by Deborah Lynn
Breastfeeding is widely accepted as the best way to get your infant the nutrition he or she needs. It is a beautiful natural process which women and babies have been doing for centuries. New moms often have the impression that they and their babies will miraculously begin breastfeeding perfectly shortly after birth and continue for as long as they can. While this is true in some cases, many times breastfeeding is challenging and painful requiring lots of practice to "get it right". Below is what I learned firsthand about the good, the bad and the ugly of breastfeeding:
The Good. The benefits of breastfeeding have been well documented throughout the literature. Even the formula companies agree that breast milk is best for your infant.
• The ingredients in breast milk, including critical antibodies, contain just what your baby needs to grow and thrive.
• The closeness that develops between mother and baby during nursing is something that is amazing to experience.
• Breastfeeding is convenient in terms of having a ready supply of milk for your baby at any time at just the right temperature.
The Bad. Breastfeeding isn't all sunshine and roses. Most of us, myself included, think/thought that breastfeeding is just a natural function that our baby will pick up immediately with complete success. The reason that there are so many lactation specialists is because breastfeeding is often not a natural instinct for either the baby or mother. The truth is that in the early stages, it can be difficult and challenging. My lactation specialist told me that most mothers who drop out of breastfeeding and go to formula do so during the first two weeks because of the challenges of the process. She encouraged me to make it through the first two weeks before giving up. Some of the challenges include:
• Milk not coming in sufficiently
• Baby not latching
• Baby not latching correctly
• Sore nipples
• Sore breasts
• Mandatory breast pumping if you are going back to work or if you want someone else to feed the baby (critical if you need a break). This isn't necessarily "bad" however, it can be an inconvenience.
The Ugly. Before I had my baby at age 45, I would never have thought that there was an "ugly" attached to breast feeding. In my case, there was. I will preface my comments by telling you that I currently breastfeed, find it a wonderful experience, and plan to continue as long as I can - over one year if possible. In the early weeks, I wasn't sure it was such a great idea.
It all started out beautifully with AJ latching on immediately after birth and nursing regularly. The problem was that she wasn't latching on correctly which was causing my nipples to become extremely sore. I was also getting conflicting information from the lactation specialists as to what to do. One told me that I had an inverted nipple and gave me a nipple shield to use along with sugar water to encourage nursing. This was incorrect. My nipple was fine and the shield didn't serve any purpose. Neither did the sugar water.
Fortunately, AJ's pediatrician had a lactation specialist MD in his practice who was a mother with firsthand experience as well as medical knowledge. She provided a wonderful training session where she showed AJ and me how to latch on and position correctly for maximum success. At this point, however, nursing was extremely painful and my nipples were both cracked and bleeding. AJ and I had to endure about a week of painful nursing (for me) while my nipples healed. I used "triple nipple" cream which my doctor prescribed and the pharmacist mixed up specially in his pharmacy. What a god send!!
The moral of the story: Get a qualified lactation specialist from day one. Check with your doctor, other new mothers who have had good experiences with their specialist, or your local hospital. Get started right away and enjoy the wonderful benefits of breastfeeding for both you and your baby.