I absolutely love breastfeeding. I do. I love it. I remember the wonder that came with discovering an amazing bond that happened each time my daughter and I met at my breast--how our eyes locked, how I was so in tune with each suckling noise and wiggle, how sometimes her soft little hands would reach up next to her mouth and grab my skin, gripping me tight. I was spellbound by this magical thing God created to fuse a mother's heart to her child. Granted, this experience might come along with a bottle fed baby too, but I dont have any personal experience in that area.
Regardless of how wonderful it can turn out to be, breastfeeding is by no means easy, despite the many amazing benefits--health benefits for baby and mom, losing that baby weight without dieting, bonding, etc. My mom breastfed me and all of the six siblings that came after me so it was never a question as to whether or not I'd follow in her footsteps. I knew I would. I grew quite accustomed over the years of the image of my mother cuddling a baby to her chest and pulling out one of her breasts for them. It was because of this image and because of the ease with which my mother seemed to nurse her children that I just didn't realize that breastfeeding doesn't always just "happen" in some magical or mystical way. I mean, it can, that's for sure, but it seems to me that the practices of our hospitals and the expectations of our culture make that magical, easy latch-on somewhat elusive for many moms who desire to breastfeed. Since I began nursing myself, I've researched and thought about the topic a lot and I've come up with this list of obstacles that moms who desire to breastfeed encounter.
- Not nursing right away. Because of the way many births happen in our society, were in a sterile environment where the baby is taken from the mom for 30 minutes to an hour while they're checked, cleaned, bathed, and swaddled. This means that during that magical hour where your newborn is wide-awake and ready to suckle, theyre not learning to latch on. It also means that a new mom who is exhausted from labor and/or anesthesia has to struggle through achy muscles and drowsiness to get a sleepy baby to latch on for the first time hours later. My daughter wasnt presented to me to nurse until five hours after she was born and despite my deep resolve to give her nothing but the breast, I wanted to give up after an hour of trying to get her to latch on. Thankfully I didn't, and we were able to develop an amazing breastfeeding relationship, but I totally understand why many moms do give in and go for formula.
- Synthetic nipples. A baby who has not yet learned how to suck from the breast and is given a pacifier or a bottle may have nipple confusion when the time comes to nurse. Sucking from synthetic nipples requires different movement than sucking from the breast. My daughter had to be introduced to a my milk in a bottle after three weeks of exclusively being breastfed so that I could prepare her for when I went back to work and for the weeks that followed, she definitely struggled with nipple confusion, even though she absolutely hated her bottles. She struggled both with bottles and with the breast while she adjusted to the change. I remember being nearly in tears when my pediatrician told me I might need to start supplementing. I dug in my heels, of course and said, NO WAY! and proceeded to soldier through those difficult feedings where she acted like she couldnt remember how to nurse. That made all the difference.
- Supplementing with Formula. When you supplement breast milk with formula, your baby will go to the breast less which will in turn tell your body to produce less milk since breast milk production is a supply and demand thing. This means that your breast milk supply will diminish and you will actually have to supplement the breast with formula which will in turn lead to an even lower supply. It's a vicious cycle. When my daughters weight gain was continuously far below her formula fed counterparts I was told over and over to supplement, but I refused because I knew that this wasnt what was best for my baby. Honestly, I lost respect for the medical profession as a new mom because the things that healthcare professionals were telling me were so far off the mark of what I knew was right that I wondered if they had actually gone to school at all. I never supplemented with formula and I never will.
- Public aversion to nursing. I had the pleasure to study abroad in Spain for a semester and one of the images that sticks with me is that of a beautiful Sevillana woman perched high in a horse drawn cart during Feria wearing a bright red and white polka dotted flamenco dress with one of the sleeves drawn down below her armpit so she could nurse her baby. The entire half side of her torso was bare as she sat proudly, her head held high nursing her little one and I was the only one on the street who stopped and stared or gave her a second look. No one seemed to notice her, which told me that such a sight was quite ordinary in Spain. Unfortunately, people in the States seem to think nursing is gross. I mean, not all of them, but many do, especially if you have the courage to bare a boob in public so as to nourish your hungry little one rather than shove yourself into a nasty, germ-ridden bathroom stall. They're perfectly fine with sterile, not-so-healthy formula fed though a bottle, or even breast milk fed through a bottle, but the moment you go at it as nature intended within the public eye, be prepared for a battle. I'm convinced that this lack of normalcy when it comes to breastfeeding has a lot to do with why lots of moms dont end up going that route. In turn, the lack of made-for-baby, antibody rich nourishment leads to more obesity, asthma problems, and many other health issues in our population.
