Let’s Talk About … Breastfeeding

Let’s talk about breastfeeding — that’s not controversial, is it? 🙁  I know that this can be a sensitive topic, and maybe this is a bad idea, but please take whatever I say in this post as just one opinion among many — I don’t want to make anybody feel bad about their own choices, especially those made in the past.

Do you ever feel afraid to share your mothering tips with people because you don’t want to hurt feelings or offend? I do — but I’m more convinced than ever that we need to be willing to step out of our comfort zones and share what we’ve learned.

Take my own situation at our local bank last weekend.  The clerk was a really nice new mom and she started asking me about my kids — and then she started to share how she was still nursing her 9 month old a few times a night — she said it like it was a bad thing to do.

Now, I have my opinions about nursing babies, but I think Facebook has conditioned me not to freely offer my opinions — about anything — unless asked.  So I kept my mouth shut.

She continued to share that her doctor had told her at her 4 month check up that she was going to have to stop nighttime nursing and let her baby cry it out  — until he stopped waking at night — and her doctor was giving her until her 6 month check-up to accomplish the task.

I was determined to keep my mouth shut!

But when she shared how hard it had been on her and she just couldn’t let her baby cry,  I just let out a, “Well, the experts aren’t necessarily experts” comment and tried to get back to the banking.

And when she told me that her husband suggested she listen to the doctor because they know what they’re talking about, I became like a caged lion who had been staring at the meat for so long that I couldn’t control myself when I finally got out of that cage.

I could no longer keep quiet. “Forget what your doctor said — he(she?) has no idea what he’s talking about.  You are the best person to know exactly what your baby needs and nobody knows better than you. And tell your husband he should be thanking you because he gets to sleep away while you’re making sacrifices for your baby.  You tell him that. ”

I know that poor new dad was just trying to help, so I don’t blame him at all.  But why was that doctor so quick to condemn a working mom who probably needs that closeness with her baby at night — as much as her baby does — and if she is okay with it, why are all these so-called experts making her feel so bad about it?

"Experts" who make mothers feel guilty about mothering got me like ...
“Experts” who make mothers feel guilty about mothering got me like …

Why are people always trying to make mothers feel guilty for mothering? Argh!

Clearly I have strong opinions on the matter, but a few disclaimers lest I get a big pile of hate-mail in my inbox. 🙁

I don’t fault a woman who struggles with nursing and decides to move to formula. There might be situations where nursing a baby isn’t the best thing for the mother and child.  And I have no problem if a mother decides to get her child on a sleep schedule that works for her, but there are ways to accomplish our goals without denying our motherhood.

I am also not attacking all doctors or trying to perpetuate the “dumb husband” stereotype either — not saying that at all.  God gives us good doctors and amazing husbands to help us make the best decisions for our kids.  Did I leave anybody out, here? 🙁

What I am trying to say is that no “expert” — no matter the letters behind their name — knows better than a mother what her baby needs — so trust your instincts and do your best!    That bank teller honestly felt relieved after I said what I said because she already knew what I was saying was the truth — she just needed to hear it from somebody else.

So now that I’ve laid out all my disclaimers, I will attempt to share my formula for a successful breastfeeding experience.  You see what I did there? — formula? Oh brother!  Hope it helps!

The best way to ensure a positive nursing experience is to start off strong.  I have had home births and hospital births, so I know that you can get off to a strong start at home or in the hospital.  Here’s my advice:  Avoid using a pacifier with a baby until your milk comes in — after that, do whatever you want.

This is the thing — the sooner your milk comes in, the less likely you are to be pressured to start supplementing or taking extreme measures with your baby.  And we worry as mothers about our babies and if they are getting enough to eat — so we are more likely to think we don’t have enough to provide if we have a screaming, hungry baby on our hands!

So, as soon as I can, I start nursing my baby.  And I continue to nurse for hours after they are born.  I just keep switching them from one side to the other — they are getting colostrum and lots of great stuff in these early hours, so nurse away.  If you can let the baby nurse away whenever he wants until your milk comes in, it will make a big difference.  Trust me on this one.

Does all this extended nursing leave me feeling sore — you betcha! But it’s kind of like ripping off a band-aid — woah, bad analogy 🙁 . But sooner or later, you are going to be hurting from nursing — might as well get it over with. Then all of a sudden you aren’t hurting anymore.  And thank God for Lansinoh — don’t forget to bring that to the hospital!

That extended nursing will bring in your milk faster – probably in half the time.  So I think it’s worth it!  And to assure you new mothers out there, all my babies lost at least 10% of their weight in those first few days — that is normal.  But because my milk kicked in faster, they also regained that 10% and more within the first week.  So relax, don’t stress, nurse away, and it should all work out fine.

Come up with a way to comfortably nurse in public — one that fits your standards of modesty.  You can do this!  You can come up with ways to nurse a baby that will fit with your standards of modesty — and still allow you to go out and have fun and socialize.  This might take practice and trying a few things, but it’s worth it.

