By: Gloria Miles
As the days ticked down to D-Day, I was slightly apprehensive of how breastfeeding would go. My worries were more about going back to work. My mother had nursed her children, a lot of my family had done it, though only for a few months. I read all the recommended books. I watched the videos. I thought I was set.
Yet, I looked at the free formula samples that came in the mail and from the hospital and wondered if I should just supplement. Just in case. I'd worry and fret over my petite newborn. I'd have little support. I was dual-military, meaning both my husband and I were active duty. I had to learn how to nurse my son, establish a supply, and pump enough for the first days of daycare.
Those early days were hard. My son was a sleepy baby, something I blamed on the epidural after the fact. I remember crying, wondering how I was going to get enough milk for him when I returned to work.
But I made it. I was determined and I did it! I had to change my goals and supplemented with formula and donor breast milk for daycare (I could really only pump about half of what he needed on the average day). But at home, he was exclusively fed from the breast and I was very happy with that. He'd nurse for two years.
Then, baby number two came along and breastfeeding was a breeze! It was so easy! His latch was amazing. I was more experienced, I thought. He gained weight easily, was content and efficient. I was a pro!
No pain. No discomfort. No worry. Just a chunky baby.
Fast forward several years, a job change (I'm now a doula and student midwife!), and lots of experience, and you'd find me sitting with a very heavy pregnant belly. I wasn't going to go back to work right away. I DEFINITELY wasn't going to be going back at 6 weeks postpartum to 12+ hour days.
Breastfeeding was going to be easy. In fact, that was one of the only things I didn't worry about at all. (Being pregnant at 30 vs 21 is hard, y'all....)
I was even going to have my fiancee home for 2 weeks.
But then I had her.
She latched on fairly quickly after birth. We were set up the "right" way. I was at home, undisturbed, naked baby on naked mama...and her latch was awful. And continued to be awful.
Oh, my goodness, in all of my presumptions, I never thought I'd have to fight to breastfeed her.
My nipples hurt, the after pains were incredibly uncomfortable (I would probably even throw in painful), and she wasn't gaining like she should have been.
One would assume a birth worker and experienced mother wouldn't have as many missteps as I did, but one would be wrong.
Eventually, at three weeks old, I reached out to my community and found some amazing donor mamas who helped me give my daughter enough milk to finally have her gain weight. There were many signs that she was having trouble and it took me a while to figure it out. I should have reached out to my midwife more, I should have asked for extra help earlier. Maybe my supply would have been better.
What I learned, though, was that every baby is different. Something that I tell every mom, and something I had to "discover" myself.
So, as a first time mother or veteran mama, here is what you can do if your breastfeeding journey isn't going as planned:
1. Every. Baby. Is. Different.
Yeah, I know. I'm saying it again. But it's so true! One baby may refuse the breast after being offered a bottle. Another might be a champ at going back and forth between bottle, breast, and pacifier. Some babies might come out with amazing latches. Others need to work on it. Or are sleepy babies. Or you had a cesarean and that interfered with breastfeeding. Or it didn't. Or you had an epidural. Or none. Or. Or. Or. So many factors go into it. Sometimes it makes a difference. Sometimes it does not.
2. Tongue or lip ties.
If you suspect a tie, ask a professional. Get your baby seen by an IBCLC, not just your pediatrician. And remember that there are exercises that need to happen with baby's tongue after a clipping.
3. Be gentle with yourself.
When I was nursing and supplementing with donor milk, I had just finished giving her a bottle. I felt so defeated and like my body was failing my baby. I knew every ounce I was giving her was an ounce my body didn't need to make. She was asleep and content, but I had to lay her somewhere in order to go pump and "stimulate" my breasts to make more milk. Instead, I held her and cried.
Remember that it's not all or nothing. Whether you're supplementing with donor milk or formula, you are still providing baby with nourishment and love. Love yourself as well.
4. Go back to the basics.
I don't care if you're an IBCLC with 30 years experience (hyperbole, I know), if you are postpartum, your job is basically to rest, nurse, be pampered, and that's it. Take care of yourself, take care of baby. You don't need to remember years worth of schooling or experience. Don't be too proud to pull up a YouTube video on how to latch a newborn. It's okay. It's totally allowed. Plus, no one will know. ;)
5. Find out what your resources are: online and out in your own town.
Save this blog post! Below you'll find a lot of online resources and hopefully they'll be a great starting point.
How to latch on a newborn: YouTube Video
***The La Leche League also usually has local chapters. You can easily Google ones in your area. Sometimes just having peer support is a game changer.
There are amazing videos on Dr. Jack Newman's website on newborn latch to pumping to building supply. Click here to see more.
Don't be afraid to reach out to your midwife or ask about a local IBCLC. Some may even visit you at home!
Additionally, most birth and postpartum doulas have basic breastfeeding education and training and can assist with common problems. Ask your doula (or potential doula) how she can help with any problems (or just helping you start out well) after the birth. Some may even be Certified Breastfeeding Counselors. Also, all doulas will refer you out to someone who will be able to help with more complicated issues (like a suspected tongue tie).
If you prefer to talk to someone:
La Leche League: (650) 363-1470
Nursing Mother's Council: (650) 327-6455
You can also visit your local WIC office for more help.
And now it's time to chime in. Any additional tips and tricks you've learned along the way with your breastfeeding journey? Or do you have questions you'd like to ask? Comment below and don't forget to share this post!
Gloria Miles is a Navy veteran and mother of 4. She wears many hats as a doula, Certified Aromatherapist, and student. She is currently working towards obtaining a Bachelor's in Healthcare Management, with an end goal of becoming a Certified Nurse-Midwife. When she is not blogging or hanging out with her family, she enjoys reading, knitting, hiking, and mud runs.