Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Answers for Elizabeth: Breastfeeding Advice

Elizabeth asked:
Maybe if you had to give one piece of advice (or two, or three, or heck a whole list) about the following, what would it be: pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, diapering, introducing solids, babyproofing, crawling, walking... Obviously I'm a bit single-minded in my focus, but lists about anything are usually good!

You know how much I love talking about all things baby, Elizabeth, so I'm afraid you're setting yourself up for a long-winded diatribe from one talk-happy mama.  But I'll try to control myself.  So.  What one thing would I love to give advice about, regarding babies?  I could go into great detail and passionate pleas for natural childbirth, but I'd rather not.  Not today, anyway.

But how about breastfeeding?  Really, if there were only ONE thing I could help any new mother with, it would be breastfeeding, and if there were one single piece of advice within that topic, it would be this:


Before I had children, I always assumed I would breastfeed.  In fact, I never really knew much about formula.  Then, during my first pregnancy, I started studying more about breastfeeding and it became something I was determined to do.  The benefits seemed to overpower any of the countless stories of difficulties I'd heard, and I was absolutely ready to tackle the challenge.

Then, the baby came.  My determination waned.  Breastfeeding was hard.  It wasn't as beautiful and peaceful as I always assumed it would be -- not at first, anyway.  And I can see that if I hadn't been supported by a handful of people who were assured of our eventual success, I might not have been able to get past those first couple of months.  Those people -- my mom, my husband, my lactation consultant, my friends -- helped me feel confident, even in my lack of confidence.

So the second part of my advice on breastfeeding, beyond trusting that it will work, and you will be able to do it, is to seek help.  I would gladly have adopted my lactation consultant into my home, fed her home-baked desserts daily, and paid her in gold bars for the assistance she gave.  I had her personal cell phone number, for pity's sake.  And she was more than willing to help -- it was her mission in life, she said, to help new mothers be successful with breastfeeding.  Find someone you can go to with any small question.  Find a person who's willing to look at your latch if you're having trouble.  Don't be shy! 

Because it is SO worth it to keep going, even when you feel like you can't go another day.  You can.  One day, one hour at a time, until it's the simplest thing in the world.  It's the most spectacular feeling I've ever experienced, and I want you to experience it, too.

You can do it. 

And I'm sure you already know these, but here are some of the best advantages to breastfeeding:

:: It's FREE!!  Breastfeeding can save somewhere around $800 per year over formula-feeding. (Source)
:: It's clean -- no bottles to wash, sanitize, or prepare.
:: It's fast -- Again, no bottles to prepare.  Especially helpful during midnight and away-from-home feedings.
:: Breastfeeding lessens your (and your baby girl's) risk of developing breast cancer.
:: Breastfed babies are generally healthier. (Source)  Breast milk contains antibodies from the mother's immune system which are passed onto the infant.
:: The probability of dying from SIDS is less in breastfed infants. (Source)
:: Faster weight-loss after the birth.

Really, I could go on and on.  This is a tiny sample; a tip off the iceberg. 

In conclusion: You can do it.  Find people to support you, because they are all around you, no matter how unsupportive America as a whole seems to be. 

Plus, I'd fly to Pennsylvania myself, Elizabeth, if I could help you.  The good news is, you probably won't need me to -- you have time to get a supportive network in place for when that sweet little bundle is introduced to you for the first time.

And I wish you all the best!


  1. Oh Sarah, you are too sweet! Thank you for your encouragement and enthusiasm! And please feel free to fly out here and help me any time :)

  2. I completely, COMPLETLEY agree! The benefits far outweigh the challenges.

  3. Just a random aside: IS America as a whole unsupportive of breastfeeding? Was that your experience? Not to press question after question, but I found that comment really intriguing...

  4. Great post, and if you decide to fly out I would love to have you check my latch.

    Emily: Yes unfortunately ~ lots of lip service but actual support can be hard to find.b

  5. I completely agree. I'll add that travel is easier too. Thanks to my milk, we had no problem when we were delayed nearly eight hours with a nine month old.

    I spent a lot of time worried about other people's reactions when I fpbreastfed in public. My girls didn't let me cover their heads, so I practiced being discrete, it was unnerving. In my time breastfeeding, I've found myself in some odd places, but no one has ever harassed me in any way. (Planes, trains, restaurants, home depot, fancy malls, weddings, churches, schools, parks.... My favorite will always be an emergency stop at Dairy Queen.)

  6. I completely second everything you said. I never did have support, but I learned anyway. It was hard!! But oh so worth it. I breastfed all nine of my babies and wouldn't trade the time that I was able to share with them for anything. I am especially grateful that it made me TAKE the time with them. Sometimes, we are just too busy in our lives. Nursing made sure that I never could set the baby down and prop a bottle in his mouth. I always had to interact with him. I think that it gave me a much closer bond with my babies than I might have had. I can't think of anything negative about it. It is something every woman has to decide for herself, but as you so aptly described, there are some pretty positive benefits for the slight inconvenience of it.

