In my other posts about breastfeeding, I talked about tips with a few anecdotes peppered in for good measure. But here, I’m going to get ultra-real and tell you exactly what breastfeeding was like for me with both my daughters. There are some similarities between my experiences with each daughter, but also some differences.
Hopefully, my tale will give you some good laughs and remind you that you’re doing great so don’t give up!
How It All Began
Pregnant with my first and in a foreign country, things were already strange enough. I had all the typical books you read during your first pregnancy, most of them shipped overseas by my parents, brother, and friends. I’d spend my days reading them, and in the evenings when my husband would return from his job, he’d read along with me too.
I remember reading about breastmilk compared to formula and started researching it. I felt that this would be the best choice for our baby, but I wasn’t sure how to really do that. I mean, back in the states, I’d just ask the nurse for help. But in my husband’s country, while it wasn’t frowned upon at all, they didn’t seem to have their facts straight.
More on that shortly.
Since we’d just moved there only a few months before, I was also dealing with trying to make friends. Where we’d lived before, I had tons of friends. Just an hour plane ride away in another country, but that felt like lightyears away. In my husband’s hometown, I went through culture shock. All while being pregnant. The smells (blech!), the noise (ugh!), the pollution (ick!), and the loneliness were all getting to me.
People on my husband’s side of town never really saw a foreigner before so they’d point and stare at me. That made me feel less than fabulous. I tried to be upbeat. Sometimes I’d smile and wave. But most of the time, my pregnancy hormones made me feel like they were pointing at the big, fat American, and I wasn’t even that big. I blame the hormones.
Not long after though, a chance encounter with another foreigner connected me to a group of other foreign women, some pregnant, some who had already delivered in this country, and they were a wealth of positivity and good advice.
Discovering La Leche League
I link a lot to La Leche League because they are a non-profit devoted to helping women around the world become informed about breastfeeding. They have facts and that’s what I want to present to you in my posts so you can make the best decision for you and your baby. One of the moms I met, named Katherine, showed us the hospital she delivered at. It was the most Western-style one in the city, and clean, unlike the others I’d visited. I immediately felt relieved.
But she also did something else for me.
She introduced me to Vivien, another American who had studied Chinese extensively and spoke it fluently. She was the head of the La Leche League group in our city. Katherine told me I should go with her to the next meeting, which is when she made the introduction.
I was immediately captivated by Vivien.
She was so personable and friendly, moving around the room flowing from English to Chinese with complete effortlessness. She was stunning and beautiful yet carried with her that down-to-earth vibe that kept you from being completely jealous.
As the meeting began, she spoke in both English and Chinese. She handed out informative papers in both English and Chinese. My husband took all of them and began reading as she spoke, then tucked them into his bag so his parents could read it. He was mesmerized by Vivien as well.
While Vivien was speaking, a small blonde boy approached her. She kept talking without missing a beat, sat in the chair that was up at the front of the room, and continued to give her lecture while she breastfed her youngest son. At that moment, I finally felt like everything would work out fine because I had found the support I needed.
After the meeting, I talked more with Vivien. We exchanged numbers and she gave me a schedule for meetings. She also told me to have my husband contact her when I went into labor. She said she’d come to the hospital as quickly as she could so she could help me get started with breastfeeding.
The First Latch
I’ve talked here and there about when my first daughter was born. A totally surreal experience. But it was made so much better by Vivien who had become my breastfeeding coach. True to her word, she was there for me after I delivered my first daughter.
I remember coming out of my haze of drugs from the c-section to see her there. She picked up my daughter like it was nothing like she’d held a million babies. I’d only ever held one before in my life. She knew I was nervous but her calm demeanor as she helped me get my daughter latched is something I will always remember.
I didn’t feel embarrassed or stressed or stupid but calmed. She helped me adjust my daughter and stuck around to make sure I tried different positions. One of the biggest things though was she showed me what it felt like to get that perfect latch. Once I had it, I knew just what I had to do to nurse my daughter.
