Today marks the end of World Breastfeeding Week. This year’s theme, “Understanding the Past, Planning the Future,” ties in perfectly for its 20th anniversary. While the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action has its own global initiatives for supporting breastfeeding, I am interpreting this theme on a much smaller scale.
Understanding my past to plan for my future means looking back at the past 20 months of breastfeeding to think about what I’ve learned.
Within a few days of my son’s birth I learned that while breastfeeding is natural, it may not come easily. Thankfully my husband was very supportive and knew when to call in for backup. Once we made it over the challenges of the first few weeks of nursing, it was smooth sailing until it was time to go back to work. That presented a whole new set of issues, including feeling very guilty for leaving my 12-week -old while I went to work. I pumped for him three times a day for nearly a year. I hated pumping with a passion. I got walked in on twice despite a sign and a locked door, and was constantly asked where I was going by curious co-workers. Since I wanted to continue providing my son with the nutritional benefits of my breast milk, I stuck with it. Even though I despised pumping, I loved knowing that I was able to provide for him even though I wasn’t there with him.
We developed our own routine and made it to 6 months of breastfeeding. Once solid foods were introduced, I was constantly asked when I would wean him. I was told repeatedly that there was no reason to breastfeed any longer, and that solid food would fill in the gaps. Thankfully I didn’t listen to the “advice” and continued to pump at work and nurse when we were together. Things seemed to reach a fevered pitch around Ethan’s first birthday. Even members of my own family encouraged me to cut him off. They didn’t seem to understand that the benefits of breastfeeding don’t disappear at 1 year. There’s also more to it than just milk and nutritional benefits. As a working mom, nursing my son is the only time of the day where I am forced to slow down. I also get to snuggle with him, which is just wonderful after a long and stressful day at work.
Now as the 20-month mark approaches, I have definitely learned a thing or two. My own rough start and lack of support from healthcare professionals has driven me to learn as much about the topic as I can. It’s also made me realize that I want to help support and promote breastfeeding.
Here are a few tips for new or soon-to-be moms:
− Knowledge is power:
Have the information of local lactation consultants before the baby comes. Take a breastfeeding class if you can. Read as much as possible. Some suggestions are “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” or “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding”.
− Know where you can get support, other than your partner: Find a mother’s breastfeeding group or your local La Leche League chapter and attend a few meetings before the baby arrives. Not only will you find support from moms who have been where you are, there will also be moms who are going through the same thing you are. It truly takes a village to support a mom through rough breastfeeding patches. The moms group or LLL would be a great place to ask, “Is this normal?” type questions as well.
− It’s okay to ask for help or support:
Breastfeeding is natural, but it isn’t easy for most moms. If it hurts, call a qualified lactation consultant. If you’re going through a rough period, talk to someone who has been there. Find a breastfeeding mentor!
− Going back to work?
Make your intentions clear before the baby is born. It’s an awkward conversation worth having. Upon my return to work from maternity leave, I had a pumping room all set up for me. It wasn’t luxurious by any means, but it was private and comfortable. If I could have it with my about-to-retire male manager, you can have it with your superiors!
− Breastfeeding isn’t one-size-fits-all:
Some moms can exclusively breastfeed, others need to supplement with a little bit of formula. Some moms nurse for 4 months, others nurse for 4 years. Doing one over the other does not make you a bad mother. Do what feels right for you and what works for your situation.
With nearly 2 years of breastfeeding under my belt, I’m amazed that we are here. I never thought I’d make it to six months, let alone be “that” mom who nurses a toddler. When Ethan becomes a big brother, I’ll be sure to take all I’ve learned from breastfeeding him to make my next experience as easy as possible. I imagine there will be some problems, but I imagine that understanding my past will allow me to plan better for the future.