“Are you going to breastfeed?” The question slipped out of my mouth before I could stop it, and the woman I was speaking to looked taken aback and I don’t blame her. There is so much pressure to breastfeed, so much shaming and mom guilt, and constant messages of breast is best; it is hard to navigate the waters of what to say and to whom.
My interest was genuine, I made it to a year breastfeeding and I wanted to share my experience with her. I wanted to let her know that there were many, many days I wanted to quit and that it was a challenge, from the beginning, and that if she wanted to complain, or stop, or it was going great I was someone who would listen to all of that without judgment.
Feeding or Failure?
From the beginning breastfeeding was a challenge for me. Questions like “did your milk come in?” were totally foreign; I didn’t know how to answer that. I was a first time mom and had no idea what that was supposed to feel like. My son lost a lot of his birth weight and at our second pediatrician appointment a week after his birth we were told to supplement. I felt like a failure. The pediatrician was incredibly supportive of breastfeeding and she provided the formula and instructed us to syringe feed small amounts after a full nursing session. My husband did most of the syringe feedings while I tried to pump. I figured if we were syringe feeding formula we could do the same with breast milk. I became determined to make it work.
Breastfeeding seemed like such a daunting task. How was I going to make it to a month? Six months? A year? I couldn’t even make it a week. That is when I decided I was going to set small, manageable goals; SMART goals. SMART is a acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. I was going to approach breast feeding like other goals, by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable goals.
My first goal was to breastfeed until my son reached his birth weight. That goal was met at his 2 week appointment. My next goal was to breastfeed for one month. Once that goal was attained I set a new one: breastfeed until I returned to work. Once I returned to work and started pumping I set other goals. It was the end of the year, so I focused on smaller goals like, pump and breastfeed until the Thanksgiving holiday, until Christmas. Then I refocused and changed the goal to breastfeed until he starts day care. Then it was get through winter/cold and flu season. Before I knew it I had made it to six months. He started eating food and nursing became a much easier task. I continued pumping; I tried my best to make it as enjoyable as I could. I watched a sitcom while I pumped and I reminded myself that it was just for today, or this week, or this month whatever goal I had set for myself at that point. In the end, we made it to one year. My son decided he was done nursing three days after his first birthday.
Resources and Support
In my breastfeeding journey I utilized all of the resources and supports that were available to me. I read and re-read the materials the hospital provided on breastfeeding. One day, with the book open I was able to position him just right and it just seemed to “click” and he was latching better. I went to the free breastfeeding support group and was reassured that things were working and going well. Just having a professional tell me that it sounded like things were working was such a relief. I talked to lactation consultants and ate lactation cookies and oatmeal everyday. I drank more water than I thought possible. I was comparing myself to others who talked about freezer stashes and leaking and extra collection. I wasn’t doing any of that, and that was okay, I was doing enough. I had to tell myself that again and again. My husband refilled my water cup and told me that I didn’t have to do this if it was too much. He woke in the night and brought the baby to me. He did everything he could to support me and it made a huge difference. I just had to remind myself that I was working toward that small, SMART goal not this giant, daunting task.
I’m now several months in to breastfeeding my second child and this has been a completely different experience. I have the confidence I didn’t have last time. I also know that if it becomes too much I have a way that works for me to make it more manageable.