Happy World Breastfeeding Month! As a Registered Dietitian and Certified Lactation Specialist, breastfeeding is my favorite topic. Giving nutrition advice for babies is so easy: breastmilk! Just give the baby its mother’s milk and you can be sure that tiny person is getting the best nutrition possible. Nutrition that is tailored to that specific baby and his/her changing needs. It’s nothing short of amazing.
While most expecting mothers know that breastmilk is the healthiest option for their baby, it’s not always the choice that’s made. A common barrier I see when working with new mothers is that they doubt their body’s ability to perform this amazing task of making milk (I’ll admit, it does seem like magic!). And if they do make milk, they worry if they are making enough milk. And if they’re making enough milk, they worry that the milk isn’t good, or isn’t the right color or… the list goes on.
One way we can get past this barrier is understanding how the mother’s body knows to make milk. It is not a predetermined thing. Like, “Hi, my name is Sara. I have blue eyes and I can make 12oz of breast milk per day.” Luckily, that is not how it works! The baby actually tells the mother’s body how much milk to make. Meaning, when the mother breastfeeds, each time the baby is hungry the mother’s body will get a message from the baby letting her know how much milk the baby needs. The mother makes what the baby needs. While there are certain situations or medical conditions that may complicate this process, it is rare. For the vast majority of moms and babies, the mother makes what the baby takes. This starts right from birth. Facilitating, isn’t it?
While I love discussing the details behind milk production, what’s even more powerful are stories. So, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I want to share my personal experience of finding the confidence I needed to rise to the occasion and make enough milk for my baby…even two babies!
As a first-time mom, I was as nervous as anyone about being able to make enough milk for my baby. Despite my knowledge of lactation, I was worried. And, truth-be-told, it was hard at first. Everything made me worry. Our girl wanted to eat so often. Was I making enough milk to fill her up? Other times, she was crying but wouldn’t eat. Didn’t she like the milk? I had more soreness than expected. Was she latching correctly? She spit up constantly. Was there something wrong with the milk? Was I eating something I shouldn’t have? Was she keeping down enough to grow? I didn’t know. I called the lactation clinic from the hospital so many times they knew my name. I fought the temptation to give formula. I knew I had to feed her myself so my body would know what she needed. Through sore nipples and sleep-deprived nights, I fed the baby as often as she was telling me she needed to feed. And guess what… it worked. I made just the right amount. Every weight check the doctor reaffirmed that things were going well, building my confidence. She nursed past her first year. I was really proud.
Soon, our little family was growing again. And this time, it was twins! Now I was really going to put this theory (and my confidence) to the test. By now I knew I could feed one baby, but two? I wasn’t sure. When the twins were born, we got right to work because I knew that feeding as soon as possible after birth was important. I would feed one baby, then the other. It took me over an hour to feed them back-to-back. By the time the second baby finished eating, it was almost time to feed the first one again! All our visitors saw me nurse – there was barely a time when I wasn’t! Now I really knew what sleep deprivation and nipple soreness was. This time I didn’t have as many questions, but I was exhausted. Fighting the temptation to give formula was even harder, I really needed a break. There were tears, long nights and many pep talks. But we stuck it out. And guess what, it worked again! I made over twice as much milk as I had made when I was nursing one baby. After a few weeks, as the babies got stronger at feeding, I could nurse them together (tandem feeding). This saved us a lot of time and things started to get easier. I was relieved and proud, even if I did have to carry around a giant twin nursing pillow for a year.
Breastfeeding is not always easy, but it is always worth it. As women, during pregnancy, we are confident that our body is providing what the baby needs in the womb. So, why is it that we doubt our body’s ability to nourish the baby after birth? We need to support mothers and help them find their confidence, because babies are born to breastfeed. And moms can do it!