My most memorable nursing moment with my son (my second child) was immediately after he was born. My midwife handed him to me and he latched on and started nursing almost right away. Part of this was due to his natural instinct to nurse, but the other part was my own confidence from having breastfed before. I was so much more relaxed. With my daughter, I had never held a baby that small (at birth she was only 5lbs 6oz), much less tried to nurse one. After working so hard to get her latched on, I would become frustrated and discouraged from my repeated attempts. When she finally did latch on, she would then fall asleep from all the hard work it took to get there. I often felt overwhelmed while trying to provide this most basic need to my baby.
Becoming a new mom brings up a whole host of emotions. While the actual act of becoming a mother happens the instant our baby is born or is given to us (in the case of adoption), the process of becoming a mother takes place over time. I would argue that the postpartum period for a new mom is not 3 months as it is technically known to be. For a new mom, this adjustment period lasts easily a year. It can take that long for you to really internalize the changes in your identity and to fully appreciate the ways in which your life will not be the same as it was pre-baby.
Along with this major adjustment that you are undergoing, you are also responsible for nourishing your newborn. Sometimes this is easy and sometimes it is hard. Often our expectations of what nursing will be like are vastly different from the reality. I always tell new moms that it is a learning process for both the mom and the baby. Just as you have never breastfed a baby before, your baby has never nursed before. It can be a tough learning curve for both mom and baby. Up until this point in your life, you have probably become pretty proficient at your every day life whether it is in the professional or private realm. There is nothing like learning to breastfeed a newborn baby that can make you feel incompetent at your “job” (because being a mom is now your job). Worrying about whether you are getting enough into your baby to keep up with the demands of the pediatrician’s best friend: the infant growth chart (which are designed to follow formula fed babies’ growth curves, not breast fed babies’) can make any mom more than a little anxious. Make no mistake, when going well, breastfeeding can be extremely fulfilling and rewarding once you and your baby have the process figured out. But when you are struggling, every single feeding (which means 8-10 times a day for sometimes an hour at a time) can feel daunting and overwhelming.
Stick with it. It does get easier. I am sure you have heard this before. You may or may not believe it. The rewards you will reap once all the kinks have been worked out are immeasurable. If you are having difficulties breastfeeding, get help. Find a breastfeeding support group (like La Leche) or a new moms group in your area. Find a lactation consultant. Many will consult for minor issues over the phone. Seek out a postpartum doula. Many are very knowledgeable about breastfeeding and will help you with many other challenging aspects of being a new mom.
Linda Szmulewitz is a mom of two, a licensed clinical social worker, a postpartum doula, and the founder of The Chicago New Moms Group. She can be found blogging about all things related to being a parent at www.chicagonewmomsgroupblog.com. For more information about The Chicago New Moms Group, please visit www.chicagonewmomsgroup.com.