If you ever felt like “the most natural thing in the world” was especially frustrating or difficult, you are in good company. The way we evolved to learn how to breastfeed has been lost in our culture for generations, and that is why breastfeeding can sometimes feel like a journey in the dark. We need a guiding light.
I can credit my sister-in-law for how I approached breastfeeding. Years before I became a mother, she did. She unabashedly nursed in front of me - in front of everyone! I would find my jaw agape as she popped her breasts out in front of her dad, brothers and in-laws to feed her children (and nobody batted an eye!). Initially, this made me uncomfortable. It was the first time I had ever been around a nursing mother. Eventually it lost its shock value and I observed how she held her babies, how she latched them on before they got too hungry to be consoled, how she adjusted their lips when they were curled in and couldn’t suck. Without realizing I was learning to breastfeed, I was learning to breastfeed. I had no idea what a goldmine of information I was absorbing when she would talk about things like engorgement, milk let-down, foremilk and hindmilk. Simply by being a mother comfortably and openly, she was educating me.
This passing-along of information by doing was the norm for thousands of years. Before we were blessed with the advent of infant formula, families who could not afford a wet nurse had limited affordable feeding options. This meant that all new moms nursed their babies. Little girls would grow up watching their young mothers, aunties, and older sisters nurse babies. If you had a large community of sisters and cousins, you probably all reached your childbearing years within a few years of each other. You learned from one another’s mis-steps, which made it easier for everyone going forward. You learned to nurse a baby the same way you learned to walk, talk, and use a spoon: by having always been around it, and then having everyone around you guide and instruct when it was your time to hit that milestone.
Today, our culture is much more private. Most of us have ceased to learn about our nursing bodies from family. If you are expecting a child, the act of breastfeeding education falls mostly on your shoulders. There are some wonderful resources available for you, and I encourage you to check them out:
-La Leche League is a fantastic organization.
-Your doctor or midwife may be able to recommend a local breastfeeding class you can take, which I highly recommend if it is available.
-A book that I found encouraging and helpful was Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, which I read in my last trimester.
-Join a parenting group, and give yourself permission to connect with other mothers about your challenges and concerns.
-Lactation consultants are invaluable if you have access to one. A good LC will help you troubleshoot your challenges and help you form a game plan or supplementation schedule according to you and your baby’s needs.
If you are concerned or frustrated, don’t struggle in the dark; reach out for a guiding light.