What to expect. Expect to think feeding will be effortless. Know now that it may not be. Expect to think labor is the part of your future that requires the greatest battle plan. But, know now that your greatest challenge might be breastfeeding. Prepare yourself for the challenge of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding can be effortless and it can become second nature – a thing that you dance with day to day like the in and out of your oxygen.
But, for many, it is a surprising obstacle. People will tell you its the best thing they ever did but don’t confuse that with easy. If you think of things that make you happy, however, you may notice they took some effort.
What Makes it so Tricky?
Birthing your first baby is often a trial. It is often long, at the very least. It rarely goes to plan. Even if you did all the right things, you learn that you are only one player in the process – the baby is the other player and she may have her own opinion! You emerge from this process fatigued at best. From there your breastfeeding begins. Most times in your life, when you are tired, you rest. But after delivery you must feed. You must, must, must breastfeed. Feeding at this time is akin to…
Putting on a warm coat before you catch a chill.
Taking zinc at the right time so you don’t catch a cold.
Being at the station at just the right time so that you don’t miss the train.
You must feed now. You must take hold of your baby and latch her in the first hour. You must latch her again within the next few hours, and again and again and again. Because this first hour is crucial to the start of this process. And the first day, and first week. This is the magic time. All of the important hormones are poised in the wings, ready to dance. It is the time where your body is on the line, waiting for instruction. If you whisper nothing to it – it will give you nothing. If you whisper the need of a newborn into its ear, it listens close, and brings you milk in a good time frame. And plenty of it.
Why is this Hard?
For a straightforward vaginal birth it is hard because you must proceed without rest. You might struggle with the latch. Positioning may also be difficult. You also must be aware that your sweet mother or grandmother want to hold the baby but what you have to do is nurse! So, you have to be fierce and determined about it. That can be hard, because they only mean the best and they love you. Everyone can hold the baby once you have gotten to grips with nursing (in two weeks-lol).
When you prepare for the challenge of breastfeeding you may need to consider that your baby may not be able to proceed but you must proceed anyway.
I’m talking about a c-section, where there may be a separation from your baby. Maybe your baby needs to go to the nursery for observation or to the NICU. In these cases, you must proceed to feed in a way that you didn’t expect.
When you prepare for the challenge of breastfeeding, plan to find a Baby Friendly Hospital. If you are in a baby friendly hospital then know that you can ask for assistance to drain your breasts while you are separated from your baby. Know that you can promote the feeding of only breastmilk (and not formula). Know that you can tell someone – you do not want a bottle used when your baby gets your breast milk. You may have to hand express or pump every two hours. You may have to feed it to your child by spoon or syringe, or store it. But you must prime your body by emptying its colostrum. Continually. Without rest.
Consider it a Beautiful Dream
Consider it a beautiful dream. You birth. Then you feed. You feed directly with the baby, or into a pump, or into a spoon. You begin without hesitation. This process starts at hour one and goes on, hopefully for a year or several.
You might put your baby down, then she cries to be held immediately, and the feeding is literally constant. All of this is just right. It is exactly what you need. The whisper of a newborns need. This constant draining of the breast sends a message to the brain to begin the milk making process. This is the heart of what is happening and why it matters. You need the body to know its time to begin. It knows by constant emptying and stimulation. You do this without rest for several days or more. You hear the sweet sounds of your child and respond. At 3am, 6am, 9am and on – whenever he or she asks.
When you prepare for the challenge of breastfeeding, know that its hard but it’s also a beautiful dream. Somehow, at 3am, when your bone tired, there is your baby and he or she – is beautiful. So beautiful you feel you could cry a river of tears in gratitude for the bond you have.
It Gets Easier
The first few days involve juggling birth fatigue and breastfeeding. That begins to fade, then your dealing with cluster feeding. Thats when the baby nurses for a few hours straight, takes twenty minutes, then starts again, more or less. However, usually at the two week mark things begin to level out. Your milk is fully in. Your baby gets full at feeds and begins to take longer stretches of sleep. Life starts to settle. You hit a plateau. When you prepare for the challenge of breastfeeding, know there’s a light at the end.
Of course, your baby will change again and you will adjust again, plateau, then adjust again and repeat. It’s a process. You stay connected to your baby and constantly adjust to what she or he seems to be asking for. Likely, you will not face the difficulty of that first two weeks again.
Sometimes there are exceptions to this. Lactation Consultants are involved in many of the longer term struggles that involve breastfeeding challenges that last a lot longer than two weeks. But know, that if your breastfeeding is still a challenge at two weeks, you are not alone. This absolutely happens. Reach out and get people on your side so that you can figure out whats going on. Call a lactation consultant, make an appointment and sleuth it out so that you can find a happy place with feeding. You can do it. You will not regret it.
You don’t need to fear breastfeeding or dread it. You just need to prepare yourself for the challenge of breastfeeding. Do not fool yourself. Face this reality now and make peace with it. Draw upon some source of love (usually for your baby) to keep your tank full for the job. Lean on loved ones to help you with all the other tasks of life.
Cry if you need to. Don’t think that it should look like half the instagram feeds you see of blissed out moms. You’ll have those moments too, and you’ll have moments where you’re really lonely and frustrated. This feeling is universal, whether other mothers choose to share it or not.This journey of breastfeeding is a brave and worthy one. You will learn about yourself and your newborn and it will ultimately bring you great joy.