To breast or not to breast

Sam breastfeeding

It has always been my desire to breastfeed my baby. That seed was planted long before I got pregnant or even met my hubby. It probably arose because I grew up knowing that my mother had breastfed all three of her children (for various lengths of time). It certainly didn’t come about from seeing or spending time with women who were breastfeeding. Which is a sad when you think about it. As “rich” as our North American culture is, it sure does lack some of the most basic elements of our own humanity. We get nursing mothers to cover up, herd them into separate rooms designated for that purpose, and bombard them with plenty of free samples of formula to try.

Now I’m not here to debate the formula vs. breastfeeding issue. It’s a complicated one and a single blog post isn’t necessarily the appropriate place for it (nor do I feel knowledgeable enough to really to debate this). And I’ve come to learn that formula feeding isn’t entirely evil. It has it’s place and purpose, so please don’t feel that I’m labeling it as “bad”.

My concern is with how we almost lost the art of breastfeeding in our culture. Certainly there has been improvement over the past 40 years with the spread of the Le Leche League and their determination to support breastfeeding mothers. Hospitals and health care professionals are more aware of the need to accommodate breastfeeding. Even if your own doctor isn’t well educated on breastfeeding, he or she will at least be able to get you connected with a lactation specialist.

I’ve had a number of friends and old co-workers who were unsuccessful with breastfeeding their babies. It was because of their tough experiences and the knowledge that I would be having a c-section delivery that hubby and I decided to employ the services of a postpartum doula. We wanted to increase our chances of being able to breastfeed, not just for the short term, but for as long as little Sam was interested. Hiring a doula by no means guaranteed success, but we were just trying to put into place as much support as possible.

Besides, like so many women, I had no idea how to breastfeed, only that I wanted to. Our doula, AJ, met with us for a breastfeeding lesson prior to Sam being born. I really encourage all those papas-to-be to attend any breastfeeding sessions your wife might go to. You are her number one support person and there is lots you can do to help, especially in those early days.

Sam breastfeedingOnce Sam was delivered via c-section, the three of us (hubby included) went to the recovery room for just over an hour. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try breastfeeding while in the recovery room, as I had hoped. So by the time we reached our postpartum room, I was eager to nurse him and our doula was right there with us to give it a try. She and hubby helped out so much in those first few days of feedings, assisting me in holding Sam, positioning him, and encouraging me.

It was work. Trying to establish a good and proper latch averaged 40 minutes, just so he could feed for 10. The first two nights in the hospital, when Sam and I were without the help of hubby & the doula, I resorted to hand expressing and feeding him by syringe because I couldn’t manage a proper latch by myself. But by the time we left the hospital, Sam and I were really starting to get the hang of it. Each nursing session was getting a bit better and easier.

The first night home, we received a phone call from one of the public health nurses, saying that there had been a mix-up at the hospital in regards to how much birth weight Sam had lost. Instead of 8-9% it was over 11%, and apparently 11% is just too much in the eyes of our health care system. The nurse immediately started talking to me about supplementing with formula. This was the first time I can recall when my true mothering instinct kicked-in. I told the nurse we would not be introducing formula at this time. After all the work Sam and I had done to establish a breastfeeding relationship, I wasn’t about to jeaporadize it by introducing formula at this point. We made a compromise. I would nurse Sam every 2-3 hours through the night, and hand express 2-3 syringes to feed him after each of these nursing sessions. It was a LONG night (and remember I was still recovering from a nasty c-section). My wonderful hubby was right beside me the whole time to help where he could.

A public health nurse came by the next morning to see how we were doing and weigh Sam. His weight had not gone down, he seemed to have hit his plateau. She was quite happy with his overall health and confident that he would fine without formula supplementation. Phew! (Now I should say, that if his weight had continued to drop, then we certainly would have considered formula. Sometimes, though, you just have trust your own instincts on these matters. After all, who else knows you & your baby better than you?) I will be forever grateful that we gave Sam a real good chance to learn breastfeeding.

Sam breastfeedingThings just got better from there in terms of breastfeeding. By the end of the first week, we had a really good routine going. It has continued to go well. We have been able to introduce a bottle of pumped milk into the routine once or twice a week. The main challenge these days is just how much Sam tends to eat. His weight gain is on a perfect, steady curve, so no worries there. I have just had to get used to feed-athons (consecutive hours of feeding typically in the afternoon). Not every day is like that, thankfully. I do get a break occasionally from tht and I’m hoping that things will improve more as the weeks continue to go by.

I managed to surpass the six week breastfeeding hurdle that so many of my friends talked about. And although my goal still remains to breastfeed Sam for the long haul, I have decided to look at it in smaller chunks of time so that I don’t get overwhelmed.

There was short period during the past several weeks when I was feeling depressed about the whole thing and wondering if I could really continue to breastfeed for the coming year. It wasn’t because of any physical nursing challenges, but rather the mental challenge, trying to see myself as something more than a milk truck. I definitely wasn’t feeling much bond with Sam during that time. And then one day he smiled at me. He’s continued to smile since then and for whatever reason, that was enough to encourage me to continue with breastfeeding and enjoy it a bit more.

There’s sure to be more adventures to this whole breastfeeding thing and I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going from time to time.

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