Breastfeeding: My Story
Every woman made a choice, or had a choice made for her about breastfeeding. And behind every choice is a story. Here is mine.
My first child would not or could not nurse. There were lots of issues working against us; he was born early and in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for three days, he was tongue-tied and needed help latching; I had poor milk supply because of a previous surgery. And we didn’t have very knowledgeable support, despite the fact that we were at a “breast-feeding friendly” hospital.
For the first few weeks I cried many tears of frustration and anger, I cried on the phone to my best friend, to the useless lactation consultant, but mostly by myself holding my beautiful, bottle-fed baby in my arms. After a while I learned to enjoy the good parts of bottle-feeding; the freedom and watching my husband hold Aaron in his arms and feed him.
I did not love the stares and comments that other mothers made to me as they saw me with a bottle. They did not know what I had gone through, they did not know that I wanted to be like them but had failed.
I swore that the next time it would be different and it was. When I was pregnant I went to breastfeeding expert Dr. Jack Newman and told him my entire sob story. I had heard that he could be difficult and judgmental but I found him to be fair. He listened, interjected, criticized my past care and he told me that it was possible for me to breastfeed. And that is what I needed to hear.
I hired a Lactation Consultant who was an expert in post-surgical breastfeeding (and Jack’s assistant). She arrived at the hospital hours after Sam’s birth and latched him on. I took magical herbs and Domperidone, a prescribed drug. And when I called in tears on day six, she rushed over, looked at Sam and at me and opened a can of formula.
But we didn’t give him a bottle. She took out a small tube, latched him on and slid the tube into the corner of his mouth so that he was getting milk and formula simultaneously. And that is how I fed him for six months. It became natural to me and I could nurse in restaurants, in stores and in bed with my little bag of extras. Sound fanatical? Maybe so, but as I looked down and saw my baby nursing I would cry tears of relief. I was Earth Mother incarnate – just with a little help.
Baby number three arrived and I was all ready with my tubes and jars but I didn’t need it. She latched on right away and I didn’t need to do any supplementation. Success!
I have done it all ways: one baby was formula fed; one was half and half and one was solely breastfed. I do not see any differences in their health and I don’t expect to find any that are linked to their different starts. But I did find breastfeeding much more convenient, no pre-planning or bag packing were necessary. But it was more than that, I loved nursing. My breasts were finally doing what they were made to do. I could create and sustain life on my own. Not to mention that it also appealed to my lazy side, I liked being forced to put down everything and sit on the couch (or lie on my bed) and feed the baby.
I know that breastfeeding is not for everyone. I know better than anyone how difficult it can be, and that it doesn’t always work out. I have experienced the disapproval from other moms when you whip out the bottle. I see how some of my friends are so uncomfortable with nursing that they lock themselves in their bedroom on a three-hour schedule and if I could, I would unlock that door and hand them the bottle myself.
But I do wish that every women would give it a try, and most importantly that all new moms could have a network of knowledgeable people surrounding them to make breastfeeding easier. In our culture, many women don’t have the kind of support that they need to breastfeed successfully, we have lost our historical and cultural knowledge of nursing. I was lucky to have Jack Newman, his clinic and his staff but future women may not be so lucky as he is constantly underfunded.
When people ask me for advice I always tell them if you want to breastfeed hire a private Lactation Consultant, have her meet you at the hospital and ignore everyone else’s advice (except mine).
Science has shown us that breast is best; corporations have shown us that they cannot be trusted to support breastfeeding and our culture continually sends mixed messages about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding may be one of the most difficult parts of early motherhood, but it is only the beginning and there will be many, many other choices along the way that will help define what kind of mother you are. My breastfeeding experience taught me to forgive myself for a perceived failure but also that sometimes you get a second chance (and in my case a third, but that’s where it stops for me).