I was scared to death that my kids would starve if I attempted to breastfeed exclusively. If they had negative bra sizes, I'd be their first choice for a catalog model. From the time I was 12 years old, I was told, "Don't worry, they'll grow!" Remember the book, Are You There, God? It's me, Margaret. By Judy Blume? I spent many-a-night doing "exercises" to the whispered mantra, "I must... I must... I must increase my bust!" Well, I hit 16, an age when many had assured me I'd be fully developed, still looking like a 12 year-old. Then, I read somewhere that the female body isn't completely done growing until the early 20's. I waited... nothing.
When I was pregnant, I never even thought of bottle-feeding. I'm the oldest of three and my mom breastfed (and cloth-diapered) all of us. It was normal - bottles weren't. But, as my due date drew near and hormones became unbearable, I began to panic. My boobs hadn't even gotten bigger while I was pregnant. My OB-GYN even made mention of the fact that I had no boobs on that last appointment before my due date. I had come into the office, armed with my birth plan. The very first line below the heading "After Baby is Delivered" said: "Please do not offer the baby water, formula, or pacifiers. I will be exclusively breastfeeding!" After that appointment, the same thought kept running through my head - How on earth would I keep this little baby inside me alive once it was out?! I rushed to the store on the way home and bought a set of Playtex bottles and a few cans of formula... just in case.
I was so lucky. That little one knew just what to do. As soon as mouth was in the vicinity of nipple, the little suckling noises began - just seconds after delivery! The latch was perfect. My milk came in quickly - only 24 hours after giving birth. I had no problems for the duration of breastfeeding my kids, save sore nipples, engorgement, and a few bites. No mastitis, clogged ducts, latch problems... nothing. The kids grew by leaps and bounds, even by the old formula-fed growth chart standards. Oh, and I had boobs!!! I wore all of those tight little shirts, bikini tops, and strapless dresses that I could never wear before. Like I said, I was VERY lucky.
Unfortunately, the remarks that pregnant and nursing mothers hear from others, like the one from my doctor, can take their toll. Especially in the hormone-filled minds of pregnant women and the sleep-deprived, 'why-won't-this-kid-stop-crying?!' minds of new moms. There are too many people out there giving bad advice and passing on myths that are oh-so-false. Here is the one I've heard over and over from mothers. It's not new. My mother-in-law was told this in the 60's, when she had my husband. My mom was told this in the 70's (Thank you, Mom, for not listening!), friends of mine who had babies in the 80's and 90's heard this, and I've recently had three different new moms tell me this in the past month, alone:
You're not producing enough milk - you'll have to supplement!
Oh, I HATE this one! First, mommy takes her precious newborn to the pediatrician for his first check-up. The baby has lost a little weight since birth and the phrase "FAILURE TO THRIVE" is brought up. Now, this poor mom, who has had this kid on her breast for what seems like 24/7 since he was born, hears (and it's probably meant to sound this way, IMO) a medical professional basically tell her that she's not good enough a mother to keep her baby alive on her own - she needs help. The fear, the humiliation... So, she supplements her breastfeeding with formula. Then, when her precious pea is around six weeks old, he acts like he's starving. She nurses him, but he wants MORE. So, she adds a few more formula feeds into the mix - her kid's hungry! Eventually, she begins producing less and less milk. She looks on breastfeeding as a huge failure and gives up.
There are a lot of wrongs in this situation, but there's not usually anyone around to tell mom the truth. I mean, her baby's doctor already "knew" she wouldn't be able to feed this child on her own. And the hungrier junior got, the more she believed it. What she didn't know is that doctors use an old growth chart - created by formula companies and based on the "average" growth of a formula-fed infant. (Yes, there is another growth chart out for breastfed infants, but many doctors aren't using it.) Breast milk has less fat than formula, so a child isn't going to plump up like he would on bottles. And it is normal for newborns to dip in weight soon after birth - think about how much water weight is in their skin and digestive system while they are in your belly. After birth, they kind of... dry out, and they pee and poop. The first milk they are getting is colostrum and in small amounts. It just makes sense to anyone willing to think that a baby will lose weight. But, with all of the hormonal changes and lack of sleep, it can be hard for mom to use her critical thinking skill effectively. People will take advantage of this - who doesn't like to sound like they're smart? Who doesn't like to feel like they can rescue a desperate mom from a dire situation? We all like to give advice!
Here are two more of those "critical thinking" things that a new mom's brain just doesn't have the energy for: The faster a child grows, the hungrier he will be. And: The more a child nurses, the more milk you will produce. That six-week spurt is the one you'll think will never, ever end. But, you know what? I barely remember them now. I wish I had known about it ahead of time. Rather than freaking out, being cranky, and just wishing I could stop being a pacifier, I'd have planned ahead and enjoyed this time. I miss it. It's the picture you had in your head when you bought that super-comfortable rocking chair way back in the olden days when you were pregnant. Baby looking up at you while he nurses, the entire house is quiet except for the little sucking sounds he's making and maybe a lullaby from you... pure bliss! This spurt will last just a couple of weeks, enjoy it. Line up help with housecleaning and cooking. Don't let this time get away from you!
And what about the fear that your little one is breastfeeding so much because he can't get enough from you? Well, like I said above, the more he eats, the more you make. It's the perfect balance of supply and demand, ordered by Mother Nature herself! If a mom feels like she must do something to keep her little guy's belly full for longer, there are a number of methods to try BEFORE heading for that free sample of "just in case" formula that the formula company has so graciously sent you home from the hospital with as a parting gift. Drink more water. Sometimes, when we're dead tired and trying to learn this new little baby's characteristics, we forget about ourselves. I swear, at one point I couldn't remember the last time I had eaten anything (it must have been over 24 hours!) And, if water's not your cup of tea, then... well, have some tea. There are a ton of companies that make fantastic-tasting tea with all of the right herbs in them. One of my personal favorites is Sacred Rose's Matri Tea! Also, there are a ton of foods that will increase milk production. I craved oatmeal throughout my pregnancy and well into my first year of breastfeeding. This wonder-grain will visibly increase your infant's food supply. One of my favorite ways to eat it was in cookie-form! Add a bunch of dried fruits, some flax, wheat germ, honey, mashed bananas, zucchini... pretty much whatever your tastes may be. And, finally, you can take supplements. Fenugreek is an herb that has been used forever for nursing mothers. It increases milk production with a couple of interesting side effects: 1) Your sweat will smell like maple syrup. No kidding! It's weird, but at least you won't smell like boiled broccoli! 2) It also helps upper respiratory problems. Have a cold? Have allergies? They'll magically clear up - drug-free!
Once your little one hits 2 or 3 months old, most of the "you're not making enough milk" suspicions will go away. (There will be more growth spurts, but not anything like the one you just got through.) You'll feel more confident in your abilities to sustain life using your boobs. You'll be able to read your little one's signs more easily and understand what he needs from you before the crying (yours and his!) of the early weeks. And, you'll have your head back on straight - the hormone confusion of the weeks just after birth will have ebbed and you might have even gotten two hours' worth of sleep in a single stretch!
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