5 things I wish I'd known about breastfeeding

In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, Tracy shares some things she learned a little too late.

Photo by wildcat78/iStockphoto

It’s been a long time since I’ve nursed a baby. (To clarify: I only did this for my own babies!) I breastfed both my daughters with varying levels of success. (To clarify that: With my first daughter, I had almost zero success and with my second, quite a bit.).

Anna is six now and Avery is almost four. I worked at Today’s Parent before becoming a mom and thought I knew a lot about a lot of things. I definitely thought I knew enough about breastfeeding to ensure it all worked out as I’d planned. These days, I’m an editor for our Special Editions — Today’s Parent Pregnancy, Newborn and Baby & Toddler — a gig I started when my youngest daughter turned one. We include a lot of breastfeeding info in these small-but-mighty magazines and I only wish I’d read and discussed and thought about breastfeeding the way I do now, before I had kids. I’ve learned a lot. If I had to do it all again, would I do things differently? Absolutely.

One thing I love is to see a new mom build a successful breastfeeding relationship with her baby, so in honour of World Breastfeeding Week, here are a few little nuggets I’ve learned along the way that I hope helps at least one person, even just a little bit.

1) Not intuitive does not equal impossible
One of the most surprising things for many new moms is that breastfeeding can be awkward and difficult. You imagine that you put your baby’s mouth to your nipple and — voila! — magic time. There’s a trick to the latch, and pain if you don’t get it right. Certain holds may work better for you than others. There is definitely some finagling involved and this can be frustrating in those early days when your baby is crying, you are sore and exhausted, and it’s not going smoothly. This is the key time to persevere. Ask for help and don’t stop asking until you’ve gotten the hang of it. Even if it doesn’t seem to be working at first, it doesn’t mean game over. Not by a long shot.

2) The right help is out there
You’ll hear lots of stories about overzealous, heartless, bullying lactation consultants, but I’m telling you, there are good, good people out there doing amazing things to build a new mom’s confidence and breastfeeding abilities — many, just because they’re so passionate about breastfeeding. Find them. I always feel in my heart that breastfeeding helpers who seem pushy or make you feel guilty are really just frustrated that our society has turned breastfeeding into a lost art, and that formula companies have multi-million dollar advertising campaigns and free samples and breastfeeding advocates only have their time and their skills to offer, in underfunded, overcrowded clinics. If you get someone who is doing more harm than good as she “helps,” tell her: “I came here for help. I want this to work. If you can’t be supportive, please direct me to someone who is.”

3) It doesn’t always work
With Anna, it didn’t work. I know that now. But could you have convinced me of that for the first three months? No way. I was going to make it work. Anything suggested, I tried. I don’t know why, but the girl just did not want to breastfeed and we were both miserable because of it. I should have stopped much earlier than I did, but I was worried what people would think. Can you imagine — putting us all through that heartache just because someone might think badly of me? Maybe you can relate. I thought I just wasn’t trying hard enough. But what I didn’t know then is that breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone. If you’ve given all you can give and it’s not happening, don’t let guilt keep you at it. Feeding should be a happy, peaceful, bonding time for you and your baby. Period.

4) Every baby is different
And who could have imagined that after I had Avery, I put her mouth to my nipple and — voila! — it was magic time. It still makes me shake my head in amazement. I told myself I would try breastfeeding with #2, but there was no way I’d jump through the hoops I did with Anna. As it turns out, I didn’t have to. It worked just like you read about in the books and I was thrilled.

5) Breastfeeding doesn’t suck
Negativity hurts — not just your chances of breastfeeding success, but the essential knowledge-sharing and acceptance of breastfeeding on a societal level. In the past few years, there’s been a barrage of stories and blogs and people speaking out against breastfeeding — comparing women to cows, calling breastmilk toxic, and blaming breastfeeding for ruining women’s careers and their sense of self. This makes me so angry (and yes, the criticizing of formula feeders gets my back up just the same!). Honestly, who benefits? All it does is create is an “us vs. them” mentality, which is the last thing new parents need, and discourages women from even trying breastfeeding. Choose your path and speak your truth — everyone should — but breastfeeding bashing has got to go.

In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, share your best advice and resources in the comments, or tweet me @T_Chappell using the hashtag #WBW.

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