What you may not have heard but need to know
By Lyn Mettler
I would never trade breastfeeding for bottle-feeding my son. It brought us together, promoted a unique bond and, I hope, helped my son be as healthy as he can be. However, as in every new adventure, there are some twists and turns that, despite reading up on the subject and attending breastfeeding classes, I did not expect.
From one mom to another, I wanted to prepare you for a few of these unexpected events so that you might be more capable and educated as you begin your nursing experience. I’ve also offered a few tips that I would have found helpful while breastfeeding my son.
Nursing is at the bottom of some newborns’ priority lists. You dreamed of that moment when you put your baby to the breast for the first time. Sure, he might have a bit of a hard time latching on, but with a nurse’s help, he’ll get the idea and off you’ll go.
Well, for some new moms, one of the first big challenges is getting your baby to want to nurse (forget about the latch on, though that can be troublesome, too), especially if you had a medicated delivery. “Babies go through a recovery sleep cycle after the first two to four hours of life and remain in that sleep cycle usually until they are 24 hours old,” says Donna Bisbee, RN and IBCLC for Elmbrook Memorial Hospital in Brookfield, Wis. “Parents need to know this is all part of the natural process of Baby learning to feed.”
I spent the first three days cajoling my little one to breastfeed – he just was not interested no matter what I did. Sleeping seemed much more appealing to him. I think many new moms give up at this point, but knowing that this is completely normal can help you sail on to smoother waters. It can be frustrating, but I promise it ends soon. Before you know it, that little guy will wake up, and nursing will suddenly jump to No. 1 on his “to do” list.
In the meantime, try to keep him awake and interested by gently rubbing his back, tickling his feet, touching your nipple to his mouth, changing his diaper or taking off a few layers of clothes so he’s not so cozy. “Staying wrapped up snuggly is like your alarm going off on Monday morning and you not being able to get up because you are so comfortable,” says Bisbee. I can relate!
Engorgement is for nursing moms, too. OK, you thought engorgement was for those moms who decided not to breastfeed and whose milk has nowhere to go, right? Wrong. It’s for breastfeeding moms, too. This was one of the biggest surprises to me.
The day I got home from the hospital my milk started coming in – abundantly. And my little baby, whom I was practically begging to eat, just was not cooperating. I was shocked to find not only rock-hard breasts (I’d read about that), but hard, painful knots under my arms (did you know you have milk glands under your arms, too?). After asking everyone I knew, I discovered the best cure was to massage those knots (though they are very tender) and in a day or two, all was better. You can also try cool compresses on the area. (Tip: Have spray-on deodorant on hand. The thought of roll-on will make you want to cry, trust me.)
To relieve the engorgement, your first inclination may be to pump. This is OK, says Dr. Joan Meek, pediatrician and IBCLC for Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women in Orlando, Fla., so long as you only pump enough to just “relieve the engorgement.” Don’t completely empty the breasts, as this only encourages more milk production, making your problem even worse. The best solution is to do whatever you can to get that little one to nurse, nurse, nurse.
Pump as soon as your milk supply is established. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would have pumped at least once a day as soon as my milk supply was well established. This is usually around three weeks and about the same time you can offer your baby a bottle of breast milk, according to Bisbee.
In a couple of weeks, you’ll be awfully tired of getting up at night every couple of hours, and having Dad or another helper do the first feeding after you go to sleep can help you catch a few extra hours of zzz’s. It will also help you stock up on milk so you can leave your baby later on without having to worry about squeezing out those precious few ounces of milk before you go. “It is like having a little safety net of mother’s breast milk, just in case, so she can avoid introducing formula, if that is her desire,” says Dr. Meek.
Don’t stop giving your baby a bottle regularly. This is only if, of course, you want him to be able to drink from a bottle. If you want to breastfeed for every meal, go for it, but this Mommy definitely needed an occasional break, especially in the early days.
I quit giving my son a nightly bottle when he dropped the middle-of-the-night feeding. My husband no longer needed to do the nighttime feeding, so we only offered the bottle when I needed to be away. Big mistake. He eventually refused the bottle, though, thank goodness, he soon began eating solid foods, so that could often hold him over – at least to satisfy his hunger (see below) – until I returned.
Lesson: “If you want to keep the baby accepting [a bottle], you should continue to offer him/her a bottle at least every few days or so to keep him in the habit of taking it,” says Dr. Meek.
Breastfeeding is about more than milk. I know you’ve heard this before, too, and so had I, but I did not really grasp what this meant until I was a mom. I thought it meant that it would bring us closer and promote mother-child bonding – and it does – but what I did not know is how much my baby would require it, beyond just being hungry.
For my son, nursing seems to recharge him. We can be certain he’s not hungry or thirsty, but still, every three or four hours, he needs to stop, connect with Mom – even if it’s just for five minutes – and all seems to be right in the world again. This can be hard, though, for Dad or the babysitter who cannot offer that solace. I always tried to nurse my son right before I had to leave and as soon as I returned and kept my absences to only a couple hours at a time.
While these tidbits of advice will hopefully help you and your little one successfully venture off on your nursing adventure, remember that you’ll stumble upon some roadblocks of your own – and that’s OK. Everyone is different, and don’t forget all the moms who’ve come before you. I bet at least one of them – OK tons of them – experienced the exact same thing. So take heart, relax and remember that you’ll get through this, and you and your baby will be the better for it.