The 5 lessons I learnt when I became a breastfeeding mom.
3 breastfed children (and 7.5breastfeeding years) later and these are the best lessons I never would've learnt without having my boobs out!
1) I don't use Time the way I used to anymore.
When I first became a breastfeeding mom I thought that managing my day according to a timely schedule would help me manage some of the uncertainty and anxiety that came with being 100% available to my newborn 24/7. I tried to figure out her feed times, time her naps, find some sort of rhythm and pattern to her feeding/sleeping/waking behaviours- I even followed the advice I was given when it came to timing how long she spent feeding off each breast. I have learnt that timing things in the way I used to was actually the opposite of helpful. It wasn't giving me the calm/ease that comes with being able to predict what's to come, plan for the day- put a number to the chaos. In fact all it did was give me something to fixate on and try to make sense of. After a few months I learnt to abandon my instinct to use timing and schedules and allocate a number to the unpredictable aspects of my day and with that I embraced a new idea- being openly adaptable. I learnt that I didn't need to worry about how often and how long my baby nursed for because I still had the boobs and the milk on me at all times so really- it didn't matter when or how often she needed it next. I was equipped. I learnt that I could breastfeed comfortably with her in any situation and location so I could venture out into the world without worrying about needing to be home in time to feed.
Once I let go of timing, planning, scheduling and being 'organized'- I became much more able to adapt, change, learn and try new things- building my own skills.
And in so doing- building my confidence as well.
2) I have to keep my mind in the right place
Before I became a mom I never cauld have imagined the huge mental weight it would place on me- the enormity of emotions and mental gymnastics that becoming a mother brings is indescribable to anyone not there yet. As a breastfeeding mother I believe much of it is enhanced, not just by simple physiology (more oxytocin, eostrogen, prolactin and cortisol) but also by the mental realization that we need to be there to keep this baby alive and produce the milk he/she needs with our bodies to keep her safe and going! I have learnt the importance of keeping my mind calm, focussed and positive as I remain my baby's sustenance and place of safety, and, at the times of most anxiety and fear ('the 2am why is he screaming ?times, the : 'she hasn't gained enough weight is my breastmilk not enough?' times- the 'everybody else is telling me to supplement' times)
When you're a breastfeeding mother you feel the weight of responsibility baring down on you and you question your body, breasts, milk and actions at least a hundred times over. I have learnt that none of this is helpful, and none of it is true. My breastmilk is not the problem- it is actually always the solution. When doubt is thrown at me I turn to what I know, the science I've read, the research I've done and the instinct I've trusted before and I tell myself to calm down, breathe deeply and remember the truth- my breastfeeding and my breastmilk are wonderful gifts. They are strong, powerful, miraculous and good.
A troubled mind breads insecurity, anxiety and fixation. A calm one can guide me through most any difficult situation and stage- and there is never a loss of those around when you have kids.
3) Difficulty and importance really do go hand in hand
Becoming a full time exclusively breastfeeding mom has been one of the hardest challenges of my life so far- physical, emotional, exhausting, full of self doubt and at times- immensely difficult. But- it has also become by far: the most important.
For what I know about breastmilk, and for the gifts breastfeeding offers my children (and myself) I understand now the value of the challenges I have faced to preserve my breastfeeding. The level of difficulty is proportional to the level of importance- because breastfeeding is and will always be an immensely important element to the foundational health and well being of our children. The struggles I have been through have without a doubt been absolutely worth it. But the struggles were real, and big. Ive never underplayed the challenges that breastfeeding brings and it's important to me that I share the truth behind how hard it can be- because knowing how hard it is shouldn't change our minds in the knowledge that it is still that important. The more you commit to persevering, the better you feel and the more you and your baby benefit longterm.
The importance always outweighs the difficulty- but they do go hand in hand.
4) We need to support one another. Breastfeeding relies on protection
I can count the amount of breast-feeding friends I have on one hand. Hardly anyone I know has managed to breastfeed their baby passed the first month or so- and its absolutely not as a first choice action. Most friends I know wanted to and assumed they would breastfeed their babies exclusively from birth, and all of them tried. Hard. Struggled. Cried and cried. and then stopped. And I understand completely- I came close to that myself. My difference was entirely at the hands of someone else. Had I not had my mother with me every moment of every day for the first 2weeks from the first second I left hospital with my first born Im not sure I would've made it much further then my friends. But I did have her- an experienced former breastfeeder who knew her stuff and offered full support, confidence and comfort at every turn. The necessity of real, practical and emotional support is undeniable and this is a fact that only strengthens as we move forward in our breastfeeding journeys. I attend monthly Laleche league meetings where I receive so much love, support and celebration from other moms and am able to return the favor and 'pay it forward' to other new breastfeeding moms. I have breastfeeding friends I check in with, family members to celebrate me and my breastfeeding successes and as a breastfeeding specialist I now have the opportunity and know how to offer real, effective help and support.
5) Fixation is the real problem
When you're exclusively breastfeeding your baby your breastmilk comes under attack from all angles and is pointed out as the problem causer for all manner of issues (Baby is gassy- must be the milk! Baby doesn't sleep well- must be the milk! Baby wakes up at night- must be the milk!) Unfortunately this old school, completely ungrounded thinking, creeps into every interaction you have with people when you discuss your infant and it can get into your head at times and cause you to become concerned yourself about the quality of your breastmilk. But- what Ive learnt over the years is that the more we focus and concentrate on something the more we become locked on that one single thing. Its a fixation- and the trouble with fixation is that it actually causes more issues then the topic you began worrying about and concentrating on to start with. It happens often with new parents and the issue of baby sleep. You can become fixated on how long your baby sleeps for, related to their age and what others tell you about norms for baby sleep, to a point that you're constantly worrying and focussing on 'sleep.' The ironic part is though- fixation is a mental event that causes physiological responses (similar to stress)- responses like: higher cortisol levels, higher adrenaline spikes and anxiety. Which all lead to: bad sleep.
So while we're spending our time focussing on how our baby sleeps or how little sleep we get as a result of baby waking up; our fixation on sleep is the thing that's preventing us from getting good quality sleep between baby wake ups. The moment I realized I was doing this myself and decided to rather spend no time at all thinking/timing/predicting and planning my baby's sleep- the better I felt and the better quality my sleep became. Historically- babies wake at night to feed or get comfort naturally well into the 2nd year of life
(most until they are 3) so trying to make an issue out of that fact makes no real sense. I sleep great. Ive co-slept and snuggled up with all my babies and toddlers and absolutley Loved it. To this day I still feel sorry for anyone who hasn't tried it themselves- its like night time chocolate cake heaven :)