I ran into a friend at the playground today, her two boys are the same ages as my twins and new baby 🙂 We got to talking about milk, something that I often do when… well, whenever really. She said something that gave me an “aha” kind of moment. She said that she’s breastfeeding is so much easier for her this time because she was MENTALLY ready for it.
How could THINKING about breastfeeding make more milk or make the milk come out easier or help the baby to latch? How can your THOUGHTS about milk make it fun to sit and nurse (maybe hour after hour) instead of arduous and frustrating? It sounds kinda strange and kinda like something I should have known all along at the exact same time. Being mentally prepared for breastfeeding, REALLY mentally prepared for it, can entirely change whether you succeed or fail.
When I had Punkin I knew I was going to breastfeed but it wasn’t easy. I was very quickly frustrated with his long (longer than 20 minutes) nursing sessions and need to be fed again after less than 3 hours. I felt tied down and frustrated and often rushed him through feedings. I gave him the pacifier in his first days because he “just wanted to suck on something.” I didn’t want to become a human pacifier and at a few days old I thought it was time to start “training” him. Wow. Looking back now I’m kinda appalled I did that!
When I was pregnant with the twins finances were super tight which helped strengthen my resolve to breast feed them exclusively. I knew how expensive formula was (starting at 6 months Punkin got formula during the day at daycare) and how quickly it gets used up. I knew that breastfeeding twins was going to be a challenge just because of the amount of TIME I would need to spend doing it. I told myself repeatedly (and all other adults around me) that my ONE JOB once they were out was to feed them. I wouldn’t be in charge of my other son, I wouldn’t do dishes, I wouldn’t get myself food, I wouldn’t clean and do laundry, I wouldn’t go grocery shopping, I would SIT and NURSE. I told myself this over and over and made sure the people around me understood my priorities. When the girls were born I did nurse A LOT, especially the first six weeks, but I did actually get up, care for my son, make my own food, etc. They fed every 2.5 hours (from start to start) and usually 45 minutes long for the first few weeks. I tried not to even think about the things I wasn’t getting done because I knew two things 1) my goal of exclusively breastfeeding as long as possible was attainable and was more important than anything else I wasn’t doing and 2) that it wasn’t going to be like this forever. I set small goals, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks, 6 months, 1 year, and then 18 months (which we didn’t quite make) but sometimes I even needed day to day or hour to hour goals too. I dealt with each moment as it came constantly reminding myself that feeding them was the most important thing.
Was getting to that mental place easy? Heck no. I suppose it helped that I’d been forced by my own body to slow WAAAAAY down during the pregnancy. Punkin’s pregnancy had been too easy and so I hadn’t gotten any practice at slowing down. It also helped that the people around me understood that feeding the babies was my most important job partially because they’re naturally amazing but also in part to the way I prepared them (by talking about it and saying it a lot!).
Then came Peanut. Easiest baby ever. Did I write down when he ate? Never. Did I check the clock when he woke in the middle of the night? Nope. Did I watch to see if he was swallowing the whole time while he ate? Did I check to see how long he ate? Did I count his wet/dirty diapers? Nope, nope, nope. And at 2 months old he: eats on a “schedule” (about every 3 hours), he takes 3 pretty predictable naps per day, he sleeps from 9pm-7am waking once or twice, and he cries a tiny bit when he’s hungry or tired. He’s basically the easiest baby on the planet. Why? I really believe it’s because I followed his guidance in the first few weeks (and still do).
If you want to nurse your baby, and I really hope you do, mentally preparing is going to make it easier and much more pleasurable for you BOTH (and happy moms make good moms, and satisfied babies make happy babies which in turn makes happy moms!). Relax. Nature knows what to do. Relax. You and your baby can learn this new skill together. Relax. This is the most important job you have right now. Relax. Yourbody and your baby will work together and do everything that needs to be done on their own. Relax. When your baby cries check the diaper then feed them, there are no routines or habits set in the first three-six months that, if baby led, are going to harm them or drive you insane later. Relax. Let your baby’s natural instincts tell you what they need. Relax. This is what is important today, it gets easier.