Vivien stayed for a while to keep me company and to make sure that I was comfortable. She also spoke to the doctors and nurses. Not all of them were well-informed about breastfeeding. In fact, it was scary how many misconceptions they had.
For example, many nurses thought that giving water to a baby was fine if the baby was thirsty. She had to explain to them that breastmilk isn’t just about food and nourishment but hydrates as well, and to give water to a baby can lead to breastfeeding problems, among other problems. Never give a baby under 6-months water!
Once that was settled, she left to let me rest, telling me to call her any time I had questions.
And boy did I!
My First Time in Public
While I had the whole latch-thing down in private, with side-lying being my favorite position, I couldn’t exactly lay down in public. Nor did I want to. Yuck! But I had to try to feed my daughter when we’d go anywhere. If we went to a friend’s, it was fine because there was always a quiet room I could go into.
But out in the city? That took a lot more practice.
While there are no laws against breastfeeding in public there, I already got pointed out and stared at enough for being different in a homogenous culture. Plus, while they meant well, people would crowd around my baby and me to get a better look. And in their culture, they like to touch the baby on the face and head, not realizing the germs. That was a whole big annoyance for me.
So not only would I need to try to find a decent place to sit down but also one where no one would try to touch the baby while I was nursing her. My husband would do a great job as a bodyguard, warding away curious onlookers by keeping them out of my personal space. I always used a nursing cover, not that I was afraid to offend anyone but because it made me feel less nervous about accidentally exposing myself.
That was such a big fear of mine.
The first time, I remember my husband and I went shopping and sure enough, our little sweetie began to cry for her feeding. So we found a place to sit and I tried to clear my mind so I could relax. Having my husband there really helped me to keep calm. I was so nervous. What if I couldn’t do it right in this position? What if I accidentally showed all of China my boobs?
It seems so silly, but it really stressed me out. Thankfully, my first time breastfeeding in public wasn’t as scary as I thought and the more I did it, the more relaxed I was. I even nursed my eldest on the Great Wall of China, which I believe I spoke about in another post.
Building My Breastfeeding Support
In my other posts, I make numerous mentions of being informed and getting support. That’s because I believe it to be the very thing that will help you through this. Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience, but it’s also very trying in the beginning. That’s because it’s so new and you’re still going nuts from your hormones.
I was lucky I had Vivien and I hope you find a “Vivien” of your own. She did much more for me than just getting me latched on. She was there for me when I needed her the most.
About a week after my daughter was born, she began crying a lot. And she wanted to keep nursing. I called Vivien and she heard her crying in the background. She said the cry didn’t sound hungry, but like she was in pain. She advised us to go to the doctor.
We did and that’s when we found she’d somehow ingested bacteria
That left only one person…my mother-in-law, who apparently wasn’t being as hygienic as we’d hoped. While it was a horrible night at the hospital, everything was fine by morning and as the days passed, my sweet baby was back to her usual self.
But with the next few weeks, I became despondent. I felt like I had no time to myself. I could barely get up to go to the bathroom or close my eyes for a nap before my boob monster would wake up for more milk. I called Vivien again.
“I feel like her boob slave,” I remember complaining. Vivien laughed and asked if she could borrow that for her meetings. Then she said, “She needs you now more than she ever will. Please don’t give up breastfeeding yet, Leslie. Keep going and I promise you in a few weeks, her nursing sessions will go faster and she will go longer between feedings.”
Vivien said if I really wanted to give breastfeeding up after I gave it a few more weeks to get through the home stretch, then that would be fine but please not stop before then.
I think she knew what she was doing. She knew from her extensive experience and training, that my hormones would level out, and that my daughter would move into the next phase. And just like that, she was right. I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding anymore.
I breastfed my eldest until she was almost 3 years old. I breastfed her when she got teeth, which I thought she was never going to get. I breastfed her to sleep. I breastfed her on airplanes. I breastfed her everywhere.
