I remember my midwife talking about breastfeeding. I remember learning about it in prenatal class and reading about it here and there when I was studying up my birth books. I wasn't too worried about it and I was much more focused on having the baby and making it through the birth. Little did I know what breastfeeding entailed and what it would take to get me through that. My mom did it! Why couldn't I? It was easy. Put the baby on and they figure it out. "Even with a breast reduction history? Don't worry, you'll be able to nurse. It's natural". Let me tell you, it is not natural. The act of it... absolutely. The art of it... nope. It takes practice, patience, understanding, tears, and a lot of love. No one warned me that it would be the hardest thing I ever had to do.
My birth was fairly text book, a beautiful birth. I've told people my birth story and can see the glimmer in their eye wishing and hoping they could have a birth like mine. Simple, fairly quick (minus the posterior baby and back labour), 5 hours of active labour until being in my arms, at home, in water, and in my bed not shortly after. Picture perfect.
We nursed in bed after I got out of the shower and that was when I first noticed some trouble. My breasts weren't built for breastfeeding, in the sense that I had very flat and somewhat inverted nipples. My baby could not latch and she kept slipping off. I chalked it up to her being small and tired. We'd try more later.
We made it through the first night no problem, but as the days rolled out I started dreading every hour. My baby would not latch, I couldn't really hand express, I did not understand anything that was happening. Thank God for my doula and midwife's texting support and all the resources they were giving me. My doula (who I didn't hire until two weeks before baby arrived) even brought me a breast pump on day five, when we realized my milk still hadn't come in. I spent my time in this fog searching websites like, Kellymom, Babycentre, and Le Leche League trying to find answers. There's nothing more thrilling than trying to learn something brand new while you're in the thick of it. Sleep deprived, and hormones swirling around like a tornado, I remember kicking myself emotionally for not doing my homework. I battled myself for not preparing, for not being good enough. I felt so confused because I was the problem, but I was also the solution. I felt powerless however, and that is no place any woman should be in her first days postpartum.
I started babywearing and I began using a nipple shield. I took herbs, I pumped and I had a prescription to support my milk production. My supply built up, but the diapers didn't. My doula, my (emergency) lactation consultant and my midwife were my new pit crew. They lined me up with the resources to find milk donations and that was what carried us through to finally have my baby gaining again. The next 12 weeks were hours spent trying to nurse, then topping-up with finger sucking and syringe feeding, and more pumping, all the while trying to sleep in between sessions. It took a lot out of me.
This experience is what really encouraged me to become a doula. My doula was essential to my well-being and resources in these first few weeks. I myself obviously had a few things working against me (flat nipples and a breast reduction), but I can't tell you how often I talk to women who have had similar or equally difficult breastfeeding experiences, and it all boils down to lack of support, experience, and education.
This is something that we can work on as a community as doulas, mothers and friends, to help educate and support one another. It is so necessary and crucial to your postpartum experience and transition into motherhood. My friend (who I met after my first child and who helped support me through my second nursing relationship), had written an article and I remember reading it months after I finished nursing. She said something along the lines of, "We all know how to ride a bike because we see people riding bikes - but we don't know how to breastfeed because we don't see each other breastfeed."
Now, I'm one for doing what you're most comfortable with. This statement doesn't mean if you want to cover, you shouldn't. Do what works best for you. However I think seeing breastfeeding and normalizing it is so important. I wish, in hindsight, I had seen more of it as a child and as an adult woman. I am now in a community where I see it non-stop. Actually I don't even see it: it just is. Baby's nurse and I barely notice it. Every once in a while I'll catch the mama adjusting a latch or repositioning baby. These subtle things are what is so important for us to subconsciously learn as new mothers. Instances like this, along with doing some pre-baby education are incredibly essential to your success in your breastfeeding relationship. Remember that you have to have the baby first, but then you have to breastfeed that baby for months afterwards. You can do this! Just do your homework. ;-)
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Get it, read it, have it on your bedside table to reference during your new days as a mama.
- Join your local La Leche League community.
- Take a breastfeeding workshop at your local hospital or health clinic.
- Talk to your doula or ask your friends about breastfeeding!
- Join your local breastfeeding community on Facebook.
- Watch breastfeeding videos.
- Know who your local IBCLC's are (lactation consultants).