I don’t know in what situation this letter will find you. It may be the dark of night with a crying newborn or the light of day as you wait to be let in the NICU when you get to read this. You may be a first time mom not getting support from elders, like the way things were done in our grandmother’s time. Your baby might be sick, teething or refusing to latch. You may be worried about your baby’s weight gain or are being pressured to give formula by well-meaning family, friends or doctor.
Chances are though, you are exhausted, conflicted, desperate. Maybe even in actual pain.
So, breathe, Mommy. Cry if you must but calm yourself enough by taking deep breaths. And then remember these things:
You are qualified. If you were able to grow this baby inside you, then you can certainly do the same now that they’re out. You have enough education and life experience to tell if something is really wrong, as opposed to things just not happening the way you want them to. What’s more, you are a mammal. The chances of your body being able to provide are certainly higher than the stray dogs in your street or the polar bears affected by climate change. Please also remember that generations of mothers have bested the same struggles and fears, ensuring the survival of the human race. This is your legacy. And because you are the person who loved this child first, you already are their champion.
Yes, you can get help. It’s a great time to be alive now. Information is literally at our fingertips. While circumstances will never be exactly the same, you probably are not the first mom who felt helpless when the baby refuses to be put down. You are probably not the first mom to have asthma or had to have an emergency C-section that limited her mobility. You are probably not the first mom to suddenly have mastitis or who couldn’t get ounces of milk when she expressed. So, go find out what they did or what can be done for your situation. Ask trusted friends. Ask your doctor. Ask another mom.
You need to communicate your feelings and specific needs. There is nothing wrong in delegating the burping and changing to your husband -- after all, you need to concentrate on breastfeeding and recovering from the birth. There is nothing wrong in expressing to friends that you feel really tired and overwhelmed and, yes, you would appreciate if they can bring you food. There is nothing wrong in asking your doctor to help you achieve your breastfeeding goals by giving you options. You may also need to tell some family and friends, “Hey, I know you mean well, but can you also trust that I also have my baby’s interests at heart?”
Because of the great love inside you and your commitment to your duties as mom, others may not know that you are already consumed by your pain and your fears. So, tell people (kindly) how you feel and what you think will help. They will appreciate not having to second guess, and you won't have to resent them.
You also need to identify the real issues. If you’re a mom of a newborn, you have to remember that babies need to suck and suckle. They have been doing so since they were about 15 weeks old in utero. Nursing from you ensures their survival (by boosting their immunity through touch, and regularizing their heartbeat by mimicking yours) and development (social, emotional, physical). Your problem may not be supply but expectations and fatigue. If that is the case, then find out what else you can expect and plan to get all the help you can get when they come. The solution to your problem may just be a set of helping hands willing to hold baby for a while so you can have a proper meal or shower.
If you are hardly getting any milk when you express, it is not automatically a sign that you do not have milk. It could be because you have just given birth or you may be doing something incorrectly. You may also have plugged ducts or are too tense while you express that the milk just won’t flow.
Talk to someone who can help you see the forest from all the trees.
You need to ignore what isn’t helpful. In an ideal world, we would just get the support we need without having to ask. In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be people discouraging us with thoughtless remarks. Well, the world we live in is far from ideal, and hormonal or not, you will have to manage your expectations. Some people will be mean, just because they’re mean. They may even feel defensive because they probably thought they couldn't breastfeed.
So, remember why you wanted to breastfeed in the first place. Look at your child. Remember the great privilege of being blessed with a life -- you want to give them the best start. Remember that you and your child will reap the benefits, now and for a very long time. Remember that this opportunity to invest in each other’s health only presents itself once in your child’s life.
Don't forget this is a journey. Edit your own thoughts and your own questions so that they empower you into action, and not depress you into giving up. Celebrate the little things and the little triumphs. Take things one day at a time. Treat challenges (pumping, soreness, sickness) as bumps on the road and not your final destination. Learn to accept that there will be difficulties and that you are entitled to tears and the occasional chocolate bar or ice cream pint because what you are doing IS worthwhile.
It may not have started out the way you envisioned it. There will be challenges along the way. Know, however, that you will always have the choice to give it your all. Believe that with the right attitude, information and support, you can prevail.
Mommy, write your own breastfeeding story. Persevere despite the doubts. Know that practice makes progress. And that, someday, you will be in my position now, trying to tell a striving mother that what challenges us can change us for the better.
In fact, they are what makes us worthy of being called “MOM.”