Breastfeeding can be hard. And this is probably not the first time you hear that. I have to admit that as I was getting closer to my due date, breastfeeding started scaring me even more than giving birth. I had heard so many horror stories, that I didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, it turned out to be a marvelous experience.
One of the things I was most scared about was not being able to feed my baby (because of whatever reason outlined below) and feeling guilty about it, so I wouldn’t be able to enjoy spending time with my little one.
Don’t be scared, just be prepared!
- Learning curve. Both you and your baby need to learn how to breastfeed so… take it easy! Try different positions, get as much advice as you can, and do not despair.
- Dedication. Just because you’re on maternity leave don’t expect to have lots of free time. Breastfeeding requires dedication, specially if you’re breastfeeding on demand.
- Get as much help as you can. Even if you’re that type of person who “doesn’t need help” believe me, you’re going to need it this time. In our case, breastfeeding was all about team work. Contrary to the popular belief that dads can’t help breastfeeding because they don’t have boobs, there’re plenty of things they can do. Here’re a few ones that worked for us:
- Burping, which in our case turned out to be the reason why 90% of the time our baby couldn’t go back to sleep after eating.
- Absorbing information. When we were at the hospital and I was exhausted and my husband was tired but a little bit more awake, he asked *lots* of questions to the nurses about breastfeeding. Very valuable information that proved to be super useful when we were on our own, at home.
- Taking turns waking up at night. In the beginning we were waking up together for every feeding, but soon we realized we could get more hours of sleep by taking turns: I’d breastfeed and go to sleep, meanwhile he’d make her burp and put her back in the crib.
- Post-partum depression. Just don’t be too harsh on you. Your hormones are still all crazy and you have a brand new human being who depends 100% on you. If you get mastitis and can’t breastfeed, it’s not your fault. If you’re sleep deprived and can’t enjoy being with your baby, you will when you can get some rest. Don’t blame it on you. You’ll learn to love your baby, and it’ll be amazing.
- Pressure. Don’t feel like you have to breastfeed because everyone else tells you to. At the end of the day, it’s you and your little family who’s going to have to do it. So listen to yourself, and do whatever you think it’s best for you and your baby.
- Mastitis. Getting mastitis s****, but it can always happen. There’s a few things you can do to help prevent it:
- Start wearing wireless bras during your pregnancy
- Massage your breasts frequently
- Manually express milk frequently
Should I breastfeed?
First of all, I want to encourage you to find the answer that is right for you. Every mother, every family is different, and although I’m not a doctor, this is my piece of advice:
The most important thing is that you feel good so you can give your best version to your baby and enjoy their company.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Having said that, breastfeeding has some recognized benefits:
- Nutrition. Breastmilk has all the right things your baby needs, mother nature is smart!
- Immunization. Breastmilk helps babies avoid diseases in a variety of ways. It has disease-fighters and lots of probiotics. These are particularly beneficial during the first few months of life, when an infant’s immune system is most vulnerable.
- Emotional. Everyone talks about the connection between mothers and their children while breastfeeding. The reason why is that breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that makes you feel relaxed and fosters love, nurturing, and a strong emotional bond.
- Convenience. You can’t forget your breasts when you leave home, so you’re always ready to feed your baby when they’re hungry. Plus you won’t run out of formula or spend time washing bottles.
- Cost savings. You won’t run out of formula… because you won’t have to buy it! Formula can be expensive, specially if you need anti-reflux, lactose-free, hypoallergenic, or any other type of special formula.
How long should I breastfeed?
If you’re looking for a number, I suggest you keep looking. If you’re looking for practical advice so you can make a decision, then keep reading.
The AAP recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months of life.
My mom claims that after 3 months, she ran out of milk because I was eating a lot. After having breastfed a baby for almost 8 months, I believe other factors may have been involved in my mom not being able to breastfeed for longer 🙂 For example:
- Going back to work early. Even if you pump (which I believe my mom wasn’t doing) the stimulus you get is obviously not the same as if you were breastfeeding. In this situation, it’s also easy that the number of “direct” feedings gets reduced. Both of these things may result in your body progressively producing less milk.
- Not being able to follow a more or less regular schedule. In my mom’s case, and related to the previous one, she regularly had to switch between morning and afternoon shifts, and that didn’t help us establish a pattern for breastfeeding.
In my case, apart from going back to work, I believe there was another factor:
- Traveling to a different time zone. The effect is similar to the one of not being able to follow a more or less regular schedule. When you travel to a place in a significantly different time zone (e.g. North America to Europe, with a ~8 hour time difference), it’s easy that your body gets confused and doesn’t know what’s morning or afternoon or when the next feeding is due anymore. I travelled twice back and forth during the first 6 months of life of my baby.
These reasons above may or may not apply to you. Your body is smart and will adapt to you and your baby patterns, e.g. when your baby starts sleeping through the night, your body will know and no longer “bother” you in the middle of the nigh. But changes like the ones described may definitely have to do with moms seeing that they don’t produce enough breastmilk for their babies anymore.
To summarize, if you are going to breastfeed, the recommendation is at least 6 months. If you don’t feel comfortable, stop whenever you start feeling uncomfortable. If you feel comfortable, I’ll bet you’ll want to continue for more than 6 months.
In my case, between the going back to work and the traveling, I was able to breastfeed during 8 months. The last day, I was sad and happy at the same time. At that point we were doing only two feedings a day, morning and night. My husband offered for me to keep doing the night feeding so our baby and me could enjoy our moment a little longer, which I really appreciated. (After that, you realize there are a whole lot more of “moments”).