Perspectives_EditedMedical experts all agree: breastfeeding is not just the optimal choice of nutrition for babies, it is an absolute health imperative. It provides unparalleled protection against viruses, bacterial infections, and environmental toxins. It stimulates the physical, intellectual, and emotional growth of your baby and initiates important hormonal signals that prime both the body and brain for optimal development. Absolutely priceless, it is the ultimate superfood. But breastfeeding isn’t easy and it throws most new moms for a loop.

In a very special Q&A, we get the unique perspective of one new mom who shares what she discovered through breastfeeding—the joys, the challenges, and what contributed to her success.

How does your actual experience with breastfeeding differ from prenatal expectations?  

I wasn’t expecting breastfeeding to be as rewarding as it actually is. Before having my baby, I knew that I would love her very much, but I couldn’t imagine quite how much. It is the same with breastfeeding. I knew that I would probably enjoy it, but I didn’t know how much. I love it for so many reasons. For example, it makes me feel closer to my daughter and it helps us to bond with each other. Breastfeeding is a very intimate experience. It also forces me to slow down, sit still and just focus on her, which is such an important and relaxing thing for a parent to do with a baby. And it also calms my daughter, regardless of what is going on – be it a cold, or teething or just her wanting to sleep but not being able to. I put her on my breast and she calms down and falls asleep. That, in turn, calms me down too.

On the other hand, I wasn’t expecting breastfeeding to be as time-consuming as it is. I didn’t realize that my baby would become dependent on me for nourishment and comfort during the day and night. This feels wonderful at times, but it can also feel tiring because she is so reliant on me. This means that I have much less time for myself than ever before. It also means that it is very difficult for anyone else to calm her. For me and my baby, breastfeeding as nourishment and breastfeeding as comfort cannot be separated.

What do you think most contributed to your breastfeeding success?  

A number of factors contributed to my breastfeeding success. Having given birth in the UK, I know that things work differently. For example, a few minutes after my daughter was born, the midwife in the delivery room asked me whether I wanted to breastfeed and when I put my baby to my breast she latched on right away. It was a wonderful experience.

Once in my hospital room, I had a really caring midwife who supported me with breastfeeding. I was able to call her to my bed during the day and night and she would show me over and over again how I could get my baby to best latch onto my breasts. The hospital I gave birth at wouldn’t let me leave until I could demonstrate that I was able to breastfeed.

Once I got home, I fed my baby on demand, and I spent a lot of time with her, giving her skin-to-skin contact and carrying her around. When she cried, I put her on my breast and that would calm her down immediately. She started gaining weight right away. I also enjoyed breastfeeding her from the beginning. Rather than seeing it merely as a time-consuming task (which it is), I saw it as an opportunity to bond with my baby and to give her the best possible start to life, both in terms of her nourishment as well as her and my feelings of attachment and her feelings of safety regarding the world.

My husband was hugely supportive of me breastfeeding our daughter, and this really helped me to feel that I was doing what was best for all of us.

In addition, I think what helped me was to see breastfeeding as something natural. It never even occurred to me to give my baby a bottle of formula. I felt comfortable with breastfeeding from the start. It was something I really wanted to do. I didn’t over-analyze it. I just did it. It helped that my mother had breastfed me. This normalization of breastfeeding has always been with me.

What do you think pregnant women need to know most about breastfeeding?

There are a lot of things that pregnant women need to know about breastfeeding. Firstly, that breastfeeding is the most natural and healthy way of nourishing your baby, both nutritionally and emotionally. Women need to know about the research that clearly demonstrates that breast milk is the best possible nourishment you can give to your baby. Nothing else comes close to it.

Breastfeeding feels lovely because it forces you to slow down and focus on your baby, who you can bond with so much more easily if they are cuddled against you a lot of the day and night through breastfeeding.

But they also need to know that breastfeeding does take time, and unlike bottle-feeding, no one else can do it for you. This means that you will be spending a lot of time with your baby, which can be wonderful, but it also means that you have very little time to yourself. This can feel difficult at times because most of us are not used to catering to someone else’s needs so much. And it means that you are the one getting up at night to feed your baby, as no one else can do it for you (unless you express milk, which I don’t do).

Pregnant women need to remember that breastfeeding is only a short phase in the life of their babies, and that they will miss the closeness it gives them once they are no longer breastfeeding. So rather than thinking about the challenges – such as the fact that your baby is dependent on you, and that you will be spending a lot of the day and night breastfeeding, and that you won’t have much time for yourself – remember the many rewards of breastfeeding, and that no other substance in the world can give your baby either nutritionally or emotionally as much as breastfeeding can. I am already sad when I think that one day my daughter won’t need to nurse anymore. Even if that means that I will have more time doing things that I used to enjoy, such as going to the gym or out to dinner with my husband.