In a perfect world, all moms would breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. Science, medical studies and our own (miraculous) anatomy tell us that mom is what babies need. Breast is best. We get the message. But a loud and clear message, and a very natural instinct to exclusively feed your infant isn’t enough to get some women over the hurdle. Obstacles include little or no maternity leave (the US has the worst in the world), an economy that demands a two-income household, lack of social and workplace support (very few workplaces offer the time pump or nursing/pumping accommodations), or the perception of a low milk supply, a wee bit of exhaustion, those pesky other children who need attention too… and so on.
Breastfeeding success is a challenge. Anything worth obtaining is hard.
You know that woman on the cover of the magazine that has the perfect body, under the caption that reads something like What’s her secret? You know what her secret is? She works out. Alot. We kinda don’t want to accept the fact that what we want takes work. That everyone you see who has it or does it and makes it look easy, worked for it too.
Here’s how you work at breastfeeding:
Start out right. For some moms, the first time breastfeeding after birth it is a beautiful, effortless, pain-free moment. And for many moms it is not. It can take patience, practice, a high threshold for pain and a refusal to give in to the readily available bottle of formula. Studies show that moms who leave the hospital exclusively breastfeeding are more likely to exclusively breastfeed over the next three months. While you are in the hospital, seek out the support you need. If a lactation specialist does not come to see you, ask for one. These are your experts, ask questions and learn from them.
Set a goal. Decide for how long you’re going to breastfeed your baby. With plenty of research at your fingertips, you will find that the recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for first six months is consistent. You will also find that every mom’s circumstance is different. Sit down with your partner, agree to what is possible for your family and then map out what you will need to do to meet your goal. Commit to doing it and every time you have to order pizza (again), or pull the car over and park for a feeding, or use the only free moment you’ve had all day to pump, recognize this is what doing it looks like. You are doing it.
Plan your life around feeding your baby. Yup, we said it. Life as you know it has changed. It’s ok. You have a baby. Life is going to be planned around your baby for a good while. No doubt there are several six-month periods of your life you cannot even account for. Single-handedly nourishing a human being during the greatest development period of their life is not a bad accomplishment, so be proud it is the focus of yours.
Make the investment. Breastmilk is free, but keeping your sanity may require a few dollars. Where public policy fails us, products come to the rescue! (interesting how that works) Don’t wait to buy a breast pump. It is a worthwhile investment whether or not you are returning to work. A new hospital grade breast pump are the best and will run you about $180-$250. If you can’t afford one, rent one from your hospital prior to discharge.
Breastfeed in public. Infants are portable. So are your breasts. As anyone with a two-year old will tell you, for now you can go anywhere, so go. Breastfeeding in public can be uncomfortable at first and the sooner you do it, the sooner it will be old hat. Think of it like the discomfort of coming out of the dressing room in a bathing suit when ultimately you are going to have to wear it in front of the free world. You need to get over it. And if you do feel self conscious, there are great options for privacy.
Get support. And give it. With all the breastfeeding research and advice and (very strong) opinions out there, create a circle of trust. Breastfeeding is wonderful and emotional and sometimes just really hard. Find a place you can go that has a voice you are comfortable with. There are great online breastfeeding resources out there like Kellymom, Science & Sensibility but seek local support – find your local IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), moms group, meet-up, etc. In instances where you need support and it is not there, engage. You’re gonna get through it, and when you do, pay it forward.
And remember, all your baby needs is you. Literally. It’s pretty amazing. And exhausting. And and times you’ll want to give up. But don’t.