In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I’d like to share my experience breastfeeding. I might be going way off topic here, but it’s the summer, there are no school lunches to eat and so I retain the right to blog about anything remotely related to food, nutrition, education, and schools. Breast milk is a baby’s first food and is an infant’s perfect made-for-baby food. Since studies show that breastfeeding prevents obesity, I believe it is relevant for the blog. If you don’t want to read about breastfeeding, feel free to skip the below. You have been warned…
I wanted to breastfeed my baby for 12 months like all the experts recommended. I knew my mom had breastfed my sister and me, but I knew that we had been bottle fed too. I learned while I was pregnant that my grandmother had bottle fed my mother exclusively (it was the 1950’s and formula was new and en vogue).
I took a breastfeeding class at the hospital while I was pregnant. My husband and I jointly took a birthing class at the hospital and breastfeeding was covered so he was exposed to similar information. My husband was supportive of my breastfeeding because he was exclusively bottle fed and has severe asthma. We had read research that breastfeeding decreases the risk of asthma and we both wanted our baby to not have a medically-involved childhood like he had experienced.
In the hospital after the birth, my little baby was interested and excited to breastfeed. I was encouraged by his little baby bird mouth and proud of myself for feeding him. Towards the end of my two days in the hospital, one nurse came in and said, “I don’t think he has a good latch. I’m going to send in a lactation consultant.” I was slightly offended mostly because she was the first nurse to notice a problem. But my breasts were taking a beating from his vigorous sucking so maybe she was onto something.
The lactation consultant visited me just before we were going to leave the hospital. My milk hadn’t come it, but I figured I was providing colostrum so it was no big deal. She said, “I’m very concerned.” Her demeanor was gruff and rude and I took it personally that my baby was not feeding properly. I started to cry. I told her, “Look, we are just about to leave the hospital with our baby. I don’t want to hear this right now.” She left and came back with nipple shields. We left the hospital with formula samples in a formula company provided, hospital approved diaper bag.
My husband and I went home hoping that everything would be alright. After a night of about 90 minutes of sleep, we were supposed to see the doctor the next morning. We went to our pediatrician (a great guy) who told us that the baby had lost too much weight and we needed to supplement with formula. I was devastated. My pediatrician’s office has a part-time lactation consultant/nurse practitioner on staff, but she was not in the office so the doctor sent us back to the hospital to see their lactation consultant again. I told my husband I couldn’t go back to that terrible woman who saw me before. Thankfully it was a different lactation consultant on call that day. During the session she gave our son two ounces of pre-mixed formula and we rented a breast pump.
Finally the next day my milk came in (FINALLY!). I started pumping because I couldn’t get the baby to breastfeed. Pumping is a weird feeling, but I got used to it. My mother also arrived to help us. I was so happy to see her that I cried. Unfortunately because of her work commitments, she could only stay for 48 hours even though she wanted to stay longer.
I discussed breastfeeding with her and I asked her, “How long did you breastfeed me for?” Her reply, “I weaned you when you were three months old.” It seemed like an insanely long time to have breastfed but it seemed doable. But I vowed that my goal would be to equal what she had done for me. I would do this for three months.
Unfortunately I could not get the baby to nurse. Every time I put him to the breast, he would cry mightily in protest. This vocal insult felt like a rejection of me. Thankfully, my milk production was high and I was able to meet all of his needs while pumping. But I wanted to find more lactation help. I was determined to get him back to the breast.
I was pumping exclusively for our son. During the day and throughout the night my husband would reheat a bottle of breast milk and feed our baby while I pumped for the next feeding. Lactation consultants advise that the mother should not give the baby a bottle if the mother also offers the breast. In my case this was especially important as he wouldn’t nurse. It was traumatic that I couldn’t feed my baby in my arms, but at least I could feel proud that he was getting breast milk.
Two weeks after birth I was so exhausted and my husband went back to work. I noticed a large red spot on my breast and called my pediatrician and my OBGYN. I had mastitis and I was put on antibiotics. It felt like having the flu with aches and pains, plus weepiness. My OBGYN referred me to a social worker and I was screened for post-partum depression. The diagnosis was “the baby blues.”
