What I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding the First Time Around

lll-99-1By Kendra Atkins-Boyce, Portland, Oregon

I knew all about breastfeeding before I really understood that breasts could have another function besides nourishing an infant. My aunt was a lactation consultant and La Leche League Leader. My mother nursed both of her children into toddlerhood. I overheard countless conversations about cracked nipples and using cabbage leaves to relieve engorgement before I ever nursed my daughter. Despite my being aware of others’ positive breastfeeding experiences and my prior knowledge, I wish I had known more when it was my time to put the information into practice.

It’s acceptable to ask for help. As a new mother, the first La Leche League meetings I attended were rife with tears and feelings of inadequacy. I asked for help but had nothing to offer in return. I felt like a failure at everything— motherhood, nursing, my work life, being a friend, and being a wife. I felt guilty for dominating discussions with questions about milk supply and flat nipples.

I went to lactation consultations, read books and articles, and posted to online mothering groups trying to find ways to feel more adequate. Now that I’m on the other side, I realize that asking for help was exactly the right thing to do. By gathering information and getting input on how to solve breastfeeding issues, I was taking care of myself and making it possible for me to move from the dark places to a place where I could help other people. I wish I had soaked up the support I found instead of feeling inadequate for needing it.

lll-15-1You can do everything correctly and still face breastfeeding challenges. Sure, there are lots of ways to set yourself up for breastfeeding success, but circumstances can interfere with breastfeeding, such as nipple shape, baby’s latch, milk supply, stress, and hormones, to name a few. Encountering breastfeeding obstacles will have nothing to do with your worth as a mother.  I wish I’d learned early on to take it easy on myself and choose actions that led to feeling positive and having less guilt.

While I knew there were solutions to most breastfeeding difficulties, I felt an immense pressure (mostly self-imposed) to produce as much milk as possible. Some of the pressure came from me, but I know that the debate over breast milk versus artificial baby milk only added to the weight I felt as a new mother. My body was not cooperating, leading me to feel that I was failing at what meant so much to me. When I had to supplement with artificial baby milk, it felt like a defeat, but really it was the best solution for my family. Once I finally made peace with my situation, I was able to enjoy the breastfeeding relationship much more.

The next time around, I’m going to try to remember all of these hard-won lessons.  I’m hoping to have an uncomplicated breastfeeding relationship with my next child, but I’ll try to remember what I learned as a first-time mother: I love my child, I take care of her the best way I can, and the details are not that important.