Tonight as I breastfed my daughter to sleep, I began thinking about our journey over the past two years. I remember as a pregnant mom, thinking how it would be ideal to nurse our baby for 1 year. In fact, I remember actually saying that after one year she could then begin drinking milk from a cup. Just like every other thing along my journey as a new mom, I had much to learn, mostly about myself. One year came and went. Payton was still very much dependent on nursing for more than just hunger and thirst. She still needed me for comfort, connection, antibodies, reassurance, pain management, and sensory regulation.
This past year I have watched her grow ever more independent and her Daddy and I bask in the beauty of her gentle personality emerging. I’ve learned to appreciate that she is her own person, and a spirited one at that. The best thing I can do for her is give her a safe and nurturing environment to thrive in while supporting her as she learns the skills needed to regulate her emotions, make decisions, and thrive. I’ve had a few people ask me about our plans to stop breastfeeding, and each time they do I feel more confident in saying that what works best for the both of us is to let her self wean.
In fact, I have become quite open about my experiences as I’ve continued to feel my way through motherhood, relying on my instincts and my daughters natural ability to communicate her deepest needs, which has brought many people to reach out to me for tips on breastfeeding. Let me be clear, I am in no way an expert. I am just a slightly-seasoned breastfeeding mom who has learned a bit from the books, and a lot from trial and error.
The best motherhood advice I ever heard was this: Research everything and then follow your instincts. Because really the best resource we have for nursing successfully is our instincts. All babies are different. All families are different. All situations are different. Keeping that in mind, here are the things that have really made an impact on me over these past two years, and helped me to meet my own personal breastfeeding goals.
Try To: Get as much skin on skin time with your little one as you can, as soon as you can.
This is such an important piece for getting your milk to come in and to keep your supply up. Kiss that beautiful baby head and smell her often! Babywearing is an extremely valuable tool in helping you keep up the connection while giving you some freedom and mobility. Your local Babywearing International group may have a lending library where you can borrow and test out different carriers. Doing these things will help you connect both physically and emotionally, which is vital to having a pleasant experience with your nursling.
Try Not To: Watch the clock
Follow your baby’s cues and keep in mind that you cannot overfeed a breastfed baby, as they are in control of the flow and amount they take in. Baby’s needs will likely fluctuate do to growth spurts, stress, illness, wants…needs…you name it! There may be times when you’ve just finished nursing and then it seems like he wants to go again. This is very possible! Instead of pulling your hair out and questioning yourself or your baby, just go with the flow and offer more milk. Cluster feeding doesn’t last forever, and it is 100% OKAY to nurse on demand.
Try To: Ask for help
In the first few days of breastfeeding your nipples may become sore, red, cracked etc. This is normal and a great way to heal them up is to express a little milk by hand and let it air dry on your nipples after each feed. Past that possible initial irritation, breastfeeding should not be painful. If you are still feeling pain while nursing your baby, there may be something wrong with the latch. Board Certified Lactation Consultants are trained and available to assist you with any complications, including but not limited to, improper latch, lip and tongue-ties, milk supply, and emotional struggles.
Try Not To: Introduce pacifiers and bottles during those tricky early days
Objects like these may cause nipple confusion, and make your experience more difficult. There are plenty of other ways for your partner to bond with baby besides feeding, like having skin on skin time together, rocking in a rocking chair or on an exercise/birthing ball, or giving him a bath.
Try To: Follow your instincts
If something doesn’t feel right to you, work on another approach, reach out for help, and/or seek another opinion. One of the beautiful things about your baby’s want and need to breastfeed A LOT is that you will have so many opportunities to practice, to getting comfortable, and to figure out what works best for your family.
Try Not To: Feel pressure from anyone
You know your body and your baby. It’s hard, oh I know, but try and remember that if something doesn’t feel right to you, it likely isn’t. Take all outside advise gracefully, do your own research, think about it, pray over it, seek opinions from professionals, and a second or third opinion if needed, and then go with what your heart lands on.
