I had one piece of advice from my mother in law when I started breastfeeding: “it’s going to seem like you’re nursing ALL the time”. No one else told me this. And as we sat in my glider with the third season of Twin Peaks playing in the background only a week later (the particulars of this time are very blurry) I realized her description was about right. And I was comforted to know it wasn’t just me.
My advice to anyone starting out: if you are not absolutely floored by how often you’re nursing, and you’re worried the baby’s not getting enough, just go ahead and nurse more. It’s like a joke, how often you’re nursing. You’re nursing all night? Great! Your butt hurts? Your limbs falling asleep under you? Don’t worry, it’s not forever. Just surrender to the frequency, let yourself enjoy it. Because you know what? It IS enjoyable. It’s wonderful once you don’t fight it.
Since I couldn’t think of a better alternative (I was just too tired) I did it. Apparently my son wanted to feed every hour and a half for months. Yes, even at night. It was amazing how consistent his internal clock was. I could time trips to the store, drives to the in-laws, on his clock. It was a bit limiting, but also freeing. I wasn’t feeding him on my schedule I just went with the flow. Something’s wrong? You’re upset? You can’t be hungry again, can you- you are. Okay. Here we go.
I hear a lot of women saying they have a low supply and I often to think if they weren’t surrounded by people second guessing their methods, if they were encouraged to just trust their instincts, many of them (many: of course not all) would find supply takes care of itself.
Now that said, I had some advantages and some disadvantages that could qualify this “let nature take its course” attitude. My son was always game. Slow little nurser but he was big, almost 10 lbs, and strong. But the downside was it hurt. I got the latch wrong at first (I was exhausted, he was three weeks late and we’d had to induce) and later found out I had Raynauds Phenomenon – painful nipples from lack of circulation, often brought on by trauma or cold. It took a while but the Raynauds became less of an issue when his mouth grew and I bought some large wooly breast pads. But in the beginning it was quite painful and I spent every nursing session (essentially all my time) googling pictures of proper latches, I went to LLL meetings and sneakily watched other women nurse. Then I straight up asked them to show me, as I leaned in looking perplexed. I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
The first week home my pediatrician recommended we supplement so that his jaundice would go away faster. God, the relief! I did one feeding a day for 3 days with formula. He slept, my nipples got a tiny break (I was still feeding him on demand so it wasn’t much of a break) – I could very easily have kept this up. But I felt strongly about breastfeeding and read that using a bottle so early could cause nipple confusion, and I didn’t want to risk more discomfort. I asked a doula to come help me work on other positions for nursing. Things were a little better. No one was sure why it hurt so much, but it was bearable.
Eventually I realized the only time it didn’t hurt was when I WAS nursing. It relieved the pressure of the increasing milk supply while simultaneously ramping it up, which he apparently needed. So I just nursed him whenever he wanted and spent the time hunting online for The Softest Bra Ever Imagined. I found a bunch of bras but non helped anywhere near as much as the wooly pads eventually did. If you have Raynauds, try the wooly pads, they saved my sanity.
After all this? Never a problem with supply. When he went through a growth spurt, I went through it with him. Until my supply was totally established (which took about 12 weeks) things continued to be uncomfortable, but it wasn’t forever. And I’m so thankful I stuck with it, it’s a lovely bonding experience, it’s a calming influence, it puts him to sleep, it gives me a chance to be with him peacefully and relax, it’s free, and it requires next to no planning. You can do it instantly, anywhere. It’s the ultimate weapon of mothering.
If I’d had to rush back to work, or if I’d had naysayers around telling me he wasn’t getting enough milk, or I was feeding him too often, or what’s the big deal, just supplement, I might have struggled with supply issues too. Pumping takes a lot more effort (I only pumped sometimes) and nursing most efficiently increases the supply. I was lucky in many ways and I not so much in others. The first few weeks – they’re intimidating to almost everyone. You just can’t believe you have a baby, you don’t want to make any mistakes. But in my case things worked themselves out – largely because I had a chance to let them.
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