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Support Your Local Lactating Mother
New Mothers Need Emotional Support
When I say “support,” I don’t really mean financially, although I’m sure most new moms could use that, too. I’m talking about moral support here. As a mother who is currently lactating, I know how important it is to be surrounded by supportive people.
We all know that breast milk is best for the baby. It’s better for baby’s immune system, brain development, and even digestion. Breast milk doesn’t constipate my babies - formula does. But how many of us really understand just how hard it is to breast feed an infant until we try it?
The postpartum period is one marked by numerous emotional ups and downs due to fluctuating hormones and extreme sleep deprivation. Add to that all the problems that can occur with lactation, and you could be dealing with one really stressed-out mommy.
Problems Breast Feeding? What Problems?
During my first pregnancy, I was set on breast feeding. I attended classes, read books, and watched videos, trying to learn all I could about breast feeding because I didn’t really know anything about it. I knew I had breasts and thought I was capable of feeding my daughter with them just because they were there. I was just completely ignorant of all the little nuances, tips and tricks, and issues that can arise when you’re breast feeding.
Issues? It’s natural, right? Anybody should be able to do it. Well, yes and no. After the birth of my first daughter - and even after all that information I gained - I still had problems. My milk was slow to come in. My daughter was born through an emergency c-section about 2 weeks before her actual due date. It’s not uncommon for mothers of c-section babies to experience a delay in milk production.
Add to that the pain of engorgement when the milk did start to come in and the pain of a failed latch, and it's enough to make any new mother throw in the towel.
My Pediatrician - My Added Stress
My pediatrician’s office is very supportive of breast feeding mothers, which I would think normally would be an awesome thing. In my case, though, I think they might have been a little too pushy.
My milk wasn’t coming in well, and my daughter was really hungry. She lost 9 ounces of her 6 pounds 10 ounces while we were in the hospital, even though she was on my breast every 1-2 hours. She just wasn’t getting enough out of me.
The nurses saw this and asked if they could give her a little formula, and I agreed, but my pediatrician screamed at them (and me) to NEVER do that because the baby would get confused and start refusing the breast in favor of the bottle. Just a note: my daughter NEVER did that. She would always take the breast when I offered it to her.
Mother Nature = More Stress
The day after I came home from the hospital with my beautiful brand new baby girl, we lost all the power in our home due to one of the worst ice storms in the history of our city. Now, not only was I worried about my milk supply being too low for my baby, I was terrified that she would die of hypothermia.
My mother called to tell me that my grandmother had power at her house, so we all got in the car and carefully made our way out there.
My Mother and Grandmother - Not Breast Feeding Experts
Now, I just want to say that I love my mother and grandmother dearly, but they are not the most supportive people in the world - especially when it comes to breast feeding. You see, it was just something they didn’t do. My mother was born in 1950. Soon after she was born, my grandmother divorced my biological grandfather. As a single mom supporting a baby, she knew she would have to work, so she did. This was also about the same time that infant formula gained in popularity as supposedly being even healthier than breast milk. So, my grandmother did what most women at that time were doing. She bottle fed her baby.
Twenty-seven years later, my mother gave birth to me. Because she was practically a lifelong diabetic (she’s had juvenile diabetes since she was 11), her doctor told her that her breast milk would be unsafe for me (fast-forward 30+ years, and I find out that this is not true at all). So, my mother bottle fed me with no further thought to the matter.
I’m a new mom who’s still suffering the pain of abdominal surgery, and I have a days-old infant in the backseat of a car traveling over inches of ice just to find some heat. Needless to say, I am not in the strongest mental state by the time I get to my grandmother's house.
So, when my mom comes out to my grandmother’s house with a big container of formula and some bottles she’s picked up and tells me, “That baby’s not getting enough from your breast milk. You need to give her some formula,” I caved. I was so afraid I was going to starve my new baby, I gave in and started supplementing my lack of milk supply with formula.
I don’t think my milk ever came in quite right. Even with all the stress, though, I continued to try to breast feed. I did everything I could think of to do.
I rented a pump from my doctor’s office (which was not cheap). I tried fenugreek, which was supposed to be a miracle herb. When that didn’t work, I even tried taking some prescription Reglan. I stopped taking that soon after, though, because it didn’t really seem to be helping my milk supply at all, and (I thought), it was making me dizzy.
Now that I’ve experienced breast feeding again, I think that the dizziness is actually caused by low blood sugar or maybe dehydration (either of which can easily happen to a lactating mom if she’s not eating enough or drinking enough water).
After two months, I went back to work, and my breast feeding days were over. I just quit trying. And a major reason why I quit trying? Lack of support. Oh, my husband was supportive (bless him!), and my doctors were supportive, but no one else really was.
And the negativity from my older, “more experienced,” female family members played right in to my fears, anxieties, and doubts about my ability to be a good mother. I began to think that, in some way, I was failing my daughter by trying to do something good for her. As a result, the bottle won out over the breast.
New Baby; New Experience
Two years later, I have another baby, and I’m trying to breast feed again. I’m not so set on only giving her breast milk, though. I know it’s okay to supplement with formula if I need to (although my breasts do seem to be producing more milk this time around).
My first daughter turned out fine. She’s 2 years old and reasonably healthy (she does get a lot of ear infections, though - studies have shown that breast feeding for the first 4 months of life can reduce the number of ear infections a baby gets for the first year of life, so I stopped a few months too soon!). And I’m starting to realize that I’m not a terrible mommy for bottle feeding my baby every once in a while.
If you’re a breast feeding mom and are struggling, know that’s okay to have doubts. Just don’t let your doubts consume you (physical and emotional stress can actually diminish your milk supply even more, not to mention have a negative effect on your baby because they pick up on those emotions). Scream and cry out the frustration and pain if you need to. Find someone you can talk to - even if you have to go online to do it. Just don’t give up!
And if you’re someone who knows a breast feeding mom, do whatever you can to make the process a little easier for them. Cook them dinner, buy them some nipple cream, or just be there to lend an ear when they need to vent. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t stare at them if they’re trying to breast feed in public. It’s just a breast, and the mother is just trying to give her baby the best possible start in life. Let her do it in peace!