I love supporting other moms who want to breastfeed. So, I’m pleased to present Shepardia’s Breastfeeding Basics – patent pending!
Disclaimer: I’m not a lactation educator/consultant, just a mom with some hard won battle scars who wants to help her sisters by sharing her experience. Nothing I say should be considered medical or legal advice. As always, these are all my own beliefs & opinions. Feel free to disagree, it’s a free country. Ok? Ok!
So, here we go!
Part 1: Make a Postpartum Plan
Creating a healthy, supportive postpartum environment — both emotionally and physically — is, I think, the single most important factor for breastfeeding success. It is also KEY to your mental and physical health, and the smoothness of your transition into motherhood. (It’s all connected, obviously!) And yet, it’s something I didn’t even think about, and nobody told me about, before I had my first baby.* I only realized it too late. I had spent hours upon hours researching labor and birth (and breastfeeding, too — more on that later) but knew basically nothing about how important and even sacred the postpartum period is. I firmly believe that my postpartum depression and anxiety, breastfeeding problems, attachment problems, and failure to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship with my first baby were largely due to not knowing or appreciating this.
Thank God, I was able to learn, and my experience with my second baby was totally different (and marvelous).
*I did have one friend, a wise mom of 2 (at that point, she later had more) advise us to hold off as long as possible on having guests come stay with us after the baby came — I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but took her advice. And it was GREAT advice. Thank you, Summer.
So, what do I mean when I talk about a supportive postpartum environment, emotionally and physically?
Determine who your support network is, and prepare to ask for help! Talk to your partner, family, friends, and birth helpers (midwife/OB/birth attendant/doula) about your desire to breastfeed. Think positive thoughts about breastfeeding. Visualize it. If you pray, pray about it. Even if you don’t pray, pray about it!
Set a deadline in your head of how long you’ll hope to stick it out if things get really hard — six weeks is ideal, because most mom and baby pairs figure it out by about then. Easier said than done though when you’re bleeding out the nips, as I can unfortunately attest. You can always start with three, as I did with baby number two, then keep adding one more week. Try to set up your schedule (and intentions) accordingly.
If friends ask what they can do to help, ask one to set up a meal train. (This will facilitate two things you need to be doing — sitting around nursing and resting, and eating well.) My MOMS Club uses Mealtrain.com — it is free and simple to use. There are plenty of articles out there on best practices for meal trains for new babies — here is a good one. The main point is get in and out of there, as quickly as possible, and don’t touch the baby. Like most other mammals, it’s not good for us to have lots of other people touching our newborns, for myriad reasons. Ask your meal train organizer to remind people of these points.
For the first forty days at least — a.k.a., “la cuarentena” — try to plan to do as little as possible. Your goal should be to nurse, nurse, nurse — to sit on the comfiest couch, read books and watch tons of TV, eat nourishing foods, drink lots of fluids, take care of your body by showering regularly and staying clean, and get to know your baby, skin to skin as much as possible, all day and all night. Many traditional cultures all over the world understood the importance of this postpartum recovery period (and still practice it to this day). This sacred time is necessary for your recovery — both physical and emotional — from pregnancy & birth, for you and baby to learn how to breastfeed, and to establish a solid milk supply.
As my mom succinctly put it, “Take off your watch.”
I know this is hard, because our society tells new moms that we should be up and about like normal, looking hot, entertaining guests, running marathons and board meetings, etc., weeks or even days after giving birth to another human — which is just plain crazy. And infuriates me.
I fell for it, too, with my first baby. I still get emotional remembering one particular gathering we hosted when my first was a brand newborn. Having friends over for beers. Music playing, me leaking in my too-tight pre-baby polo shirt (which I peeled off the moment they left, returning to my normally topless state), make-up on and smile plastered on my face. Friends passing around my new baby like a football, which made me feel like screaming inside. It was heartbreaking.
With my second, I knew better! The postpartum period was still hard in many ways — it’s a big deal to have a baby! — but it was also beautiful, and special, and even fun, despite the choppy sleep and bleeding nipples.
Of course, it is true that almost all of us have other obligations, other babies to look after, and so forth, that make taking this time to rest so hard. But don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Even if this approach appears impossible for your life, figure out how to incorporate the idea as much as you can. You only get one postpartum period with this baby — this is not a dress rehearsal! Plan it wisely.
And if you think the postpartum transition is tough on you, just imagine what it’s like for your baby. Coming earth-side is no joke. You are his only link between the old and new realms. This is so powerful. Never forget it.
Here is Part 2!