I was in the zone this morning.
Reading blogs and perusing my local newspaper online, I happened to look down at my four-month-old baby, happily nursing himself to sleep for his morning nap.
And I got such a big burst of joy, I thought my heart would explode.
I love breastfeeding. I love the closeness, the ease, the sweetness, the simplicity. It amazes me that my body can nourish my child. It makes me worship, to be honest.
But I’ll also be honest and say: It isn’t always this perfect.
Kieran is my fourth baby. I’ve nursed all of my children until they were at least one year old. The girls breastfed until they were almost two. (Which means I’ve been pregnant or nursing almost continuously since the year 2000. Good golly, Miss Molly. No wonder this body is tired.)
I feel like I’ve learned a lot along the way about breastfeeding. Permit me today to share a few of my hard-won lessons.
photo by Stephanie Precourt
Breastfeeding hurts at the beginning.
This is probably the most controversial point I have to make, because many lactation consultants insist breastfeeding should not hurt if it's done correctly.
I beg to differ.
Maybe it’s because my babies have vigorous sucking reflexes. Maybe it’s my genetic make-up. Maybe I’m just a freak. All I know is, the first few weeks of breastfeeding are about as painful as giving birth itself. This is due to the presence of large, open sores that develop about day three and don’t heal until about week three. I get these despite the baby having a perfect latch. (Trust me on this one. I had two lactation consultants and three nurses check Kieran’s latch in May before we left the hospital, and I still had scabs in places where the son don’t shine.)
My best tip for this is to get some gel pads from the hospital – the kind often used on burn victims. They are blissfully cool on traumatized, and they will help your skin heal without scabbing (much). Lanolin and expressed breastmilk are also wonderful healing agents.
It does get better.
If you can persevere through those first few weeks of torture, you will get a gold medal and a million dollars.
Well, not really. But it will get better. Your toes won’t curl each time the baby latches on, you won’t break out in a cold sweat for the first 90 seconds of each nursing session. Somewhere along the way, it will become natural and easy and ohmyword I really love this.
Watch for lumps that are tender to the touch.
This seems obvious, but the first few weeks and months of breastfeeding can be so hectic, I think it's good to state the obvious: If you feel a sore lump in one of your breasts, get thee to the shower and run some warm water on it while doing a gentle massage. And then nurse that baby as often as you can from the affected side.
The goal is to avoid the nemesis of breastfeeding mothers everywhere, the Mastitis Monster. I’ve had mastitis twice, and it is horrible. I shook so violently because of the fever, I was afraid newborn Teyla was going to have shaken baby syndrome. Twenty-four hours of antibiotics later, I was fine. But it was a miserable few days. Don’t mess around with a sore lump.
At least for me.
Invest in a good nursing bra.
I wish someone had told me this years ago. I don’t normally spend a lot of money on underwear because, well, it’s underwear. But a nursing bra isn’t just underwear. It’s your companion, your advisor, your support. Wearing a bra that fits well and is easy to manage is a boon to you and your hungry baby.
Besides, you’re not really saving money if you have to buy six nursing bras over the course of a year because they are so cheap they trash easily. Trust me. I know.
Nursing pads can save you a lot of embarrassment.
Maybe it’s just because I have a bovine gene, but I do not leave the house without a nursing pad the first few months after having a baby. They are important if you want to avoid obvious golf-ball sized wet marks on your chest.
In fact, you might want to wear a pair of nursing pads anytime you’ll be away from your baby for a while. I will never forget a Sunday when my oldest was about 10 months old. We went to church and Sunday school and then my Mom’s for dinner in a whirlwind. It was a great lunch; a fellow teacher at the high school where I worked (a single male, it should be noted) was joining us that day, and he regaled us with stories for hours. It wasn’t until he got up to leave and I heard Natalie getting up from her nap that I realized the front of my (silk) shirt was dripping – literally – with milk.
I am Mommy. Hear me moo.
Don’t feel guilty if you can’t make it work.
I love breastfeeding. But I have many friends – many – who have tried and tried and sacrificed and prayed and tried to breastfeed their babies. And for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work. Maybe their milk supply is too low. Maybe the baby is always fussy and takes forever to nurse. Maybe they get repeated infections.
Whatever it is, I get it. I know they’ve tried. It’s OK. I don’t want them to beat themselves up for making a decision that is best for them and their baby.
Yet they still feel judged and guilty because they didn’t breastfeed their children.
Here’s where I say: That is crazy. Yes, breast is best. But we need to give our fellow Moms some grace here, especially if nursing is (mostly) easy for us. We are not all the same. Show compassion. Extend grace.
Enjoy your baby.
These days of nursing are quickly over, even if you practice extended breastfeeding. Having to stop multiple times each day to nurse a little one can be frustrating or tedious or even boring.
But it isn’t, really. It’s a chance to snuggle and savor that tiny person who just entered your life, to look into their eyes and see eternity. It is special and oh so sweet. Savor every second that you can.
OK fellow breastfeeding Moms. Chime in. What breastfeeding lessons can you pass on? Here's your chance to share your wisdom.
Kelly blogs and nurses -- often, at the same time -- at Love Well.