I love giving advice. I really do. There is nothing easier than telling someone else how to operate in their life from a safe distance and with low emotional stakes!
And who loves giving advice to new mothers? Everyone! Anyone who has had a baby or has been a baby is eager to share tips. Be wary. People have terrible memories and might be advising you about your two-month-old with advice more appropriate for an 18-month-old. Worse, people (ahem, your own mother) might be offering advice out of date two decades ago.
I recognise that giving advice is both irresponsible and irritating. Irresponsible to advise someone with no real understanding of the beautiful complexities of the situation. Irritating to offer advice unsolicited.
I was recently asked for advice about breastfeeding. I’m not a lactation consultant, I’m not a medical professional, I’m not even pro-breastfeeding but I breastfed my three girls for varying lengths. So my advice is pretty me-specific and casual.
Here’s the breastfeeding advice I’d give myself …
1. Are you sure you want to breastfeed?
It’s not for everyone. Bottle-fed babies fare just fine. Some of my best friends were formula-fed babies! One even has a masters from the London School of Economics, so don’t be scared off by that IQ boosting bullshit either.
If breastfeeding is not your thing — no biggie! Maybe you don’t like it, maybe you can’t, maybe your gorgeous breasts were made for looking at and not touching. That’s OK.
Maybe the unreliable art of breastfeeding is bad for your anxiety (never really knowing how much they’ve had or when they might be hungry again can be quite stressful for some personalities). For me, having to organise sterilised bottles in the early months was too stressful. Everyone is different. The most important thing is that your baby gets fed and that you’re comfortable with how.
2. Calm your tits
Breastfeeding might take a while to learn, so just hang in there, relax and wait it out. Tummy to tummy with a newborn. Then when you get the hang of it, calm your titties some more because you are going to be sitting on your ass for a long time — 30-40 minutes is not uncommon for a feed off one breast. Feeding stations should have a bottle of water, some fruit and a sandwich if you and your support crew are doing it right. I know of a 20-month-old who is trained to bring a water bottle whenever someone is sitting in the nursing chair.
Boxset DVDS or a streaming service is recommend. I like low-stress, non-offensive viewing during the daytime milking hours: Gilmore Girls, Parks and Rec, Big Bang Theory are among my favourites. Milk-makers are way too hormonal for crime or drama. Let the baby unlatch when ready. You don’t get to decide when the baby is full. One of the many frustrating things you will find you cannot control.
3. Check that baby for a tongue tie.
If you have nipple pain, the baby is having trouble latching, the baby is screaming hungry when s/he should be sleeping or if your shoulder locks up because you’ve been milking yourself into the baby’s mouth — get that baby to a specialist before you lose your will to live.
4. One feed, one breast.
Feed on one side. Make sure that baby is draining you and all the fatty milk, ensuring the supply meets baby’s demand. This will also prevent creating an oversupply for those of you who are lactationally gifted. Yes, you’ll be lopsided but there’s something sexy about asymmetry. Just ask Cindy Crawford.
5. Separate feed time and sleep time … especially for babies who like to suck.
Feeding when baby first wakes up is part of the EASY routine (Eat, Activity, Sleep, You time). Babies will fall asleep on the breast sometimes. This is only a problem if it’s a problem for you. For me, I need a break especially as baby gets older. So a well-timed pacifier for naps was very helpful with one of my sucky babies.
6. Mix feed if you feel like it.
Formula is not the devil. Formula is miracle of science and human ingenuity. Babies do not have to be binary.
My firstborn had her first bottle of formula intermittently from 4 months. Formula in a bottle did not affect her love of the boob. At 7 months, I went back to work and continued to nurse her in the morning and the evening. She had formula at daycare because I realised I hated expressing (kudos to all you mothers on that road. Good for you, it’s not effortless).
My third had mixed feeds from day two on the recommendation of my midwife and lactation consultant because she was a hungry little beast who could not be satisfied.
7. Don’t quit till you’ve had enough.
The breastfeeding journey can end whenever you or your baby wants to end it. I quit with my eldest at about 15 months because everyone in my mommy group was weaning. Not a good reason. On the other hand, I stopped with my second when she was 10 months because she was losing interest and I was pregnant and felt I needed my body back for a little before jumping on the newborn carousel again. I’m still nursing my third daughter at four months and have NO IDEA what I’ll do when I return to work next month.
8. Listen to yourself. Listen to your baby.
Man, I guess I really could have saved you a lot of reading if I’d written that first.