Pregnancy and you blog

Breast-feeding: Nobody said it would be this hard

By Mary M. Murry, R.N., C.N.M. December 17, 2009

One of my earliest memories is of my mother nursing my youngest brother — yet when I started my medical career as a nursing assistant at age 16, breastfeeding wasn't the norm. There were no lactation consultants and women weren't offered much help breast-feeding their babies. At the time, parents were quick to offer formula.

During my years as a labor and delivery nurse, breast-feeding began to increase in popularity. Still, no one ever told me how difficult breast-feeding could be. When I breast-fed my own baby, I naively accepted everything that happened as the norm — even though my nipples were so tender that I'd cringe every time the baby latched on. I thought that I had a baby and two breasts, so everything should be easy. I was embarrassed to admit that I didn't know what I was doing, so I just plowed ahead. It wasn't until much later that I realized how lucky I was to be able to stick with it and be successful.

I think one of the biggest pieces of information that is too often not passed on to new moms is that breast-feeding isn't easy for at least the first two weeks. Nothing can really prepare your nipples for a nursing baby. Babies are born knowing how to suck, but they don't know how to suck on a breast. If this is your first baby, you may not be comfortable holding a baby — let alone putting a baby to your breast. And since breasts don't have ounce markers, you never know for sure how much milk the baby is getting.

If you're planning to breast-feed your baby, don't hesitate to ask for help. Most hospitals have lactation consultants on staff who can answer your questions or help you resolve any problems you may encounter. Remember, just as your body knows what it's doing during pregnancy and childbirth, your body knows how to support a breast-feeding baby. Have faith in your body's ability to meet your baby's nutritional needs.

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Dec. 17, 2009