I would still consider myself a breastfeeding novice. My daughter was born 8 months ago and we have been on an incredible journey as she has grown from a newborn into a little girl who is exploring the world on her hands and knees - largely thanks to breastmilk.
When I was pregnant, breastfeeding felt incredibly far away, I had a hard time imagining that my body (and even moreso, my breasts) would be able to produce those incredibly important nutrients that would be so essential for my baby to grow. From the very first moment she was laid on my belly, she smacked her lips as she reached for my breast and latched on carefully. The first night she fed throughout the night and in the coming months I learned so many new lessons about this universal act of nursing a baby.
1. Baby knows best
Nobody knows how my baby feels better than she does herself. At the hospital the midwives encouraged me to watch for my baby's signs for wanting to feed. I also found this incredible video interview with Priscilla Dunstan about the universal language of newborns, which helped me listen to and understand my baby. As she grew, I started to feel like I was beginning to master the act of breastfeeding and began to learn that a new phase in her development also meant new routines and new ways. Listening and learning needs to be a constant for me to support my little one in the best possible way.
2. Every mother and every baby is different
Don't compare yourself with others. There is nobody who knows you or your baby better than you - and your baby is unique! Everyone does things differently, and that is OK. As a new mother there are times I feel vulnerable and when comparisons are easy to make, especially when I find myself doing things in a way that I hadn't planned to before my daughter was born. It is impossible to know who your baby will be, what needs she will have and how you will react to those needs, so it is imperative to have an open mind and be flexible if you need to do things differently.
3. It can be a physical and emotional rollercoaster
Being a breastfeeding mother for the first time is full of firsts. Like waking up for the first time soaked in milk with bulging breasts that hurt like they are going to explode. Or like the time I let my hungry, crying two-weeks-old baby take a few sips to calm her down and as I pulled her away just to try to get the remote control before sitting down to feed, milk sprayed a meter away, onto the TV screen and all over my baby's face. I was so startled and in a wet panic, grabbed the control and let my baby latch on.
Not only has my body surprised me, it has drained me from all energy. When my daughter was about 3 months she had an incredible growth spurt and one evening as I was feeding, for what felt like hours, I sat shaking, dehydrated and crying without any energy left over for myself. And now, at 8 months, with a whole new world to explore as she has learned to crawl, pull herself up and communicate in new ways, I find myself being needed more than ever, with a waking baby in the night who wants to nurse. In these times I try to remind myself that this is what my daughter needs now, and these phases will come and go.
4. Support is necessary - ask for help
I would say that we are lucky. We haven't encountered many problems when breastfeeding, but it certainly hasn't been easy. For me, breastfeeding has been the most draining and exhausting exercise I have ever done. I have never felt as insecure at times, as when I have been nursing my baby to sleep, wondering if I am doing this all wrong. In those moments a support system is necessary.
My husband has been an incredible help, always preparing with a glass of water and emotional support when I feed and taking our daughter in the morning when I've had an intense night of nursing. I am also lucky to have a midwife and breastfeeding expert as a sister-in-law who has answered several questions. If you don't have a close support system in place already, don't hesitate to reach out to a midwife or an existing group of mothers in your area (maybe you can find one through social media). In my city, Malmö, Sweden, there is also a breastfeeding center at the hospital with midwives ready to support you with whatever issue you may have when nursing your child. In some places there are even breastmilk donation centers for women with low or no supply in breastmilk.
5. Breastfeeding is more than feeding
For a little one breastfeeding is more than just giving your baby enough
energy to grow and develop, it is also an incredibly important source of love, comfort, safety, warmth and soothing hormones. I have found that breastfeeding is a cure all - for hunger, anxiety, stomach aches and more. There is nothing more beautiful than looking down at my baby, knowing that I can give her so much more than just the food that she needs, by holding her in my arms and letting her nurse at my breast.
6. Listen to your maternal instincts
Probably the most important thing that I have learnt is to listen to my gut feeling - my maternal instinct. Sometimes that instinct is different than the advice that I have been given from well-meaning friends and family, and when I have listened to that instinct, it has just felt right. Being calm and confident in myself has been the best tool for successful breastfeeding. Don't let blog posts, popular advice and even health professionals get you down - listen to yourself and your baby. You know best what feels right.
Breastfeeding has been a big part of becoming a mother and it continues to be a learning experience. However, one thing is certain, I am my daughter's mother and in that I am confident.