I'm preparing for baby number three to show up in November. I loved breastfeeding my two baby girls and am excited to do it again with my third. It seems as if the whole formula vs. breastfeeding debate has simmered a little, but it can be a pretty sore subject for moms. As part of the Mothering Community's Blog about Breastfeeding and Win! give away, I'm going to share my experience with it, and opinions about it. But hopefully it will just be an interesting read. I don't want anyone to leave this post feeling guilty about not breastfeeding or thinking I think you're crazy if you don't do it. People, I currently feed my children McDonald's on a more-than-occasional basis, so don't think I will ever judge you about what goes in your kids' mouths. Food is fuel, as my dad says. Some of it is just better fuel than others.
I breast fed both my girls until just before their first birthdays. Truthfully, I think I lucked out because I had such great experiences both times. This definitely colors my opinion. I enjoyed it, and had great experiences both times with hardly any complications. Here's my story with some tips and opinions thrown in. (If you're in a rush, when I was in the middle stage of nursing my second I wrote a blog post about breastfeeding that is shorter and sweeter. You can find it here.)
The Early Stage.
I won't lie. It can be quite painful for about the first two weeks. When babies first latch on, holiness. But for me, the discomfort was only a couple seconds as they latched on, then once they settled into a suckling rhythm I was fine. The pain of baby latching on only lasted a week or two. The first few days after delivery, nursing sessions are accompanied by crazy, painful cramps. This is very healthy, the hormone your body releases as you nurse also helps squeeze your uterus back to it's original size. This is good. But it hurts. Like the dickens. The nurses told me it gets more painful with each child so I'm super excited about number three. Another difficulty in the early stage is the frequency. Newborns nurse a lot. People disagree about how often babies should nurse. My personal opinion is that the first couple weeks, during the daytime, you should let your baby nurse when they want. It's a skill you are both learning and it takes practice. It can be hard to be "tied down" to your baby during this time. Remember, it's just a season. Before you know it, your kid will be moving away for college. These first few weeks or months tied down won't kill you. A major complaint most moms have in the early stage is sore and cracked nipples. Just writing those words sounds like some sort of CIA interrogation torture method. I never experienced this (again, I think I lucked out). I read in a book, I think it was "So That's What They're For" by Janet Tamaro, that after you nurse you should squeeze a little milk out and rub it on your nipple, then let it air dry before you cover yourself up. It takes some extra privacy, but it's worth it! It was evidently magic for me. I only did it for the first couple weeks, or maybe less, after that I was fine.
The Middle Stage.
If you can persevere through the difficulties of the early stage, you will reap the rewards of the sweet spot middle stage. Latching on doesn't hurt anymore. The cramping is over. You can be free to put your baby on a more regular eating schedule. You can pump some extra milk so you can get out of the house for more than two hours. Or, God forbid, even try having Dad give some formula while you're out. Your baby might not like it, but it's worth a shot. You can be legalistic about the breast milk if you want, and forbid your baby to ever drink anything but the gold that pours from your goddess breasts. If I were you, I'd chill a bit though. For your own sanity. If your baby will take a bottle now and then...score! Breastfeeding does not have to be all or nothing. It is true that your body needs you to stay mostly in a routine to keep your milk supply going. If you skip a regular feeding, and don't pump, you may get uncomfortable. But sometimes, even with a little discomfort, that extra hour for another lap around Target by yourself is worth it.
I only had one complaint during the middle stage, and it was only with my second. The entire time I nursed her, it was a little uncomfortable when my milk let down. What happens is, your baby latches on and starts sucking. Then your boobs realize, "OH! Baby wants milk!" And after a few sucks, your milk "lets down". For me, this sensation felt like pins and needles sticking my boobs. Just for a few seconds, then it was fine. It wasn't painful exactly, just uncomfortable.
The Ending Stage.
Eventually your baby starts eating people food. They don't NEED your milk like they needed it when it was all they were able to digest. Some people say you shouldn't give any table food at all until one year. Here we go with our opinions again. I did the typical baby food around six months method. So around that time, my babies started changing how often they wanted/needed to nurse. Breast milk is still gold for babies at this time, but they don't always drink it as if it's all they want. Sometimes they're too busy to nurse, sometimes they're not in the mood, sometimes they play while you try to nurse them. I stopped nursing both girls around eleven months. I went away on a long weekend trip, and it seemed like a logical time for my body to dry up. By that time I was mostly nursing them twice a day, so it wasn't difficult for my body to stop. If you decide to quit nursing when your body has been supplying milk 4-6 times a day, it can be painful to wean your baby. If you wait until they naturally don't really need you anymore, it's pretty easy and painless.
A Final Thought about Hippies.
I think the LOUD supporters of breastfeeding, with very good intentions, are ruining it a little for the first time moms who are on the fence about the issue. I'm sure you've seen pictures of women stripping bare in public places to feed their babies. You don't have to be like that, unless you want to. I'm a woman, and it makes me feel awkward. I can't imagine how it makes the men feel. I always used one of those Hooter Hiders covers when I nursed in public. Still, I could tell even that sometimes made people feel uncomfortable. That's understandable. I mean, it is boobs after all. And boobs are a private matter. I totally agree that women should be allowed to nurse anywhere, but I do not agree that women can forget all others needs during this time, and force us all to try and not stare at their exposed boobs or tummies. Sorry, ladies, I just don't think it's fair of us. In other cultures, totally acceptable. Not in the United States. Move to Africa if you must. But my baby shouldn't have to be covered up while they eat! No one else does! Well then, it can be your babies' first lesson in considering others. Never too soon to start that. I guess I am a little opinionated about the nursing in public issue, but the point I'm trying to get across is that you can successfully nurse your baby for an entire year, without becoming the hippie mom you think is weird. But if you want to be that hippie mom, more power to you!
Breastfeeding is one of the most rewarding and beautiful things I've experienced. Not to mention empowering to the female spirit. Hey, world! Not only did I grow a human being inside my body in just nine months, I then kept it alive for an entire year using only my boobs! Beat that contribution to human kind, boys.