In our culture we are taught to strive for things that will make our life “easier” or that if things are too hard, they may just not be worth it… well, I am here to say that I flat out disagree with that way of thinking! Sometimes (and, may I be so bold as to say, Most times) when things are worth it, there will generally be a challenge involved. I believe this wholeheartedly when it comes to the art and practice of breastfeeding. The benefits of breast feeding are worth it.
IT IS HARD WORK…
I know this first hand, and as my experience will be different from yours, and countless other women who have gone before us, I’d like to explore, and humbly encourage you to stick with it… it is a Worthy Cause, for our babies, for ourselves, and for our future. Please bare with me while I attempt to share with you what I’ve learned through my struggles and (many) tears! (p.s. the end result is pretty great!)
Benefits of Breastfeeding
The benefits of breastfeeding For Mommy
~ Releases Oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce postpardum bleeding
~ May reduce the risk of Breast, Ovarian, and in some cases, even Uterine cancer. I should also mention that the longer you breastfeed, the lower your risk. According to Amy Spangler in her book Breastfeeding: A Parent’s Guide, Women who breastfeed 2 years or more have been shown to have the highest protection.
~ Lactation burns calories, and can help mom lose the baby weight faster
~ Saves money… Formula can be expensive, costing anywhere from $4 to $10 a day depending on how much baby consumes and what type you purchase… that’s anywhere from $1500 to $3650 a year!
~Saves time (most of the time, but I’ll get to that…). At night, putting a baby to your breast is much simpler and faster than getting up to prepare or warm a bottle of formula. Dad, or a helper, can make night feedings even easier by changing the baby and bringing her to you for nursing 😉
~ Easier portability, reducing the amount of things you have to lug around with you, besides the baby! Also, milk coming straight from mom doesn’t require any sterilization or refrigeration when given straight to baby, another time and energy saver (if not having to breast pump that is!)
~ The hormonal release of oxytocin during lactation also helps to relax mom and help her bond with baby. Breastfeeding is something that only mom can do for baby creating a powerful and unique emotional connection!
The benefits of breastfeeding For Baby
~ Mom’s milk is the ideal nutrition for infants, with the perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat, in a form that is easily digested by baby. Traditional formula cannot even begin to mimic the perfect balance a mother’s body creates for her baby’s nutritional needs. And, guess what, as baby’s needs change, mom’s milk changes to meet those needs! Cool, Right?!
~ Contains antibodies to help baby fight off infection, viruses, and bad bacteria
~ Linked to reduction of asthma and allergies
~ Smarter kid, higher IQ!
~ Babies thrive off of the skin-to-skin closeness, and eye contact to help them bond with mom and help them feel secure
The benefits of breastfeeding For the Family
~ It can be wonderful to see mom doing something that is nurturing and intimate, which can allow for a greater family intimacy… the bond being created doesn’t have to just be between mom and baby!
~ For families that already have older children, it can be a great lesson for children to see mom doing something that may not be easy, but sticking with it anyway for the good of her child
This is only a general overview of all the potential benefits of breastfeeding… research is continuing to be done, and don’t discredit your part in that “research”, on the long-term benefits of being the breastfeeder or the breastfed!
My Breastfeeding Journey
At just shy of 34 weeks pregnant, I became preeclamptic practically overnight (I had struggled with high blood pressure throughout my pregnancy), and my baby was taken by c-section within 24 hours. I did not get to touch him for another 24 hours after that, and even then, it was only through two small holes in his incubator.
I began breast pumping soon after delivery, and was very successful. I even had an over supply in my freezer! Despite his TINY stature, and the odds of him being a “wimpy white boy”, Baby Tristan was a champ at nursing, and took to the breast right away! We brought baby home from the hospital 2 weeks later, and 2 days after that I ended up back in the hospital with blood clots in my lungs. I had to stay in the hospital for just over a week, and wasn’t able to pump or see the baby during this time, due to the fact that I was completely out of it from all the pain medication and health complications.
By the time I had recovered enough to return home, I had lost all of my milk supply, and my baby was being formula fed out of necessity. I immediately tried to return to “normal”… pumping like a crazy person and getting incredibly frustrated… trying to nurse and getting even more distraught! Needless to say, during this time, I was an emotional Wreck, feeling like a failure, completely overwhelmed, and basically feeling like my life was ending. When I thought I might Really be losing it, my husband and I met with my OB-GYN who encouraged me greatly. He said, “this isn’t just a normal postpartum, this is more like post-traumatic stress that you’re dealing with! You just went to hell and back… it’s okay to not be OK right now!”… That, and the steadfast support from my ever-full-of-grace husband, family, and friends helped me through this very challenging time, that felt like an eternity, but I think it really only lasted for a couple of weeks.
