Breastfeeding – It doesn’t come as naturally as you think…

Throughout my pregnancy, I was determined to be as natural as possible. This meant many things: a natural (painful) birth and breastfeeding – because natural is always best, right? Even though it may be the scariest, most painful moments in your life, it’s what’s expected of us as mothers. It’s the self sacrifice and unconditional love for our offspring that makes us push our humanly limits to do what’s best.

You would think that breastfeeding comes naturally – and it does. Breastfeeding is natural and is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but the process doesn’t occur as flawlessly as you would think – especially for first time mothers like myself.

When I gave birth to my baby girl in January, I had the worst time with latching and expelling my colostrum. It was the most painful sensation I have ever felt! Mind you, I had just given birth to her and was dealing with the aftermath of 3 tears and an agonizing 34 hours of labor, and I still believed that the sensation of my baby sucking at my breasts and the entire process of latching was worse than birth itself… I just had extremely sensitive breasts that just weren’t used to that sucking sensation – and I have to say, my newborns sucking strength was very strong! (Well, all newborn’s sucking should generally be strong…)

It took me 3 months to finally get my breasts used to my newborns sucking strength and by that time, I felt it was too late. (Or is it?…) Today, my baby is on formula and that’s ok.

To mothers and parents who feed their child formula, let me just say, you’re doing what’s right for you and your baby. I have no judgement for mothers who breastfeed, or use formula, or both. I say…

There is this immense pressure from society to breastfeed your child exclusively because that’s what’s best and most natural. Breastfeeding has benefits not only for baby but for mom too. It has all the vitamins, proteins, fat and antibodies that the newborn needs to grow. For mom, breastfeeding helps burn calories faster to lose all that baby weight, and it triggers the release of oxytocin to contract your uterus to return it back it its normal size. (Of course your uterus will never really be the same again after pregnancy, along with many other things…) But sometimes and for some families, breastfeeding really isn’t what’s best at all. I remember talking to my OBGYN about how I badly wanted to continue breastfeeding but how painful it was to not only to latch but to watch my baby “starve” and not get enough from me. I had tried everything from lactation consultants to breast massages and warm compresses and so forth… (Check out my post about breastfeeding tips here.) I felt that I had already failed as a mother, and she was only just a few weeks old. She assured me that breastfeeding isn’t always the right decision for every family and I had to do what was right for mine. She also said that I would be surprised by how many of us were formula fed, herself included!

Along with PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy) and other conflicting postpartum issues, I had to set aside my unrealistic goals in order to do what was truly best for my baby, and that was to switch to formula feeds. Today, she is a vibrant and cheerful little 5 month old baby and honestly, if she were on my breast milk, she would still be just as vibrant and cheerful.

I had spoken to another mom about my failures of breastfeeding, and she reassured me that I was doing just fine. She said she had breastfed her first child exclusively because she wanted to be as natural as possible. And then, she had a second child who she tried to breastfeed exclusively as well. And then unexpectedly, a third child came. At this point, she couldn’t keep up with the crazy demand so she switched to formula for her last two children. She said to me, “…my oldest son who had my breast milk is just as weird as my youngest who is on formula…And I hope this makes you feel much better, because I know I did.

So to those who truly do want to breastfeed exclusively, here are a few tips I wish I had known while I was pregnant:

If you are going to be a first time mom and are currently pregnant, feel your breasts and try massaging them. If they feel tender or painful upon moderate pressure, then you may have a tough time with breastfeeding like I did. Of course, not everyone is the same and breastfeeding may come about more easily for some mothers compared to others. And if the pain is that excruciating, you may be experiencing breast engorgement or duct blockage. Always check with your doctor if you’re unsure. Massaging the breasts is the most important tip I can give to new mothers like myself who have no idea what they’re doing! I had to push through the pain of massaging and rubbing my breasts to “let down” the milk all while trying to make sure my newborn baby was getting enough. It was draining. Massaging those breasts helps them get used to movement and pressure so start early, even before baby arrives! And when it comes time to latch on your newborn, these sensations shouldn’t be so new to your breasts. Of course, it may still be painful at first but not as excruciating. That way, you’ll be able to better enjoy those precious moments of your first feeding with your newborn baby instead of focusing on the “why can’t I feed my newborn like other mothers do so naturally?! I have failed as a mother already…Nope, none of that!

Of course, drink plenty of water. This not only helps with your milk supply, but it also helps to reduce the pedal edema (swelling in the feet) by flushing out all the excess fluid that has developed in your body. (During pregnancy, our bodies produce and retains fluid to meet the needs for your developing fetus.)

Always try to minimize stress! That is a given. Stress contributes to so many health conditions in every aspect of life. Be kind to yourself! You are creating a new life and that’s pretty darn amazing! Take some deep breaths, think happy thoughts, and surround yourself with good vibes.

Also, continue to exercise! Avoid strenuous training but continue with those stretches or even take a scenic walk. Ask your doctor what is right for you but if your condition doesn’t warrant otherwise, then continue to be active throughout your pregnancy. Remember to rest when you are tired. Being active is great but don’t push it. Trust your instinct. Move when you want to, rest when you need to.

Lastly, ask for help. It’s ok to admit you have no idea what you’re doing. I mean, do we really know what were doing? I know I didn’t and everything turned out just fine. Another piece of advise to new moms is, no matter how bad you think it gets, it will always pass. It won’t last forever. Talk to someone – your partner, a family member, a friend, your doctor. Reassure yourself that everything is ok, and that you are doing great and you’re a good mom. Hopefully they will reassure you too.

To those having a tough time with breastfeeding and are considering formula feeds, that’s ok too. Modern science has created some amazing inventions, and now mothers struggling with breastfeeding don’t have to feel so defeated and alone anymore. Formula will not make your child any less of a person than those fed with breast milk. You have not failed as a mother. You are not a bad mom.

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