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

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.

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.




Surviving the First Weeks of Motherhood



Hello! I’m back!

Lots of things happened recently. The holidays happened, then my web hosting provider informed me that I had exceeded my database limit for my website (whaaaaaat?), so I couldn’t log in, then I had a baby, and then I got a little busy.

A baby? Yes! I had a baby! My last post was about the agony of waiting around for a baby to be born. This post is about surviving the first weeks of motherhood after that baby finally arrives.

HOORAY! We finally get to meet him!

…Now what?

You’ll get lots of contradictory advice.

Even if you’ve read all the baby books, you’ll still be totally clueless when your first kid arrives. Why? Because no book in the world can tell you about YOUR child. Now it’s time to get to know him!

If you’re in a hospital setting, you’ll get lots of advice from nurses and doctors. Sometimes, that advice might even seem contradictory. Once you’re on the post-natal ward, the confusion starts.

Our morning nurse told us categorically to NEVER swaddle our baby, and to ONLY treat sore nipples with breast milk.

Our evening nurse, on the other hand, gave us a lesson in swaddling the Bug, and even set up a little nest for him in the bed next to me (which horrified the morning nurse when she came in the next day). She also recommended lanolin cream for sore nipples.

The afternoon nurse said Bug was latching on perfectly, while the morning nurse said he had a tongue-tie (turns out he does) and we should use a pacifier.

“Wake the baby up to feed him every two hours!”

“Never wake a sleeping baby!”

“Put mitts over his hands so he doesn’t scratch himself.”

“Don’t cover his hands with mitts or he won’t be able to comfort himself.”

It’s enough to make you go mad!

What is right and what is wrong?

While there can very definitely be a wrong when it comes to taking care of your baby (i.e. neglecting the poor thing), there is no one right way of doing things.

“Right” is going to depend on what works for you and your baby.

Take any advice you get into consideration (or totally disregard it, especially when it is unsolicited and obnoxious), and decide for yourself what works for you. You may have never thought of one technique that someone suggests, and it could prove helpful to try it out. Just try things on for size. You’ll soon learn what works and what doesn’t.

Also, take any categorial advice (the NEVERs and the ALWAYSs and the YOU MUSTs) with a grain of salt. Excepting, of course, the big ones like, “Never shake a baby,” and, “You must feed your baby.”

We were told, for instance, to always wait an hour after feeding before giving the Bug a bath. But just after his meal is when he’s most amenable to bathing! So to heck with that one hour wait. Our Bug eats and then bathes, and he loves it.

The first night home is terrifying.

Though the advice and instructions you get at the hospital can sometimes be confusing, at least you’re in the care of professionals, right?

Well, when you get home, it’s just you two and your baby. Holy. Crap. It’s scary.

Suddenly, you realize that you guys are on your own and that you’re responsible for this tiny little human being. And what’s more, you have NO IDEA WHAT TO DO.

Do what I did: Call a friend in tears and ask for advice.

This is when it’s super helpful/important to have friends or family who have been through this and can listen to you and comfort you.

If you don’t know someone who’s been in your situation you can call, look up a local mommy group. Chico and I took our Bug to a breastfeeding meet-up when he was just one week old. That really helped me, especially to encounter other mothers in the same boat as me.

And if you’re freaking out about anything, just remember:

There is no normal.

Well, let me rephrase: There is such a wide range of what makes a baby “normal” that nothing seems normal.

We were told to feed our Bug at least 8 to 12 times a day. Well, he usually eats 6 to 8 times a day (occasionally he’ll have a big day where he eats 9 times).

For three weeks, this fact stressed me out. I constantly checked the time to figure out how long it had been since his last feed, and I continued to wake him up to feed him.

That is, until we realized he was gaining almost 50g per day (they aim for a 20-30g/day average weight gain). Apparently, our Bug doesn’t eat very frequently, but when he does he gets the job done effectively!

Again, this is a question of figuring out what works for you. If your baby is having issues gaining weight, that’s another story. You should discuss with your pediatrician.

But if your baby is gaining weight, peeing, pooping and eating well, then relax. You’re doing just fine.

Breastfeeding is hard.

The videos they show you in the prenatal classes make it look sooooooo easy, right? Baby will obligingly open his mouth wide and latch on well and OM NOM NOM NOM NOM.

I hate to break it to you, but that doesn’t always happen.

It can be for any number of reasons. Our Bug has a posterior tongue tie that makes his latch less than optimal. That’s made for some pretty sore nipples on my part, and a fair number of tearful feedings. (We’ve decided to cut his tongue tie on Monday. I will probably weep.)

But even if your baby doesn’t have a specific problem making breastfeeding tricky, it’s still a skill that both mother and baby need to learn, and it takes practice.

My only advice is this:

Be patient. Both with yourself, and with your baby.

If you really want to breastfeed, seek help from a lactation consultant, or a breastfeeding “godmother.” They’ll be able to give you advice and techniques to help you succeed.

If it doesn’t work, though, don’t think of it as a failure. Give it a go for as long as you can stand, but if you and your baby aren’t bonding over feeding time, then it’s time to consider a new option.

I’m still working on this one, so I’ll keep you posted as things progress.

That’s all for now.

I’ve touched on a lot of stuff in this post, and I think I’ll write more on each individual topic in other articles (especially the breastfeeding).

I thought it might help other new parents to know that tears, frustration and fears are perfectly normal. But so are joy, delight, and an almost overwhelming love for this new little person.

Our Bug is the light of our lives, and though we’ve had ups and downs, we wouldn’t go back or change anything for the world.

Despite all his little imperfections, he is absolutely perfect.