I decided it was okay for Tristan to be a formula fed baby, that I did not have to kill myself to try to get my milk supply back, and that this was simply my lot in life, and not worrying about it would make me a better mommy to my baby. But over time I began to realize I simply could not let it go. I would think about it constantly… Am I being a good mother even though I’ve “given up”? Oh sure you are, and don’t worry, you can still breastfeed with the next one… But what about this kid? What will I say when he’s older? He probably won’t even care… “Sorry honey, mommy gave you 2 weeks of goodness, but it just wasn’t worth the sacrifice”… No. This simply would not do for me. After a month, of back and forth, having sworn away my pump more than a few times and banishing it to the closet… after devastatingly horrible attempts at trying to nurse… I had a serious discussion with my husband.
My wanting to be able to produce milk for the baby would require his full support also, and it was certainly vital! I began just as I had on the day of Baby Tristan’s arrival. I pumped. I didn’t worry about the amount… I literally would give him 5 mLs if that is all I had produced that day… and knowing the enormous benefit I was providing him, prodded me on. I attempted to nurse several times throughout trying to increase my supply, thinking it would help things go faster, but baby was so used to the bottle by then, and didn’t want to work too hard for it, that we both ended up in frustration and Lots of tears! …my poor husband!
Tristan only nursed one more time during all of this, and that one time was an amazing precious gift… hope for what I so desired, closeness, intimacy, and a bond between mommy and baby that can’t be matched through any other way of loving. I will never forget that day.
And so, I continued to pump, again grateful for all the research I had done, and continuing to learn more… I was able to work up to roughly half of his daily intake, which was a great success in my book! And, although it was very taxing physically and emotionally, I stuck with it, up until 8 months or so, when I decided that I was missing out on spending valuable skin-to-skin time with Tristan while I was having to pump rather than enjoying the benefit of holding him, loving him, reveling in his sweet bluish-gray eyes while giving him a bottle.
It was Amazing while it lasted, and, simply put, I feel good knowing that I gave my son 110% of what I had to give.
Now onto more of the informational stuff…
Breastfeeding is such a weird thing. You’d think because you’re a woman, and because your body is made to do it, it should come easy, but it’s just not the case for many women.
Milk production works on a supply and demand system. The more milk required, the more your body will produce. Pretty cool that our bodies are made to adapt and respond in this way. The same way that the nutritional content of your milk will change as baby’s needs change, the amount you produce will be linked to the amount your baby is taking from you. This is an ever (even daily) changing process… you may have fluctuations that seem impossible to match, but soon enough, you and baby will be in a groove together, and you will begin to relax as you are able to trust yourself and your body to effectively meet the needs of your baby. So, if you are feeling like there’s a problem, and you’re not able to give baby “enough”, I strongly suggest assessing Why it is exactly that you feel this way.
As a nurse, I learned early on that you can’t always trust “the numbers”. Before you start freaking out that your patient has a pulse oxygen reading of 49%, first stop and take a look at your patient. Does he look like he’s short of breath? Is he blue? No? Ok, let’s do a little more investigation then… Perhaps it’s not the patient who is having a problem… perhaps it’s the measuring tool we are using? I like to encourage new moms to have this type of critical thinking when it comes to their babies.
I like to think of breastfeeding as more of an ART and less of a science.
Our culture places a heavy emphasis on standardizations and measurements. The growth charts and percentiles that physicians compare our babies to are only guidelines, and potentially flawed ones at that. Remember to first Stop and take a Look at your baby. Does she look undernourished or lethargic? Is she looking or acting like she could be dehydrated? No? Ok, then perhaps it is not a matter of a flawed supply, but, perhaps it is a flawed measuring mentality we are using?
I know it can be So very hard to separate emotion and attempt to think rationally when these poor little helpless creatures are depending on us for nutrition and survival, and we aren’t even sure of our capability to provide in the first place! Not to mention the constant reminders of our “inadequacy” when we go to the pediatrician to discover our precious baby had a 10% weight loss, and the guilt sets in… I have been there, dealing with a preemie, constantly praying for just an ounce to be gained, it was so hard to trust myself that I was providing adequately for my son. But it is important to remember the many variables that go into a determination that baby is not getting “enough”.
