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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Adventures in Breastfeeding

I know not everyone can or wants to breastfeed. Whatever feeding road you are traveling or have traveled is just as good as anyone else. 

I am writing this post because I believe breastfeeding my son is one of my greatest accomplishments.

My reasons for wanting to breastfeed vary from health benefits, emotional benefits (on both ends since I was at risk for post-pardum depression) and even financial reasons.

From day one we had trouble breastfeeding. My son had latching problems and it was so painful. All the lanolin, salt-water soaks and artificial nipples couldn't help the soreness! But I was determined to stick with it, scabs and all.

I still remember comparing the pain of those early days of breastfeeding to child birth. (and since I had just given birth, it was pretty accurate). I would scream out in pain when my son latched. The first few seconds where a blinding, breath-taking pain I can't fully explain. This is one of the things no one tells you before you start breastfeeding.

We went to our first well-baby visit and they were concerned about my son's weight. They said if it didn't increase in the next few days we'd have to supplement. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed. So I upped his feedings and barely slept.

I tried pumping so I could get some sleep but I wasn't producing enough. Those nights were brutal. I was sleeping at most 2 hours before getting up to feed him. It took about a half-hour to feed him at the time, so I would put on a TV show to stay awake. (Luckily one channel was having a Golden Girls marathon for a few weeks). Before I had my soon I needed 9 hours of sleep to feel rested. In those early months I remember thinking, “what I wouldn't give for four hours of sleep!”

My son was pretty fussy and I was pretty sore so we went to the Breastfeeding Resource Center and had a consultation. He did have latching issues. No one ever “taught” him and I how breastfeeding worked. Sure it's natural, but that doesn't mean every mom and baby naturally knows how to do it. We got some pointers and it started going better. His weight increased and the doctor backed off.

He fed every hour and a half. I could not be away from him for more than an hour at a time. I felt like a prisoner. It was very taxing. It was very lonely. I was living a half hour from family and 45 minutes away from my job. I guess I could have taken him out more and fed him in public. While it didn't make me uncomfortable to BF in public, I could tell it made others uncomfortable. My husband was always trying to hide me. Most of my “public” breastfeeding was done in the car.

When my maternity leave was up I had to quit my job because I could not continue to work there and breastfeed. (By this time I gave up on pumping since it took longer to pump than to breastfeed). Nights were still rough. Many family members suggested supplementing at night so I could get sleep. But I didn't want to. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed.

My husband supported me all along the way and kept letting me know that he wouldn't blame me for giving up. He reminded me that again when I got mastitis.

But I was determined. 

My son was getting very frustrated at the breast and would pull and tug a lot. So I went back to the BRC for a follow-up consultation to see if there was something I was doing wrong. Turns out I wasn't producing enough at a time (which is why pumping didn't work). So for my son to get enough milk, I had to feed him more often (which of course I was). And do something they called “super switch” where I'd switch him from breast to breast multiple times in a feeding.  This helped with his frustration.  

We continued to stick it out.  It got a lot easier when he was 6 months and started eating solid food. Alleluia for solid foods!

There were a lot of times I sat in rooms, away from the crowd, feeding my son. And while some might have thought that wasn't fair to me; secretly, I loved getting away from the crowd to have a quiet moment alone with my baby.

I called the BRC again when my son started teething and learned how to bite! (If you're wondering what to do—take them off and end the feeding—they are usually done if they are biting). Thank God for people who felt breastfeeding was so important they opened the BRC!

Originally, my goal was to feed him for a year and start weaning at around 11 months. In the early months I wondered how I'd ever make it to 12 months. But as 11 months neared I realized that not only were we not ready to wean, I didn't really want to either.

One day when my husband took him out, he was asking for milk, so my sister-in-law suggested giving him cow's milk. They put cow's milk in a sippy cup, gave it to him and told him it was milk. He took a couple sips, gave them a strange look and said, “No?” haha, it seems he wasn't quite ready for cow's milk either.

Here's a word of hope to those in the beginning stages of breastfeeding--- it gets easy! Once the babies get the hang of it, it's quick and easy. If my son isn't tired, it takes about 5 minutes for him to eat. No set up, no refrigeration, no cleaning bottles or sippy cups. It's pretty awesome.

I would say that every feeding is a beautiful bonding experience, and while some are, at this point it's pretty routine and the middle of the night ones can get frustrating. The beginning was absolute hell-- we hit so many walls in the beginning, but we made it through.  So I hope this gives hope to mommas out there that are having a tough time with breastfeeding. If you need to give it up, don't beat yourself up.

I know I'm blessed to be able to do this. It doesn't work out for everyone. It's not always glamorous... but it is amazing. I never really respected my body until it conceived, carried, birthed and fed my son. I mean, how could you not respect something that can do all that? So I may not look like a bikini model anymore, but my body image is better than ever.

Maybe I'm stubborn, maybe I'm determined, but I can say after almost 15 months, he's never had a drop of formula. And we're so in sync. Of course when I ask him who I am, he replies, “milk.” I guess it's true that the way to a boy's heart is through his stomach! And my heart melts when I ask him what he wants and he responds, “momma's milk.”  

The most supported I've ever felt was when a pediatric GI doctor gave me a very enthusiastic high-five for exclusively breastfeeding my son. It was such a great feeling, so here's a high five to all of you moms who have stuck it out too.   

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