What’s so Natural in Breastfeeding?
Parenthood is the most amazing and challenging experience. And, of course, there’s almost no way to prepare or practice for it before the real thing comes along.
My Ori was born three months ago, after a long period of waiting and yearning. Having undergone IVF treatments for many years, I hoped that the long wait had prepared me properly for the experience, and that I’d be a super-mum…
Over the long years of waiting to get pregnant, I regularly felt jealous: of round-bellied expectant moms; of families with many children; and, most of all, of those mothers I saw nursing their babies in cafés. Yup, I fantasized about my maternity leave—I’d sit chilling out in a café, my baby fast asleep in his stroller, and he’d wake up quietly, and while still chatting with my girlfriends over a coffee, I’d nurse him calmly and confidently.
As a big believer in breastfeeding and its benefits, and as a member of a start-up company that invented a smart breastfeeding meter which measures the amount of milk babies nurse, I knew for certain that I would nurse. Through my work I had read, heard, and come across almost everything there is about breastfeeding. I knew a lot, way more than the average mom, and I understood that nature doesn’t always do its thing. To be on the safe side, toward the end of my pregnancy I had a personal session with a lactation consultant to prep for the first days of breastfeeding, which I knew would be critical for success.
Apart from breastfeeding, my fantasy also stretched to giving birth naturally, or at least having a regular birth with a long time spent at home, getting to hospital with advanced contractions just in time to experience the most beautiful birth ever. But life is full of surprises, and there’s no way to argue with a large baby who refuses to descend into the pelvis, and who suddenly stops moving. So Ori was born by caesarean section, with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. And after he came into the world, I had to spend a few more hours in surgery due to complications, and then had a lengthy spell in recovery.
When Ori was finally brought to me, after all these trials and tribulations, he’d already had a bottle of formula, even though I knew that that was definitely not what he needed after the birth. But I hadn’t been there to intervene.
Without getting into too much detail, throughout our time in hospital I tried breastfeeding Ori as much as possible, but unfortunately he was also fed with formula. After five days, when my milk should have come through (for the first few days it’s colostrum that’s produced, a kind of pre-milk), I felt I wasn’t getting my milk, and I lost confidence. Ori was on my breast, but I knew he wasn’t really feeding, and using the IsenseU breastfeeding meter (the device I’d worked on marketing) I could hear only a few small sucking sounds, and discovered that he was barely feeding at all. I continued monitoring the next few feeds, but to my disappointment, my milk flow didn’t improve, and I immediately called in my amazing lactation consultant.
She gave me a number of recommendations to help me get over these difficulties and get through the first few weeks. I had to “work” round the clock, pumping and nursing the whole time so as to increase my milk production and reach a situation in which Ori was feeding only from my breast, without taking a bottle of either pumped breast milk or formula. My efforts included all kinds of techniques to get Ori to feed from the breast, and not fall asleep or cry with frustration at the lack of milk, which wasn’t coming fast enough to fill him up. To my delight, every time I checked with my IsenseU I saw we were making progress, and I felt more and more confident. The monitoring helped me know when it was working and when it wasn’t, and I became better at filtering out the noise around me in order to focus on the growing connection between me and my Ori.
Through this personal experience, I discovered that most of the mothers I know had trouble nursing at the beginning, and in particular suffered from uncertainty as to whether their baby was feeding or not. In many cases, moms are quick to introduce formula as well in order to be sure that baby is getting enough to eat—and then breastfeeding can be over very quickly.
I found out that none of this felt “natural” to any of them. There’s a lot of pressure to breastfeed because it’s healthy and important for our babies. We forget how important it is to be in tune with our own bodies, and to really feel relaxed, in order to access this “naturalness.” In the first few weeks, it’s sometimes painful, and mostly confusing, and not every woman is clear about what she’s doing and whether it’s really good for her baby.
So what can we do when it doesn’t come so naturally?
Forgive yourself—It’s never perfect. Every baby reacts differently, and every mom acts differently. Remember that there’s a process going on here in which you and your baby are developing a new skill together, and it takes time and a lot of patience. No-one finds it easy, and if anyone tells you they did, then they’ve forgotten about the first days or weeks.
Listen to your inner voice—You know what works best for you, and you’ll also get a feel for your baby very quickly. There’ll be lots of other voices around you, from grandmas, sisters-in-law, aunts, friends, and so on. Try to let your inner voice drown them out. Naturally, I recommend using a nursing monitor, because it helps you hear baby’s swallowing sounds, and enables you to tell easily when your nursing is getting better and really taking hold. And later, when from time to time you have uncertainties around growth spurts, changes in sleeping patterns, sickness, vaccinations, etc., you can always use the monitor again to get your confidence back.
Get help—Before you give birth, make sure you get yourself a lactation consultant who’ll be there for any questions you have, and can even come over to give you private coaching at home. Yes, it costs money, but I recommend putting something aside for this if you can; if you have to give up breastfeeding, you’ll quickly find yourself having to find money for formula and bottles.
Get a support network of family and friends around you. A healthy diet and plenty of hydration will improve your nursing, and you won’t always have time to make food for yourself.
Focus on success and enjoyment—It’ll happen. Slowly your baby grows and starts communicating with you. Often the first smiles happen around feeds. When nursing at night, your baby falls asleep comfortably at your breast, and you don’t need to walk around the house rocking him back to sleep. These little moments of intimacy with your baby will introduce you to the personality of this new little creature in your world. And while it’s not easy, I promise you that after a couple of months it’ll be you nonchalantly pulling out your breast in a café and nursing happily.
Ori is three months old now, and still successfully breastfeeding—exclusively. We have a special bond, and I enjoy being with him and experiencing the world as he feels and discovers it for the very first time. Those challenging first days of nursing are behind me, and I’m already looking forward to introducing him to food, and thinking how quickly time flies, and what a wonderful experience I’ve managed to create for him and for me, and what a blessing that is.
Director of Marketing, IsenseU Ltd. – the smart breastfeeding monitoring