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One Piece of Breastfeeding Advice All Couples Need

I knew that I wanted to breastfeed my first baby from the moment I discovered that I was pregnant with him. Science supported breastfeeding. Public health messages supported breastfeeding. My Ob-Gyn supported breastfeeding. My mother and sister both breastfed their children.

I had evidence-based knowledge and social support: the perfect combination for any new mother.

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As I planned and prepared to breastfeed for the first time, I tried to bolster this knowledge and support with as much practical advice as I could find. I researched the best breast pump, the best nursing bras and the best breastfeeding pillows. I scoured diagrams representing breast anatomy and good latches and breastfeeding positions. I wanted to learn as much as I could before my baby took his own first latch. As such, I also wanted some practical advice from some of the moms whom I trusted the most—moms like my younger sister.

She had given birth to her first child nearly a year-and-a-half before I gave birth to mine. She was one of the first people in my adult life whom I'd seen breastfeed their baby. And to me, at least, she made it look easy. In fact, I distinctly remember the serenity on her face, in her composure and in the delicate way that she held my nephew as she nursed him while sitting in a white rocker on her front porch. She seemed like the perfect person to give me all the practical breastfeeding advice I could ever want.

"Kristen," she said when I asked her for this advice. "You'll have people in the hospital who can help you with latch and milk supply questions and all that. Your pediatrician should be able to help you too. And a good lactation consultant can be great. But here's the best advice I can give you. Have Tim [my husband] tell you that you're doing a great job. All day. All the time. Even when you're crying, tell him that he needs to say to you that you're doing a great job. That you're amazing. Teach him to do this way before your baby is born. Let him know that even when he's not quite sure if you are, in fact, doing a great job at breastfeeding, he still needs to tell you that you're doing a great job."

Sometimes he'd even scream while nursing. Sometimes I'd sob and wail with him.

At the time, her advice seemed sweet but also a little peculiar. I wasn't quite sure why I would need so much encouragement if I was well-prepared to breastfeed. In fact, I assumed that, because breastfeeding was "natural," breastfeeding itself would be easy. My baby would be born with an instinct to suckle. I'd put him to my breasts, which, naturally, had nipples for suckling. My baby would be born with a need for milk. And I would breastfeed him because, naturally, my breasts would make milk.

What I didn't realize—what my pre-mom self hadn't quite yet learned—is that not everything that's natural is easy.

I only learned this after my son was born.

I had a cesarean section. It was all but impossible to find a nursing position that didn't tug at the aching, sensitive incision on my abdomen.

I ended up with cracked nipples. I thought I knew how to avoid them. I thought that my son was getting a good latch, that I was following the advice of the in-hospital lactation consultant. But my nipples bled and stung, and I winced each time I brought my baby to my breast.

My lactation consultant was haughty and dismissive. She might have just been having a bad day. I might have just been overly sensitive. But I cried both times after she left my bedside.

My baby was colicky. He screamed for hours on end. Sometimes he'd even scream while nursing. Sometimes I'd sob and wail with him.

All that was natural and beautiful about breastfeeding was by no means easy for me.

But in those first few trying days and weeks, it was the constant reassurance and encouragement from my husband that helped me the most.

Yet, through it all, my husband stayed by my side and followed my sister's advice

"You're doing a good job," he'd say as I'd try and try again to get our son to latch onto my red-mottled nipple.

"You're doing a great job," he'd tell me as I'd sob along with our newborn child, wondering aloud what I was doing wrong

"You're doing a great job," he'd assure me when our son's latch would send shocks of pain throughout my body.

"You're doing a great job," he'd say in those rare, quiet moments when our baby and I would seem to be getting the hang of this new and strange and beautiful relationship.

And eventually, I gained confidence. I discovered how to get a better latch and better positioning. I found wonderful support in our pediatrician and her nursing staff. Our baby's colic dissipated. He (and thus, we) began sleeping for increasingly longer stretches of time.

I ended up nursing that baby for a little over a year.

The research helped. The supplies helped. The support I received from so many friends and family and professionals also helped.

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But in those first few trying days and weeks, it was the constant reassurance and encouragement from my husband that helped me the most. It helped me to persevere. It helped me not to despair. It helped me to feel like maybe, just maybe, I'd have my own serene breastfeeding moments some day.

That simple phrase—"you're doing a great job"—was the light at the end of all my breastfeeding tunnels.

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Image by Kristen Oganowski

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