When I got pregnant, there was no question that I was going to breastfeed. I didn’t know quite what the experience would be like, but the reality was nothing at all like what I expected.
It was much, much harder.
And I think it is much, much harder than many women realize that it’s going to be.
When I hear women struggling with breastfeeding, I want to tell them: “I’ve been there. It gets better. It’s worth it in the end.” But those words are much too simple also. Here is what I want to tell breastfeeding mothers who feel like they are too tired and too isolated and just feel like they don’t have the will power to go on:
Hang in there!
In the beginning, you are exhausted, and your baby seems to be crying to eat as soon as you’ve finally fallen asleep. You might be able to get a handle on the day when the world is awake and you feel some kind of solidarity, even if only in spirit. However, the nights are long. They are isolating. You will be awake when everyone else is asleep.
It may be hard, but it is all totally normal, and it’s all worth it in the end. If you feel that breastfeeding is right for you, then just hang in there. You will get through the trying times, and you will be glad that you didn’t give up.
It may hurt.
I know this is controversial. You’ll hear a lot of breastfeeding advocates say that if it hurts, you’re doing something wrong. But this isn’t always the case. Even in the best case scenario, just the newness of breastfeeding can cause your nipples to be sore.
However, many new moms do struggle with getting it right at first. Working with a lactation consultant is the best way to work through issues like improper latch so that you can overcome these difficulties as soon as possible. In the meantime, you might suffer through cracked nipples, bleeding nipples, clogged ducts and more.
Again, this is all pretty common. If you get help, you can work through these troubles in most cases and establish a healthy breastfeeding relationship that isn’t painful and that is rewarding for both you and baby.
Trust yourself and your baby.
Your baby most likely isn’t going to eat on a schedule. In the first few weeks that I brought my daughter home, I was going crazy because I thought “She just ate! She can’t be hungry!” But she was. Or she wanted comforting. Either way, she needed to nurse, and it didn’t matter if she just nursed 10 minutes ago. She needed to nurse again.
Once I gave in to nursing my baby on demand, life was much easier. She was happier. I was happier.
Don’t let other people tell you when your baby needs to eat. Feed your baby when he tells you he needs to feed.
You are in control.
When family and friends are crowding around you and giving you all their “good advice,” it can be overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion about what’s right, and some people aren’t too shy about making sure you know that they are right and you are wrong — regardless of whether they have children or not.
It’s easy to let those voices take over when you are new to parenting, confused, insecure, and completely exhausted. However, it’s important that you know that you are in control. You decide how you feed your baby — regardless of whether your mother tells you that she formula fed and you were just fine. You decide when you feed your baby — regardless of whether your mother-in-law tells you that your baby is “fine” and doesn’t need to eat for two more hours.
You are in control.
That includes in the hospital when you are establishing your breastfeeding relationship. Don’t feel shy in telling doctors and nurses that you don’t want your baby to use a pacifier or to receive formula or other supplements. You have a voice.
You won’t necessarily lose weight.
Sure you burn extra calories when you breastfeed, but not everyone loses weight. Some people — like me — actually gain weight while they’re breastfeeding.
Don’t worry about what other people say or think: Just keep feeding your baby the way you choose and focusing on getting the best self-care possible, including eating a healthy diet and getting the exercise you need.
You can breastfeed after you go back to work.
You don’t have to stop breastfeeding because you return to work. Your employer is legally required to give you the space and the time to pump at work, though many women still report issues. So long as your employer is complying with this requirement and you have the motivation to do so, you can continue to pump at work for as long as you want to breastfeed.
Of course, you may ultimately decide that pumping is the absolute worst (which it is), but that choice is yours to make. Just know that you have the options, and don’t feel that your breastfeeding goals must be deterred by going back to work.
You have options.
Don’t feel like you are obligated to breastfeed.
If you decide that breastfeeding is the best decision for you and your baby, that’s alright.
If you decide that breastfeeding is the best decision, but then you change your mind after three months, that’s alright.
If you decide that you don’t want to breastfeed and you want to exclusively pump instead, that’s alright.
If you decide that you don’t want to breastfeed and you want to use donor milk instead, that’s alright.
If you decide that you want to supplement your breastfeeding with formula feedings, that’s alright.
If you decide that you want to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula, that’s alright.
The key is that you know that the decision is yours to make and that it shouldn’t be persuaded by the opinions of others. Use the information at your disposal to make the best decision for you and your baby, but don’t feel like you have to do anything out of fear of judgement.
You have rights.
In most states, you have the right to breastfeed your baby anywhere that you have the right to be. That means that you can make the choice to feed your baby anywhere that he needs to eat and anywhere that you feel comfortable doing so.
If you’re in the middle of the mall, you can feed your baby.
If you’re at a restaurant, you can feed your baby.
If you’re in the middle of a crowded playroom, you can feed your baby.
You can feed your baby whether you have a cover or not. Do not let other people intimidate you or make you feel uncomfortable. Know that you have rights, and know that you are doing what is best for your baby.
It’s not “weird.”
When people tell you that they think breastfeeding is “weird” or “unnatural,” they are reflecting their own issues, not yours. You’ll most often hear this when you are still breastfeeding a toddler (26 months here), but a few people will say it even about babies.
Ignore these people. Trust what you are doing and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Whatever happens in the course of your breastfeeding experience, just remember: You are doing the best you can, and whatever decision you make is the right one for you and your baby. Everything else will fall into place with time.