In Honor of World Breastfeeding Awareness Week…

The plan was to write a tutorial for you today. But that didn’t happen. Instead I got involved in scrubbing the kitchen. What possessed me to scrub the kitchen like I did today, I will never know.

So I will tackle the tutorial tomorrow (hopefully) and write about breastfeeding tonight (which I planned on doing tomorrow night).

I have had quite a journey with breastfeeding.

Let me begin at the beginning.

As a child I watched my mother breastfeed. Sure, she generally used a blanket to cover my brother(s) when she was feeding them, but I got the idea. I remember using a blanket to cover myself and my baby doll in imitation. I know that I didn’t completely understand the concept but I wanted to be a good mommy, like my mom.

Fast forward a bunch of years…I found out I was pregnant with our first child in September of 2009. I was so excited! From the beginning the plan was to breastfeed. I read all the information I could, I went to a couple of different classes, and I talked to anyone and everyone who would tell me about their experiences. But nothing prepared me for those first moments, much like nothing prepared me for the real birth of my son.

The nurses handed me my beautiful baby boy, all cleaned up and eager to eat. I quickly followed all the directions I had received and placed him skin to skin. He latched! It was a miracle! No problems, no effort. He just quickly latched on. And he suckled. And suckled. And suckled. The nurse let us feed for 45 minutes before deciding it was time for us to go to our recovery room.

The two days in the hospital were a blur. S kept nursing every hour or two. He would suckle for long periods of time. And it hurt. It hurt really badly. Due to how often I was feeding him, and I the lack of rest, I was exhausted. We brought him home on a long weekend and I was looking forward to being a mom in my house with no disturbances for a whole weekend.

But then he started screaming. A lot. He just cried at the boob. He cried away from the boob. He would suckle and suckle and suckle. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t feel full like I had been told that I would. There was nothing leaking. I tried pumping but very little was coming out. I wasn’t too worried though because I knew that colostrum only comes out in small amounts.

That Monday we took him to the doctor for his check up. S had lost a lot of weight. Over a pound! They were so concerned that they almost sent us to the hospital. I remember calling one of the nurses (who is a friend and a lactation nurse part time) and crying on the phone as I told her what was happening. She told me to call the hospital lactation consultants at the hospital and let them know.

Dutifully, I did just that. I called and set up an appointment with one of the specialists. Meanwhile I used my little hand pump to get as much milk as I could (which was almost nothing) and was supplementing with formula even though little S was at the boob every hour to two hours (I fed him on me first).

The appointment was a let down. S was latched ok. He did have a bit of a tongue tie but that didn’t seem to be interfering. My milk should have been enough and he should be getting enough. But he still wasn’t.

I began pumping with a rented hospital grade pump. I would feed S on me, then feed him a bottle of breast milk that I had pumped (if there was any) or formula (if there was no breast milk), and then would pump. It took me about 45 minutes to an hour to do all of this. Sometimes even longer. Then I would start it all over 2 hours after the time I started the first round. I did this 24 hours a day for 7 days.

By this time S was 4 weeks old. I was exhausted from trying to make it work. I had tried the teas, the beer, the herbs, the foods…I had tried all the fancy equipment. Nothing was working.

And it was at about 4-5 weeks that I got to my breaking point. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was exhausted, I was depressed, and even with all my efforts I was only pumping about 2 ozs from both sides all day. It wasn’t anywhere near enough. And my baby was still starving after coming off the boob.

I went through a long period of guilt, and depression due to putting S on formula. Even when we found out that he had to be on special formula due to a milk allergy (that probably would have kept me from breastfeeding anyway), I continued to feel guilty about not breastfeeding. To this day, there are times when I feel guilty about it. When you hear “breast is best” and people are constantly commenting on your lack of breastfeeding, it is hard not to feel down about it. There are people who say that there isn’t a  such thing as a lack of milk. However, for some reason, there was in my case.

Now fast forward just a bit. I got pregnant shortly after putting S on formula. We got pregnant right after my 6 week ob appointment. It was a shock to both myself and my husband. We couldn’t believe that we were going to have a second so soon.

As the pregnancy progressed I was torn about breastfeeding. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to or it would just bring up all the pain from my recent experience. I was back and forth throughout the pregnancy. Finally, I just decided to see what would happen.

And then I was induced.

I had been on bedrest, been in and out of labor and delivery, contracting, dilating, and all in all just having a hard time. My blood pressure had shot up for some reason right after the delivery of S and never went down. During my 2nd pregnancy I was considered high risk and had a ton of appointments in an effort to keep me and little T healthy.

