Five days after I gave birth, I met with a lactation consultant. At the time it seemed strange that the waiting room was full of so many women just like me, holding their new babies close and needing help with what we've always been told is a "natural" (and by default, effortless) function. As I looked around, it didn't seem that breastfeeding had come "naturally" to many of us. So I'm sure we experienced the thoughts every breastfeeding mom has when visiting a lactation consultant.
I had been referred to the breastfeeding support clinic by the hospital, as my son had shown a weak latch and they were concerned about his weight gain. I was skeptical when I arrived, I was in discomfort, I was adjusting to my new role as a mom, and I had started to think that I wasn't going to be able to breastfeed despite my best efforts. The amazing lactation consultant I saw immediately knew that I needed support more than anything else and, as a result, she gave me a great big hug and let me have a much-needed cry.
I don't think I would have been able to continue breastfeeding (which I ended up doing for 30 months) without her help. I left the appointment with a fancy new electric breast pump on loan, and a renewed sense of hope that I could master this new skill. During my appointment, I also had the following thoughts, which I'm going to go ahead and assume every mom has, too. #Solidarity
"So, I Just Get Naked?"
Even though I had just given birth and had a dozen strangers staring at my most intimate and private body parts, it still seemed strange to barely know someone's name before I was whipping out my boobs.
"Ouch, That Hurts!"
In those first few days breastfeeding was a little painful. My milk hadn't really come in and my baby had not developed a strong latch, so it was more than a little uncomfortable.
"Am I Being Graded On This?"
I felt so self-conscious breastfeeding in front of the lactation consultant as she took notes and observed us carefully. She asked me to just feed my baby as I would naturally, but normally I wouldn't be assessed when I fed him so it wasn't exactly a "natural" event. I am a bit of a perfectionist and quite the teacher's pet, so they idea of "failing" in front of the expert made me very anxious.
"I am Doing It All Wrong"
As my anxiety deepened, I started to lose confidence and presumed I was doing everything wrong and making a big mess of the whole breastfeeding thing. I just knew we were doing something wrong, because it all felt so strange and I wasn't sure if he was getting any milk at all.
Simultaneously I was desperately trying to remember all the advice the lactation consultant was providing, like encouraging baby to open his mouth wide, to angle his nose towards my nipple, and to make sure I had good posture throughout. As I remembered one tip, I forgot the previous one. Honestly, I just felt like crying.
"What Is That?"
Then, as if out of nowhere, the lactation consultant opened up a large container of different tubes and flanges, nipple shields, and bottles of supplements and herbs.
Here I was thinking my boobs would be enough, and she had a whole bag of supportive supplies. Finally.
"Oh, That's How It's Supposed To Feel!"
She placed my baby on my tummy and encouraged me to relax in the rocking chair, as we watched my tiny little infant wiggle and slide with purpose towards my breast. Just as he got there, she popped a plastic shield on my nipple and he made contact with a big open mouth.
The difference in sensation was immediate. I could feel a gentle rhythmic tugging and he seemed instantly calmed. When he was finished, I noticed (with absolute glee) that the nipple shield had collected drops of pale yellow milk: proof positive that I could make milk.
"Can You Come Home With Me?"
That day, my lactation consultant became my hero. We kept in contact as I borrowed an electric pump and had to return it before the end of my son's first year of life. I also sought her advice on when to wean my baby from the nipple shield (which was surprisingly much easier than I thought it would be).
My lactation consultant was undoubtedly the reason I was able to breastfeed my son initially. However, I realize how lucky I am to live in a city that offers free support to lactating moms, rents breast pumps free of charge, and that I had the support of my family, who were with me every step of the way.