I wrote this essay years ago chronicling my difficulty breastfeeding Big A — and what I learned in the process. During this time there just happened to be government-sponsored TV ads geared toward getting more women to breastfeed. While Fearless Feeding will not cover breastfeeding, it helps prepare parents for all the potential pitfalls that can happen during the 18 years of feeding. While we hope parents won’t experience too many feeding challenges, we know preparation is power!
“My boobs would have to fall off for me not to breastfeed,” I wrote to a friend, thanking her for buying me a nursing pillow. During my first pregnancy, I watched, with a touch of arrogance, the government-sponsored TV ads promoting breastfeeding.
These ads showed a pregnant woman riding a mechanical bull with the voiceover: “You wouldn’t take this kind of risk with your baby so then why would you take the risk of not breastfeeding.” I thought to myself, I certainly won’t.
Yet after my beautiful baby girl was born, breastfeeding proved to be the most challenging aspect of motherhood. That’s because every three hours I had a hungry baby who couldn’t always latch on my breasts, caused me intense pain, and managed to make my nipples unrecognizable. Each nurse had a different opinion on how to remedy my situation. One urged me to use a nipple shield. The lactation consultant at the hospital, who visited me daily, said nipple shields slow down milk production. Another nurse already had me pumping milk and feeding my daughter through a bottle.
Looking back now the hospital seemed like a joy ride compared to my experiences at home. After my baby had trouble latching on my breasts her first night home from the hospital, I arranged to meet with a lactation consultant. This was just the beginning of what seemed to be a never-ending battle. Just when one problem was solved another reared its ugly head. I discovered that my daughter was inefficient at removing milk which is why even after hour-long nursing sessions she still wasn’t gaining enough weight.
One of the pediatricians in my daughter’s medical group recommended I supplement with formula. I had already started pumping milk and told her I preferred to supplement my baby with expressed-breast milk. I was surprised when she tried to talk me out of pumping. She said it would tire me out and feeding formula would allow me to sleep longer at night. But I did my homework. I knew that adequate removal of milk is what stimulates more milk production and my baby wasn’t removing enough. So, in my eyes, I had to be vigilant about pumping breast milk.
The lactation consultant supported my decision to pump and put me on a pretty strict schedule. First, I would breastfeed my baby. Second, I’d supplement her with a bottle of expressed-breast milk. And third, I’d hook myself up to a breast pump for 10-15-minutes. There was a direct link between my mood and how well each nursing session went. And just when I thought we were over the hump, at seven weeks, my daughter totally refused to breastfeed. Disappointment doesn’t even come close to describe my emotional state.
My mind wandered back to those government ads and anger soon replaced my previous arrogance. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 74 percent of women attempt breastfeeding in the hospital but by six months only 41 percent are still breastfeeding. I began to sympathize with all those women who couldn’t make it to six months.
Then I thought about my own situation. After all, I felt as prepared as anyone to breastfeed. I read books, took classes, and had the fancy nursing pillow. But did I have a realistic picture of what it would be like? I only learned what could go right and not what could go wrong. Every brochure and book tells you, “breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing it right.” “It’s rare that a woman can’t breastfeed.” This advice, which comforted me when I was pregnant, became utterly useless to me after I had a baby.
What I needed to know was what circumstances could come between me and my desire to breastfeed. I needed to know how inefficient newborns can be at breastfeeding. I needed to know what to do if my baby did not gain enough weight. I needed to know that my baby could still prefer the bottle weeks after breastfeeding. I needed to know that even doctors and nurses can sabotage my efforts. I needed to know how important establishing a plentiful milk supply is those first few weeks. And, yes, I needed to know that it hurts.
But instead, new moms like me get guilt-ridden messages and the “breast is best” tag line. Wouldn’t our tax dollars be better spent finding ways to break down the barriers that keep women from continuing to breastfeed?
My baby is over a year old now and I’m proud to say she received breast milk for 11 months. After getting the biggest rejection of my life, I relied on the breast pump to keep my milk supply up and nourish my baby. I kept trying to nurse my daughter and it wasn’t until she was between four and five months old that she really started catching on.
Throughout this process, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would about breastfeeding, milk supply, and pumping milk. And despite my difficulties, I’m still pro-breastfeeding. In fact, I can’t wait to make it work the second time. But the next time I will handle things differently. Most importantly, I will be prepared for all that can happen between deciding to breastfeed and my boobs falling off.