For me, I love to use scarves.  I don’t know why, but it sort of cues my babies in to the fact that “it’s time to eat” and they usually settle in and nurse away.  And I just feel more elegant wrapping a lovely scarf around myself than using a nursing bib — for me, they bring back memories of crab boils out east. 🙁  But hey, there are some really nice nursing “bibs” out there, so whatever works for you!

I just pick up some inexpensive scarves and keep them in my car, my purse — wherever I might need them.  I like to think of my scarf as the cape for the breastfeeding supermom.  And I can just wrap it around my neck when I’m not using it.  How convenient is that?

But I can’t write a post about breastfeeding without pointing out the white elephant in the room. I just have to ask, what is wrong with our culture in the US?  We have grown up in a strange culture where women walk around with their breasts barely covered — but oh the shame and horror if you catch a glimpse of a breast while a woman is nursing her baby!

Don’t people know what those things are for?  Being in Italy, really brought that home for me — we have lost sight of the beauty of motherhood and what a woman’s body is telling us.  Check out this painting that is hanging amongst the religious art in the Accademia Museum in Florence:

Sometimes the art in Italy was shocking, even to me, a breastfeeding mother.
Sometimes the art in Italy was shocking, even to me, a breastfeeding mother.  This was hanging in a church, people!

Oh yeah, that’s what those things are for!  Even our Lady had to breastfeed her baby, and this was hanging up in some church giving honor to this very beautiful moment between mother and child.

If you can’t handle a scarf or nursing bib — than do what works for you.  Maybe you’ll remind people that breasts have a really important place in nurturing our children.  You go girl — you be that crusader. 🙂   But for me, having that scarf just makes me feel more comfortable — like I’m in a cocoon or something — maybe it’s the introvert in me.

Would you have guessed that I was nursing my baby in this shot?  Yay for scarves!

Mothers got multi-tasking down! Nursing a baby while touring ancient ruins and capturing interesting moments on my camera — yeah, we got this.

Wear clothes that work!  Okay, you might have to sacrifice wearing that turtleneck dress for a little while, but there are great options out there for nursing mothers.  It took me until baby #6 to discover the stretchy cami with a wrap dress — not sure why it took so long!  I can finally wear a dress again and still nurse my baby — of course, the scarf sort of seals the deal there, because it helps cover up anything you want to cover up.  Anyway, give it a try!

Take advantage of nursing to sit down and read a book or catch up on social media, or just snuggle with your baby.  If I didn’t nurse a baby, I don’t know if I would sit down and just relax with my littles.   There’s just always something to be done, but don’t underestimate what a few minutes of just sitting down and holding your baby can do for a soul.  And all that stuff will get done eventually — or not.

It also provides opportunity for others to join in reading a good book or snuggling in as well.  We actually get a lot of homeschooling done while I’m nursing my babies too.

Take advantage of this time to snuggle and read with your kiddos ...
Take advantage of this time to snuggle with your baby and read with your kiddos.  Photo courtesy my 4 year old. 🙂

It’s not always easy to nurse a fussy or wiggly baby, but it is possible.  You’ll become an expert in no time.  And you’ll grow a lot more comfortable with doing it, and it’s always good for a laugh to see other peoples reactions to the strange creature flailing around under your scarf.  Sometimes people really have no idea what is going on under there and it can be your little secret.

Trying to nonchalantly order food while nursing a wiggly baby - not always easy, but doable.
Trying to nonchalantly order food while nursing a wiggly baby – not always easy, but doable.
Um waiter, I believe my baby is reaching for some bread, could you bring him some? Grazie!

Know when to take a break.  It can be draining — physically and emotionally — to always be the one on call for our babies.  Sometimes, you need a little break.  Don’t be afraid to leave your baby in the capable hands of your husband or mother or some other responsible person and get away for an hour or to take a little nap, if you can.

Just Remember, even the Blessed Mother needed a break every once in a while.  Really — just look at this telling piece of art in Florence.  Why don’t we have more religious art like this in our churches?  All of us mothers would feel so much better about ourselves when are having a bad Sunday and we look at this picture and know that everybody needs a break every once in a while, even the Blessed Mother. 🙂

Um, Joseph, could you take Jesus for a minute? I need a break!
Um, Joseph, could you take Jesus for a minute? I need a little break!

As an aside, I was one of those young mothers who couldn’t handle all the touching I got in a day.  It took everything I had to stop from running, screaming into the woods never to return — at least never to return for an hour or so — because I just wasn’t used to all that touching!

Some of you touchy-feely people have no idea what I’m talking about, but believe me, it was a big challenge for me in the beginning!  One unforeseen effect of nursing my babies has been my growing way more comfortable  with being touched and in hugging and loving others in return.  Maybe it’s a genetic thing, but it didn’t didn’t come naturally to me at first — but I am really growing in this area.  So, yay for nursing!

That’s it.  Hope this helps somebody out there.  Gotta go!

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2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About … Breastfeeding

    1. Alicia! I know that artwork took me back at first — but you know what — I don’t think that it was scandalous at the time. I think we’ve just grown further removed from seeing motherhood happening in the marketplace, the square, wherever — where are we all hiding? 🙂 Nice to hear from you! I hope you’re doing well my blogging friend. 🙂

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