While sick with mastitis I met with the lactation consultant at my son’s pediatrician’s office. She did the unthinkable: she got my son to nurse! I was thrilled, but when I got home I couldn’t repeat it. I told my husband that if I had to pump exclusively for our son, it was ok because I was getting used to it. The constant rejections from my baby were almost too much for me. I ended up having to give him a bottle myself.
I quit offering the breast to my son because it just seemed like “too much work.” And when he was six weeks old, I got mastitis on the other side. Luckily I caught it early and went straight to the lactation consultant. I told her I couldn’t get the baby to breastfeed. She was able to get him to breastfeed during the session in her office. She looked me in the eye and said with all seriousness, “You’re going to have to push his face right into it.” That still makes me laugh!
I went home and took her advice. He started crying when I offered the breast and I just pushed his face right into the breast. He nursed! I was overwhelmed with relief and pride. From that point forward he stopped getting breast milk in a bottle.
Shockingly breastfeeding became easy. I was able to nurse during the night quickly and efficiently though not lying down, which I never mastered. There were no more smelly bottles to wash. And my husband didn’t have to get up in the night, which made him very happy. All of a sudden I felt a bond to my son that I had not experienced before. I viewed him differently. He was no longer this alien being, but my baby. I’m sure it was oxytocin because nothing else had changed. That’s one powerful human drug!
Just as breastfeeding was finally getting easier, I had to gear up to return to work when he was nine weeks old. I was worried that all my work to breast feed would be for nothing. I invested in a breast pump and returned the hospital’s breast pump that I had been renting. I was able to pump at work in a small, semi-private/private room. When I wasn’t at work I was able to breastfeed my baby at home. The only bottles we washed were the ones from daycare. As a working mom, breastfeeding was a great way for me to be able to be close to my infant in a way that no other caregiver could be.
After that difficult start, I was able to breastfeed for 13 months, thereby far exceeding my original goal of three months (the length of time I was breastfed). There were dips in my milk production after seven months and formula had to be supplemented sporadically then, but whenever I was with my baby I was able breastfeed him. Around 13 months of age he refused to nurse and self-weaned. I never had to wean him off of a bottle since he wasn’t crazy about the bottles he got at daycare and didn’t drink from a bottle at home. Additionally I lost almost all the weight I gained during the pregnancy though I’m still carrying 5-10 stubborn pounds. My little guy was a massive, chunky baby (gotta love those fat rolls) but is now a slim, active toddler.
I have a healthy, thriving child who is the inspiration of this blog project. My kid is in childcare so he gets sick a lot (like every toddler I’m told) so a history of breastfeeding can’t prevent everything! We’re still waiting to see if our son develops asthma. But my husband and I continue to be breastfeeding advocates. Recently I caught Mr. Q on the phone discussing breastfeeding with a buddy of his who is about to become a father. I got a little choked up when I heard him talk about the benefits.
What I learned and now believe:
1) No woman who wants to breastfeed should leave the hospital prior to her milk coming in, in effect without a way to feed her baby. It’s criminal to let mothers like me leave the hospital with formula samples. If our country is serious about increasing the number of women breastfeeding to help combat a host of ailments, we need to be entirely more baby-friendly and less formula-company-friendly.
2) All new parents should accept every offer of help they get from family and friends. We told family not to come right after the birth because we wanted to “bond” with the baby. Can you laugh with me! HA HA! We were so bonded we didn’t have time to pee, eat, or shower.
3) If a woman is screened for post-partum depression and results come up in the “baby blues” range, someone should still follow up. The social worker asked me when I was two weeks post-partum, “Do you experience moments of joy during your day?” I replied, “Of course, I have a beautiful baby.” “Then you are not depressed,” she stated emphatically. However, when I compare how I felt during those first six weeks with my baby to how my friends felt with a newborn, I can find only one friend who went through what I did. Normal people were a lot happier than I had been. When/if I have another child I’m going to be more aware and GOD FORBID I have another rough time of it breastfeeding a newborn!
Since there are a lot of Moms who read this blog, if you blog about breastfeeding for World Breastfeeding Week, please link to it below: