In honour of National Breastfeeding week I decided to take a trip down memory lane to my own experiences with nursing.
I must admit that before I had children I was a bit of a breastfeeding snob. I had never even considered formula feeding a baby. I felt as though the tins that lined store shelves were topped with man-made chemical filled powder that was for those who honestly had supply issues or worse yet, those that were too lazy to put in the effort required of breastfeeding. Parents who actually chose to formula feed over breastfeed were falling victim to the marketing of formula companies that somehow tried to convince you their products were better than what your body was naturally made to do. I know, pretty judgmental for someone whose only experience with feeding a baby was the occasional bottle I gave to my Godson, or the kids that I babysat as a teenager. That’s the funny thing about not having children, you always seem to know best!
THen Mr. T. was born and we were thrown into a tornado of doctors. Due to his health issues, I was not able to nurse Mr. T. He spent over a month with a feeding tube and then it took a few weeks of working with an occupational therapist for Mr. T. to “learn” to eat. Since he had surgery on his esophagus there were swallowing issues. Firstly, he had scar tissue so swallowing wasn’t easy for him. Secondly, because of his surgery he was unable to swallow thin liquids and he ran the risks of inhaling those liquids into his lungs. This meant all of his food had to be thickened. We went through tests at Sick Kids to determine just how thick his food needed to be and from the moment his feeding tube came out he required formula thickened with rice cereal. This was the only way he could swallow and actually helped him gain some much needed weight.
So here I was, my ideas about motherhood already being thrown out the window. I was terribly crushed that I wasn’t able to nurse him and felt like such a failure as a mother. I felt like I was doing him a disservice and although my logic told me this was what had to be done, my heart felt like I wasn’t doing everything I could do to make it happen. I began pumping from the first night of his birth. At first we thought this was just to keep up my supply since we didn’t yet realize he would never be able to nurse. Then my breast milk was put into his feeding tube from the very beginning so while he wasn’t actually nursing he was still getting the wonderful nutritional value of breast milk.
Pumping for me wasn’t ideal, as you can imagine. Turns out that my body was ready to breastfeed. My body was producing large volumes of milk. Every morning I would bring in my supply into the NICU nurse to put into the freezer at the hospital and every morning they stared at me in disbelief. “This is all from one night?” one nurse exclaimed “Yes” I responded shyly. I had no idea what was normal and what wasn’t. This nurse then explained to me that most women couldn’t fill a quarter of one of the little medical bottles that they had provided me to store my milk. I typically filled 4 bottles per pump. Multiply that by 3 times a night and I was walking in every morning with at least 12 bottles of milk. There came a point when I was the talk of the nurses, each of them trying to determine who was the mystery women capable of producing enough liquid gold to feed a small village. Apparently my milk occupied most of the freezer and at one point a nurse joked that I would have to slow it down or no one else’s milk would fit in there.
In the end the boxes of breast milk that we brought home with us from the hospital were divided and stored amongst family member’s freezers across multiple cities as one standard chest freezer could not contain the bounty of my breasts.
When Ms. J was born there was not even a question that I would breastfeed. I put her to my breast feeling like an expert, not a thought entering my mind that this wouldn’t be anything but perfect. She took to my breast like a fish to water. She latched on and suckled away from our very first try. I read as much as I could about breastfeeding, I went to the breastfeeding class at the hospital where the nurses used me as an example of the “right” way to breastfeed. I sat smiling smugly as the other new mothers struggled and strained with their babies trying to get their technique down.
A few days later my milk supply increased and it all went to hell! The pain that I felt was unbearable. My nipples cracked and bled. I developed blisters and on more than one occasion I developed clogged milk ducts!
I was determined to breastfeed, I was not going to give up. So I went to lactation consultants, breast feeding clinics and my doctor where I got prescriptions for my nipples. I did my research. I monitored Ms. J’s weight on a regular basis, ,as to me this was my sign that everything was ok. I continued to do my research, reading as much as I could and scouring websites for any tips and tricks I could find.
Everyone told me that it would get easier. The pain would go away. They assured me that I was doing a wonderful job!
