I was five when my younger sister was born and in hopes of quietly nursing, my mom would set me up on the couch next to her with my baby doll and I would pretend breastfeed while she fed my sister. It was sweet and cozy and on some foundational level, planted in my mind the hope of breastfeeding my own children someday.
So, when I found myself expecting my first baby I added “breastfeeding” to my line-up of topics to research. Alongside pregnancy, midwifery care, birth, and parenting I tried to become an expert on something I had never personally experienced. Because, nursing baby dolls does not actually prepare you for the “womanly art of breastfeeding.” Who knew?!?
It was a warm fall day when all my reading led to breastfeeding my daughter for the first time. After an excruciatingly long labor and very swollen lady bits, I held that sweet girl in my arms and vowed that I would do it all over again just to call her mine. She latched well right away and, thanks to my study, I knew we were off to a good start.
But then my milk took a full three days to come in.
I was at a loss. Nothing I read had prepared me to hold my crying baby while encouraging a latch to encourage colostrum … only to find us both in a puddle of tears. In those pre-baby days, when I turned page after page and scrolled endless articles online I never once thought my breastfeeding relationship would involve more than two people. Quickly though, I discovered it takes at least three, sometimes four, often five individuals for a mama to really make it work. Here’s who I included on my breastfeeding team:
My Breastfeeding Mentor aka My Mom
My mom—turned breastfeeding mentor—patiently coached me through those early days. She walked with my daughter so I could sleep and recover from birth. Recovery would lead to milk, she said. She told me it only took drops of colostrum to satiate my daughter’s hunger. She helped me believe that I could do this. I could breastfeed. It was just going to take some practice.
When my milk came in like a tidal wave, she coached me through managing my supply. She sympathized with my piles of dripping nursing pads and helped me change my sheets when I leaked at night.
My mom also empowered my husband to be a strong support too. She told him, “You can’t do this for her, but there is so much you can do.” So, he thanked me for the hours I spent feeding our daughter, he acknowledged the pain and worry, he kept my water bottle filled, and prepared many a meal because there is nothing like a nursing mama’s appetite! He could sense when I needed a new burp cloth or nursing pad and would sweetly croon to our girl while I closed up one side and repositioned pillows for more breastfeeding. In his words, he felt helpless, but I know, without him, I would have felt lost.
Your partner might not be essential to feeding your baby—as in, you can physically breastfeed without them, but their support means everything. Their love can relieve stress and make each and every nursing session easier. So, don’t be shy in saying, “Here is how you can help, this is what I need from you to breastfeed successfully.” A top-notch partner will rise to the occasion and make all the difference.
My Lactation Consultant
Last but not least, when embarking on any new venture, you need an expert someone with education and training and many case studies under their belt. In the world of breastfeeding, that’s a lactation consultant. Just as you will probably interview pediatricians and care providers, schedule a meet and greet with a lactation consultant or two. Know who you are going to call when you have questions and log that number in your phone.
Three times during my daughter’s first year I also rallied my dear lactation consultant. She was my phone-a-friend, my expert, the one who took jumbled up, sleep-deprived mama sentences and made sense of them.
When I thought I was done, she gave me new ideas; when I ran into a rare condition, she walked me through a solution that worked. I’ve heard some stories of some not-so-amazing lactation consultants, but mark my words, there are some that are pure gold.
Truly Mama Takeaway
No doubt, breastfeeding was a team effort for me. While nursing was primarily a bonding and feeding experience between me and my daughter, the truth is, without my mom, my husband, and my lactation consultant, I would have been lost. I would have given up. I would have never fully experienced this special part of motherhood. And I am so grateful for their investment in me. In us.
Mamas need a cheerleader who has been there and done that when it comes to breastfeeding. Maybe it’s a mom. Or a sister. Or a best friend. Someone who is OK with late night texts, doesn’t shudder at an exposed breast, and knows a trick or two. Get that girl on your team. You will lean on her often and she will mentor you through it all.
My mom and my husband were essential to my breastfeeding success. They cheered me on and kept me afloat emotionally and physically. Solo, I would have been distraught and overwhelmed. I may have been the only one actually feeding my daughter, but they were the rock star players making my success possible.
Together, you, your little one, and your breastfeeding teammates can make the very most of your breastfeeding journey. Whether it is a handful of days or years, do not go at it alone. You and your baby will both benefit from welcoming in a small circle of support. Rally your team, because you can do this together.