KAREM ROITMAN, Oxford, UK
Originally published November 2016 and republished with the express permission of the author.
Photo: Elizabeth Stanley Photography
My beautiful sister,
I am so excited to meet your new baby, my little nephew. You will be an amazing mother!
I know you want to breastfeed and I want to support you in every way possible. I hope that by sharing what I wish I had known, I may help you have an easier start to motherhood.
1. Knowledge is power.
Before my baby arrived, I wish I had known:
- Breasts and babies work together in symbiosis. Frequent breastfeeding is good, building your supply, and soothing your baby. You can’t overfeed by breastfeeding. You won’t spoil your baby or create a rod for your own back by holding him frequently. So soak in his sleepy smiles and caramel scent while they last: this is a season.
- How much you can pump (or how much you leak) is not a measure of how much milk you have. I could never pump more than an ounce and my two exclusively breastfed children have survived. Conclusion: I did have milk.
- Allowing your baby to fall sleep at the breast is normal. Mother and baby release the hormone oxytocin during breastfeeding that naturally relaxes and induces sleep. Nature is wonderful.
- Breastfeeding on demand is not a bad habit. It’s natural. Through the day and night, offering your breast at every tiny squeal is a good and normal response. All children eventually sleep through the night and outgrow the need for the breast.
- Breast milk is liquid gold: food and antibodies, populating your baby’s gut with beneficial bacteria, providing stem cells …
- We are meant to breastfeed. Yet, while it is natural, it is also a learned skill. It’s okay to struggle and to seek help to keep going. Every baby and breast is different. Trust your body, trust your heart, trust your baby.
2. Be careful what you read.
I have read many books on parenting in the last few years. I wish I had never turned the first page of those that told me to watch the clock and robbed me of my peace of mind during the first three months by stressing me about the ‘bad habits’ I was forming without a rigid routine. I now know these books are wrong, but what I read still creeps up on me in my moments of doubt…
During moments of doubt you need support. Find people you can laugh and cry with. Feeding a baby for hours can be tiring, sometimes lonely, and a huge responsibility. After all, this little life depends on what comes out of your breasts. When exhausted, scared, or alone, you need to be reminded that what you are doing is awesome. Hearing that those around you are proud of you, that they think you a good mother, can lift so much weight. It is also wonderful to have women around you who have been on and are going along this path, who understand and can hold you up.
And you need food: lots of food. Food is love, and never more so than when it is given to a breastfeeding mother! So, tell those that love you to feed you!
4. Determination (and selective hearing or forgiveness).
Even the greatest circle of support will fail you at times. When your husband is exhausted by a punishing work schedule and complains that “all you do is sit there and feed the baby,” or your mother questions whether you have enough milk because little John is still not sleeping through, or someone tells you that you shouldn’t feel tired—hinting at a lack of fitness or will. When those that make such comments are sleeping and you are up in the night, looking at your baby and wondering if a bottle of formula might let you sleep through or if you have a right to feel tired, then it is your determination to love and nourish your baby that will keep you going.
5. Breastfeeding is hard, western society makes it harder.
Mothering is physically exhausting and can be emotionally draining. A mother is vulnerable, uncovering her breasts and opening her heart to little hands and mouth that want everything (food and comfort) from her at all times. Our society balks at this dependency. It wants us functional at specific hours, eating when convenient. We have forgotten what babies need, what mothers do, what breasts are for. You may need to be brave to fight the trend and keep on breastfeeding.
Thank you for wanting to breastfeed my nephew, for wanting to embark on this journey that is for both of you, as well as for generations to come.
Your sister Karem.