Monday, August 15, 2011

National Breastfeeding Month

This time last year I wrote a post during National Breastfeeding Month; John was on his way to becoming the biggest 4 month old in the world courtesy of mama's milk (since that's all he was eating at the time.)!

These days he's no longer the largest baby in the world. And while I did enjoy having a huge chunk of a baby, I suppose it's a good thing for him to level off the growth charts. I'm sure it's awfully hard to buy pants when you're the largest boy in the world.

Anyways, I was reminded about National Breastfeeding Month again yesterday when I came across this article.

The article discusses that many hospitals don't give women practical support for nursing. I worked at a hospital whose policies were downright antagonistic to breastfeeding, I thought. The babies had to be taken to the nursery within an hour of birth. It was very difficult to do all of the post-birth things, let the mother and father and family hold the baby, take pictures etc, etc, etc and nurse the baby all in one hour. The babies remained in the nursery for at least 4 hours. It is totally unnecessary for healthy babies to be away from their mothers for that long. I will never work at a place like that again if I can help it.

Anyways, this got me thinking about what I would tell a new mom who planned to breastfeed. So, I'm sending this unsolicited advice over the interwebs for anyone who might be interested:

1) Educate yourself

Don't count on your OB/pediatrician/nurses/lactation consultants to have the information that you need. OB's and pediatricians are not necessarily experts on lactation. As for nurses, frankly, when I was a nurse working in labor and delivery, most of the girls I worked with, myself included, had never nursed a baby. When patients asked for my help, I could only regurgitate what I had read. Lactation consultants are a great resource but may not always be available. When I was in the hospital with John I was eager to speak to one. She came by when I was in the shower and never returned. Hopefully the medical professionals who are involved with the labor, delivery and care of the baby will be helpful to nursing mothers, but that doesn't mean you should go in unprepared. Educating yourself also means finding out what kind of policies the hospital has in place for you and the baby after birth. For example, contrary to the hospital where I worked, the hospital where I delivered John was very friendly to nursing mothers. The babies did not ever have to be away from their mothers after birth. John did have to go to the nursery because his glucose was low. But parents could go into the nursery. Peter and I gave him his first bath there. And after his blood sugar rose to normal, he returned and stayed with me the whole time, and I nursed for what seemed like 48 hours straight (It was all kind of a blur).

2) Know your community resources

When you leave the hospital, know where you can turn when you encounter challenges. In my opinion, the greatest resources are other nursing mothers. La Leche League has consultans that you can call. I did call one of them once. They also have meetings where you can meet other moms. I believe you can also make appointments with lactation consultants at the hospital where you delivered, depending on the hospital's policy, I guess. This was true where I delivered John.

3) Give it time

Even though nursing was pretty easy for me, there was an adjustment phase. It definitely got easier as he became more alert and his feedings spaced out. But this took about 1 month to 6 weeks.

There is a way in which breastfeeding is very natural, as in that is the way it is done in nature. Yet, it's actually a learned behavior for both mom and baby, and for many it does not come "naturally." For me, breastfeeding actually did come very easily. But even I had my challenges.

One thing I often heard was that breastfeeding should not hurt. Well, okay. In my experience it wasn't excruciating but it wasn't comfortable either. The first month was a big adjustment. That's part of the reason I sought out a lactation consultant while I was in the hospital after having John. Thankfully though, I had read so many books that I was confident that he was latching on well so we kept going and things eventually improved. These helped with the soreness.

Later on, he had some reflux. He would cry and arch his back and wouldn't nurse. My pediatrician was able to help with this issue.

And finally at around 2.5 or 3 months, John started to have more input into his feedings. At first I timed him 30 minutes (15 on each side) so that I made sure he had long enough to get adequate milk, including hind milk. Around 3 months, he wouldn't nurse that long and he also wouldn't nurse as frequently as I had been initiating feedings. This wasn't a problem, per se, but it was an adjustment and I didn't really know how to take it at first. I wanted to make sure that he was getting enough but I couldn't force him to eat. This was when I called a la leche league person.

All that to say, even when it's easy, you don't always know what's going on! But being prepared and knowing who you can go to for help certainly makes a difference. After nursing for 15 months (I just weaned him about a week ago), I can say I had an incredibly positive experience! There is nothing sweeter than holding a soft baby so close. And once they start moving, feeding time might be the only cuddle time you get!


Rachel said...

Great post, Leslie! You are so right about educating yourself and knowing what kind of hospital environment you will be going into. Thank you for sharing your experience!

Karen said...

Thank you so much for your advice! :)