In the words of Master Yoda: “Do… or do not. There is no try.” (“Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”)
Permit me to describe what I think would be an ideal breastfeeding relationship.
Birth: Baby is born. Boob is exposed. Baby latches on to boob perfectly. Baby sucks out colostrum and never fusses. Baby poops and pees a lot.
One week later: Baby continues to suck out lots’o milk. Baby never fusses or shows signs of gassiness. Mommy never wonders if Baby is getting enough. Baby poops and pees a lot.
One month later: See “One week later”.
And so on.
When we take it upon ourselves to be the sole source of nutrition for our brand new, seemingly helpless little angels, we also unknowingly accept unfathomable amounts of anxiety about whether or not we are doing things correctly, baby is eating enough, we are producing enough, and what exactly ‘normal’ means.
Thankfully, resources such as Kellymom.com and local breastfeeding peer support groups have been made available to us. Got a question? Look it up. Need some discussion or reassurance? Find someone to talk to. These resources have been designed to assist and encourage mothers along their unique breastfeeding journeys.
In my unprofessional opinion, based on the self-appointed degree I earned from Googling and browsing mothering forums, I have concluded that one of the most critical factors in a successful breastfeeding relationship is confidence. I mean the kind of confidence that plans and hopes for the best, and understands that Plan B doesn’t need to exist until it needs to exist. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances do change the name of the game, but I think this is one situation where it is better to not plan or prepare for the worst. Understand that it can happen, but don’t entertain the notion. There is a kind of confidence that sustains itself by clinging to the understanding that babies know when they need to eat and when they need comfort. The kind of confidence that says, “I will follow my baby’s lead. I will not try, only do.”
The kind of confidence that recognizes that babies are not as helpless as we think because they know how to regulate their own feeding patterns when we give them the opportunity…
“You rock, Ma. Thanks for the grub!”
I wish I had studied more about growth spurts and nursing patterns before the birth of my first. I’d heard buzzwords like “witching hour”, “gas”, and “cluster feeding” before she was born, but the practical application of those terms had to be learned the hard way. Those first few weeks were brutal, as the evenings seemed to always bring out the worst in her. She was always hungry, always wanting to nurse, always wanting to fight me and NOT nurse, and always just being a general butthead about everything. I felt helpless, and my husband and I didn’t know what to do besides give her some good old fashioned gripe water and ride it out. The only things I knew for certain during that time were that she would eat when she was ready, and under no circumstances was she going to receive formula. I knew my supply was sufficient (at least my rock-hard boobs seemed to indicate such to me), and she was receiving milk during the other times of the day. She had plenty of good diapers, and was gaining weight. As far as we could tell, she didn’t have reflux. I had read somewhere that evening fussiness is a result of a day’s worth of external stimulation to the baby and that babies’ nervous systems sometimes don’t know how to cope with all the extra stimulus, so they become fussy. Assuming that was true, it became my mission to treat those extra fussy times as times when she needed comfort more than food. I changed my focused to helping her relax instead of continuing to torturing myself by thinking that she was starving to death. I offered the breast as frequently as possible, knowing that she would eventually be calm enough to latch on. I bathed her, sang to her, swaddled her, and talked to her. These weren’t instant cures, but she would always return to normal after some time, and become my sweet baby again.
I would love to encourage every mother wanting to exclusively breastfeed to not beat themselves up when they think they are failing, because more than likely, things are normal…so normal. Babies go through phases and stages, and they outgrow all of them. I would love to encourage these moms to not even keep to their formula samples as their emergency back-up. I would love to encourage them to trust their bodies, trust their milk, and trust their babies. I would love to hug them and let them know it is difficult, but it WILL get better. I would love to help them see that one day they will look back at what they overcame and be overwhelmed with pride at what has been accomplished. I would love to offer them whatever support or information they need to trust that they can do it. They can achieve their goals, and they will learn so much along the way.