby. Focus on only doing the things that help nurture your baby and yourself. Once you get the hang of it, hopefully breastfeeding will become another piece of the beautiful relationship between you and your child.