Kellymom.com is one of the absolute BEST sites I have found on this subject. Check it out, and if you are still attempting to increase your milk supply, here are a few things to try…
Ways to Increase Milk Supply
~ Try Nursing in Different Positions.
I would suggest utilizing 2-3 positions every day. Not only is this helpful in draining milk from All of the ducts in your breasts (remember the supply & demand process), it also is helpful in preventing mastitis, plus, you may find that your baby actually likes different positions better as she grows. Along the same lines, it is also important to assess whether baby is latching properly. If she is not able to latch properly, then she will not be able to drain all the milk from the ducts, which will cause a negative response to the “demand”. If you are struggling with knowing whether you are using proper technique, it may also be helpful to reach out to a Le Leche League group or leader for support, or a lactation specialist at your local medical center.
~ Assess your Rest and Nutrition.
Being a new mommy is Hard work (did I already say that?), and you know what I realized… the dishes can wait. The dusting can wait. Heck, even a shower can wait… sometimes. What breastfeeding mommies need most is Rest, Hydration, and Good Nutrition. Although breastfeeding only requires roughly 500 extra calories a day, you need to make sure that those calories are coming from a good whole source. There is So much information on this that I cannot even begin to go there. If you are interested in nutrition for a breastfeeding mom, here is a post from the Weston A. Price Foundation to help direct you and offer nutritional recommendations that I personally agree with.
~ Have a “Nurse-In”.
Take 24-48 hours, get some good movies, or start a new tv show series on Netflix (I personally enjoyed The Office, Parks & Recreation, and Kyle XY ☺)… And then, it’s just like it sounds… like a Lock-in from your youth days, have a Nurse-in. Make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks, lots of water for hydration, and commit to nursing every 1-2 hours or so. Make it fun for yourself and baby… this does not have to be 24-48 hours of torture! Allow yourself to catch up on facebook (ehem, I mean Sleep) in between feedings, and rather than focusing on the amount you are producing (those stinking numbers again), focus solely on the time you are bonding with baby and Jim Halpert 😉
~ Take a Warm Bath with Baby.
This was probably my most favorite thing to do when my son was very little. I found that the bath would relax both of us, and be prime time for encouraging nursing. The warm water also helps to release milk from the ducts in your breasts, and make it more easily available for baby. Skin-to-skin contact is so important for babies and helps to nurture a comfortable intimacy between the two of you. Definitely try this if you haven’t already!
~ Pump Between Feedings.
It may seem impractical, and frankly, impossible, but pumping between feedings or pumping one side while baby nurses on the other, could prove to be very beneficial… and remember, this is not for forever! It works to raise the demand, telling your body that baby is Very hungry, and thus, increase supply. I realize this is easier to suggest than to actually do, but even pumping ONE extra time a day in between feedings can help to increase your supply!
~ Try Some Essential Oils.
I have recently become interested in the benefits of essential oils. After some research, it seems that Fennel & Geranium Essential Oils can be useful when used correctly. According to the folks at EverthingEssential.me you can use 10-15 drops of EO in about 2 Tablespoons of a carrier oil and apply topically to your breasts and surrounding area once a day to help increase your supply.
