Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

World Breastfeeding Week 2010

In an article that I wrote for our local Macaroni Kid Newsletter (You can see it at Whole Mothering Center with the images in tact; MK’s site doesn’t allow images), I challenged breastfeeding moms who’ve stuck with it through difficulties, for several years, and/or nursed several babies to talk and/or blog about what aspect of breastfeeding it was that made them love it so much. I don’t think I’ve ever posted many pictures of me breastfeeding my babies, now 7 and 8 years old, so I’m going to do that in celebration of World Breastfeeding Week.

I’ve worked with several organizations over the past 8 years; this picture is of me at the first La Leche League meeting I went to after PeaGreen was born (I’m actually breastfeeding both boys and holding a conversation all at the same time *gasp*). In that time, I’ve heard so many stories – of success, or failure, of hard work, of everything working beautifully from the first moment to mom ultimately deciding that breastfeeding just wasn’t for her. I’ve watched women become more confident, I’ve watched them struggle with criticism and bad advice and the stories are both satisfying and infuriating to listen to or read.

My own experiences lean more towards the ‘overcoming difficulty’ camp but are overall absolutely wonderful. I would not trade nursing my babies for anything. It’s something I always knew I would do. My mom nursed my brother for a year, my grandmother and aunts all nursed; it’s just how the women in my family fed their babies.

When LittleBoyBlue was born, it took a while for both of us to get the hang of it. He had a fever when he was born and so spent some time in the nursery. I didn’t know then that it was hospital policy to give ‘sick’ babies a bottle. That screwed us up for weeks! He ended up with nipple confusion (a condition where the baby tries to breastfeed by using their tongue in the same way he would use it to drink from a bottle – it doesn’t work; its two completely different mouth and tongue movements) and promptly put blisters on my nipples and made nursing extremely painful.

Even asking for help from the nurses didn’t get much help; the nurse who came in to help get him latched on brought in a bottle of glucose water and stuck that in his mouth to ‘get him going’, then tried to shove him onto my breast – then she left before he ever started sucking with a, ‘You’ll get the hang of it!” thrown over her shoulder as she exited the room.

All told, it took about a month of cringing every time he was hungry. I had sore, raw and bleeding nipples and there were days where I just cried at the thought of nursing. I remember one day having ENOUGH and getting out the hand pump and fully intending to stop torturing myself.

Somewhere at the four-week mark, I started thinking that maybe something was wrong. I pulled out my books and started looking back into all the breastfeeding sections of the pregnancy books that I’d skipped over. I’d naively assumed that just because I wanted to breastfeed, and because it was natural that it would just work. That it would be easy. It never once entered my mind that there was technique involved, or mechanics that all had to be right in order for comfortable breastfeeding bliss to be enjoyed.

Once I started reading, especially the ‘troubleshooting’ sections, I figured out that my stubborn babe was tucking his bottom lip in instead of making fish lips. That was what was causing so much pain and frustration. I went in and flipped his lip out and was amazed at how much of a difference that one tiny thing made. Of course, it still hurt – I needed time for my nipples to heal – but wow – the difference was incredible. From that point on, things got better every day.

At some point right around this time, I recalled my friend’s mom mentioning La Leche League and something about breastfeeding help. I decided to see what that was all about and gave the local leader a call. I remember asking her if I could bring the baby and she said, “Yes, please do!”.  That first meeting was really neat. I met several other breastfeeding moms and was introduced to the baby sling (as a mother, which is wholly different from seeing a woman with a sling baby when you don’t have kids). That event helped make me into the mom I am today. Oh, I’m not crediting LLL with shaping my ideas – those were in place long before LLL. But being involved with LLL meant that my ideas were continually reinforced to the point that I didn’t question myself the same way I would have if the only mothers I’d been around were formula feeding. The prevailing mindset of LLL moms is more earth-mama-crunchy-granola-attachment-parenting, and though I was already there, I might not have been as comfortable with talking about what I thought was right for my kids as I now am. I can wholeheartedly credit LLL for succeeding in their mission of support in my case.

Knowing what I know now, I would have gotten involved in LLL or another breastfeeding support group during my pregnancy instead of waiting until I was having problems. The camaraderie of the mothers and support provided in that kind of environment is invaluable. Even now, one of the things that I learned then that I took to heart most was the need for support as a mother. Having your choices reflected back to you by mothers you respect is the ultimate validation, which gives you confidence.  It’s also nice to have several mothers whose experience you can draw from when you’re struggling.

With PeaGreen’s pregnancy, I was still nursing. LittleBoyBlue was only 9 months old when I got pregnant and again, being involved in LLL gave me access to information that I might not have had otherwise, and put me in touch with other moms who had nursed through a pregnancy and tandem nursed. I’m sure that seems odd to some people, but for me, nursing was such a normal part of how I mothered my child that I just wasn’t ready to change that. Even at 9 months, LittleBoyBlue was obviously not ready to wean, so we just didn’t. I got a lot of criticism – from family, from nurses and even the midwife I saw at the beginning of my pregnancy. There wasn’t much published on nursing through pregnancy or tandem breastfeeding (nursing two children of different ages) at the time, so I once again turned to La Leche League.

I was put in touch with Hilary Flower, who was writing the book that became Adventures in Tandem Nursing. She sent me some info to bring to my midwife, which made such a difference in my own peace of mind. You can only hear that you’re doing it wrong so many times before you start to wonder if you really are doing it wrong. Turns out I wasn’t, and we continued breastfeeding through my pregnancy. When PeaGreen was born, he latched on like a pro (though I was surprised at how different nursing a newborn was compared to nursing a 19 month old babe; I’d forgotten how small new babies were!) and within a few hours of his birth, we were officially a tandem nursing trio.

Tandem nursing wasn’t something I set out to do; it was simply the best option for us for a variety of reasons. I’ve had a few friends who found themselves pregnant while still breastfeeding and some have continued to nurse and some have not and I respect their decisions fully. I would not choose to do it again, though if I found myself in a position where it was necessary, I would. Looking back, I think that we made the right decision.

Aside from the numerous documented and obvious reasons why breastfeeding is superior to artificial baby formulas,  think that the relationship of the nursing pair is a big part of what draws mothers to it, especially if they’ve breastfed before. You have this connection with your breastfeeding child that you don’t have when you bottle feed. It’s not even about what’s in the bottle (though I am adamantly opposed to formula for my babies); it’s about nurturing at the breast. That’s not something that you can replicate in other ways. You can come close, but it’s just not the same. So many parenting books equate breastfeeding with a ‘nutrition only’ mindset, and if that’s how you look at it then you’re really missing out on a huge part of what makes breastfeeding so special. It may take work to get to the point of breastfeeding bliss, even for the experienced nursing mom – but once you do, it’s so worth it.

Warmly,

~h

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