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16 Things I've Learned in 6 Years

When I became pregnant with my first child in 2011, I knew I was going to breastfeed. I am thankful that in my family breastfeeding was considered the norm, because it just seemed to me that breastfeeding was part of the regular flow of things. I got the pump, the Lanolin, and my girlfriend made me some cloth nursing pads. My husband seemed to enjoy the fact that he'd get at least another year of having a designated driver (haha). 

However, when my Midwife handed me my beautiful baby girl in March 2012, I had no idea what to do. I didnt know how to change a diaper let alone sustain an infant from my breasts. With my first baby I stayed in the hospital for 24 hours, which is where I encountered my first struggles with nursing. My baby was tired from a long pushing stage and hematoma on her head, so I had to try my hardest to get her to suckle. The nurses gave me a bottle of formula to give her and told me this was normal. I didnt know that it wasnt necessary until I saw my midwife for the Day 1 visit. Breastfeeding is a completely new thing. Sure, it is your own body. Sure, it is supposed to be a maternal instinct. Maybe it is in a survival type situation. But for me, it was not. In the early days, support was crucial. My midwives are the main reason I was successful in breastfeeding. They saw me many times and helped me with different latches. Another reason I was successful was because of myself. If you are successful in breastfeeding, you have to truly, deep down, be determined to breastfeed. Fight through all of the reasons not to. Seek help. Over 6 years and 3 more breastfed infants later, the following points outline things I have learned about breastfeeding that I do NOT often see in online support materials: 

1. Breastfeeding does not necessarily feel natural - it is completely new territory and takes a lot of effort, learning, perseverance and love. Build yourself a support system.

2. The first 3-6 weeks will establish your breastfeeding relationship, and whether it will continue - these are the hardest weeks. You are both learning. You're engorged. Your nipples are bleeding. Your baby is a confused novice. But the hard work for both of you pays off in so many ways. It gets easier after this, I promise.

3. Your baby will have a stomach ache - but NOT as bad as they will being formula fed. Dont give into the pressure to switch to formula because of gas pains. Formula is much harder to digest, and drinking it from a bottle causes more air to be ingested which causes more gas. All newborns get gas pains, because their gastrointestinal systems have not developed. Probiotics help them in this regard.

4. Dont keep formula around "just in case" - it can be too tempting. Supplementing with formula WILL ruin your milk supply. By all means, there is nothing wrong with formula feeding and I do not judge moms who formula feed. I am merely offering this advice to those who are determined to breastfeed.

5. Your baby probably does not have an intolerance to something you are eating - all too often I see moms trying to fix their baby's pain by cutting dairy. This should not be a first resort. Try easier things first, like probiotics, burping, etc. Also, to clear up another misconception, less than 1% of babies is lactose intolerant. Lactose is a byproduct of breastmilk whether you eat it or not. If your baby does have an issue with dairy, it is the proteins in it, not the sugar (lactose).

6. A good latch can fix everything - again, use your support! 

7. Your baby is probably getting enough - you dont need to feel engorged. Your baby can be nursing every half an hour. Is your baby gaining weight? Having good output? Then they are probably getting enough. Seek help with a breastfeeding educated  healthcare individual if you are worried.

8. There aren't as many restrictions as people think - I don't really eliminate anything while breastfeeding. Quite a few medications are not OK, and some herbs. But you dont need to eliminate food groups, and you also dont need to eliminate alcohol. Search for Dr. Jack Newman's Alcohol and Breastfeeding article online to gain more knowledge on this.

9. Exclusively pumping? That's fantastic and so dedicated. And its exclusively breastfeeding as well.

10. Family history means nothing - just because your Great Grandma and your Grandma and your mom couldn't breastfeed does not mean you can't. It doesn't even necessarily mean they couldn't. Their support system was almost non existent back then. If you want to breastfeed, get support and try your best. Dont let anyone try to convince you not to.

11. No one has breastmilk within the first few days after birth - there are tiny itty bitty amounts of colostrum that you can barely even see. Milk does not come in until 3 or more days after birth, for anyone. But you need to breastfeed as much as your baby wants to during this time. If you feed formula, your milk will not come in. 

12. Keep feeding - if you regularly go too long between feeds, your milk supply will dwindle. I would advise not going more than 4 hours once your supply is established, less within the first 8 weeks.

13. You can fix your milk supply - your breastmilk seems to have disappeared for any number of reasons...your cycle came back? You are dehydrated? You had a night out at the bar and didnt breastfeed or express for 12 hours and now you're hungover? You just had a horrible 5 day long gastrointestinal virus? You were hospitalized for a postpartum infection? Most times, you can get your supply back. It might take weeks. Drink lots of water and Gatorade, eat lots of carbs and dont cut calories, eat lots of healthy fat and proteins, and add salt to your foods. Speak to a breastfeeding informed healthcare provider to explore herbal or medicinal possibilities if needed.

14. Breastfeeding is hard in the beginning, but easier afterwards - you dont have to warm up bottles, get out of your bed at night, sterilize bottles and water, try different formulas, etc.

15. It is SO worth it! It is proven to be best for your baby, it has major health benefits for you too, and you will feel amazing that you did it. The bonding is amazing.

16. If you truly cannot, or choose not, to breastfeed, THAT IS OKAY. Your baby will be fine. You will be fine. If trying to breastfeed is causing mental health issues in yourself, you need to weigh the pros and cons of that. Do not be too hard on yourself, this mothering thing is hard. 

Here are some wonderful support pages for Breastfeeding: Sudbury Breastfeeding Support Group; The Badass Breastfeeder; Dairy Queens Breastfeeding Support Closed Group. If you know of others, post them below!