- Timed feedings. Another thing that doctors and pediatricians will tell you is to nurse every two hours and to nurse for no longer than 20 minutes on each boob. I followed that religiously with my daughter. I cut her off when the 20 minutes was done whether she wanted to or not, and if she didn't nurse for a fully 15-20 minutes on each side, I stressed out, cried my eyes up, and ultimately called my pediatrician or a lactation specialist because I was worried she wasnt eating enough. Finally, after two months of colic and stress, I just gave in and nursed her every time she wanted it. What followed was a more relaxed mother and baby, and I dont know if the two are at all related, but the colic stopped around the same time.
- Lack of education. The biggest problem surrounding all of this is a lack of education and support. In my experience, nurses and doctors, though they support breastfeeding with their lips, don't really understand whats involved for a successful breastfeeding relationship to form. And most of them honestly haven't been trained to know how to help a woman breastfeed. Inexperienced moms who trust their doctors and haven't thought to research breastfeeding have ended up following poor advice from medical professionals which has, in turn, led to low milk supply and frustration regarding breastfeeding.
Now, all this is not to say that there aren't women out there who do everything right and still cannot breastfeed. There are. I've heard their frustrating stories. There are also women out there who simply dont want to breastfeed for their own, personal reasons. If you cant or dont want to breastfeed, then that's okay. I'm not judging you, despite how passionate I get about the issue. But if you want to breastfeed, I want you to be informed so that you will have every possible chance at success.
Personally, despite a great role model in my mother and lots of support and prior education, I found breastfeeding difficult in the first few months. After struggling to get my daughter to latch on that first time, I quickly discovered that she had a poor latch and it was too late to fix it because she was stuck in her ways. What followed was two months of mind-numbing pain every time she nursed. I remember curling my toes and holding my breath every time she latched on and just waiting for the pain to be so bad it became numb. After 2 months and lots of Lansinoh, my nipples toughened up and breastfeeding became everything Id ever dreamed it would be. I loved it so much I nursed Bunny until she was 25 months old, only stopping because I wasnt getting pregnant while she was still nursing, and I cried and cried at the thought. We even had a little talk about it. I nursed her for one of the last times and I told her that she was a big girl now and didnt need Mommys milk anymore. My husband came in and took pictures of one of our last moments bonding together in that way and I cherish the memory and the closure that came with it all. One of the reasons that Id rather have my own biological children than adopt (though I fully plan to adopt one day) is that I can't imagine raising a child that I didn't nurse. I'll go through hyperemesis gravidarum over and over again if it means that I'll be able to have that amazing nursing relationship with another child. I absolutely hate my debilitating morning sickness, but having been through once before, I know that what awaits me on the other end of these difficult 9 months is worth it.
Now, I just hope to be a good breastfeeding role model for my daughter. Of course, I want to be a good role model to her in every area, but when it comes up, I talk to her about how she nursed (and I think she still vaguely remembers it) and we talk about how I'm going to nurse the baby when he/she comes. In fact, she feels that she should help bear the responsibility of feeding him or her. "Mommy, when youre done, then I'll nurse the baby too!" she said proudly one day. Later, we watched a birthing video together at the end of which the mother nursed her son and Bunny promptly got out her baby Tiana doll, lifted her shirt, and gave her all the pretend nourishment her little imagination could conjure up. It was a proud moment for me, let me tell you! Of course, if she chooses not to nurse, or cannot do so, Ill be just as supportive of her decisions. What matters most to me, though, is that she, and every woman out there who wishes to nurse has a fighting chance at success with it.