My first breastfeeding experience was nothing short of a disaster. I nursed a screaming baby every 45 minutes for the first four weeks of her life. I was exhausted, in constant pain from sore nipples, but proud. I was doing it, even though it was hard. I felt felt exhilarated by my accomplishment right up until the moment that my daughter's pediatrician told me when she was four weeks old that I was starving her to death. I remember feeling like I had been punched in the stomach. I had no idea it wasn't working. I had no idea she wasn't getting enough. She was screaming all the time because she was hungry. I remember watching the nurse bring in cans of special formula for our very sick baby and stacking them on the exam table. It felt like a monument to my failure.
Fast forward to my second pregnancy five years later. People would ask if I was scared to go through labor again and I would laugh and say no, because I wasn't. Breastfeeding was what made me break out in a cold sweat. I analyzed my first experience over and over again looking for signs I missed that she was struggling and I read everything I could find on nursing. Now four months in, I can honestly say my little one and I have an incredible breastfeeding relationship. I look forward to the time I spend with just her every day and there is a part of me that is grateful for my first experience because it taught me how to succeed the second time around. I just want to take a second and say that one of my girls was formula fed and one is breastfed and both my daughters are wonderful, sweet, happy girls. I am not condemning one way or another, I am just sharing my experience. Here is what I learned from my first experience that helped me this time.
1. Make breastfeeding part of your birth plan. I explained to my nurses when I was in labor that my number one goal besides a healthy baby was to establish a breastfeeding relationship as fast as possible. They were so supportive of me and I had my newborn in my arms seconds after she was born. We focused a lot on skin to skin contact and nursing before they had even wheeled me into the recovery room.
2. It hurts, but it gets better. Every thing I read told me that if the baby was latched right then nursing shouldn't be painful. So why did it feel like I was being seared with a branding iron every time she latched on? One nurse said it best when I asked, "You haven't had anything constantly tugging on your nipples before. Of course it is going to hurt, but it will get better." It hurt for awhile, but eventually the pain went completely away, until then I used a lanolin free cream and hard sided breast shields to keep my clothes from rubbing against me.
3. Use cream before you are sore. I picked up cream with my first and started using it once things were sore. With my second I started using it right away to prevent soreness. It was way easier to prevent it then it was to treat it. With my first I used a lanolin based cream but I hated that it stained my clothes and sometimes left greasy spots on other clothes in that same load of laundry. Dr. Brown's formula is non greasy and there is no need to wash it off before feeding.
4. Nurses are not lactation consultants. Most nurses have taken classes and can give you basic help, but what you really need is a lactation consultant. Ask to see one while you are still in the hospital and don't be afraid to go back to one later if you need to. I attribute the great breastfeeding relationship I have with my baby to a wonderful lactation consultant. Lactation consultants are also like doctors, sometimes you need to shop around and find one that fits your personality. The first one I ever saw was bound and determined to get me to use a nursing hold I wasn't comfortable with which just made me more frustrated in the end. I found another one that was more willing to work around what I was comfortable with and it has been wonderful.
5. It is OK to be cautious. With all of the weight issues with my first, I started bringing my second baby in for weight checks on my own when she was about three weeks old. We were able to catch a problem she was having eating while it was still a small problem before it became a huge issue. Most doctor's office or lactation clinics will let you weigh your baby for free. Call around if yours won't.
6. Pumping is not an good indication of how much milk you make. Watch your baby's diaper output very carefully in the first few weeks. If they are gaining weight and having a normal amount of diapers, you are doing fine. If you are still worried about it, most lactation clinics have an appointment where you come in, weigh your baby, feed the baby and then weight them again to see exactly how much they are taking in. I am so grateful for my pump, because it has allowed me to build up a wonderful freezer supply, but it is not what I use to measure how much my baby is getting.
7. Get the right kind of nursing pillow. I tried out several kinds of nursing pillows before I found one I loved. The Dr. Brown's pillow is fuller than others I have tried, so I don't end up shoving extra pillows underneath it or with a sore back.
8. Reusable nursing pads are way softer and more comfortable than disposable ones. While I love disposable nursing pads for some things, nothing beats the soft feeling of the reusable Dr. Brown's pads. I absolutely love them and recommend them to be people as my absolutely number 1 nursing must have. They are soft even against sore nipples.
9. Dressing in nursing friendly clothes doesn't have to be hard. With my first baby, I always used a cover and couldn't for the life of me figure out why you would nurse with out one. Then I had my second, right before summer. The poor little thing hated the hot nursing cover and would scream and refuse to eat anytime I had it on and I can't say I blamed her. For my own comfort in nursing without a cover I began wearing a long tank and a shirt. I would pull the shirt up and the tank down so I could nurse pretty much anywhere with nobody even looking twice. H&M makes absolutely hands down my favorite tanks for nursing and they are usually 2 for $10!
10. Relax. You are doing great. As women we compare ourselves to others way to much. When I formula fed I was convinced everyone was judging me and I would tell any stranger who watched me bottle fed my baby the entire story of why I was bottle feeding her. After my second baby refused to nurse with a cover, I would tell anyone who would listen the saga of why I couldn't cover. In the end I realized it really didn't matter what anybody else thought. I was feeding my baby and that was all that mattered.
Breastfeeding has been both the hardest thing I have ever done and one of the best. It didn't work out for my first, no matter how much I wanted it to, but I am thrilled that this time around it is working. When it comes down to it. We are all good moms just trying to do the best we can.