Triumphant Tuesday: Overcoming Breastfeeding Ignorance


Breastfeeding ignorance is rife in contemporary society. Medical staff exacerbate it, and formula companies rely on it. Lack of breastfeeding knowledge is often cited as the reason why most mothers fail at nursing their babies. However it is a mother’s duty to inoculate herself against ignorance. The internet is widely accessible – and free at most libraries. Also, organisations such as La Leche League are a click or phonecall away. There are breastfeeding groups in almost every major town and city. So why do so many mothers still blame ignorance for their breastfeeding failure (baring in mind that most of these mothers are not illiterate?) The answer is simple: it takes more that mere knowledge to breastfeed. Overcoming ignorance is only the beginning. Determination, dedication, and an element of stubbornness, are helpful prerequisites, as illustrated by this triumphant mom.

“I’d like to start out by saying that breast feeding is probably the most important and most memorable thing I have ever done.  Yes, even over giving birth.  Breast feeding my son was so enjoyable, relaxing, amazing… eventually.

Ignorance Hurdle #1: The Inconvenience of Breastfeeding

As a pregnant 25 year old woman, I was pretty positive I would NOT breastfeed.  My pregnancy was unplanned and I was ready to get back to having fun as soon as the baby was born.  How could I go out all night long, or enjoy alcohol if I had to (gasp) breastfeed?!  But my son’s birth culminated in a c-section and I spent hours in a recovery room while my son lay in a plastic tub in the nursery.  I wasn’t even able to hold him until 3 hours after he was born.  The second I saw him, I put my baby straight to my breast and he just knew exactly what to do.  The feeling of peace and attachment was so overwhelming in that moment- okay, it was 4am, I had been in induced labor since 8am the previous morning and so anything might feel overwhelming in that situation – but still, I suddenly felt like, no one can take this away from me;  this ability to nourish my child.

Ignorance Hurdle #2: Trusting Medical Staff

The following evening a nurse recommended that I let my son sleep in the nursery so I could get some rest.  I agreed under the condition that I be woken up when my son was ready to eat.  The nurse assured me that it would be fine if he was just given a bottle, but I insisted and wrote a note on a paper towel in big letters which I laid across my son’s swaddled blanket: ‘WAKE MOM TO BREASTFEED.’  When I woke the sun was shining through my hospital room window, I was shocked that my newborn was such a champion sleeper!  That’s when the nurse told me, “He was crying and wouldn’t stop so I gave him a bottle and he went right back to sleep.”  Thinking about it now I’m absolutely appalled!  That hospital took so much control away from me. They gave him a bottle without my consent.

In fact, I did not have even one single pro-breastfeeding nurse during my three day stay in the hospital.  I asked so many questions- how do I hold him, when will my milk come in and is it normal that it hasn’t yet, why do my nipples feel like they are on fire, how do I know my son is not starving…  At best I got “I don’t know.”  Usually they just asked if I wanted a bottle.  No one ever offered me information on sources of support.

The nurse on the afternoon shift that day convinced me that until my milk came in my baby was not getting enough nutrition and that he would cry all night without formula.  She brought us a 6 ounce bottle and walked away.  My partner stuck the bottle in my 2-day-old baby’s mouth and that baby sucked down almost the whole thing!  Well, how convincing- he must have been starved!  Cut to 2 minutes later when 5 1/2 ounces of formula came back out of that poor little baby’s stomach.  When the nurse reappeared later I asked how many ounces a newborn should typically take and she answered about 1 or 2.  Holy Cow!  I was stunned.  I just put 3-4 times more food in that tiny tummy than should have ever been in there!  I was done taking advice from these nurses.  I didn’t let my baby out of my sight.

But the run-ins with incompetent medical staff didn’t stop there – my pediatrician was also unhelpful.  Although my son was 8 lbs 15 ounces when he was born, and 5 ounces heavier at his 1 week checkup, my pediatrician encouraged alternating formula with breastmilk (even though I never asked her opinion on the matter!)  I changed pediatricians.

Thankfully, my partner was supportive. It didn’t bother him to not be responsible for the feeding part of parenting.  Since I had the c-section I was pretty immobile for a couple of weeks at home, so he had to do pretty much everything else and then bring the baby to me. He would also talk me down when all I could think was what a horrible mom I was, and that I couldn’t make enough milk for my baby!

Ignorance Hurdle #3: Baby Books

I found breastfeeding was painful for almost 6 weeks.  It seemed like my son was latching on right, his mouth placement looked like the way the baby books described, but my nipples were cracked and bleeding and when my son would latch on I would just cringe.  It felt like a million needles stabbing me. I still don’t know why this happened, or why it stopped happening. Almost everything I read and everyone I talked to said to just quit. But I refused.  I felt empowered by my decision to nourish my son. Many of the books cited ‘Freedom to do what I wanted’ as a benefit of formula feeding. However I WANTED to be with my new little baby.  Apparently this is an abnormal feeling for a new mother???  I coated my nipples in lanolin and tried to hold my son in different positions and waited for the pain to subside.

Ignorance Hurdle #4: Milk Regulation

Around 8 weeks I felt that I was losing my milk supply. I had gone back to work a couple weeks before and was expressing milk for my partner to bottle feed my son while I was gone.  My breasts felt less full and the amount of milk I was expressing was minimal.  Was I experiencing inadequate milk supply like so many women I read or heard about? I panicked, and experienced a lot of anxiety about my (soon to be) malnourished child.  I decided to pump in between feedings to try to increase my supply.  The Alpha Parent is the first blog I have ever read that mentions a loss of firmness or a feeling of emptiness at around 6 weeks.  That’s probably what was happening to me.  I also never knew that the amount of milk I expressed did not accurately measure how much my son was getting.  Honestly, almost every baby book lists anxiety and worry as a downside to breastfeeding, yet almost none give facts or education saying, “you don’t have to worry if THIS happens…”

Ignorance Hurdle #5: Anti Co-Sleeping Culture

It was almost a year by the time my son fell asleep on his own or slept through the night. At the time I (and everything I read) blamed this on breastfeeding.  I tried to let him “cry it out”and every other stupid “Does this idiot even HAVE kids???” suggestion I read.  Even though all the books warned at the dangers of co-sleeping, the anxiety of rolling onto my baby was miniscule compared to the horrifying experience of listening to my poor baby wail for hours (and NEVER actually fall asleep). When I put my son in bed with me, we both slept, and waking to eat was SO easy!

Since my experience with breastfeeding my son, I have had the opportunity to encourage so many new mothers to breastfeed.  Only 1 out of a dozen were successful.  The excuses:  My boss wouldn’t let me pump, it hurt too much, it just felt weird (this excuse felt WEIRD…), I just wanted to have a drink sometimes, my pediatrician told me my breastmilk is inadequate (how often is this actually true?), it’s too much work with twins (seriously?  I can’t even imagine how much work preparing TWO bottles for every feeding is!)  However I hit so many roadblocks to successful breastfeeding, yet still managed to be successful. I wish more women knew the FACTS of breastfeeding, but unfortunately, the myths are what most often get written.  Thank you so much Alpha Parent for publishing the facts!”

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