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In honor of August Breastfeeding Month

Everyone says that breastfeeding is natural. It’s just assumed that you will know how to do it, that your baby will know how to do it. Most people without kids assume it’s just something your body does, and that you really don’t need to know much at all about it.

When you get pregnant, you start to hear the stories. Women who say they tried and failed. Who suffered. Who have deep guilt and regret. Stories of pain, both physical and emotional. The idea of breastfeeding starts to stress you out.

For me, I decided very early in my first pregnancy that I was not going to stress about anything. I would keep an open mind and be very gentle with myself. That I would try to do things the way I wanted to, but that I wasn’t the only person involved in the decision anymore and had to be alright with whatever ended up happening. I used this approach when it came to natural birth (I was going to try without painkillers, but due to several old fractures to my tailbone I decided on the epidural after awhile anyway — no regrets) and to breastfeeding as well. I would try my hardest, but I would be gentle with myself if it just didn’t work out for us.

When my son was born, he was tiny and 4 weeks premature. He was a sleepy baby, and had to be woken up to nurse (and again to finish nursing). When he was about a week old, he suddenly stopped nursing and just screamed every time I put him to my breast. He was miserable, I was hysterical. My tiny week-old newborn wouldn’t eat. I was sobbing, begging him to latch on, to stop wailing enough to get some milk.

I had very little breastfeeding support. My own mother passed away when I was 17, and my mother-in-law and I weren’t close enough then to really talk about it. (She was also keen to press formula, but that’s another story.) Frantic Googling brought me answers — I had oversupply and overactive letdown. My baby’s frothy, green poop was a sign of foremilk/hindmilk imbalance. He wasn’t getting any of the fatty, rich hindmilk and instead was getting only the sugary, watery foremilk. This combined with the gas involved with his gulping down the forceful letdown made him very hesitant to nurse. I learned that block nursing — that is nursing only on one side at a time for 3-4 hours — was our solution.

We worked out our problems, and I proudly nursed him for 13 months until I became pregnant again and my supply dried up. When my second baby was born, I was confident. From his first latch, I started block nursing. My milk came in the day he was born, which was a surprise, but he was an avid nurser and clearly that was his intention. The nurses in the hospital didn’t like that I was block nursing, but I knew what I was doing and he thrived. He nursed for 20 months, until our breastfeeding relationship had to come to a bittersweet end due to changes in our family schedule.

I know that personally, had I put too much pressure on myself to breastfeed my kids I would have failed. Giving myself the gentleness of mind really made the difference to me and let me be far more relaxed and calm about the whole process.

I’ve heard of lots of women having far more difficult problems and fighting through them in order to breastfeed their kids, and I’ve also heard of women who just….stop. I personally don’t judge either. It’s important to remember that each family is different and sometimes things just don’t work out. If you’re doing right by your family, then you’re doing right. For me it was important to try, but I allowed myself to consider failure. I was able to succeed in breastfeeding, but I harbor no judgement for those who can’t.

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