(Where to buy essential oils)
~ Other Herbal Remedies may be helpful…
(…although I have not personally seen a dramatic difference) here is an informational post on Herbal Galactagogues from Kelly Mom. Fenugreek (where to buy), Brewer’s Yeast, and Blessed Thistle seem to be among the most popular, but certainly do your research before taking any of these things. Fenugreek, for example, can lower your blood sugar, so for diabetic moms, this may not be a safe option. It is a good idea to discuss supplementation, herbal or otherwise, with your physician. Also, a side note, make sure the herbs you choose are from a reputable source, and are free from any pesticides or toxins. I will briefly mention that I have heard that a good stout beer can help to increase your milk supply. Although I tried this, and it seemed to produce beneficial results, there is still no definitive evidence for this. Here is an interesting study on the effects of beer for increasing milk supply. I personally never attempted to nurse or pump right after drinking, so maybe that would have affected the results I had in some way. Again, proceed with caution 😉
~ It is not my preference to resort to pharmaceutical medications, pretty much Ever, but there are two medications, Domperidone and Reglan, one of which I have personally had good results with, and feel comfortable suggesting to friends and family. Domperidone, worked Wonders for me. Domperidone is currently not approved by the FDA for the use of increasing a mother’s milk supply. I did LOTS of research on this subject, and I think this article on Domperidone use for breastfeeding does a good job of summing up the information I gathered. Here is another good article on the subject. I’ll let you make up your own mind about it. I will mention, that should you start taking Domperidone for this purpose, it is Very Important that you do not abruptly stop the medication as it can cause a drastic drop in your milk supply. For this reason, it is best to taper off of the medication. Read more about the importance of tapering off Domperidone here. You can obtain Domperidone with a script from your doctor at a Compounding Pharmacy, or this online pharmacy is where I purchased mine (but please speak to your doctor prior to ordering and taking). Reglan, on the other hand, makes me drowsy, so it wasn’t the best option for me. There are also more potential negative side-effects that would make me not want to suggest it. For instance, a mommy I know, was prescribed Reglan after having a difficult time with increasing her milk supply, and after a few days of her taking it, she began to have depressive symptoms that were very scary (not to deter you from attempting this, but this was her experience). After stopping the medication, she started to feel normal again, and not like the world was ending! I know there have been women who have had positive experiences with this medication, however, it is not one I would readily recommend. If you are still curious about it, here is a link for information on Reglan. Also, Reglan is approved by the FDA for this purpose, and therefore may be easier to obtain and is likely to be cheaper. There are always going to be side-effects to be aware of when taking a pharmaceutical drug, so please have a discussion with your physician when contemplating Domperidone, Reglan, or any other kind of drug like this as an option.
~ Make Sure You are Not Defeating Yourself or Being Defeated…
by partaking in things that may be working to decrease your supply or exploring the option that there may be a hormonal imbalance (possibly Thyroid) or some other kind of condition like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), that being treated, may alleviate some of the side effects of an imbalance in your body. Antihistamines, Decongestants, and Diuretics are among the pharmaceutical-type drugs that could negatively affect your milk supply. Herbal supplements such as Peppermint, Sage, Oregano, & Jasmine may not be helping. Diet, Alcohol, Caffeine, Stress, and Lack of Sleep (I know) can also all negatively affect your milk supply. Bottom line is, if you’re beating your head against the wall trying to figure out why your supply isn’t increasing, it might be helpful to take a step back and reassess other things that could be causing a problem in the first place.
~ And finally, Don’t Beat Yourself Up!
Breastfeeding is hard work, it’s okay to feel like you’re just not that into it sometimes… remember the benefits of breastfeeding for you and baby, and, it might even be helpful to write down a list of the Specific Benefits that breastfeeding gives to You and to Your Baby as a reminder. Seriously though, it’s not the end of the world if things don’t work out. The fight is worth it, but in the end, what matters most is a happy and healthy baby, and happy, healthy, and Sane momma ☺
When all else fails…
I know that this article has inspired you to give it your ALL when it comes to breastfeeding. Right? 😉 But, let’s be real, sometimes things don’t work the way we want them to… I wish I had been aware of the fact that there are some really awesome alternatives to traditional store-bought formula when we were in need of the information. There are so many reasons why you should avoid the typical formulas you can buy or get free from your Pediatrician… but that’s a whole’nother article (and one I hope to explore and test out for you guys soon!) But for right now, if you have found yourself in need of an alternative nutrition source for baby, check out these resources on the subject… (These links are just to wet your whistle, and get you thinking. There are so many options out there. If you are considering an alternative to traditional store-bought formula, please discuss with your child’s pediatrician.)
Alternatives to store-bought formula
- This is an interesting article on what new research has shown are the effects of formula related to metabolic stress and an increase in risk for later disease
- TONS of recipes for homemade formula on the Weston A. Price Foundation site
- Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, is also an awesome resource for the more curious readers out there
- Here’s another interesting article on how to make homemade formula from Ann Marie over at Cheeseslave
- This one is focused on the concerns with Soy formula, from Sarah the The Healthy Home Economist
P.S. If you are looking for information about Breast Pumping… check out my article on Pumping Challenges & Overcoming Obstacles.
Be empowered to do something for yourself and for your baby!
photo credit: depositphotos.com/ababaka