For something that's supposed to be "natural," breastfeeding can be really hard - especially in the very beginning.
You're exhausted and constantly second-guessing yourself.
Even with my 3rd baby - after having successfully breastfed my first two kids well beyond a year - I still had moments when I wondered if I was doing everything right and if baby was getting enough in those early days.
Everyone has their own personal goals for breastfeeding. Those goals might even change as you get started on your journey and that's okay too.
There's advice all over the internet on the best ways to have success with breastfeeding, but honestly, there are a lot of things that work for some babies that don't work for others. Sometimes you just have to figure it out through trial and error, but there are a few things I've learned along the way with breastfeeding 3 different babies.
1-Read up on what's normal
Y'all - newborn babies are just a whole species all their own. They don't follow the rules of normal human behavior.
For example, when an adult eats, it's usually because they're hungry. I mean - I know there are some people who have emotional eating issues that cause them to eat when they aren't truly hungry, but for the most part hungry = eating. (By the way... it's me. I'm some people...)
But newborns aren't like that. They nurse when they're hungry, but they also nurse when they're tired or scared or in pain or when their body is preparing for a growth spurt or any other number of reasons. It sometimes feels like they are eating ALL. THE. TIME. in the early days and it can make you wonder if there's something wrong.
I recommend educating yourself on what is NORMAL newborn breastfeeding behavior, so when you randomly have a day when your nursling will not get off your boob, you'll recognize cluster feeding and reassure yourself that your babe is healthy and growing.
I personally recommend The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding, and kellymom.com.
2-Find your village
They say it takes a village, right? Breastfeeding is no different.
However, you need to find the right village. I have lots of mom friends who make a lot of different parenting choices from me and I love them all! Every mom has to do what's best for herself and her family, but that includes me too.
I have lots of friends who exclusively use disposable diapers, but I don't ask them questions about my cloth diaper wash cycle.
In the same way, I have some amazing mom friends who formula feed, but I don't ask them breastfeeding questions.
You need to find moms who have met the goals you are trying to meet and who understand the different struggles and concerns you might have.
With my first, I knew I wanted to breastfeed for at least 6 months. I didn't really know anyone who had done that successfully. I had a few family members who had breastfeed for a few weeks or the first few months, but never quite that long.
I initially found my village online but eventually became friends with many of them in real life. The right village can answer your questions, encourage you when you think you're doing everything wrong, recommend the best lactation consultants, and help you find breastfeeding-friendly pediatricians.
We are very lucky here in the Charleston area to have an awesome La Leche League group. There are in person meetings throughout the Lowcountry and an active Facebook group to help you find your village.
3-Don't quit in the first 6 weeks
This might be the hardest piece of advice to follow. I don't even remember who told me this anymore, but I remember someone telling me to make small goals and just get through the first 6 weeks.
When you are nursing around the clock and your nipples are sore and you feel like you'll never sleep again, the thought of nursing for a full year can be downright terrifying.
But if you just tell yourself to get through this one day - one week - 6 weeks, it's not so overwhelming.
I'm not sure what it is about that 6 week mark, but something shifts around that time. If you can hang in there, you'll likely find that you're finally getting the hang of this breastfeeding thing and the thought of continuing won't be so daunting.
After that, your next goal can be to make it to 12 weeks. Then maybe 6 months. Then a year or whatever works best for you.
So breastfeeding mamas, what was the best advice you received?
I love photos. I mean I know that sounds obvious because I'm a photographer, but I really do! I've hired photographers for many occasions - both big and small - in the past because it's a service that I value.
We've been in our new house for 6 months now, and I'm still struggling to decide what to hang on my living room walls. I have this one big blank wall that would be perfect for a gallery wall. The problem is I'm going through years of photos trying to decide which ones to display.
As I was sifting through photos, I came across a few from a breastfeeding session I had done when Bug was a little chubby baby. They are photos I cherish.
I had to wean Bug almost as soon as she turned 2 years old. She was only nursing once at night before bed by that point, but it was still bittersweet. My husband and I were ready for another baby, but in order to be treated by the fertility specialist and begin medications necessary for me to conceive, I had to stop breastfeeding. I ended that sweet part of my relationship with my precious girl so that we could add another little love to our family.
As I sat fondly looking through these photos, I realized I don't have any nursing photos with Bubba! I have one photo in the hospital from his first latch, but that's it. I really wanted to take a moment to document this time with him too.
He turned two in January, and he really only nurses maybe 3 times a day now. People who say that moms who nurse toddlers are only doing it for themselves have clearly never nursed a toddler. My son likes to point out and name my facial features while he nurses:
Let me tell you... little toddler fingers getting shoved in my eyes and nose are not exactly my idea of a good time.
There are days when I'm so over nursing him, and I just want to be done. There are days that he only wants me, but I'm so touched out, I could scream.
However... I love being the calm in his crazy. I honestly don't know how much longer we'll go on nursing. There's a chance he's my last baby, so I'm not going to rush him. I will sit and snuggle and nurse... and I will count it all joy.
See more of my photos from the Life in 52 photography challenge here.