As a black mom I surprised a lot of people when I told them that I planned on breastfeeding. My primary care doctor asked me if I had looked into formula just in case it didn’t work out. My OBGYN stressed to me that if I couldn’t produce enough milk, that “a fed baby is a happy baby.” My own black mother told me that she had breastfed all of her children but had placed her work before breastfeeding so often that she usually forgot to leave milk for our dad to feed us.
This terrified me as a new mom. I had researched the ins and outs of breastfeeding and had attempted to prepare myself for the challenges I might face. I bought a huge water bottle to ensure I was getting enough to drink, I bought lactation cookies to support my supply in the first few months, I ate so many extra calories so I could be sure that my diet could match my sons hunger and my breasts would know to produce more milk. In the first few weeks, I struggled.
Due to my terrifying and traumatic child-birth process, I had doubts about if I could be a “good mom” and breastfeed my child. (I even bought formula just in case I failed) When my son cried in those first few weeks I thought every cry was because he hadn’t eaten enough and the guilt that overwhelmed me was immense. I couldn’t bear it. I knew I wasn’t the only mom that had to be experiencing trouble, so I looked everywhere for help and these are the tips that helped me to not only stress less but produce enough milk to build my freezer stash.
Your Diet and Breastfeeding
Your diet and how you eat is directly related to how much or little breastmilk your body produces. I was so stressed in the first few weeks that I often forgot to eat and thus produced less milk, which led to more stress and less eating – see how that cycle works? You need to have a balanced and full diet in order to efficiently produce milk. I started to keep snacks in the nursery, within arm’s reach, to give me initiative to eat and bought a reusable water bottle that I would refill whenever I could to ensure I continued to drink water.
On average, I have three meals a day with snacks in between. My breakfast is usually large with several carbs and plenty of fluids to ensure I will produce enough milk after breakfast to pump and store. My snacks are usually trail mix, sriracha peas, and popcorn, spread out throughout the day. For dinner, I try to eat a balanced plant-based meal that includes vegetables and drink my entire 1500ml water bottle before bed. This usually ensures that I wake up with full breasts to pump from.
Stress and Breastfeeding
I did not truly believe that stress would negatively affect my breastmilk production – and then the pandemic started. I had already been stressed adjusting to being a new mom and now I had the fear of myself or my family getting sick from an unknown disease with no set treatment plan and no cure. My husband being an essential worker didn’t help either. This stress caused my milk production to drop immensely, I went from pumping 8oz from one breast per day to not being able to manual pump enough milk for my son’s morning oatmeal.
The only thing that helped my stress was being sure to talk regularly with my therapist about my fears and working through them. If you don’t have access to a therapist, you can try talking to someone you trust like your partner or a friend to help you work through your anxieties. This article is great in its discussion of ways to manage both postpartum depression and anxiety.
It’s All A Choice
In the end, breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. I love it because it’s created a bond between my son and I that is special. He trusts me as his source for food and I’m hoping it creates the association that my son knows that if he needs something his mom will be there. But I also understand how difficult it can be, I have debated stopping several times, especially in the early months when I just couldn’t get him to latch correctly. With persistence, a strong community, and reaching out for help, I’ve been able to successfully breastfeed for almost six months!
Your body is your choice, and what works for me may not work for you. But I’m cheering you on along with other moms for whatever you decide. As the saying goes “a fed baby, is a happy baby.”