Did I ever imagine I'd be sitting around topless for half of the day and night time having my nipples sucked on? Nope, I can't say that I have. Did I ever think that I'd be talking about it so casually either? Definitely not. Did I ever picture freezing and storing breast milk next to my family's leftover pot roast? No, but it's there now. Funny and strange how things happen and change in your life. My baby girl Lana Jane is now over three weeks old and I've managed to breastfeed her for this duration. I plan to continue it for about another five weeks (making it a total of two months), at least until I return to work full-time again.
My good friend B called the other day while I was breastfeeding Lana and she laughed when both my husband and I said the actual words "breastfeeding" into the phone. B said she always refers to it as "nursing". I thought about her comment for several minutes. Not once have I referred to it as "nursing." For me, nursing is a more romantic word, a kinder word to use. I have always said "breastfeeding" because that's what I feel I'm doing - feeding from my breast. Nothing against how my pal B sees it, but I'm not a "nurse" and I don't feel like I'm giving her health care either. Hahaha!
Lana though has been a near champion feeder from me even after her first few breaths. She latched on just after labor and delivery and has hardly wanted to be away from my chest since then.
This is both a blessing and a curse in my opinion. I call it a blessing because it's free and available at most anytime, as long as she doesn't suck me dry. In addition, it is gratifying that I can provide her nourishment and that she gets the food/drink that she needs from me. I can whip out my jugs easily and not hassle with a bottle. I love that I can sometimes close my eyes and even doze off while she's feeding. Best of all I can read on my Kindle easily too to help pass off the time. I've read three books in a week because of breastfeeding and that makes me happy.
Breastfeeding is also a curse for me because it means I am doing it all when it comes to feeding my baby. I don't get a break. When we have times of clustering and Lana is on me non-stop for several hours; it is extremely draining. My husband and my relatives can't help with the feedings. It's all me and that's a lot of responsibility. Sometimes I can hardly stop to eat or pee and that frustrates me. I really don't have many of those bonding moments when I stare lovingly at my baby while she nibbles on me. That is some romantic fantasy that although many women/mothers may have, this scenario escapes me for the most part. I'm more like a milk maid delivering the goods, providing a service.
This is all very new to me though as my first attempts at breastfeeding my daughter Vivian (now four and a half years old) didn't go so well. She hated being at my breasts - she would cry, struggle and fight me every step of the way. She never seemed to latch on properly. She lost weight too quickly and we had to supplement formula with her early on. Viv wasn't a cuddle baby and preferred for me to be next to her instead of holding her, even from day one. I pumped for three weeks with her. Then I stopped and switched exclusively to formula. Looking back I probably could have tried or fought longer. I sometimes wonder if I took the easy route. But for the sanity of my family in 2007, it was best to give up the breast and do what made us all happy - feed Vivian quickly from a bottle.
Now that's not to say I have had it purely easy this time around in 2012. In fact, I didn't know if I'd make it past the first week. It took six days before my milk came in. Six long, agonizing days where I worried constantly if my baby was getting enough, trying to pump every 2-3 hours and breastfeed too. Six long nights where my husband had to help with feeding through a syringe or small tube. I kept waiting for a sign that I had my supply but never got the memo. It was not until the lactation consultant looked at my milk I pumped and told me that, yes in fact, my milk had "arrived" (and it wasn't still the transitional stuff like I thought it was). I never felt heavy or engorged and kept waiting for some big sign. What did I know?. I did a lot of crying and cursing that first week. My husband Kirk was so great though. I never would have lasted through the first seven to ten days if it weren't for his help and encouragement.
After my milk did "arrive", things got a little bit easier. I learned to trust all those wet and poopy diapers my daughter was producing. If she wasn't getting milk from me, she wouldn't be having success with those after all. But we still have our good and bad days, even now.... Some days Lana just can't seem to fill her belly? Or perhaps she just needs to feel my skin, to be physically on me to feel secure? She's definitely a more affectionate, cuddly baby than my Vivian was. Other days I can give her what she needs, play with her, put her down for a nap and get some rest myself, all under an hour's time..... Those days are pure heaven. But for every wonderful day like that, we hit another setback and will have an awful day of clustering, crying and I can hardly keep a shirt on.
Breastfeeding is definitely a bumpy ride of ups and downs for me. Does it ever come easy to anyone, I wonder? I'm glad I have managed to do it this time. I have a different attitude and respect for it than I did before, with my first child and my first time as a mom. I'll admit that back in 2007, I had a chip on my shoulder about breastfeeding. I tried it but still thought it was a bit weird for me. Now I don't mind it so much. However, I also understand why some moms quit early and why some moms never try it. Breast feeding is a tough thing to endure, especially when there are so many quirks to it. So many babies have issues with it. Or your nipples won't be hard and you need to use a shield. Or it takes supplementing or syringe feeding until the milk supply comes into full swing. Or you have a lazy, slow sucking child like I do with Lana so the feedings take twice as long as maybe they should. Or perhaps your own body seems to fail you when it comes to supply and demand. Or you realize that you're not fully emptying one breast before you switch to the other side so your baby isn't receiving the heaviest, creamiest and most filling part which is why she may be on you constantly. Or you deal with sore, cracked and dry nipples and have to regularly apply cream to them. Oh yeah, I have had cases of all of these things!!!
Thankfully I've had some wonderful lactation consultants help me through these challenges. They talk to me, position my boobs (oh yes, there is no modesty when ladies fondle you and squeeze your nipples to extract milk) and follow up with me to see how I've doing. I cried a lot in that first week Lana was home until things finally lined up and I could see that she was feeding properly from me and getting 1-2 ounces at each meal. We weighed her to see exactly what she took. Those weight checks were the first and only real comfort to me after days of being home from the hospital with her unsure of my milk production.
I also have a very open minded pediatrician who doesn't try to preach one way or the other - breast or formula milk. I love him for that. Our doctor tells me not to worry about "nipple confusion" and use a bottle when I need to. And I have - for both the breast milk I've pumped and also formula. And he has been right, it's not posed a problem for Lana as I've given her the bottle a few times and she still takes my boob at any offering. The pediatrician has reminded me to be flexible and not stress over it so much.
Do I really believe that "breast is best?" No, not really. I think every case and every baby and mother is a unique case. I do think it would best to try it but I certainly don't judge women who don't either. Only you know your limits and what you can withstand. Breastfeeding has certainly posed some challenges on me physically and mentally for the first time and this second time around too.
I had a feeling breastfeeding would go easier with this second baby and I'm happy I kept an open mind about it and have stuck with it so far. I am glad I am giving my milk to my daughter but I don't feel sentimental or truly
passionate about it the way other moms do. Yes it's a right and
privilege we moms have. And it's a noble, good thing to do. But I'll be thrilled when it's over too, not sad like other moms. I will be grateful to have my boobs back to myself, when I don't have to worry about leaking through a shirt and I will be able to wear a normal bra for exercising and errand-running again. Then my milk maid costume days will only come out for Halloween or for a special wedding anniversary perhaps (laughing).
These are my just my humble thoughts on breastfeeding. They are not meant to influence, persuade others or start controversy. One thing I feel strongly about is that breastfeeding is a personal decision - You should do what you think is right, no matter what that may be. Then stick with that choice and be happy about it. If you the mom is happy, then your baby will be happy too no matter if the milk is coming from you, a formula/bottle or falling out of the sky.
Enjoy your milk today and appreciate it! I know I am. :-)