30 March 2011

Now I Get It

I am a huge advocate of breastfeeding. I don’t refer to myself as a “lactivist” . . . I find this term a tad corny . . . but I probably am. I sincerely hope that doesn’t scare you.
I almost wanted to call this something like “What Breastfeeding Means To Me” but it sounded too much like the grown-up version of the eighth-grade essay. Forgive me for plunging into stream of consciousness style here, but as much as I love this topic it’s often difficult for me to say what I want to say about it without running in circles.
We are VERY into breastfeeding at our house
I surely spend more time thinking about and researching and reading about breastfeeding than the average person. Because of this, one of my biggest Parenting Peeves is comments about breastfeeding that are blatantly untrue and/or offensive and/or plain stupid. (See Boob Talk for a minor rant on this.) Check out my my Facebook “likes” and you will find five pages directly related to breastfeeding plus numerous other “parenting” pages that discuss breastfeeding on a regular basis.
There are many advantages to breastfeeding beyond providing nutrition, and if you are interested, I would love to share them with you. Perhaps I will even rave about them in a future post. Dr. Jen (one of my absolute favorite sources of terrific info) wrote a fabulous piece on newborns and why breastmilk is not food. Plus, breastmilk is just so darn useful . . . recently I cleared up multiple eye infections (my children’s and my own) with “homemade” eye antibiotics. But that’s not why I’m writing this.
Nor am I writing this to make anyone else feel inadequate. Although to be honest, I must admit I cringe a little when I first hear a fellow mom say “well, I tried, but I couldn’t breastfeed because [fill in the blank with a reason that’s not really a reason].” I’m not here to boast about my superior lactation skills. I know some women are unable to breastfeed due to medications, or a previous reduction, or past trauma . . . or they simply prefer to bottle feed because they decided that breastfeeding was not for them.
What I really want to share is how I evolved from “Ooh, nursing, yes . . . that’s free, right? And formula is quite pricey? Okay, let’s do that breastfeeding thing” to “Feeding your child your own milk, and watching her/him thrive on it, is the Most Fabulous Mommy Feeling Ever.” Never did I anticipate that of all the myriad aspects of parenting swirling around me, nursing would be the thing to turn me on my head. I cannot separate mothering and breastfeeding. They are inexplicably intertwined for me, for us. It goes beyond feeding in a way that only another breastfeeding mother can understand.
Daughter #1 (Eva) came very close to being formula fed, as nursing her was not exactly easy or a joy at the beginning, but once we caught on it became just a part of our life. (See Feeding Baby for a bit more on this.) At one point in the middle of our latch issues I considered pumping exclusively and bottle feeding, but I’m sure that would have not lasted long. This likely would have nixed any chance of my second daughter or my son being breastfed either. Why? Because then I would have been a Formula Feeding Mom and never delved into all the benefits of breastfeeding, discovered LLL or other support groups, or become one of those people that comments on breastfeeding advice pages on Facebook at least once a day. I never would have known what it was really like. And I truly feel I would have been missing out. That is why I am writing this.
The first days with Eva were rough. The lactation consultant at the hospital where I delivered her quit that week. The nurse they sent in to “help” was uninformed, impatient, and mean. I ended up giving her formula, both in the hospital and at home during the first few days. I cried the first time I had to ask Hubby to go make her a bottle. I felt like a failure, a complete mess. I did see a lactation consultant when she was four days old, but she too was not very friendly, and knowing what I know now, gave some rather poor advice. One good thing came of that visit, however: She motivated me to pump. I went to Target and bought an electric boob pump (a pretty expensive experiment, given that I wasn’t sure it would work, or even if it did, if I would continue). I now know this saved our breastfeeding relationship. I pumped like a crazy woman and started feeding with bottles of expressed milk. However, pumping and bottle-feeding proved to be way too much work—basically doing the job of a breastfeeding mom and a bottle-feeding mom simultaneously. I figured we would just make our lives easier and switch to formula. So, after a few more days of trying to get her to latch on, I gave up. I put away the pump, packed in its neat little black bag, and thought: That’s it. I tried. This @#$% is harder than it looks. No wonder so many women can’t breastfed. Now I am one of them.
This lasted about three days.
Following a teensy postpartum breakdown of tears, I frantically pulled the pump back out, put it together, and went all bovine. I made a renewed commitment to trying to latch Baby. I wandered the house shirtless and focused on nothing but getting that baby attached to a boob. She finally latched properly for the first time at about three weeks old (interestingly, in the middle of the night, when I wasn’t even trying) and at just over a month she finally finished a sufficient meal directly from the breast.
Eva nursed through my second pregnancy and beyond. Daughter #2 (Julia) latched on immediately and sailed right through those first few days and weeks, probably because I was still nursing her sister (23 months at the time). I ended up tandem nursing for just over a year. Eva weaned at just over three; Julia at just over two. I was about four months pregnant with #3 when Julia stopped nursing.
Probably postpartum hormones thinking, but while in the hospital with little brother (Andrew), even after having successfully breastfed his sisters for a combined total of four years, I had a flash of panic: What if the milk never came in? What if I couldn’t nurse this one as I did his sisters? What if it simply didn’t work this time? (As I’m typing this, I’m balancing a five-month-old, 18-pound moose on my lap, so clearly not the case.) I struggled at the beginning with him, too . . . never did I dream that my third baby would have latch issues, weight gain issues, etc. But nursing and babies had become so connected for me that the thought of not being able to offer that to my last baby devastated me. So we pressed on, and we did it.
Okay, this is getting incredibly long, and I’m still not sure I’m saying what I set out to say. Putting this into writing is much more difficult than I thought. I love nursing my children. I cannot imagine parenting without breastfeeding. What I once considered just a way to feed a baby has become a game-changing act in my mothering gig. I especially love that my daughters think of mommies giving their babies milk not only as the right thing to do, or even the normal thing to do, but just The Thing To Do, period. It’s just how mommies and babies work.
And they make that adorable little happy sound right before they latch on.
Now that I have been nursing almost five years continually (just a wee break of a few months between #2 and #3), I would have no idea how to bottle-feed a baby. Seriously. When you breastfeed, you don’t need to worry if baby is actually hungry, or getting too much, or too little. Maybe he just wants to cuddle, but you offer to nurse and he accepts. It’s the ultimate baby calmer. And sleep inducer. And excuse for Mommy to grab the baby and snuggle . . . which I think I’ll go do right now.


  1. I wish I had been as dedicated as you and didn't have a poor lactation consultant. I unfortunately had issues with #1 after returning to work because I found it scuzzy to pump in a bathroom because at that point we didn't have a policy on my being able to take breaks to pump....#2 I learned from my mistakes and lasted longer but #3 whew! After a poor supply I called consultant and was told that if I didn't get some help caring for kids...well it was a lost cause because I was too stressed and she basically told me good try but give it up!

  2. Pumping is no fun under the best of conditions. Sorry you also had a bad experience with a lactation consultant. Mine also pretty much told me I might as well start on formula and plan to do a mix of BF and FF at best, because I wasn't pumping "enough" . . . really just kind of irritated me. I started doing some reading/research on my own and never went to see her again.