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Sunday, November 22, 2009

What Would You Rather Hear?

I only started reading up on breastfeeding at about 8 months into my pregnancy. Even during that time, I was still contemplating what would be the best formula or bottle brand to buy. I had already purchased a Born Free Starter Kit but was very hesitant to buy a breast pump because I was unsure if I would be successful at breastfeeding.
Although I had been reading up and researching on breastfeeding, whenever someone asked me if I wanted to breastfeed my baby, I would answer: "Kung kaya" ("'If I can"). During the one and only child care class I attended (which included a 30-minute talk on breastfeeding) one thing emphasized by the lactation counselor was that breastfeeding should NOT hurt. Right after I gave birth, the hospital's lactation counselor likewise echoed and emphasized the same sentiment.
Last month, an article from Reader's Digest entitled "Call This Easy?" by Lucy Atkins was being circulated in my yahoo groups. The author raised a valid point which I think all lactation or breastfeeding counselors should consider:
"Of course, childbirth educators and health professionals do not want to put us off. But surely it would help if we were told beforehand that our breasts might not do what is expected of them; that it is common for boobs to ache, or block up, or get engorged, or nipples to crack; that our babies may not gain weight exactly as the chart says; and that in the first six weeks they may feed up to 12 times in 24 hours. To present us instead with a picture of erotic mother-infant bliss is, surely, setting us up for a fall?"
During the first 3 days in the hospital, I didn't feel any pain from breastfeeding. Two lactation consultants came to check out Naima's latch and my positioning and said that everything looked fine. We were discharged on Day 3.
On day 5, I went back to the hospital to attend a breastfeeding support group meeting. They charged $5 and I met with a lactation counselor and other moms who were also breastfeeding their babies who were months older than Naima. I have to say that this meeting did not help at all! One mom looked at Naima and commented "my baby was never that small"! Ummm.. duh.. she was a pretty big lady compared to me plus I knew for a fact that Asian babies were typically smaller than Caucasian babies. I asked the lactation counselor to check our latch again - which she did briefly and said everything looked fine.
I really didn't get much tips from there but it became a session where moms compared their breastfeeding experiences. At that time, I didn't realize that breastfeeding experiences varied from one mom to another and whenever Naima and I had a different experience, I would immediately think that we were having problems.
I have to agree with Lucy Atkins - breastfeeding experiences should not be sugar coated. If I had known that it was normal for breastfeeding to hurt (and it's not just being tender!!), then I would've have been more prepared. But - that's not to say that all breastfeeding moms will feel pain. Some moms don't feel pain at all, while others find that the "tenderness" is actually mind-numbing pain. I guess it also all depends on the level of pain tolerance that each mom feels.
Also, telling a mom that the baby needs to take in the areola is also not helpful. Some babies - mine included, just have really small mouths that it is impossible for them to take in a lot of the areola! For me, what helped is the thought that the pain is not going to be forever and that my breasts (and nipples) just needed some time to get used to being "sucked at".
However, discussion of pain, sore nipples, etc. should not be to the extent that new moms would be scared of breastfeeding. Moms just need to be given enough information not only of the joys and benefits of breastfeeding but also of the difficulties (pain included!) she might encounter. To end, I'm quoting Lucy Atkins again because I feel that she best sums up what new information new moms need to be given in preparation for breastfeeding.
"So yes, of course we need to be encouraged; and yes, we need to be told how valuable breastfeeding is. But we also need to know – in advance – how ''normal'' problems are. Antenatal realism might not solve the whole breastfeeding issue – it is too complicated for that. But it might help countless women feel better about themselves, whether they choose to continue or not. And that cannot be a bad thing, can it?"


Unknown said...

I completely agree. I researched and researched before I gave birth to my first and was fully aware of all the pitfalls and problems that could happen (and how to handle them)
Thankfully, we had minimal problems, yes some discomfort in the early days and the learning curve of latching at first. But I do urge all pregnant friends who are planning to breastfeed to read up on it beforehand, take a class, etc. To go in expecting it to be normal and natural without any preparation, IMO, is a surefire route to failure.

Yen said...

Other young, breastfeeding moms had told me that it would really hurt in the beginning so I wasn't completely taken by surprise by the pain. I did need to be reminded by them during those painful breastfeeding days (which I'd say wasn't more than a week) that it would get better since I started to get a bit paranoid. I got paranoid-- thinking there was something seriously wrong with the way I was feeding my baby.

And, yes, one of most unhelpful things I was told during the first few days of breastfeeding was that my baby needed to take in a lot of areola. (It was just impossible!) The other comment that really didn't help was, "Oh, she's using you as a pacifier."

Melodie said...

You raise a good point. I thought it was supposed to hurt the entire time so I grinned and beared it for a couple weeks until my midwife told me it wasn't actually supposed to hurt. But I guess if I'd heard it wsan't supposed to hurt and it did I would have felt like a failure and would have been really really discouraged. I think the best thing to tell people is that different women have different experience. It might hurt and it might not. Both are normal and the hurting will most likely go away with some support, change in technique and/or time.

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