There are two things I know to be true:
1. There is no difference between good flan and bad flan.
2. There are no hard and fast rules to breastfeeding.
When it comes to breastfeeding, there is absolutely no such thing as one-size-fits-all (although I can tell you that I once tried on a “one-size-fits-all” nursing bra, and it was the devil).
I read every book. I spoke with five lactation consultants, four pediatricians, three midwives, two doulas, and the friendly grandmotherly type handing out cheese samples at Trader Joe’s, and I still couldn’t get the hang of breastfeeding until I finally did.
“Tickle her cheek so she opens her mouth.”
“Squeeze a little milk onto her lips.”
Yes, these are great pieces of advice–and they work for some moms–but not for everyone, because every mother is different, every baby is different, and every mother and baby relationship is different.
And it took a while, but I did get the hang of breastfeeding — and my daughter got the hang of it, too. One day it was a struggle and I was using an eye dropper to give her milk and lighting candles and dancing (naked) under a full moon (true story), and the next she was nursing like the poster child for La Leche League.
And it got easier–it usually does. (Usually. But not always.) And in fact, we got so good at it that I nursed her through my second pregnancy, and I even went on to tandem breastfeed both kids until the day she turned to me and said, “Can I have some fries with that?”
It’s been a while–four years since both my kids stopped breastfeeding–and it’s funny what I remember.
I remember that sometimes I loved it.
I remember that sometimes it sucked.
(I remember that having a great black nursing bra with an underwire made a big difference in how I felt.)
And I remember that I wish someone had given me some quick, practical advice, so here you go—the six things I learned the hard way about breastfeeding:
1. We fool ourselves into believing that because breastfeeding is natural , it’ll come naturally to everyone. It doesn’t. Maybe for some, but not for all. (Certainly not for me.) It can take time to establish a rhythm–every baby is different, and every mother is different. I was told that I should nurse my baby a minimum of 10 minutes. My daughter nursed each time for TWO minutes before passing out like a drunken frat boy. And yes, I panicked because, “OMG that’s not normal” but her pediatrician told me that if she was gaining weight (she was) and peeing every few hours (ditto) then that meant she was getting enough. (A year and a half later, my son nursed 30 minutes. On each side. He was fine, too. Although chances are he’s a breast man.)
Look, it’s normal to worry in the beginning until you know what YOUR “normal” looks like–and until you find that rhythm it’s OK to take your baby to be weighed or call your doctor. Do whatever YOU need to do to feel reassured that “this is normal.”
2. Nurse on both sides if you can. This doesn’t affect your baby, but your breasts will become lopsided if you don’t. My daughter refused to take the right breast, so my left breast looked like half of Beyonce’s ass, and my right breast… did not. Some women don’t care if they’re asymmetrical. I am not one of these women. So, in order to restore balance, I nursed her on the left side, and pumped on my right side.
3. Remember, formula is not satanic. Yes, there are great things in breast milk that aren’t in formula. But sometimes you can’t breastfeed–or sometimes you need to supplement–and that’s OK. I promise, no college admissions advisor will ask your child, “Were you exclusively breastfed?”
4. If you love breastfeeding, keep doing it. Your baby will be fine. Do it until you’re ready to stop. My daughter nursed until she was 3. My son, 2. That said, if you hate breastfeeding, then stop. Your baby will be fine as well.
5. If you’re breastfeeding and want to have a glass of wine or a beer, or a shot of whiskey, have one. Your baby will be fine. And you’re fine. No, actually, you’re a rock star.
6. And in the end, none of this really matters. No matter what you do, your baby will grow up to blame you for everything wrong in his or her life.