Try To: “Read Boobin’ All Day Boobin’ All Night, A Gentle Approach to Sleep for Breastfeeding Families” by Meg Nagle
Meg “The Milk Meg” Nagle explains why it’s so important and biologically normal for babies to wake frequently at night, how to set yourself up for the best sleep possible, and what to do about weaning. She offers an abundance of supportive information while including some interesting statistics and personal stories along the way. Her book is short, sweet, and gets you the information you need without any fluff. I’ve found it to be a wonderful resource in supporting mother-intuition.
Try Not To: Supplement
As mothers we constantly second guess ourselves and worry about our children. You’re likely to wonder if baby is getting enough milk and feel tempted to “top-him-off” with a bottle of formula or other breastmilk substitute. Try and remind yourself that as long as baby is peeing and pooping regularly and gaining weight, you’re both probably doing great! Also, know that your breasts feeling soft is not a sign that you’re not producing milk, but rather that you no longer have an over-supply. Be thrilled that your body has regulated itself and you can feel a little more comfortable now!
Note: there may be times when supplementing with formula is medically necessary, and you should discuss all options with your doctor thoroughly.
Try To: Accept Help
As moms we try and take on the world, usually brushing off all offers of assistance from our friends and family members. Some days will be easy, and others won’t, so no matter what day it is for you, if your husband asks if you need anything don’t feel guilty asking him to grab you a burp rag so you won’t have to get up after your nursing session! Say yes to your sister who offers to bring over dinner, or your friend who offers you a glass of water while you’re stuck under your little milk monster feeling like you just walked through the Sahara desert! Let yourself say, “yes please!”
Try Not To: Seclude yourself from the world
In some way or another, be sure to seek comfort and support for your mind, body, and soul with another adult human being. Whether it be your spouse, your parents, or your entire tribe, remember that these people love you and are ready to pick you up on days when you might be feeling run down. They will be there to listen on days when you just want to cry or scream or feel so touched out that your skin could fall off! I highly recommend checking out your local MOPS group for some great socialization with fellow mommies! Click here to find your nearest MOPS chapter.
Try To: Look up your state laws and be your own advocate
When you’re just starting out, breastfeeding is a bit, hmm, disorganized. You may WANT to find a private place to settle in and latch that little one on. Being a nursing room or underneath a nursing cover. Eventually though, both you and baby will become pros and one or both of you may not want to bother with that in the moment. Equip yourself with enough knowledge to feel comfortable breastfeeding, wherever, whenever, and however you want! Find your state breastfeeding laws here.
Try Not To: Beat yourself up
Motherhood is hard, and things don’t often follow our meticulously mapped out pregnancy plans. The best you can do is the best you can do, and your baby thanks you for it!
Try To: Keep your spouse in the loop
There may be days or nights when you just feel too touched out for any more hands touching your body, or too tired to thing about doing another thing or feeding another person. Let your partner know about your day, what you’re feeling/dealing with, and how they might be able to best support you. Stay connected!
BONUS TRY TO: Give props to fellow nursing moms
If you see another mom nursing her baby, you can expect that she has either gone through some breastfeeding insecurities and struggles, is currently going through some, or will go through struggles! If you feel comfortable, give her a covert nod or a gentle thumbs up to show that she has the support of her community. You never know what that could mean to someone.
There will come a day when my daughter will no longer need to breastfeed. I pray that I remember the last time she does. I cannot remember the last time I saw her crawl or scoot around on her knees during her pre-walking stage. You don’t recognize how significant these moments are until they are long past and you are reminiscing. So mamas, please try and hold on to the beauty and joy of each moment. Weather you breastfeed one time, one week, one year or more, know that you have a lifetime of new goals to set for yourself and your littles. Love on your family, and love on yourself!
Do you have other suggestions for breastfeeding moms and mothers to be? What has helped you meet your personal nursing goals? I’d love for you to leave me a comment below!
Shawna Martell, Natural Parenting Mami & First-Time Motherhood Contributing Columnist
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