Before the birth of my first child, I felt a lot of pressure to breastfeed. Every woman in my family had done it with ease and more than a few were vocal about how it was just expected of me. In fact, when I announced I was expecting, I was met several times with “you will be nursing right?” Although I had always dreamed of having a nursing relationship with all of my kids, once she was born, like so many women, I felt the immense pressure to be good at it.
I remember laying in the hospital room on that first night, repeatedly pressing the call button for a nurse to appear. I could sense their frustration at me but I needed to know: Was she latched okay? Was she getting enough? What happens if she falls asleep while eating? Do I wake her up to feed her? How do I know when to switch sides?
The World Health Organization recommends that women breastfeed exclusively for six months and beyond two years (WHO, 2017), so if this is the case, where was the nurse and why wasn’t someone assigned to be at my side to teach me to do the thing that society deems as so important? Where was all my support? Surely I thought, this doesn’t just come naturally to everyone. Then they send you home…
As my milk came in and throughout the following few weeks, I was met with cluster feeding, insane engorgement, a baby who on some days, just didn’t feel like eating all that much and chapped nipples to the point of toe curling pain upon her latch (if this ever occurs, get a prescription for Doctor Newman’s APNO ointment; you will be so thankful you did). I remember having to set myself up for success upon each feed that included: getting in a comfortable position complete with my nursing pillow, burp cloth and glass of water to hydrate the mouth that would instantly feel like I had spent the day eating sand. I marvelled at the women that could nurse in public with ease, those who could carry on conversations with people while their little ones effortlessly latched on. When was that going to be me?
Before I knew it, two months had passed! The whirlwind that is cluster feeding started to subside, my breasts had established a healthy milk supply, baby had begun developing a routine and without even realizing it had happened, my nipples no longer hurt at all. Through a chance and very lucky encounter with a Lactation Consultant, I had discovered the side-lying feeding position and through that, coupled with bed-sharing, baby and I blissfully began sleeping through the night. She would get hungry and latch on without my even realizing. I also began being able to comfortably nurse in public and was even surprised at how often I was met with encouragement from total strangers; whether it be a smile and nod or someone outright telling me I was doing a great job.
It has now been 17 glorious months since I began my breastfeeding journey and I’m proud to say that we are still going strong! Our nursing relationship is something that I value tremendously and although we did have a rocky start, I would take years of those cracked nipples if it meant I got to feel the joy just once, of staring into her eyes as she looks up at me and smiles with a boobie in her mouth. We’ve nursed through sicknesses, bumps, falls and bruises, toddler tantrums, sleepless nights and moments of comfort, joy and bliss.
In short, I wholeheartedly believe there is a lack of breastfeeding support to new moms after they leave the hospital. Health care providers need to increase their breastfeeding support and every woman should have access to an IBCLC Lactation Consultant. These specialists are highly trained individuals that should be readily available and covered by health insurance for all new moms and babies. They have a wealth of knowledge about breastfeeding that few others in the healthcare system have.
If you are or know of a mom who could use some extra breastfeeding support, you can:
- Find a local lactation consultant on the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) website
- Check out Laleche League to see if there is a local support group or search for answers on their website
- Reach out to the National Capital Doulas
- Read articles written by (the amazing) Jack Newman on the International Breastfeeding Centre website
- Read articles on Kellymom
- Look up some breastfeeding support groups on Facebook
While this is my journey, I want to express that I understand every woman’s story is different and unique. I fully support any decision a mother makes regarding feeding her baby.