Learning How to Breastfeed

In my last post about surviving the first few weeks of motherhood, I wrote that breastfeeding is hard.

I stand by that statement. Breastfeeding IS hard. It’s hard for you, and for your baby. Successful breastfeeding, though facilitated by your baby’s sucking instinct, is a matter of practice and patience. And in the end, it is totally worth it.

Here’s my story about learning how to breastfeed, which will hopefully prove helpful to other first-time moms getting started.

They Make It Look So Easy

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Real-life breastfeeding looks a lot more disheveled than this…

If you went to a prenatal class, you probably saw a bunch of videos about breastfeeding.

These videos show relaxed, happy mothers, with calm, happy babies, latching on like champs and sucking away with no problem. You see what a good latch looks like, and how to position your baby. It all looks so easy.

Well, it’s not.

Sometimes (especially at the beginning), your baby gets hungry and gets MAD. An angry baby makes for a rough time getting him on the breast. If he’s screaming and squirming, good luck getting that ideal latch.

Also, babies’ mouths are pretty tiny when they’re born. Sometimes (like in our little Bug’s case), they can’t open their mouths wide enough to get much of the breast and areola.

Positioning Is Key

Every baby-and-mother combo is unique. Depending on your (*ahem*) size, your baby’s size and preferences, you may find that one position is ideal, while another is a disaster. The key is to keep trying different things.

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Biological nurturing position

The traditional positions you hear about are cradle, cross-cradle, football and side-lying. But a couple others to look up that might work for you are the biological nurturing position, and saddle hold.

It’s worth it to give each a try, and more than once. Try each for a day at a time and see how your baby does. If you find that one seems to work better than any other, stick with it. But remember that variety is the spice of life, and changing things up every so often is good.

Our Bug was coughing and spluttering at the breast (hello powerful letdown! Oh, is that TMI?) and a breastfeeding consultant recommended the “biological nurturing” position (yeah, I had never heard of it either). This position helped avoid his getting an uncontrollable mouthful of milk, and ensured that he was, in fact, sucking correctly in order to get it.

Also, as your baby grows and matures, his preferences may change, and you may find yourself having to practice a new position.

If It’s Painful, Seek Help

Some people will tell you that pain during breastfeeding is par for the course. Well, yes, this may be true, especially in the beginning. But it is certainly not normal, and it is not necessary.

I didn’t think I was going to be able to stick with breastfeeding. Our Bug’s latch was so bad to begin with that he rubbed my nipples like crazy. Every time I went to feed him, it hurt, and I had horrible scabs on my nipples. Eventually they developed callouses, so they weren’t so raw, but breastfeeding was painful for several weeks.

What made it worse was that I seem to have an overly abundant supply, and as I mentioned before, my powerful letdown was making my poor Bug splutter and cough at the breast.

Had it not been for a helpful friend from my Stitch n’ Bitch group, or for the lactation consultant at St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal, I might have ended up giving up.

There are tons of resources available, both online and in person, that can help you stick with it. If your heart is set on breastfeeding (like mine was), there are ways to make it work.

Look up a local lactation consultant. Use online resources like KellyMom.com or BabyCenter.com. Call a friend who has had a couple of kids.

You may find that they have helpful ideas. Or, like me, you may find that it’s just a matter of your baby’s mouth growing, and getting the hang of it.

Breastfeeding Gets Better

I’m happy to say that our little bug is feeding well and slowly morphing from frog stage to buddha-baby stage. But every single day I ask myself if things are going well, and if he’s doing okay.

It sounds ridiculous, especially because he’s gaining weight every day and growing before our very eyes. But with breastfeeding, you can’t know exactly how much he’s getting each time, and that can be hard for some.

And even once things are on track and going better, something can come along to throw things out of whack again. One day last week, my Bug didn’t want to eat on the left side. Then, a couple of days later, he wouldn’t take from the right.

Today, he’s been sucking away, only to suddenly turn his head and break himself off the breast. Then, he starts crying because he’s still hungry! Go figure.

You’re Doing Great

There are ups and downs, even when you think you’ve mastered breastfeeding. And that is because your baby is changing and growing every single day. Every day is different, as my mother has told me a million times.

The key is to have patience with yourself, and your baby, and to give yourself a break when you need to. Ask Dad to give the kid a bottle every so often (they say it’s a good idea) and relax a bit.

If your baby is peeing, pooping, growing and thriving, you’re doing just fine.

Pat yourself on the back. Have a glass of wine (after the kid is in bed). You deserve it.

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Cheers!

Jane

The Brain In Jane works mainly in the rain. It's always raining somewhere. Find me on Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.

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