When I was pregnant, I spent a lot of time thinking about what my life would be like once the baby was born. It was so hard to imagine what it would feel like to be a mom. I could understand the concept, but it was nearly impossible to fathom a person who wasn’t born yet. Even so, I fantasized about the time we’d spend together. I’d sit for hours picturing myself pushing a stroller or reading a book or singing a lullaby. But without question, I spent the most time dreaming about the bonding time of breastfeeding.
I had seen so many women nurse, both in person and on television, and I was always drawn to the scene. It looked so natural and so special - an intimacy that I could not wait to enjoy myself. When Matthew finally arrived, as exhausted as I was, I was eager to begin the breastfeeding experience. The nurse handed me my son (he was approximately 1 hour old) and I put him up to my breast and....nothing. He wouldn’t eat. In that first session I tried many different things and nothing seemed to make him want to latch on.
Over the course of the 36 hours that we were in the hospital, not much changed. Feeding time would come and Matty would cry and cry and maybe he’d get a drop or two out of me, but not much else. I was given breast shields and sugar water and all kinds of things to help the process along. The nurses were encouraging me to supplement with formula, lest my poor infant starve. I was frustrated and miserable and I felt like a complete failure as a mother. The most natural, instinctive part of parenthood and I couldn’t do it.
If only I had known then what I know now. If only I had known that it is a rare baby who latches on immediately. If only I had known that breastfeeding is hard – really, really hard. If only I had known to give myself a solid 6 weeks before expecting that my baby and I would really get the hang of it. But I didn’t know. And so I cried in my hospital bed thinking I would have to give up on the one thing I had been looking forward to the most. But, then a very wise and helpful nurse explained something to me. She explained to me that, even though eating is instinctual, babies still need to learn how to do it. She assured me that it was completely normal for it to take some time and that if it was important to me, I shouldn’t give up.
My advice to new mommies is this: If it’s important to you, don’t give up. Find a lactation consultant. Go to a breastfeeding class with other new moms. There are certainly circumstances when nursing isn’t possible, but there are also times when new mothers give up because it just feels too hard. Rest assured, it’s not you. It is hard. And often it’s painful, too. But what I learned is that if you can acknowledge that it’s difficult and surround yourself with the right supports to help you through it, it can be every bit as rewarding as it looks.
Submitted by Tamar Barbash, Philadelphia Mom