  7. Emily - I guess 'as a whole' is a little harsh. But yes, I do think that much of America comes across as -- maybe not anti-breastfeeding, but -- seriously pro-formula. Which doesn't sound like that big of a deal, but it really has an impact on the support aspect of breastfeeding. We're bombarded with formula advertisements and pictures of babies with bottles...and it becomes engrained in our minds that breastfeeding isn't actually necessary. It becomes easier to back away from the difficulty of breastfeeding because it's presented as so simple and natural to just switch to formula.

    I'm not saying formula is evil :) I just wish new mothers had more access to as much support with breastfeeding as they do with formula. Because that support is overwhelmingly available.

    Also, just from a worker's standpoint, our culture doesn't seem to allow time for new mothers to breastfeed successfully. 6 weeks of maternity leave pretty much negates any of the government's claims to be pro-breastfeeding. But I can't really speak to that because I had the choice of whether or not to work. It was easy for me to devote the time it took to make breastfeeding a priority.

    But no -- I haven't ever come up against any outright animosity. I've gotten some disgusted looks, though :) Oh well.

    This whole discussion makes me really curious -- what was your experience in Italy with Penelope? Katherine was born in the US, right?; Did you notice any differences?

    It seems like I'm making a big deal out of this, but really I don't think about this side of breastfeeding very often. I've just loved my experiences with breastfeeding, and wanted to share that :)

    Truthfully, though? If some major study came out touting the superiority of formula to breastmilk in some irrefutable way, I'd probably STILL be a breastfeeding advocate...even it it weren't the healthiest option. Because I've loved it so much. So my opinion is very biased!

  8. You don't have to convince me! I'm totally on board for breastfeeding! I've just always considered the USA to be *extremely* pro-breastfeeding, so when you said they weren't I was startled. What kind of "support" do you mean, exactly? What do you think the USA is lacking? (I hope I don't sound confrontational here. I'm just really curious.)

    Katherine was born in Maine and even though I felt personally uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public I never actually encountered anyone who wasn't *really* pro-nursing. When we went out we always found special rooms for nursing mothers (usually outfitted with rocking chairs and questionable, communal nursing pillows) in shops, etc, which really helped my comfort level. Also, no one looked at me twice when I worked up the nerve to breastfeed her at the park...or on boats or airplanes, etc.

    Once, though, I pumped and gave her a bottle of breast milk in a bookstore and I felt SO embarrassed. People kept looking at me like I was a horrible mother--and I felt like I had to make loud statements to Chris about the advent of pumping.

    (I wonder if some of that pro-breastfeeding culture was regional? I also wonder if bottle-feeding mamas feel similarly unsupported?)

    When Penelope was a baby I felt like I was on a breastfeeding tour of Europe. The support levels varied dramatically by country. In some places, strangers would stop me on the street to verify (through a series of awkward gestures) that I was a nursing mother, at which point they would beam and hug me. In other places though, people stared and pointed and took my picture if they saw me nursing...even though I always stayed well-covered.

    Once Penelope and I had to sit outside on a public bench in the snow because we were too far to make it back to our hotel and no one would let me nurse inside. THAT seemed unsupportive.

    Anyway, sorry to ramble. I just find this conversation fascinating! A lot of US women seemed to feel a lack of support. I think you should investigate this further!

  9. I just re-read my last comment and wanted to clear something up: I didn't pump at the bookstore. I pumped at home and gave her the bottle at the bookstore. Because yeah, I think pumping in public might actually be weird. :)

    Now I promise to stop monopolizing the conversation!

  10. Em - I don't know...maybe my perception of America's support of breastfeeding is simply skewed by bad media. You know, all the stories about mothers who were asked to leave stores or restaurants because of the 'indecency' of breastfeeding. But as we all seem to tout more negatives around us than positives, maybe America IS generally supportive, but the bad press makes such a fuss that we assume otherwise?

    And I would have felt the same way about giving my baby a bottle -- I'd want everyone to know it was my milk in there! -- so that speaks to something, too: maybe our culture is more anti-formula than I think it is. Or else why would I begin to feel the need to defend a bottle? (It turns out, neither of my girls ever successfully 'got' bottles, so I didn't worry about it.) Maybe formula-feeding moms are up against more negativaty than breastfeeding moms?

    I do think, though, that my part of the country is a little socially behind other places -- like Maine, for example -- in breastfeeding support. I've seen hundreds of babies with bottles of formula (newborns, at that), and far fewer breastfeeding mothers. Now, I know that's probably easily explained by the portability of bottles, and that breastfeeding mothers usually find an out-of-the-way corner in which to nurse, so I WOULDN'T see them.

    I guess my point is that I WANT them to be more noticeable. Not boobs-in-you-face noticeable, but a bit more prominent in a way that says 'breastfeeding is natural and acceptable -- you can do it, too.' I'm more concerned about the message being sent by my seeing more bottles instead of breasts. To me, subconsciously, that says 'formula is the most natural thing.'

    So much for you monopolizing the convo -- now I'm rambling :)

  11. Well done! Breastfeeding is not easy .....but it does get easier and is definitely worth it! I feel like the American culture shuns breastfeeding in public-you can do it, as long as it's in the privacy of your own home. That being said, I do know of a few places in public that actually have specific rooms for this purpose and I once fed Aubrey in CiCi's Pizza (I'm a little more blasé this time around) and got a pat on the back for breast feeding so maybe my beliefs are skewed.


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?