In my family there have been quite a few difficult stories of breastfeeding. However, all of these stories are from my mother's generation. There was an overarching theory that nursing was easy, that all you had to do was bring your baby to your breast and everything would sort itself out. It looked that simple after all. The ladies in my family, and presumably a lot of families, of my mother's generation were met with one obstacle after another as they attempted to nurse. At first the baby was disinterested in the breast, then if the baby became interested, the mom wouldn't know how to get him to latch properly. If the nursing became successful, the latch was so poor that it would cause all sorts of trouble for the nipple, cracking, chaffing and even bleeding. As the attempts at breastfeeding became more and more frustrating for both mom and baby the stress level would rise. While stress is not directly linked to adversely affecting milk supply, it can make the whole nursing experience fraught with anxiety, apprehension and fear causing both mom and baby to become too frustrated to successfully complete the task at hand. Sure enough, the ladies of the preceding generation turned to the bottle, baby formula and even early ages of baby food such as rice cereal.
Nowadays, we have access to copious amounts of information by way of the internet, published books and magazines. No longer do new mothers have to go into the unknown territory of nursing without any information. My aunt told me that the hospital she had my cousin in didn't even have a pamphlet to provide new mothers with information on nursing. Now, almost forty years later with the advent of the internet, my cousin's wife has had such a pleasurable experience with nursing. Women of my generation no longer live with the myth that all you have to do is "bring the baby to breast." We understand that nursing often requires finesse, and that it's a process that must be learned, practiced and perfected.
While my mom is supportive of my instinct to nurse, some of her stories are disconcerting. It's not that I'm not happy to learn from my mother, but there are some things that have changed in the past thirty years. To quote The Dude from "The Big Lebowski," "new sh*t has come to light!" One of the first things my mother told me about was that I had to toughen my nipples or I will not be able to nurse properly. It is now known that a proper latch should cause no chaffing or cracking and that toughening your nipples would actually take away from the oils that are naturally secreted from the areola (the skin around the nipple). The oils are there to help fight bacteria and more importantly to soften and lubricate the nipple. Why would we want to toughen an area of skin that our body is specifically trying to soften and moisten? She has also told me that beginning to nurse can be anxiety provoking. (Not to make it sound all bad, she has also told me that once achieved successfully it is so peaceful and relaxing and the bond that is formed with your child is immeasurable.)
There are some other humorous myths I have heard about nursing. One that actually pertains to me is that women with small breasts do not produce enough milk to feed their babies. That is simply not true. Every woman produces the right amount of milk for her baby. It is actually the baby's stimulation of the nipple that prompts the production of milk. A woman's milk supply has nothing to do with the size of her breasts.
I've heard nursing described as everything from a living hell and misery to the most precious moments and the ultimate experience as a mother. While it is always important to draw upon the experiences of our mothers and family, it is also important that we educate ourselves. I chose to read as much as I could find, to seek as much help as I could afford and to talk to as many people as I could. As I await my baby's arrival I feel well prepared to begin nursing as well as solving any problems that it may cause. Remember, knowledge is power and this is no different with nursing.