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Breastfeeding: Easier Said Than Done

Last year I read a great book, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.  This book changed a lot of the ways that I look at nutrition both with myself and with my baby.  So, when it came to the first stage of nutrition for my child, I immediately knew that I wanted to breastfeed her.  While I think that formula is great for some children - and sometimes the only way they can receive nutrition - I thought that the best thing for my child would be to get her nutrition directly from the source...me.  However, that was easier said than done.

As a warning, we're going to get into some of the meat of breastfeeding during this post.  So, if you are a little squeamish about breastfeeding, then you may not want to continue reading.  However, I hope that you do.

My primary care doctor told me that, as I prepare to breastfeed, I should use a washcloth and "rough up" my nipples during pregnancy so that they would be "ready" for after Baby arrived.  I thought, "Hmmm...that sounds good" so, I did it.  I also listened to the lactation specialist who taught the breastfeeding portion of my childbirth class who said to begin massaging my breasts at 36 weeks in order to expel some colostrum and prepare for breastfeeding.  But, nothing prepared me for the real task of breastfeeding.

Many people will say that breastfeeding shouldn't hurt and that it's very natural.  Babies are born with the natural instinct of sucking and are naturally drawn to the breast.  While I agree that all of this is true, I also found that breastfeeding did not come naturally to me.  From the engorgement before my milk came in to an infection, breastfeeding began with A LOT of pain.  My baby even took a small chunk out of one of my nipples which caused excruciating pain.

During the first two weeks at home with my daughter, I tried different positions, using nipple shields, and even saw four different lactation specialists, my OB, and my daughter's pediatrician.  Everyone said the same thing: breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but they couldn't find anything wrong with the way that I was holding my baby nor her latch.  I spent feeding after feeding just trying to get through the pain and dreading the next feeding.  I felt like a failure at being a mother because obviously I was doing something wrong.  Every person I spoke to said that breastfeeding wouldn't hurt.  So, why did it hurt me??

Well, I can't really answer that question; however, I can say that I am EXTREMELY happy that I stuck with it.  Thanks to the support of my husband and other mothers, I knew that breastfeeding was the best nutrition my daughter could receive.  So, I was willing to stick with the pain.  After a while (approximately eight weeks), the pain began to subside, I began to heal, and my daughter thrived.  Somewhere in there, breastfeeding turned into what everyone said it was supposed to be: a comfortable experience where I can bond with my daughter.  I no longer had moments where I had to subdue screams and my cringing turned to relaxation.

During all of my visits with doctors, nurses and specialists, someone told me that breastfeeding is an art.  There isn't just one way of doing it nor will each baby feed the same way and each mother respond in the same manner.  So, if you're having difficulty breastfeeding, I would highly encourage you to stick with it.  See how it changes over time.  Talk to other mothers and specialists about what's going on with your body and your baby's health.  Don't let anyone make you feel like you're not doing a good job.  And, understand that, if you must turn to supplementing with formula - or even switching to formula, do what you think is best for your child's health.  You are the person spending the most time with him or her so you see the changes in behavior and health better than anyone else.

I now look forward to the special time I get to spend with my daughter.  We've gotten to the stage where, when she's full, she unlatches, looks up at me, smiles, and begins to "talk."  I'm the only person in her world who gets to experience this, and that makes me feel like a success!

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