This week is World Breastfeeding Week. I’ve seen many groups in my area planning “latch ons” and Facebook is buzzing with “breast is best” encouragement. I love the excitement that is surrounding this celebration. So I thought now would be a wonderful time to share my experience with breastfeeding.
Even before I knew for certain I would be a mom, I knew that if I ever was, I would breastfeed my babies. So when I became pregnant with Lillian, my future baby feeding plans involved the baby at the breast. You see, my mother breastfed my siblings and I, so I have her to thank for normalizing this most natural human function.
As I prepared for motherhood, I read books upon books. One of the most valuable to me was “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.” I read it from cover to cover and it answered nearly every question I could come up with. I purchased breast covers, nursing bras, nursing pads, lanolin and just about any other breastfeeding aid under the sun. As my anticipation to meet my baby grew, so too did my curiosity about what it would be like to feed my baby from my own body.
The moment my daughter was born into this world, she was placed naked on my bare chest and the breast to breast bond with baby was born. We shared skin to skin contact and then soon it was time to begin to nurse. I pulled my baby to my breast, with my mom by my side coaching me from her experience and my mind quickly recalled all I had learned. There was only one problem. I couldn’t get her to wake up! No one had prepared me for this. I had a sleepy baby, who was much more concerned with napping than eating. My wonderful nurses and pediatrician reassured me that as long as I continued to try and offer the breast that eventually, when baby was hungry, she would nurse. They were right! Eventually she did nurse and I felt better about the uncertainty surrounding this new endeavor.
Each time it was time for her to nurse during those first few days, I felt extremely frustrated and considered giving up more times than I can count. Even though I knew all the holds that were supposed to work and I tried to find a proper latch, each feeding session always resulted in tears for both baby and me. I felt like a failure. Lilly would become agitated in her hunger and then just get too mad to find a proper latch. It was hard work. It was not easy. I did not enjoy it. Not then, anyhow.
As the first couple of weeks went by, we found our rhythm and it wasn’t as difficult anymore, though it certainly wasn’t easy. It was around this time that I discovered that Lillian has a lip tie. Then it all made sense. The reason we were having such difficulty was because she couldn’t open her top lip as much as she needed to in order to find the perfect latch. Of course I didn’t want anything to be wrong with my baby, but it made me feel so much better to know that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Every time she ate, she would nurse a little, pull off, cry, and start the process over again and again. At one month old, I decided I’d try to use a breast pump to extract my milk and feed it to her via a bottle to see what kind of difference that made. She sucked down the milk through the bottle and was content. There was no fight. She had my nutritious milk in her belly and there was no fight to get it down her. Once I saw this, I gradually began to pump and feed more and more often. By two months, Lilly was drinking my milk almost solely from a bottle. Pumping and then feeding her, along with all of the other responsibilities of caring for a new baby quickly ran me down. I exclusively breastfed her until she was three months old. At three months, I decided to introduce formula to supplement a few of her feedings. By three and a half months, I made the difficult decision to switch solely to formula because the demands of pumping and then feeding were wearing me too thin. It was a decision that did not come easy, but I felt satisfied that my milk had gotten her through those most crucial first few months.
That was my breastfeeding experience. If you read it and thought, “That doesn’t really seem that fun,” then you are right. It wasn’t. It was difficult and it was hard work. I didn’t enjoy it a great deal. So, would I do it again? YES! Even though it wasn’t a walk in the park, it was worth every single tear I shed in frustration. Knowing that my baby drank the milk that was designed specifically for her needs is the most rewarding feeling I have ever known.
When beginning the breastfeeding journey, I think it’s important to go into it with realistic expectations. Know that you might not love it. It might not be the sweet snuggly experience you see on TV. But it might be! Even if it’s not though, it’s still what’s best for baby and its benefits are endless.