The most important thing is to ask for help immediately if you experience problems. Most problems are easy to fix when they are small, but they easily grow into huge problems.
Although breastfeeding is a very natural phenomenon, it is a learning process for most mothers and babies. It is also a very vulnerable process and small comments from surrounding people that might undermine the mothers self-confidence or giving the baby a well-meant bottle of formula “just in case” might cause a lot of problems. And when problems arise, as they often do, immediate and adequate help is often needed and not always provided. Also, our culture has changed so much from our natural ways and is in my opinion not very breast-feeding friendly anymore. We have also lost generations of women’s knowledge of breastfeeding during the last century.
It is a wonderful and convenient way to give my children security, physical closeness, help to calm down or fall asleep, but also food of course. There are very few everyday issues with babies that a little breastfeeding cannot cure. It is also good from a health perspective, but that is of secondary importance.
In Sweden where I come from, a large majority of mothers start breastfeeding as soon after giving birth as possible and this is very much encouraged by medical staff. So when I got my first baby in 2003, I started about 15 minutes after he was born and I learned along the way.The medical staff were quite helpful, and my husband also gave great support, but I was anyway completely unprepared for how intense it would be and how painful it would be although everyone assured me that it looked very good. I got the common sucking blisters that turned into crusts after a while and when they went away it got better, but it was still a very painful experience.
Since I have chosen to breastfeed for quite a long time, I have of course encountered negative comments. It is quite common that people think it is grouse to breastfeed a child who can walk and talk, but this doesn’t go very well together with the recommendation by WHO to breastfeed for 2 years or more or anthropologist’s studies that indicate that the natural breastfeeding period for our species is between 2 and 7 years. I have never been prudish at all and with a young baby everyone expects it. When the babies grow older it becomes more difficult as many think it is strange to breastfeed toddlers. But then my confidence had grown so much and I almost took pride in showing people that it is ok to breastfeed kids who can walk and talk.
The first big problem I encountered was a fungal infection after about 3 weeks. I had gotten some antibiotics after the birthing as the doctor suspected I might have an infection. But as antibiotics also kill most harmless bacteria in your body, I got a fungal infection instead. I read a lot about this on the internet and among other things found the homepage of Amningshjälpen, a national organization much like La Leche League. I also found an internet forum where I could directly ask questions to a few members of this organization. After about a week the infection was almost gone and I was so happy. I continued to read and write on this forum and so I learned a lot about breastfeeding from these very knowledgeable women.
My breastfeeding experience has been much better than I thought it would be. Before I got my first child I thought I would try to breastfeed for at least 6 months for health reasons. Never in my dreams could I have imagined what a strong bond is formed when you breastfeed your child and what an omninpotent method it is to keep your baby happy and content.
I would have let my babies take more time before the first breastfeeding. New research that I have seen has shown that during the first hour after birth, the healthy baby goes through 9 steps to help them prepare for breastfeeding and to latch on correctly. I have been more stressed with all my three kids and helped them to do this faster, without any obvious need really. Except that the medical staff at the hospital intervened with all sorts of stuff like weighing etc.
I was on maternity leave with all my three kids. In Sweden we are very lucky to get 13 months paid parental leave and you can divide it almost as you like between the two parents. You can also extend your time away from work by taking less than 100% pay while you are away. You are allowed to be absent from your employment for 18 months per parent if you can afford that. Each parent has to take at least 60 days and since it is usually the father who takes the smaller part of the leave these two months are usually called “pappamanader” (daddy’s months). The father also gets 10 days off right after the baby’s birth on top of this. Me and my husband decided we wanted to share as evenly as we could so what we did was on average something like this for all three kids:
- We were at home together for almost a month (those 10 days plus some vacation for him)
- I was at home full-time for 6 months.
- We shared 50/50 for 2 months
- My husband was at home for 6 months
A paid maternity leave definitely makes it easier to breastfeed and especially the first 6 months before you start introducing solids, it is crucial to be able to breastfeed upon demand. After that, you can extend the time between feedings without risking the breastfeeding too much and during those 50/50 months we usually worked half-days both of us resulting in me being away for maximum 5 hours in the beginning. As the child grows older it is usually no problem to combine work and breastfeeding. You do it night-time, mornings, evenings and weekends and when you are not there, the child will eat other things and be comforted by other means.
Since we have lost so much knowledge during the last century, most mothers of today can get no help from their own mothers or other relatives. On the contrary, these women might make things worse by giving bad advice or just undermining the mother’s self confidence by saying that they could not breastfeed and that most women don’t have enough milk etc. In many hospitals, the staff wants to be nice to the tired mother and so they take away the baby at night or bottle-feed just because they want to help. This often destroys more than it helps. We also need more information out there! I am completely happy when people choose to not breastfeed because they don’t want to, but when they are forced to stop because of lack of knowledge or because routines worked against them, those are the cases that makes me sad.