As August is National Breastfeeding month (OK, so I just found this out on another blog site), I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on the experience. Most specifically I thought I’d like to write about the progression of the whole experience because at the beginning, I really thought I’d never “make it” / be able to keep it up for the first year, but now it’s really not a problem. Sure, it’s not always the most convenient thing – although at night or first thing in the morning, it’s certainly easier than having to heat a bottle.
Starting from the very beginning and the hospital… I couldn’t take her right away at delivery because there had been some merconium in the amniotic fluid and they needed to make sure her lungs / airway was clear before I could hold her (what a slow passage of time that seemed!), but when I got her she latched right on – and with quite a grip! The nurse in the delivery room showed me how to break the latch with my finger if I needed to – and I was glad for that information! I nursed her during that first LONG night, but couldn’t quite seem to remember the right way to break the latch – man, did it hurt when I tried! So when the lactation consultant came by the next morning, it was one of my primary questions (after – is she getting anything / is this working?). I should have known that this was not your average person and her take on breastfeeding would be … strong. I mean, this woman had just squeezed my boob to see if anything came out (to confirm that the baby was actually ‘getting something’) – but then again, I wasn’t exactly normal at this moment (I’d just let a complete stranger squeeze my boob!), so who was I to judge? When I asked herm, ‘how do I break the latch?’ She looked at me and said – ‘why would you ever want to break the latch?!’ Hmm… I don’t know, because I seemed to have been nursing her ALL night last night – 45 minutes on one side, 30 on the other a short break and then back again and I felt like I needed to switch off on sides – or that maybe there might be times when I’d need to do something else (I couldn’t necessarily always “hold it” for the time she’d need nursing and less than 24 hours after giving birth, I could just barely get myself to the bathroom (taking about 10 minutes to do so) – there was no way I was bringing the baby in too.). But she’d asked the question in such a horrified way, I couldn’t bring myself to respond.
The second night at the hospital was even harder in terms of feeding ALL NIGHT! I was so exhausted and was just about ready to give up. The nurse came in around 3 when we’d just put the baby back in the bassinet screaming (about ready to send her back to the nursery! I mean, she couldn’t still be hungry, so there was nothing more I could do). She told us the baby was hungry. I nearly cried explaining I’d been feeding her for 3 hours and pointing to the sheet where I was tracking all that. She suggested a bottle / formula. I adamantly said no! She’d wind up with nipple confusion! (Any new Mom knows the horror in which this is discussed – threatened in the breast feeding classes if you let a bottle in the same room as your newborn in the first 3 weeks. You know that if you allow ANY formula your milk will NEVER come in and then your baby won’t be breastfed – and will grow up to be a serial killer…) I was so tired and frustrated (and we were only a day in to parenthood!) and I couldn’t seem to do anything to satisfy my poor tired and frustrated baby. Then the nurse came up with a solution that seemed to save us – I will forever be grateful to her. She suggested that we could supplement the baby with formula while breastfeeding by running a small feeding tube from a formula bottle across the nipple so she’d continue to stimulate milk production (and receive the all important colustrum) but would be satiated with the formula. We did this and she actually mercifully went to sleep for a couple of hours. We wanted to kiss the nurse.
The nursing staff increased our wonder and awe of them when they sent home several spare feeding tubes and bottles of formula with us! We used them often for those nighttime feedings in the first few weeks (it was such an odd sensation – the cold formula running across your otherwise warm body), as we continued to praise that savior nurse! But we weren’t done and we still felt lost in the sea of all nighters as our new little addition demanded to be fed through most of the hours our bodies were SCREAMING at us to sleep. We just couldn’t seem to think straight. I worried that my milk wasn’t coming in. I worried that she wasn’t getting enough. I worried that I’d never sleep again. And I’ll be honest – my worries weren’t necessarily in that order…
When the baby was about 10 days old, I went to the first breastfeeding moms group at the hospital. It was crowded – generally with babies older than my munchkin – old hands at mothering to my sleep crusted eyes. When it got to my turn to introduce myself, I felt like I could barely choke out the words and keep my voice steady – my hormones were wreaking havoc! The other women were so nice though – one told me how impressed she was that I’d even made it out of the house this soon. She said that with her first baby, she came to the group when he was a couple of weeks old and just sat and cried! She watched the moms feeding their babies and couldn’t for the life of her figure out how to work her nursing bra while holding her child! I was not alone. Others felt this way too. I vowed to go back to the group – unfortunately the munchkin must have caught on to my silent vow and did her best to thwart me for about a month following. It seemed that the night before the group met was always her WORST night leaving me far too sleep deprived and unsteady to go anywhere. I couldn’t figure out why the group met at 10:30 – how could ANY new Mom make it out of the house by 10:30?
I thought about giving up a lot in the first few weeks. What kept me going – and I’m a little ashamed of this (but probably not as much as I should be) – was thinking of other moms I knew who did it. Not the Moms who were my good friends, who I admired – no, they were supermoms! They could do anything. I wasn’t surprised by their ease and grace at this task. No, no. I thought of the Moms who seemed far less natural – those who had continued to drink (some!) during their pregnancy and had to test the BAC of their breastmilk on occasion. Those who seemed excited to go back to work for the break from their kids. I thought – if they can do it, so can I! I know, I know – not exactly my greatest moment… But it worked! (So now you can think of me – if someone as base and rude as ME can do it…)
There were nights in week 2 when I wondered how long I could go on with this. The exhaustion felt crippling. The advice was conflicting. My body was weak. The lactation consultations over the phone were far too crunchy granola (relax your body and picture the milk flowing out of you – what?). But then every once in awhile, I’d get a gem. Someone would tell me their story – how they’d gone through the same thing because it takes two weeks for your milk to fully come in and it would get better then. Or the lactation consultant suggested pumping during the day, so that if I must supplement at night (she clearly didn’t really approve of this), I could supplement with my own milk. I’d be telling my body to produce the right amounts that way and still getting her fed. I’d hold on to each useful tip / each story of getting through this like a life raft (ok, some days it felt more like water wings – you know, holds you up a little, but not total rescue protection). But then slowly… I learned to swim.
In those first days, I made myself promise to try to keep this up for two weeks. Just those first two weeks to try it out. Then I pushed it to three, as so many people said that those first 3 weeks were the real time of trial and difficulty. Then I was able to push it out to say through my maternity leave. And then slowly, I was able to stop bargaining with myself and just do it.
Sure it’s not always “fun.” I mean, sitting in my freezing office attaching the breastpump, which I’ve once again forgotten to remove from the freezer packs to warm it up, while trying to multitask gets old fast. But it’s also not that hard anymore. It definitely took some time, but maybe there’s no such thing as a “natural” in this parenting business. We all have our challenges and have to work at it, but the rewards are amazing.