New Mom Dispatch: The Milky Way
Breastfeeding isn't easy
Learning the parenthood ropes one month at a time
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Last week I breastfed my daughter for the last time. Her interest (and my supply) had been steadily waning since the summer, and finally the opportunity just presented itself. My reaction might best be summed up in the GIF I texted a few friends: Mel Gibson in Braveheart dashing along on his horse hollering “Freedooom!”
Breastfeeding and I had a great run. I remain in awe of the process. But I’m relieved to end that chapter.
Even during the best of times, breastfeeding, in all of its glory, can be a hassle. And, as I’ve heard time and again from my fellow new mothers, in the worst of times it can be painful, frustrating, time-consuming and guilt-inducing. There’s no shortage of conversation about the benefits of breast milk, but there’s not enough discussion about how difficult it can be for many people.
This imbalance of information has plenty of consequences; one is that many new moms are initially caught off guard by the challenges that breastfeeding can present. Bearing that in mind, here are a few pervasive myths that could use further hashing out:
It’s easy: As La Leche League puts it, “While breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t always come naturally.” For some, it just clicks. For the rest of us, it’s essential to spend the first several weeks — preferably in bed or a comfortable chair, with plenty of water, snacks and help nearby — prioritizing the learning process. Which is to say, devoting oneself to the holy work of establishing The Latch. And in turn, The Supply. The advice on how to do this could fill six columns. But suffice it to say, when in doubt (or in pain beyond normal soreness) seek help, and then seek help again — from books (such as The Nursing Mother’s Companion); online demo videos; the website KellyMom (kellymom.com); your local La Leche League; and the indispensable comrades in arms known as postpartum nurses and lactation consultants. Bad latches only get harder to fix as time goes on, so it’s worth devoting the effort early and often.
Your body will supply enough: Some women don’t, for a variety of reasons. As a friend writes, “In my case, no amount of pumping, praying, crying, hoping, practice, hydration or herbal supplements could increase my supply to a point where my daughter was not steadily losing weight percentiles on her growth chart and crying in hunger.”
Breast is best: Not always (see above). It also doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In my friend’s case, she started supplementing with other women’s breast milk and formula at around 4 months. The situation vastly improved for all, and she and her daughter were even able to make it to the oft-recommended one-year breastfeeding mark.
Pumping isn’t a big deal: Even given my limited experience, I know that pumping deserves its own column, though there’s probably not a mother out there who wants to spend more time thinking about it than she already does. Preparing to pump, pumping, cleaning up, storing and transporting the milk… its time-consuming nature should not be underestimated. No advice (beyond stocking up in the freezer early on,
when your supply is high), just hearty accolades to all those who do it.
As with many aspects of parenting, how we feed our babies is a subject ripe for comparison with others, as well as self-reproach, neither of which is
productive. More discussion about its challenges could go a long way in making the process better for all.
Born and raised in Seattle, Becca Bergman Bull is a writer, editor and new mom in Brooklyn.