I got her ready to wean when we found out we were expecting our second child. It was time. I talk about how I got her to stop in my weaning post, but I will never forget realizing that she didn’t ask for her boobie before bed, and I didn’t offer it. And I cried. I cried and cried. I was happy yet sad. It was such an experience that gave us a strong bond and made her the healthy girl she is today.
And soon, I started it all over again.
Breastfeeding My Second Child
I’ve told you my second born was also born via c-section, one we had planned, however, I went into labor before my scheduled c-section date. Stuck in rush hour traffic, my husband drove while I sat in the back of our car, yowling with pain every 5 minutes. He tried to keep me calm as he drove, trying to find good music on the radio.
Once at the hospital:
Since it was now 3 years after having my first, the hospital staff had done a much better job of becoming informed about everything involving breastfeeding. They were much more helpful the second time around. But there was one thing we argued about until my husband raised such a stink they ran off with tails between their legs.
The issue I was having was that it was July, and it was hot. In China, they think air conditioning can make you sick. For me and my youngest, who as it turns out is almost exactly like me, that oppressive heat was making us feel sick. She couldn’t get comfortable and neither could I. I was in such intense pain too.
My husband, recognizing the reason for this, threw an absolute fit with the staff until they finally turned the temperature down in our room to a comfortable feeling for us. He also made them administer more pain meds. And suddenly, the baby comfortably nursed, latching on with expert precision, and both of us fell sound asleep.
After that whole ordeal, it was much easier to nurse my youngest. She was a less fussy baby than her big sister had been. A very chill and calm spirit. Though she was a tough one to get to sleep. Even after breastfeeding!
But weaning my second child was one of the hardest things to do. I also discussed that in another post, but she was and is a very clingy kid. Why just this morning, she didn’t want to go to school because she wanted to stay with me. See what I mean?
Things You Might Be Wondering
Now I’m going to do a bit of mindreading and see if I can answer your questions. I think I know what you’ll ask.
Is breastfeeding hard to do?
Nope! Just get a good latch. I talk about it here. That latch is the key. Find yourself a Vivien and you will find getting that first latch is easy.
Why does breastfeeding feel hard in the beginning?
It only feels hard because you’ve never done it before. Just like changing a diaper (which I’d never done), it takes a little practice before it’s old hat. Another reason it may feel so overwhelming is that because you’re tired, your hormones are making you feel insane, and your baby needs to be nursed about every 2 hours. You start to get used to it but you think, “Is this what my life will be like FOREVER?!?” No, sweetie. It won’t. Just hang in there for a little while longer and you’ll see just like I did.
You mentioned not giving the baby water. What’s wrong with that?
I linked the World Health Organization (WHO) above but in case you missed that or don’t want to click through, your breastmilk is more than 80% water, especially the first of it that comes out in each feeding. You put your baby at risk for diarrhea as well as malnutrition if you give them water, plus those tiny tummies can only handle so much inside them. Filling them up with water means they’ll drink less breastmilk and compromise your supply.
So, I can’t ever give them water?
Of course, you can, but not until they’re 6 months of age. Ideally, when they start tasting solids, you can give them a little water or mix it into the baby food you make. It’s even more nutritious if you mix in some of your breastmilk though.
Why get with a breastfeeding support group?
In my breastfeeding story, you saw first-hand how Vivien’s expertise and friendship helped me. I also met other new moms and moms-to-be and that goes a long way toward feeling less lost in this whole mom-thing.
Look, you can read all the books you like about pregnancy, delivery, breastfeeding, and raising kids. You can read my blog too. You can and should do these things, but you should absolutely meet people in real life going through the same things as you. As much as I’d love to give you a great big hug when things seem strange and difficult, I can’t.
And family can be great support too but not always. My in-laws were very supportive of my breastfeeding because they read the materials from Vivien in their native language. Much as I appreciated their support, I needed moms that were going through it too.
Your Breastfeeding Story
It’s time to make your own breastfeeding story. Maybe you’ll have more than one journey through breastfeeding as I did. But no matter how many you have, they will all be special and unique. They will make you tear up to remember when you have long stopped breastfeeding and they will make you wear your Mom badge with pride and honor.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.