During pregnancy I read the book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding twice. I wanted to do whatever I could to successfully breastfeed my baby, and according to my friends that book was the holy Bible of breastfeeding advice. But as a new mom I learned, the hard way, that breastfeeding is rarely the "textbook" experience people often describe. I also learned that the best breastfeeding guidelines don't come from books.
Before I came to this realization, however, I had convinced myself I had failed at the whole breastfeeding thing. The books told me that breastfeeding was a natural, easy, and straightforward endeavor. Take latching, for example: it's supposed to be a "simple" process of lining your baby's mouth up with your nipple, cupping your breast, waiting for them to open wide, and inserting your nipple and areola. In reality, latching was not simple and didn't come naturally for me or my baby. The same goes for so many other parts of breastfeeding, and the advice I received from friends and books felt overwhelming, patronizing, sexist, and even invalidating.
Now that I’ve breastfed three babies to varying degrees, I know that breastfeeding isn’t a "one-size-fits-all" parenting choice. I also know that you shouldn't rely on books when you hit bumps in the road or need advice specific to you and your baby. It’s also important to simply feed your baby in whatever way works for you, and prioritize their health and your mental health over breastfeeding if necessary. Most importantly, I learned there’s more than one "right way" to feed a baby, and you probably won't learn the best nursing advice from a book, anyway.
It's OK To Give Your Nipples A Rest
For me, breastfeeding wasn't a blissful, enjoyable experience... at least not at first. I kept at it, though, and through the excruciating newborn days, thrush, and mastitis. My nipples bled and, as a result, I cried for weeks during every damn feeding. That's when my lactation consultant suggested pumping (with lube) for a few days to let my nipples heal. It was the best advice ever. I was so opposed to not feeding "from the tap" that I would have never given my nipples a break had she not "given me permission."
Supplementing Is Sometimes Necessary
According to the breastfeeding books I read, supplementing is both unnecessary and can hurt your supply. I was devastated when I had to supplement feedings with formula and after my daughter lost too much weight and was re-admitted to the hospital for jaundice and dehydration. But I later learned that early supplementing not only saves lives, but it doesn't actually hurt breastfeeding rates.
What's more, advice to avoid supplementing can be dangerous. As Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, MD, co-founder of the Fed is Best Foundation told Romper via email, "I read the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and nowhere in the book was information regarding the risks of dehydration, jaundice, and hypoglycemia from exclusive breastfeeding." She adds, "the extreme lengths that books go to promote exclusive breastfeeding, while hiding the risks of insufficient feeding make it a dangerous book for mothers looking for advice on breastfeeding their babies."
"Instead, it's important to pay attention to your baby and their cues," As del Castillo-Hegyi writes. "Crying and non-stop nursing are deemed normal parts of newborn exclusive breastfeeding, when they are also signs of hunger, hypoglycemia, and hypernatremia (too much sodium)."
Power Pump To Increase Your Milk Supply
I am a bit ashamed about the amount of money I spent on supplements and foods purported to increase breast milk supply. I tried everything, including some disgusting concoctions recommended in books and on the internet. Spoiler alert: they didn't do a damn thing. The one thing that did work for me was power pumping — pumping for 10 minutes and breaking for 10 minutes, for an hour each day. Unfortunately, I didn't try power pumping until after my second baby was born and I had tried pretty much every other milk supply cure out there.
Go Ahead & Have A Glass Of Wine
I followed all sorts of rules when I was breastfeeding, including not drinking anything with alcohol within two hours of feeding my baby, pumping and dumping my precious, small supply if I did have something to drink, and even buying alcohol test strips for my breast milk. It turns out, as Slate reports, the amount of alcohol that enters your breast milk from having a few drinks is so insignificant that unless you are too drunk to care for your newborn, it's probably not necessary to pump and dump. I wish I had known that the first time around.
Combo-Feeding Is A Thing
As a new mom, I assumed supplementing with formula meant I couldn't continue breastfeeding. I had only ever heard about exclusive breastfeeding, so I thought it was an "all or nothing" endeavor. So when I had to supplement due to low supply I ended up switching to formula full-time. The second time around, my IBCLC told me that most women actually use a combination of breast milk and formula to feed their babies. I ended up breastfeeding my son way longer than I ever thought possible, thanks to combo-feeding.
Nipple Confusion Is Not A Thing
Thanks to the breastfeeding books I read, I thought using a bottle or pacifier would ruin my chances of breastfeeding. It turns out that nipple confusion isn't actually a thing, at least not according to a review of research by Pediatrician Chad Hayes, MD. Dr. Hayes found that using a pacifier or bottle won't likely impact breastfeeding for most babies.
Breastfeeding Doesn’t Make Bed-Sharing Safe
As a new mom, I started bed-sharing out of sheer desperation. I was exhausted, and I thought that breastfeeding made bed-sharing safe, at least in part because of what I read in breastfeeding books. I now know that while breastfeeding is awesome, and can help protect your baby against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), it doesn't magically cancel out the dangers of bed-sharing.
According to a review of five studies published in the British journal Paediatrics, bed-sharing substantially increases the risk of death for babies 3 months and younger, even if you are breastfeeding, don't smoke, or use alcohol.
Your Mental Health Matters
As a new mom, my health, and especially my mental health, was the last thing on my mind. I was drowning. It wasn't until I got help for my postpartum depression and some damn rest that I reached a point where breastfeeding was possible and even enjoyable. As NICU nurse and lactation consultant Jody Segrave-Daly, RN IBCLC told Romper via email, I am not alone. "Maternal mental health is often the last thing that is recognized after a mom has her baby," she says. "Extreme sleep deprivation can cause a mother to spiral into acute anxiety and depression."
As a NICU nurse, working with seriously sleep-deprived moms, Segrave-Daly was not surprised to learn that more sleep can mean more milk. "We developed a pumping protocol that included a five-hour block of uninterrupted sleep," she says. "It worked wonders and moms increased their milk production, because their prolactin hormone increased during sleep."
Not surprisingly, they also felt better. We expect way too much from our mothers. When I do a breastfeeding consultation, the very first thing I recommend is an immediate block of sleep, as moms are often absolutely in a break-down mode," Segrave-Daly says. "If a mother is not healthy, how can she care for her baby?"