I chose to breastfeed my daughter – and I’m so glad I did. We had a truly amazing experience, one that I would not trade for anything. Now… before you start hating on me, thinking that I’m gloating, making assumptions about my journey, know that it was not easy. Not at all. I was not one of those moms for whom it came naturally – quite the opposite, in fact. Let’s just say I don’t have any stories of springing leaks through my shirt, no crazy freezer stash, and I never was comfortable enough to breastfeed in public. While I’m very pro-breastfeeding, I’ll never attend a feed-in. And for some time, I was actually quite despondent over my breastfeeding journey – disappointed in myself, feeling like I did not live up to my (and really, actually society’s) expectations. It took me a while to get to a place where I can say this, but breastfeeding was an important experience for my daughter and me, and one that I’m so proud to have journeyed through with her. What it took to get to this place was a recognition that I did everything I could to make it work for us and that I did it my way – knowing what was best for my daughter.
Before having Ruthie, I researched anything and everything – I made shopping lists, I talked to friends, I had the hospital bag packed weeks in advance. And yet somehow it never dawned on me to read about preparing to breastfeed. I sort of thought it just happened. It is natural after all, right? I literally knew nothing. One small tube of lanolin tucked away in my hospital bag and I thought I was prepared. A week in and I quickly realized I was in over my head and I needed help.
So this isn’t going to be a story about all my trials and tribulations (though we definitely had them). This is a story about how to take the cards you’re dealt and make the best of it.
When I was pregnant with Ruthie, my plan was to breastfeed for six months. I thought if I can make it six months, I will really feel like I accomplished something. And then, at one month, when she still wasn’t back up to her birth weight, we had to supplement with formula. I was devastated. But let me tell you, I’m so glad we did. Letting go of my self-imposed rules and allowing myself to be ok with whatever was best for her took so much weight off my shoulders. Another thing? I was reading SO much about breastfeeding. So much advice, so many lists, so many posts just like this. And I was getting more and more confused. Once I shut out all the outside voices and listened to my own instincts, paid attention to my body, and followed Ruthie’s lead, I found much greater success.
At six months, I had met my milestone. I could have been done. But by then I had (thankfully) learned to watch Ruthie’s cues and go with the flow (pun intended). So just shy of 12 months, when Ruthie made it clear that she was, in fact, done, I was able to close that chapter of our relationship with a sense of peace and price.
So maybe things aren’t coming easy to you. Maybe your supply is low. Maybe the baby isn’t latching well. Maybe you just aren’t feeling it. My number one piece of advice? Do what you know is best for you and your baby – not what anyone else thinks is best. If that decision means continuing to breastfeed, pushing through your issues, perhaps some or all of the following will be useful for you like it was for me:
- Find your support structure and utilize it. My mom friends that Facebook messaged, texted, called, and visited were lifesavers. A lot of times it was not necessarily their advice that helped, but just the fact that I was able to talk through what was going on. And my husband? He washed pump parts better than me, he listened when I was talking myself in circles about a concern, he stocked my supplements, and mostly he trusted me that I was doing what was best for our daughter.
- Consult a professional when needed. Lactation consultants and counselors are a great resource. You don’t have to go through this alone – and you shouldn’t.
- Give yourself a break. I found that my mood greatly affected my supply – so for me, getting out of the house and doing something that made me happy was the best solution to breastfeeding woes.
- Stay hydrated. I never knew how much water you needed when breastfeeding. It seems obvious, but make sure you’re hydrating. I had a large Tervis tumbler with a straw that I constantly filled with water. I drank Gatorade when I needed to catch up on hydration.
- If you need them, find a mix of supplements that work best for you. I took fenugreek, blessed thistle, and brewer’s yeast, but I know moms that took other supplements too. I toyed around until I found a combination that worked for me. I also drank a lactation smoothie that worked wonders–you can find the recipe here.
- Figure out your breastfeeding comfort level. Props to those mommas who breastfeed in public. Knowing myself, I knew that could never be me. At first, because I am so pro-breastfeeding, I felt ashamed that I wasn't loud and proud like other moms about breastfeeding. But with time, I realized I had to do it my way.
- Be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can. Once you accept that, you’ll get to a place where you can be proud of what an amazing job you’re doing, no matter what you ended up making work for you.
If you had asked me a few months ago about breastfeeding, I would have told you I felt like I failed. But with a bit of time, I’ve got the ability to look back with pride and realize how grateful I am for the 12 months I spent breastfeeding. If your experience doesn’t seem like the poster campaign for breast feeding, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a positive experience. Even with all of our ups and downs, I’m glad I took the ride.