It didn’t. My smugness quickly turned into self consciousness as I was now the one struggling and straining. I was so jealous of those women who gracefully, with one hand could sweep their baby up and to their breast without ever exposing so much as an areola. Me??? I couldn’t even cover myself discreetly with a receiving blanket while nursing. It was almost as though I had to take everything from the waist up off before I could successfully nurse. Then she would take little breaks removing herself showing the world the source of her nutrition and don’t ask why but someone would always be looking at the exact moment her face moved away from my breast. I know it’s nothing to be ashamed of but I’m a fairly modest person and just wasn’t comfortable showing the world my boobies. I ended up getting a large nursing cover and gave up entirely trying to be one of those women who could feed their child in public without anyone even realizing what was happening. In mom and baby classes that I attended many women looked at me as though I was crazy for using that tent in a class filled with nothing but babies and mothers but I felt better with it on so I continued. I tried, once, not to and after at least 20 minutes of me flustering my way through it, sweating from the effort, the mum beside me asked if I needed some help and I just gave up and pulled out my the handy dandy tent. I never went a public nursing session without it again.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet…my shocking admission…I HATED breastfeeding! Yep I said it, I did not enjoy it. I didn’t get the whole bonding thing. It was painful. I felt stuck! I wasn’t able to leave the house for longer than an hour because I had to be home to breastfeed. I tried pumping but for some reason this time I would have to pump forever and for days in a row just to get enough milk for one bottle.
This alone was so disappointing to me because I had this image in my mind of me in a rocking chair, baby swaddled in my arms nursing in the dark of the night, dreamily staring into my new childs eyes. Sounds beautiful doesn’t it? Nothing like my real experience.
It felt like more of a chore. I was a bit resentful of the fact that Mr. C. couldn’t do this part of it. It had to be me to do nighttime feedings, he didn’t have the option. Although my body was working and I never had a supply issue, for which I am unbelievably grateful, the rest of it didn’t come naturally to me.
With my anxious personality I found it very difficult not knowing how much exactly she was getting. The one thing I liked about bottle feeding is that I saw exactly how many ounces Mr. T. was drinking at each feed and I tallied them by day. With Ms. J I had noooo idea how much she was drinking. The lactation consultants recommended I feed about 10 minutes per breast and I timed it! I know I’m insane! I literally timed it! If she unlatched before that I would stress about it. As time went on and I saw that she was gaining weight and was happy and healthy I stopped timing and realized if she unlatched then she wasn’t hungry.
Now with all that said, I soldiered on, I never gave up. I told myself that while yes it wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be and it would probably be easier to switch to formula, it was so much better for her for me to continue with breastfeeding. So I did. Eventually, while I didn’t ever adore it, I got used to it. It didn’t stress me as much as it did in the beginning. Her and I took a long time but eventually we got into a breastfeeding grove and we figured it out. We hit some bumps in the road, some literal bumps in the form of painful clogged milk ducts, but we did it.
I breastfed Ms. J until about 16 months. I stopped when Ms. J was done with it. I’m confident that I did the right thing.Looking back I wouldn’t have done anything differently except maybe relaxed a little and tried not to control it so much. I learned my lesson in terms of judging other mothers. I still firmly believe that breastfeeding is the best option. The health benefits are too numerous for me to list here and even if that doesn’t sway your decision it is FREE! Do you know how much it costs to formula feed a baby for just one year??? While I don’t fully understand why someone who is physically capable of it would choose not to, I allow mothers that choice. Every mother is different and if they feel that formula is best for them then that’s their decision to make.
I remember while in a midnursing meltdown a friend of mine told me that when I wasn’t nursing anymore I would miss it. I couldn’t even fathom missing it in those moments. Yet here I am, with Ms. J a month shy of her 2nd birthday and I can honestly say I miss it. Maybe not as much as some of the wonderful breastfeeding mothers out there, but I miss it nonetheless. Now that I’m out of it..I do remember moments…moments when it wasn’t all bad. Moments where Ms. J and I laid together in bed, skin to skin, my body providing her with nutrition to allow her to grow into the healthy toddler she is. Where I stroked her hair and we would both snooze. These were the moments that showed the true miracle of motherhood.
My advice to mothers debating it? If you are able to then why not stick it out? I don’t think you’ll regret it. I’ve never heard of a mother who wished she hadn’t breastfed. However if you are unable to then try not to beat yourself up over it too much. There are times where breastfeeding just doesn’t work out.
While I can’t say that I’m one of those mothers who adored breastfeeding. I would do it again in a heartbeat and I am so thankful that my body allowed me to experience such a beautiful miracle.