Once commonplace, an experienced breastfeeding mother is now a rare commodity. This is a great shame as there is much we can learn from the veteran breastfeeder. Contrary to common assumption, most experienced breastfeeding mothers have not had it ‘lucky’. Rather, their success is a product of persistence, dedication, bravery and stamina.
This week’s triumphant mom had three babies, all exclusively breastfed, all self-weaned. She endured traumatic births, judgemental relatives, formula pushing medical staff, mastitis, having to pump during office meetings, a jaundiced baby, a dairy intolerant baby, and a lip-tied baby. She is now a lactation consultant. This is her story.
“I had my first son when I was 21. It was a traumatic birth (all natural, just a little stuck and in stress) and he ended up in the NICU for 3 days. Being a young, first time mom, I had said I would “try” to breastfeed. The NICU staff only let me in every 3 hours to feed my baby and provided me with a pump for in between, so I pumped, and pumped and pumped. and nothing. not even a drop. It was a good thing I had read about breastfeeding while pregnant and knew it was normal for the milk to trickle at this point, so I persevered and pumped and fed my little baby who was all hooked up to wires, every chance I got.
A bond like no other
Once I tried breastfeeding, I realized it is something that can never be replaced between a mother and a child. I loved the feeling of being able to nourish my child with my own body, an extension of developing the baby inside of the womb. I became very interested in all the health benefits and research about breast milk and decided I could never give my child an inferior start.
However my family, friends, and “in-laws” all had a negative view of breastfeeding. My friends, all around the age of 21, could not understand why I would want to “ruin my boobs” or be “so tied down”, we obviously had different priorities. My own father was very uncomfortable and would comment that I “whipped my boob out” or that it’s “time to get the kid off the tit” and ordered for me to leave the room completely when I needed to nurse. This made me feel very uncomfortable, but I honoured his wishes. As I practiced and got more discrete I was able to get up the gumption to nurse where ever I wanted, even at the Mall with no cover by 1 month old!
My in-laws had similar prejudice and were worried that their son would “not be able to bond with the baby” if I did not allow him to have a bottle. My mother-in -law even went as far to buy a can of formula for “when he is at their house”. I made sure he was never alone at their house because of that!
I exclusively breastfed my first born until 4 months when we introduced rice cereal (hey, it was 9 years ago, and I know better now) and continued nursing with not one drop of formula for 18 months when he self-weaned. I also worked full time, but was able to bring him to work with me until the time he weaned.
My next son was born when I was 25, by then my partner and I had married. I knew I would breastfeed this child without a doubt. His labor was induced 10 days after his due date because my amniotic fluid was low. I ended up with an emergency c-section, as he was breach and we unsuccessfully tried aversion twice. After the surgery I begged to hold my baby and the nurses insisted I had to get some feeling back before I was allowed to hold him. My husband knew how important it was to “get the baby to the boob within an hour” after delivery and so he propped our son at the breast in the recovery room for him to nurse.
Pressure to formula feed
This baby ended up jaundiced and had to stay under light therapy for 3 days. He could only come out every 2-3 hours to nurse. The hospital staff encouraged me to give him formula to help his billirubin levels come down. They were polite but persistent. At every shift change, every nurse, every feeding, I was asked if I would consider the formula. I refused and said I would just nurse him more. After 5 days in the hospital his levels were finally safe and we were discharged.
He was my fussiest baby and I couldn’t understand why. At about 4 weeks old I realized he was sensitive to something I was eating and started an elimination diet – not an easy task, especially when I discovered it was dairy he was reacting to. It was now that I realized how many dairy products we consumed in our household! Cheese was definitely the hardest food to eliminate. We did find a cheddar flavored tofu that worked as a substitute, but it was not the same! I continued to avoid dairy for the next year and nursed him until he self-weaned at 17 months. I introduced homemade cereals and purees at 6 months but kept breast milk his main nutrition.
My last, and current nursling was going to be a breeze. I was 29 years old and had encountered everything I would with 3+ years of nursing already, right? Wrong. I had a scheduled c-section due to the previous and the hospital’s policy against VBACs, plus I had developed severe gestational diabetes and it was important to make sure my and the baby’s glucose were at safe levels after birth. My baby girl was brought to me sooner than I had expected and she latched right on.
Baby and I were happy, until a few days later when blisters started to develop on my nipples. I knew what a correct latch should feel like and it just didn’t feel right. Baby girl was lip tied and not able to flange which crushed my nipples raw. She too seemed fussy and I was worried she was not getting enough since she could not latch right.
The hospital night nurse gave my baby formula from a cup, without my consent. My daughter then slept for about 4 hours which meant that I slept too. I felt betrayed! Let down. And bad for my baby girl. I trusted the nurses to care for my baby while I rested between feedings. When I woke from that 4 hour stretch of sleep I immediately called for the nurse to bring my baby girl back to me. When I realized we had slept through 2 feedings I asked how and the nurse whispered to me that she had “cup fed her a little formula, she was a hungry girl” I started crying, and sobbing, and stuttering, unable to explain why I was so upset the nurse wrote it off as hormones. I put my baby to the breast and calmed down and called for the Lactation Consultant and my midwife. They were both irate and agreed that it was not a decision for the nurse to make. I then diverted my attention to focusing on getting a better latch and healing my skin.
Formula pushing pead
Weeks of painful latch and cringing at feeding time, finally stretched her lip enough and toughened up my nipples to make it bearable to breastfeed. She had lost 1 full pound before we left the hospital and the pediatrician strongly encouraged a supplement of formula. He actually wrote on her prescription pad a note to me explaining when and how much formula to give. I read it and told the Dr that I was not comfortable with that recommendation. The pediatrician asked me to keep an open mind. I asked him to do the same. I knew that once my milk came in my baby would gain. We agreed on weight checks for her every 2-3 days until she was back up to birth weight.
By 2 months old my baby who weighed 8 lbs 10 oz at birth had doubled her weight. My milk came in with a vengeance this time and swelled up to my armpits with melon sized knots keeping me from even putting my arms down. I suffered from one clogged duct after another and had my first case of Mastitis. I was shocked. Over 4 years of nursing and I had never encountered that; I thought I was in the clear. Boy was I wrong, Mastitis does not discriminate. I felt achy all over, sick, feverish, and just like I had the flu accompanied by a red, swollen, streaky breast. I used antibiotics and nursed as much as my baby would. It was excruciating to latch and about the first 2 minutes were almost unbearable. Once I got through letdown, I was able to massage my breast and encourage my baby girl to keep going! After 2 days on the antibiotics and 3 days of pain, the infection started to clear up.
Pumping at work
By this time I had discovered baby led weaning and introduced solids to her when she was almost 7 months old, again keeping breastmilk as her main source of nutrition. I worked full time out of the home and was not able to bring my daughter with me. Despite the tedious hours I pumped diligently and my daughter never received anything but breast milk while momma was at work. I pumped in the car, in restrooms while away at trainings, and in front of a whole staff meeting, because that was where the outlet was available! You could say my modesty has gone out the window.
My baby girl is now 17 months old and I plan to let her self-wean, hopefully past the age of 2 years!
I have since become a Certified Lactation Consultant through my work and counsel breastfeeding mothers every day. I will never say it was easy – it was emotional, painful, and much hard work, but I would not trade my breastfeeding experiences for the world.
Any mother who does not try breastfeeding is missing out on a one-of-a-kind experience. I also feel bad for the child because I believe that even if breastfeeding is not right for every mother, it is what is right for every baby.”
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