Finally at 35 weeks, after 2 full months of struggles, rising blood pressures, and increasing protein in the urine, my high risk doctor decided it was time to have baby T.

I was ready. I had been miserable for at least 2 months, I had contracted steadily for the last month or so, and just couldn’t wait to meet my new little man. But of course there was some trepidation because it was so early. The docs were not concerned but there was part of me that was.

The birth went fine. He was born around 8 in the evening so there was much of the night still to go. But he didn’t latch like S did. I tried. But he just didn’t. And then he had a sound when he was breathing that concerned the nurses. It concerned us.

I cried. I just couldn’t take it. I loved my baby but it had been a hard pregnancy and it was even harder to have to deal with the stresses of wondering if he was okay. The nurses tried to feed T a bottle and he had troubles drinking it. His suck and swallow reflex just wasn’t there. And with the sound of liquid in his lungs, T was rushed off to NICU.

There was a part of the time that T was in NICU that I tried to pump. But nothing came out. And I was so distressed by him being in NICU. Mix that with the emotions of my experience just 9 months before with S and the other stresses of being in the hospital, and I just gave up. I decided formula was good enough for S, it would be good enough for T.

I think it was the first day that we were home that I woke up engorged, with milk all over the bed. I remember grabbing T from my husband and basically forcing him to the breast. All I could think was that he needed to eat. And eat he did!

I was so excited! He was eating! He suckled, and suckled, and suckled. And then 2 hours later he did it again.

But we ran into the problem of it taking a long time to eat. He would eat for 45 minutes or longer at a time. He would drain both sides and still want more.

I borrowed a pump from our nurse friend, an electric one, and discovered I was producing a large quantity of milk. I wasn’t surprised as I had to keep changing my breast shields often and I would often see showers of milk come from my nipples (still do), but it made me wonder why T was taking such a long time to eat.

We had a few trying months, and tongue tie clip later, he started doing better. He started really to chunk up and gain a lot of weight. The thought is still that he was feeding so much just to catch up from being a premie. But there is no way of knowing for sure.

Now my little man is 5 months old and an efficient eater. It doesn’t bother me when he eats now. It doesn’t hurt like it did before the tongue tie got clipped (although when he chews it sure hurts!), and it doesn’t take so long. I still leak, and am still producing large quantities of milk. And it still hurts when I am full. But otherwise things have regulated themselves.

The day that my milk came in I promised myself I would try breastfeeding for a week. The week ended and I extended it to a month. Then I extended it to 6 months. Now I am in the middle of my 5 month and am planning on going until 12 months. I don’t think I can or want to do it longer than that (though more power to the women who do) but I am excited that I have the option.

I have learned a lot from my experiences. I don’t think that breastfeeding is the be all that ends all, as they say. I do think it is best, simply because it is natural. Much like it is better to eat fresh fruits and veggies than it is to eat them with preservatives. But S is a happy and healthy little boy. He is not overweight by any means, and he is not sick a lot. He did well on the formula.

But breastfeeding is far more cost efficient, easier for traveling, and again, natural. It can, however, be an inconvenience, especially since I am the only one who can feed him that way. And there are times when it is just plain uncomfortable.

With our next child I am hoping to breastfeed. BUT if there is some reason where I cannot (medications that would cause problems but are necessary for my health, or lack of milk in a similar way to what happened with S) then I refuse to feel guilty or depressed about giving my baby formula.

I have learned, not only in breastfeeding but in all choices made by parents, that sometimes what is best is not always what is ideal. It is about making choices that will impact your child and your whole family in the best possible manner. And if the choice will negatively impact one person, then it is likely to negatively impact the whole family. My happiness and well-being is case in point. If I am not at my best, I cannot be the best wife and mother. If I am not being the best wife and mother I can be, then my husband and children suffer. In many ways my struggles with breastfeeding taught me this.

And in all that rambling, I would like to say, hooray to all you moms who breastfeed! And hooray to all you moms who formula feed! Hooray to all you parents (moms and dads) who choose to do the best that you possibly can for your child, and who love them with your whole hearts! Give your little ones a kiss and thank God for the blessings of your child. And remember that guilt and regret has no place in our lives and will not help you to be a better you. YOU are amazing just the way you are!

My little breastfed baby in his (still) favorite sleeping position. Taken 21 days after he was born.

I love to hear what you are thinking!

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