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Monday, August 4, 2014

My Year of Breastfeeding Part One: Just Starting Out

It is World Breastfeeding Week, and I wanted to do my part to share my breastfeeding story.

It's been 14 months since Baby O was born, and we are still going strong breastfeeding. It's been a pretty great experience so far, overall. Sometimes it's been difficult, sometimes it's been painful, sometimes it's been sweet and wonderful. Like everything in the world, breastfeeding has its ups and downs.

People seem to be very surprised when they find out that Owen is still nursing. In fact, in the US, while nearly 75% of mothers are breastfeeding at birth, less than 25% are still breastfeeding at one year (via Kellymom). The American Academy of Pediatrics (as well as most other organizations) recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life and that breastfeeding continue along with solids until age 1. In the US, the number of babies that are exclusively breastfed until 6 months stands at less than 15%. It's too bad that this is the case, because breastfeeding is so wonderful, both for you and for your baby.

I knew that I wanted to breastfeed Owen even before he was conceived. To me, there was no reason not to breastfeed him. It would be healthier for him, could possibly help me to lose weight, and would be less expensive than purchasing formula. After talking to a number of friends about their breastfeeding experiences, though, I decided that I wanted to take a breastfeeding class. I was already 8 months pregnant, though, and there were no more classes being offered in the area before my due date. So, I ended up asking for some advice from Emily, who was my birth class instructor, and she recommended Breastfeeding Made Simple as a great book to read before Owen was born. I bought it immediately and read it cover to cover and it certainly gave me a great basis for what to expect when Owen was born. My single biggest tip for new moms is to make sure that you either read up on breastfeeding or take a breastfeeding class before your baby is born. Lactation consultants in the hospital are great, but they are not always available and they do not always click personality wise with mom.

Owen was born with meconium in the amniotic fluid because he was stressed in the womb (the umbilical cord was wrapped twice around his neck). What this meant was that I could not breastfeed him immediately. Once he'd been looked over for any possible problems, though, he was brought over to me and I proceeded to get him to latch. Thankfully, my doula was there to assist because even though I'd  prepared, it still wasn't easy in practice. He did latch pretty easily though, and I was so relieved.

Since he was born on a Sunday evening (on a holiday weekend, no less), there was no lactation consultant around to help me in my first overnight with the new baby. At 10:30pm, he was ready to nurse again and Todd and I were at a loss. We called the nurse and she helped some, and we finally did get him to latch. He was wanting to eat every 2-3 hours (which is totally normal for a newborn), and every time, I was tired and stressed and panicking about the thought that I'd get this wrong and he'd either starve or not want to continue nursing. That first night was the worst. We made it through, and I did get him to latch. I don't know what I would have done if I'd gone into the hospital with absolutely no knowledge of breastfeeding. The next morning, I was so completely relieved when the lactation consultant showed up! Take full advantage of the services of the lactation consultants in the hospital - they are your best resource. You'll also get used to people looking at and handling your boobs. That's just how it goes.

Owen and I were slowing getting better at breastfeeding once we got home. I got used to using a Boppy Pillow to help prop him up while we were nursing - sometimes he had marathon nursing sessions. Latching, though, was painful at first. This was scary for me because everywhere you look, everyone you talk to, says that breastfeeding shouldn't hurt. And it doesn't, but it did for me. Latching itself and then let down were both painful during those first weeks at home. Todd used to tell me that he could tell when the baby would latch properly because I would jump and wince.

Within about 24 hours of being at home, I was hit with the next big breastfeeding challenge - engorgement. It is completely normal to be engorged right after your milk comes in, and I kinda knew that, but it still took me by surprise and completely freaked me out. I didn't have a breast pump yet, and I was in quite a bit of pain. God bless Todd for going to WalMart at 10pm to buy me a head of cabbage. Why? Because cabbage leaves reduce engorgement. Why? Dunno, but it worked like a charm.

Even after the engorgement phase passed, I still found that I had a bit of an oversupply of milk. My pediatrician described it as "trying to drink from a fire hose." I would occasionally squirt Owen, or he would just be unable to eat as fast as I was producing. We eventually evened out with each other, but for a while he would spit up more because of it. He was never hungry though!

I would say that by the time Owen was about 6 weeks old, we had pretty much gotten the breastfeeding down and we were both pros. Those first few weeks, though - they were tough ones. I can completely understand now why some women stop breastfeeding so early. There is immense pressure to produce milk and keep your newborn from losing too much weight. Engorgement is scary. Latching and let down can be painful or uncomfortable, and the whole thing is a learning process for everyone. I promise that it gets better, so stick with it. It's totally worth it.

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