Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mother's Milk

As I have mentioned before, breastfeeding was an incredibly difficult part of motherhood for me. The road to full-time nursing was rocky, painful and took sixteen long weeks to traverse. However, today's blog post is not about re-hashing my breastfeeding trauma. Today's post is about informing nursing mothers of the three-month milestone and how to push on through.

What is the three-month milestone, you ask?

Before I explain, I want to go over a few little facts about milk production. After giving birth, your body experiences a flux of hormones, in particular, oxytocin. Oxytocin is often referred to as the "love hormone". Your body releases a burst of oxytocin as your uterus contracts and your cervix dilates; it helps to facilitate labour and breastfeeding. Prolactin is another hormone that facilitates breastfeeding. Oxytocin causes lactation to begin and your breasts to fill with milk. Prolactin regulates milk production in the breasts. So for the first several weeks post partem, milk production (which is triggered by your baby's first suckling at the breast) occurs as a result of your hormones.

During this time, your boobs will be full almost all the time (except for right after a feeding) and feel heavy and probably a bit sore. The thing is, your body knows you have given birth, but doesn't know how many babies there are, so you will be storing far too much milk for one babe for the first couple of months. It takes some getting used to, for sure. Like most things, once you get used to it, it changes. After months of waking up in the morning to full, heavy breasts, you will wake up one morning to find that they seem empty and flaccid. And you will feel worried. And you will fear that your milk is drying up. And you will wonder how there could possibly be enough to feed your baby...

This is what I call the three-month milestone.

For me, I have very sensitive milk ducts that get easily backed up. If I didn't pump or nurse every couple of hours, my breasts would get very hard and small, tender lumps would form. So imagine my surprise when I woke up after nine hours of rest (my wonderful dear baby slept the night) and my breasts were not full. I was panicking. I took a double dose of domperidone and drank glass after glass of water and juice. I took bags of milk out of the freezer to thaw on the counter. I was seriously concerned that just as I was finally able to start nursing dear baby full time, it was all going to come crashing down due to lack of production.

It was around this time that I had a little conversation about my situation with my friend, S. S gave birth to a little baby boy just two weeks after me and the two of us have been discussing pregnancy and motherhood since we were twelve weeks along. She confided that she was also concerned about low supply and a lack of fullness, especially in the evening and first thing in the morning. After consulting with her midwife, she told me that as long as dear baby is nursing, seems happy and has lots of wet diapers, then milk supply is fine. The thing is, even when someone tells you this, you will still experience doubt.

It is important to remember that your body is designed for motherhood. With so many books, resources, the internet and advice, it's easy to mistrust your own instincts but the fact is, your body IS designed for motherhood. Have faith that you have everything you need to nourish your baby and your baby knows instinctively how to get it.

So when the three-month milestone rolled into town for me, I took S's advice and continued nursing on through, trusting that my baby was getting enough milk. It turns out that, like your mothering skills, your milk matures over time. As you go along on your nursing adventure, your milk will change more in quality than quantity. It will become richer and more nutritious. You will notice that your baby feeds for less time, not because there is no milk, but because he, too, has honed his breastfeeding skills and become much more efficient. Ever since the three-month mark, my breasts have rarely felt full, even after a full night's rest.

The big physical change that occurs during the three-month milestone is largely hormonal. Up until now, your milk production has been a result of hormones. After the three-month milestone, those hormones start to back off and your milk is produced based on how often your baby nurses and how much he requires. Your body recognizes that there is no longer any need to store lots of extra milk and so production becomes tailored to baby's needs.

And so to all of my nursing mamas who are worried that their milk is in jeopardy, I hope this bit of information helps you to trust in your body and keep on nursing. You may feel worried and wonder if you need to supplement your dear baby with formula to ensure that he is properly nourished. Of course, it is always best to consult your doctor or midwife in these matters, but if your baby is well and happy and has plenty of wet diapers then you don't need to worry. Just keep on keeping on and have a little faith in yourself.

Diadima xo

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