Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about breastfeeding. Should every mom feel compelled to nurse? How long is long enough? How long is too long? Should you nurse in public or be confined to the ladies’ room lounge?
I am a HUGE proponent of breast-feeding. I nursed all four of mine, two of them for three full years, and I have tandem nursed (the term for nursing both your toddler and your newborn). Every mom’s choice should be respected, and no mom should be shamed for her choice to, or not to, breast-feed.
That said, I think that because breasts are so sexualized in American culture, and breastfeeding is frequently misunderstood, that we inadvertently set up roadblocks to successful nursing. This happens both in the workplace and in extended families. I remember when I was pregnant with my first, my boss told me that I would not be “allowed” to nurse my baby since I would have to be back on the job full time at six weeks. While this would not fly today, 20+ years ago, this type of mom-bullying was the norm. I chose to nurse my baby and leave my job. Another time, I was out to dinner with my family and my newborn, who was hungry, and I was told that I could not nurse her in the restaurant because, after all, “we have to show our faces in here again.” Apparently, a healthy baby doing what babies do to stay alive was an affront to their sensibilities. Because I couldn’t quit my family like I quit my job, I spent the meal sitting in the car alone, nursing my daughter. I did get payback about two years later when, as a toddler, she was still nursing, and, at the same restaurant, she spilled a soda all over herself and had to be stripped down to her onesie. Of course, after that, she wanted to nurse, and by this time, I was bold enough NOT to be intimidated, and I nursed my toddler at the table with my extended family. In front of everybody. And didn’t give a hoot who objected.
In many ways, things have gotten better over the years for nursing moms, but we still have a long way to go! Moms should be ENCOURAGED to breast-feed but not be bullied into it. Every mom should have an opportunity to have a go at it if they choose and be fully supported in their choice, whether they are stay-at-home moms or working moms.
Here are my top tips to help moms succeed at breastfeeding:
- Don’t let others influence or dictate when or where you nurse your baby. No one would blink to see a baby eating from a bottle; they shouldn’t be bothered by a mom breast-feeding either. Period. There are ways to nurse that minimize your breast exposure (not that you should have to). For example, lifting your shirt up is easier than pulling it down and negates the need for a breastfeeding cover (which, btw, most babies hate).
- Get your info and support from pro-breadfeeding groups. La Leche League International is still the largest breast-feeding support group worldwide. Made up of nursing moms who volunteer their time, LLL offers valuable support and information. If you run into difficulty with things like prolonged sore nipples or improper latch, they will be able to help. They also have many professional lactation consultants to refer to when needed.
- Successful nursing revolves around supply and demand. You can’t nurse too much! Often times, when moms are directed to schedule their feedings in the same way one would schedule a bottle feeding, they will experience diminished milk supply. Our bodies are made to provide our babies with the perfect amount of milk with the perfect combination of fat, carbs, and protein. Newborns instinctively nurse for both nutrition and comfort, and that insures that you have a strong milk supply and that the baby gets enough. Trust the process. If you’re returning to work and need to pump, it may pay to rent a professional breast pump. I pumped quite successfully with a manual pump, but if you don’t have a strong let-down or emotionally struggle to pump when you’re away from your baby, a professional pump will really help. BTW: pacifiers are not your friend if you are trying to increase or maintain your milk supply, especially early on. Remember: the more your baby nurses, the more milk you will produce. If they’re sucking on a binky, your milk supply is not getting stimulated.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! That also will keep up your milk supply, keep your body well hydrated and help you lose weight as well. When I had newborns, I kept a gallon bottle of water next to the bed and refilled it two or three times a day.
- Eat normally. You don’t need to eat or avoid anything special. You’ll find out soon enough if baby is sensitive to specific aspects of your diet. Mine were frequently bothered by dairy and wheat. Interestingly, my doctor told me that was because “I” wasn’t properly digesting the protein and thus passing it through my milk in a less digestible form, not that my babies were allergic to it. Removing the offending foods from my diet made me feel much better and resolved baby’s fussiness. Breast-feeding will also help you to lose that baby weight quickly! Breastfeeding burns an average of 400-600 calories per day! All by itself.
I LOVED nursing my babies. I have no regrets about persisting even when it was hard and sticking up for my choice even when it was unpopular. All moms deserve respect for whatever choice they make about nourishing and nurturing their babies. With proper support, hopefully more and more moms will be able to breastfeed successfully!