I’ve learned so much about nursing and breastfeeding over the last 10 months with all of our nursing troubles with Liam. Is he really 10 months old already?! I know more now than I ever thought I would about breastfeeding. I try to catch myself before I delve too much into the what ifs. What if I knew then what I know now? Would things have turned out differently? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that next time we’ll (hopefully) be better prepared if some of the same issues come up. But, if I could turn back the clock, this is what I wish I had known:
- Breastfeeding isn’t easy. Really. It’s possible to know something without actually really knowing it. I knew that breastfeeding didn’t come easily to a lot of people, but I think what happens is that we don’t really talk about it. Maybe it’s because all of my mommy-friends never really shared their struggles with nursing because they thought I didn’t want to know when I didn’t have kids. And then maybe, once we got pregnant, they didn’t want to talk about it because they didn’t want to worry me. Oh, you’re going to try breastfeeding? Well let me tell you how miserable it made me and how we failed at it. When they did talk about it, they kind of glossed over all the hard stuff. We had trouble nursing at the beginning and it was really hard, but by six weeks baby really got the hang of it and it’s been SO great ever since! Before Liam was born, I think I could count on one hand how many people I knew who had significantly struggled with nursing. When I started sharing with people how many problems we were having, I was shocked at how many moms – women who I love dearly and know well – admitted that they had been in my shoes. Friends who had pumped for months and months and I never knew. I thought I was the only one. That I was the only mom who just couldn’t figure it out. But I wasn’t.
- The experts don’t know everything. We should definitely seek help from those who have studied in-depth and been licensed and credentialed to help us navigate through breastfeeding and caring for our new babies. Please don’t misread this – if you are having trouble nursing your baby, please seek the help of an experienced lactation consultant. But also keep in mind that even the “best” expert out there can be wrong or not know enough about what your situation needs. While all of these experts begin with a certain base of knowledge, their views on breastfeeding are often shaped by their experiences with new moms and any additional education they’ve opted to receive. We stayed an extra day at the hospital because we wanted to get extra help with nursing. We saw at least six lactation consultants while we were there and every single one of them had a different opinion about what we were doing wrong, what we were doing right and what we should be doing that would definitely make nursing work for us. Not only different opinions, but different opinions that contradicted each other. Even when we were working consistently with one of the best lactation consultants in the area, we were told how unusual our situation was. We were the case that left them puzzled, the one they kept thinking about even after they went home. So if even the best experts don’t have all the answers, how can we put that burden on ourselves?
- Tongue ties and upper lip ties are not easily diagnosed. I had heard about TT/ULT before having Liam, but I had no idea just how much they affect nursing and how often they’re missed by professionals. I think a big part of it is that there is still just so much that isn’t known about them. Many of the lactation consultants we worked with early on never even knew to look for an upper lip tie. TT/ULT symptoms are often disguised as being from a low milk supply, reflux or thrush so if a lactation consultant or pediatrician isn’t super knowledgeable about TT/ULT, it can easily be overlooked. Diagnosing them is also often fairly subjective. If a TT/ULT isn’t severe enough to be obvious, an LC would have to look at a number of different things to determine if there might be a TT/ULT. This is probably the best article I’ve found online that help moms in diagnosing a baby’s TT/ULT. When I talk to new moms about nursing and some of these symptoms pop up, I always encourage them to seek a second opinion from a practitioner experienced in diagnosing TT/ULT because not everyone knows what to look for.
- Support groups are for support. I don’t know where we got the idea that support groups are taboo. As if looking for help and support from people who understand what we’re going through somehow makes us weak. I’m so thankful that a friend of mine encouraged me to go to a breastfeeding support group early on. Even though our journey was a little different, almost every mom in that room could relate to having some sort of difficulty nursing. They handed me tissues when I cried, cheered me on when I made it to another goal and never judged me because I fed Liam with a bottle. I’m so thankful for that group. Not every in-person breastfeeding support group is as welcoming to pumpers, but that’s the beauty of the Internet. I wish I had known about Facebook EP groups early on, but there are several really good ones. That was my place to ask pumping-specific questions that other people couldn’t answer for me.
- Sometimes breastfeeding or nursing just doesn’t work. Silly me, I guess I always thought that people who used formula always used it by choice. Or because they didn’t want to try hard enough. And I didn’t even know that exclusive pumping was an option that even existed. There are so many reasons why moms can’t have a breastfeeding or nursing relationship with their babes: preemies/NICU/PICU babies who have to be bottle-fed or tube-fed, cleft lips and other birth defects that make nursing impossible, infertility and PCOS that can cause low milk supply, illnesses that require medications unsafe for breastfeeding, etc. It doesn’t matter how much we want it to work, sometimes the circumstances just don’t allow it.
- It’s okay to stop. I spent well over 800 hours (hours!!) in nine months attached to a breast pump. As proud as I am that I pumped for Liam as long as I did, I think part of me will wish I was able to stop earlier. Stopping doesn’t mean quitting, even though it can feel that way. It’s about choosing what’s best for baby and sometimes what’s best for baby is actually what’s best for momma. I think it would have saved me a lot of tears and stress and I could have spent a lot of that time snuggling a squishy baby.
Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it? Is there anything you wish you had known about breastfeeding before you had your baby?
World Breastfeeding Week is August 1-7. During this time, and National Breastfeeding Month, is when we celebrate and support mothers who are breastfeeding their babies and to promote awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding. I fully support mommas giving their babies the nourishment they need by whatever means they can, whether by choice or circumstance. This is not meant to be a breastmilk vs. formula debate, because I believe that healthy babies AND mommas trump the pros and cons of either. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing pieces of our breastfeeding story and my experience of pumping exclusively.