Relax. Feed your baby. Relax. Trust your baby. Relax. Trust your body. Relax. Trust yourself. Relax so you can hear your instincts talking to you. Relax and smile because these moments are miraculous.
I think the mental aspects of breastfeeding and labor are very much the same. In labor there isn’t actually anything for you to DO except relax and let the moments wash over you until it comes time to push (and even then if you’re mentally quiet your body will tell you exactly what to do there–no thinking required!). It’s the same thing with breastfeeding, let the baby’s needs wash over you, surrender to them. Both are very hard things to do for women who don’t know how to let go, who need to always feel in control (totally me and I thought I was completely a go-with-the-flow kinda girl!). It sounds counterintuitive but the moment you finally let go is the moment you finally gain control.
Wanna know something amazing? I have only ever had to rock Peanut to sleep two or three times in over 10 weeks. I feed him when he’s fussy (and when I happen to notice the clock it’s always been about 90min-3hours since the last feeding which is perfect for a newborn!) and let him fall asleep on the breast and then lay him down. He sometimes wakes up and fidgets himself back to sleep, he sometimes needs me to pick him up and nurse him again. Over the last few weeks his evening needs have gone from about four hours of that (not crying like my first son did while we leapt around the living room trying to get him to quiet down) to about 20 minutes of “fussy time”. I had that trust from experience but I wish that I hadn’t needed three previous children to get there. So I’m telling you, from experience, relax, take a breath, you are amazing and you can do this.
Okay, disclaimer time.
I am well aware that I have been blessed with “easy” babies. None of them were tongue-tied, I had them all vaginally (c-section’s can effect breastfeeding in many ways that I won’t go into here). I know from watching many of my friends and from my own personal experience, however, that where you are MENTALLY as a mom directly effects your ability to feed your baby (and retain your sanity). My goal here is not to belittle issues or brush aside the fact that true breastfeeding difficulties arise because they do! I know that there are times when it is important to look at numbers (ounces fed, weight gained, number of bowel movements, times and lengths of feedings) but MOST of the time you can keep half an eye on this stuff instead of your entire focus. Ya, I would have noticed if Peanut had stopped peeing but if I’m changing him when I’m feeding him and I know I’m feeding him about six times during the waking hours of the day and he’s wet each time we’re good whether that was five wet diapers or eight today, we’re fine and that’s the most attention I pay it. Would I notice if there was something “odd” going on? Absolutely, but because I was paying attention to him and letting him tell ME what was going on instead of watching and analysing every little thing he did (I did that with my frist and it was exhausting!). Are there breastfeeding issues you should get help with? YES! Call a LLL leader, call a Breastfeeding USA counselor, call your hospital’s lactation consultants, call a good friend who had success breastfeeding (this decade, beyond that the memory becomes awfully fuzzy and often not helpful at all) but when it comes down to it breastfeeding is natural, only a small minority of women truly can’t breastfeed (no matter what you hear from friend, neighbors and maybe well-meaning strangers).
I also am feeling, as I reread this post, that I might need to write a little more about how things are non-habit forming when babies are tiny. So many people (myself included) freak out about starting bad habits like sleeping in swings, using mommy as a pacifier, eating every 90 minutes, et cetera. Since I’m probably not writing that post anytime soon here’s the quick and dirty advice: listen to your baby and keep things flexible. Example: do not put them in the exact same place to sleep every time they doze off, give them variety (maybe swing at nap today, basinette tomorrow, in your bed for the first part of the night and crib for the second). And remember, most of all, babies change in a heartbeat so that thing you’re worrying about today will be gone by next week!
Two of the photos used in this blog were taken by my friend at Gryffan’s Nest Photography. The photographs (my heading picture and the second to last) are property of Gryffan’s Nest Photography and may not be copied or reproduced in any way. Visit the blog to see more beautiful Gryffan’s Nest photographs!