As I walk into the room, the same familiar look is in her eyes—relief for my presence, quickly followed by the anxiety and fear of inadequacy. These are feelings that haunt so many mamas. Feelings that are fueled by the questions that run through their heads in the deep hours of the night when they feel like they’re the only ones left in the world. Am I producing enough milk? Is my milk good enough? Is this normal? Am I normal? What’s wrong with me? Is it my fault?
WHAT DRIVES ME
As a lactation consultant and nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit, our methods and goals for lactation may vary from the typical full-term nursery. But the desires of every mom are the same—we want the best for our babies and will do whatever it takes. I felt this same desire as I prepared for the birth of my daughter and I held her in my arms trying desperately to meet her needs. The emotions and fears that came in the first few days and weeks after her birth are what pushed me to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
After many months of working on breastfeeding, doctors visits, specialists visits, procedures, and trying multiple feeding methods, my husband and I decided that what was most important for our child was that she received breast milk and had a mother that was mentally stable. So for the next 13 months I dedicated countless hours a day to a breast pump that would tell my body how much milk my baby needed based off how much quality time I spent with it. I pretty much spent 13 months tricking my body into thinking I was spending 20 minutes, six to eight times a day, cuddling and nourishing my baby as if I were a breastfeeding mother.
THE TIME TRAP
In those first few days and weeks when I was trying to establish my milk supply, I fell into a trap that so many of the moms I work with fall into—the time trap. I based everything on time, and I let it control my days and expectations. I was taking 24 hours and determining how many different things I could fit into these 1440 minutes.
In the NICU we feed babies every three hours on a perfect, beautiful schedule. So when I had my own baby, I had the same expectations for her—she will eat exactly what she needs every three hours and sleep peacefully between each feeding. But then reality set in. My daughter woke up one hour after feeding her. Then it happened again. I started to realize I was allowing time to shape my mind and direct my thoughts. I was letting it control me and it was affecting my attitude toward my daughter. My body had spent months preparing to make milk and learn my daughter’s cues, but I was trying to control when it could respond.
During the end of my pregnancy, my body had made colostrum, a nutrient-rich food that lays the foundation for her gut health. Then following her birth, my hormones changed and signaled to my body to make mature milk. This change, combined with the quality time I spent feeding her, helped me establish my full milk supply. To establish a milk supply my daughter needed to tell my body when she was hungry and how often she was hungry so it knew how much milk to make. But she continued to struggle to establish a good latch, so in order to maintain my milk supply I became best friends with my breast pump to frequently signal my body to make more.
This is the trap I fell into. I had to overcome my expectations of what “was supposed to happen” and allow my body to do what it had been preparing to do for months.
My personal experience acts as a constant reminder in my job. So before I leave every room, I ensure that my message to every mom is the same: your body created a baby and that’s amazing, your milk is good enough, YOU are good enough, it’s not your fault, you are not alone, and you’re already a fantastic mama!