Breastfeeding is a great way to feed and bond with your baby, but it’s also a sore subject for many moms. Between complications and societal pressures, what begins as a meaningful maternal experience can oftentimes become a serious stressor. Whether you decide to breastfeed or not, for however long or short, the most important thing to have is support.
At Kveller, we’re all about moms supporting other moms, so we rounded up breastfeeding advice from our writers, who run the gamut in terms of their experiences.
Adina Kay-Gross: Try very, very hard not to set unrealistic expectations for yourself. Like fasting on Yom Kippur, breastfeeding isn’t meant to be an endurance contest, nor is it any measure of your self worth. You’re not better because you can, or worse because you can’t.
Alexis Kort: Breastfeed for as long or as short as you and your baby want/need. I felt like there was a lot of pressure in my circle to breastfeed for the first year, and then when we continued well into the second year, there was a lot of judgmental pressure to stop.
Alina Adams: Water (or beer) is great, but make sure you have a book or a TV remote control handy, too. There is only so much soulful gazing you can do into your baby’s eyes before you get bored. Oh, and a boppy is the world’s greatest invention. It can even help you keep the kid balanced while you type on a computer. (Optional.)
Avital Norman Nathman: Seek out support. Breastfeeding can sometimes feel like a lot of responsibility, and one we need to tackle on our own. But if things aren’t going as well as they could, talk to others. Find a breastfeeding support group. Make an appointment with a recommended lactation consultant. Talk to friends with breastfeeding experience. And know you’re not alone.
Dana Meijler: Follow your own gut when it comes to breastfeeding. If it’s hard or painful, don’t continue only because you think you should or because you are fearful of what people might think if you stop. Breast is not always best; feeding your child in a loving, caring way is best and whether that’s done exclusively with breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, or a hybrid is completely up to you. Make up your own rules as you go along, which is great practice for just about any other parenting decision as well.
Emily Wolper: Release any personal expectation that this is “natural” and that it’s supposed to work miraculously. That was not the case with my first child, and now that I’m pregnant with No. 2, I refuse to beat myself up about it again. Maybe this time it will work, maybe not. But, my daughter is almost 2, totally thriving, and an amazingly good eater. So, I’m feeling OK about the whole thing!
Jessica Glassberg: Know that there isn’t always this magical bond where, with each suckle, you grow closer to your baby… Sometimes they writhe, wriggle, scratch, and bite, and sometimes you plead, beg, cry, and shriek… and that’s OK.
Lili Kalish Gersch: It’s a dirty little secret of mothering that most people struggle with breastfeeding in the beginning. If you get the help you need from a professional lactation consultant and get yourself through the initial challenges, it usually gets much easier pretty quickly.
Mayim Bialik: The best tip I got was to find other moms who were breastfeeding and be a part of a community of support. So many of us don’t often think about how we are primates—social creatures designed to parent together, not in single-family homes! Groups like La Leche League are made up of moms who breastfeed and who come together in parks and for playdates to share experiences and help each other. That’s what women are supposed to do for each other.
Melissa Langsam Braunstein: Like any good German Jew, I’m a sauerkraut fanatic. I learned the hard way that eating sauerkraut (or brussels sprouts, for that matter) while breastfeeding is an epic disaster for the baby (soooo gassy)–and so, for mama too. Avoid both like the plague, just like you passed on booze during pregnancy.
Monica Gebell: If you’re at all self-conscious but committed to breastfeeding anywhere, anytime, wear a stretchy tank top under your shirt, or a flouncy scarf, so that you can keep some parts of you covered and allow yourself to relax. And relaxing is key, for many of us, to making breastfeeding work. Make sure you’re comfortable, whether you’re in your car, at the diner, or on a floor. And if you’re ever short on nursing pads, panty liners are a temporary life-saver (cut them in half).
Nina Badzin: When you’re at the beginning, do not say, “I’m going to breastfeed for a year,” or, “I’m going to breastfeed for six months.” Say, “I’m breastfeeding today.” Take it one day at a time. Also, have a trusted friend show you how to use the breast pump and explain how to store milk. Many of these skills are easier learned from friend-to-friend as opposed to directions in a book or a pamphlet.
Pia Kutten: Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it. Ignore those who will try to shame you for not breastfeeding. Not all women can.
Renee Septimus: I happily breastfed my four children, but watched my daughters and daughter-in-law nurse, express, and pump despite physical and emotional discomfort. I believe that most essential to a baby’s well-being is a happy mom, and that formula is just fine for infants. So my tip for breastfeeding: If it is comfortable and convenient, reduces rather than adds stress, and you want to do it because you like it, breastfeed. If not, the bottle and good cuddling are just fine. Really.
Sarah Tuttle-Singer: There are no rules. No one-size-fits-all. It can take time to establish a rhythm–every baby is different, and every mother is different. Nurse on both sides if you can–your breasts will become lopsided if you don’t. 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 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.
Tamar Fox: I did not breastfeed, since I was dealing with a foster child, but I cannot say enough good things about formula feeding. Being able to split the feedings equitably with my partner meant that we were able to share the labor of childcare from the beginning, which was so important to us. Instead of me being in charge of feeding on demand, and him being on top of diapers, we just split everything down the middle. And I never had to use a breast pump, which is the greatest gift of all.
Tamara Reese: Trust yourself and your instincts as a mother. If you fed baby 15 minutes ago and she seems hungry, feed her again. Lower your expectations for everything else—the dishes, the laundry, the Internet. Many babies cluster feed in the evening. Let yourself sit on the couch at night from 7-10, watch movies, and feed your baby. Cookies are not the answer to making more milk—nursing is. The more you nurse, the more milk you will make. Talk gently to yourself; positive self-talk is so important. Remember, you are the best mama for your baby. No one else.