Of course my first blog is going to be about breastfeeding. Not that I consider myself an expert on the subject – hopefully you are the expert on your own boobs – but I have been breastfeeding for fourteen months now, so I must have something helpful to say. And if not, just enjoy one imperfect moms experience with breastfeeding.
A little disclaimer before we start: I do not think that mamas who are (planning on) bottle-feeding are bad moms. I understand life is complicated and some moms will decide or are forced by circumstances to bottle-feed.
For me it was never a question of whether or not I wanted to breastfeed my baby. It was one of the things I looked forward to. I read books about it, took a class even; basically I am a breastfeeding-nerd. In the early months of my pregnancy I read somewhere – or maybe someone told me -, that I should not say: ‘I am going to breastfeed for a year’ or even ‘I am going to breastfeed’, because then, if I couldn’t I would be disappointed. I was taking in all the information and advice at full speed at that time so, like any well- behaved student would do, every time someone asked me if I was going to breastfeed I would say: “If I can, yes!”. It never felt right when I said it, because in my mind I was going: “Yes, of course! I want to, I am going to, who’s going to stop me!!!” And then I read the right book, a book that make all the sense in the world, that told me to just say it, believe it, feel confident about it, because that would definitely increase the chances of succes. I was informed about all the ‘worst case scenario’s’ surrounding breastfeeding. But they didn’t scare me off. They prepared me to not expect it to be easy and give up if things got difficult.
“It was my worst nightmare. My baby being taken away from me, not knowing if she was okay.”
Still, when Isaya was born I was all ready for her to crawl over my belly, onto my chest, find my nipple by herself and start sucking. I imagined all would be good with the world once labor was over and she was latched on. Unfortunately, that was not the case. During the last part of labor Isaya had struggled. She had gotten stuck and was briefly left in distress. She had swallowed amniotic fluid and meconium. So after only a couple of minutes on my chest she had to be taken to the pediatric ward. It was my worst nightmare. My baby being taken away from me, not knowing if she was okay. Thankfully my wife was able to go stay with Aya. But I felt awful and wanted to be with her as soon as possible. My midwife stitched me up as fast as she could and then wheeled me into the section where all the preemies were kept. I was finally able to provide Isaya with the skin on skin contact I had been dreaming about for months and feed her.
My baby was not a preemie. Apart from her difficult start Isaya was completely healthy. So I wanted to take her with me to our own room and breastfeed her on demand. But the doctors wanted to be cautious and kept her there. Even though I was (and still am) heartbroken about being apart from her that first night, I could understand they wanted to be sure she was OK. What I didn’t understand and tried to fight – even though I was exhausted and probably a little delirious from all this natural birth stuff – was the fact that they wanted to give her formula. I was convinced that, given the chance, I would have enough milk to feed her. But there is this thing in hospitals that apparently not even a hormonal -on the verge of hysterical- mom can beat and that is called Protocol. I hated that word for the whole three days we had to stay there. Don’t get me wrong, they took good care of us and I am grateful for their quick and capable reaction directly after birth. But the clinical protocols left no room for my motherly instincts. It made me feel insecure and angry. I believe moms should be empowered to listen to their innate ability to take care of their babies, not go against it for the sake of protocol or plain bossiness.
“I was so angry with the whole protocol dilemma that, by morning, I made enough milk to feed the whole ward.”
I was so angry with the whole protocol dilemma that, by morning, I made enough milk to feed the whole ward. I wanted to be with my baby so fiercely and felt in my heart so deeply that I knew what was right for her that my body could do nothing but obey. After twenty hours on the children’s ward Isaya was allowed to stay with us. Next started an annoying and tiresome discussion about protocol-times for nursing while I wanted to feed on demand. But I was a tiger by now. I didn’t care what the clock said. I just listened to my baby. We were able to leave the hospital the next day and I have been breastfeeding on demand ever since.
The first couple of days we had to finger- feed Isaya, because she had trouble latching on. That meant we were basically nursing 24/7. I had to first pump milk, then feed her with the tube and then try and get her to drink from my breast as well. After four days she would drink from my breast, but only with a nipple shield. A week later that was solved as well and now both Isaya and I were finally in our breastfeeding heaven.
I have shared this story with you just to let you know we have not had a flawless start. Because I am still breastfeeding after fourteen months, people assume it just came easy to me and the past months have been without struggle. No way. It was and is hard work. Breastfeeding means enduring the discomfort of engorgement, leaking boobs, sore nipples, pumping milk, biting, scratching, pinching and waking up at all hours of the night. It means being available day and night. It means accepting the pressure of being the main source of nutrition for at least six months and a little baby being completely dependent on you. So, definitely not easy. But I want to show you that even if you have a difficult start or encounter obstacles along the way, it is definitely possible to breastfeed with joy and for as long as you and your baby want. Because let me tell you, it is so incredibly, undeniably worth it. And here is why.
Breastfeeding = bonding
Breastfeeding is an amazing way for you and your baby to get to know one another and bond. When you breastfeed you spend so much time with your baby and you learn to read her cues very well. There is a lot of skin on skin contact which is good for attachment and all the hugs will make the both of you so happy. I feel so blessed when I breastfeed because it makes me feel very close to my baby.
Breastfeeding = the perfect nourishment
And then there are also the nutritional benefits. Your milk is special. It is custom- made to meet your baby’s needs. It is so amazing how your milk changes when your baby’s needs change. In the first days your milk, the colostrum, will be very rich in fat. The vitamin and mineral content will change once you start making transitional milk and mature milk. I noticed that especially when Isaya started eating solids at six months. My milk became a lot thinner. The fats in your milk are ‘smart fats’, like DHA and omega-3. You know, the ones you need to develop your brain. Other important ingredients of your milk are proteins, vitamins, minerals and iron. Breastmilk not only contains the best combination of nutrients but because your milk has high bioavailability there is hardly any waste. So what that means is that most of these high-efficiency nutrients in your milk will get into your baby’s tissue.
“Isaya literally had only two colds in the first six months of her life.”
Breastfeeding = protecting your baby
Your milk will not only nourish your baby but it will also protect her. White blood cells destroy harmful bacteria. As your baby grows the concentration of white blood cells in your milk will gradually decrease, but these disease-fighting components will protect your baby from infections. Your milk also contains immunoglobulins, which are like a natural antibiotic and very helpful since your baby’s immune system is still immature. Isaya literally had only two colds in the first six months of her life.
Breastfeeding = good for mama
Besides the fact that you get to hug and snuggle with your baby so much there are some other benefits for you as a mom as well. Breastfeeding stimulates nerves that send a message to your pituitary gland to secrete the hormone prolactin. This hormone not only regulates your milk production but also stimulates your motherly feelings and makes you feel relaxed. I have definitely found breastfeeding to be a natural chill pill. Another hormone, oxytocin, helps to contract your uterus back to its normal size. And last but not least breastfeeding will also help you get back in shape easier and it will save you a lot of money, because you don’t have to buy formula.