Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Modern Mom's Breastfeeding (Mis)Adventures

Mammals do it.  We breastfeed. We nurse. We lactate. I'm sure there are dozens of other synonyms for it. The funny thing is I always knew I was going to try it, but I would simultaneously admit that I didn't really care if it worked or not. I've seen and read about too many people robbed of the joys of early parenthood due to the debilitating pressure to provide enough breast milk to exclusively breastfeed their child. To me, this is a noble desire. Not only that, but it is also cheaper and requires less equipment. Oh, and you get to do the bonding! But, I said I'd try it, so here I am trying it.

No two mom's experiences are the same, and I want to add this disclaimer as well - please do not take offense if my attitude about breastfeeding seems flippant at times. The truth is my attitude about breastfeeding is flippant at times. So why did I want to try it in the first place? There are studies that show that a child's risk of developing Diabetes is lower if he or she is breastfed. I knew I wanted to provide colostrum in the first days (especially so since she ended up in the NICU). Also, I thought for sure it would be more convenient.

As you know, I did not get to try to breastfeed until about 8 days after Eila was born. Most lactation consultants will tell you to nurse as soon as possible to get that milk supply going. Well, I wasn't really afforded that opportunity, so I improvised with the pump. My initial thoughts were while it certainly feels strange, it does not hurt. Thank goodness. Is it normal to just get drops? I mean, in those first days, we were literally putting 2-3 drops in a syringe and giving it to Eila. Then one morning I woke up to rock boobs, and I thought yeah maybe let's try this warm washcloth thing. As much as this hurt, I am surprised more didn't come out. Admittedly, I think I thought once your milk "came in" that it would pour like a faucet. Instead, the increase was gradual but also fluctuating. Some pump sessions would be more productive than others, but I jut kept telling myself even if not much comes out, at least you're stimulating your boobs to produce more. And once we tried breastfeeding in the NICU, I'd follow with pumping and Eila would take a bottle of formula. Always in the background was the reassurance of formula. So, I never looked at it as poison or failure. I actually looked at formula as my safety net. I still do, so I kind of resent when folks out in the Internet world belittle it.

At one point my pediatrician told me to try exclusively breastfeeding because he felt that my pump amounts seemed plentiful. So, I did for 4 days between appointments. I breastfeed Eila 20 minutes on each side about 8 times per day. She didn't act like she was hungry between sessions. In fact, many times, she'd fall right to sleep. Plus, she was still getting plenty of wet diapers (something they told me was a good indication of whether she was getting enough). At her appointment, we discovered she had dropped half a pound during that science experiment. No, I didn't cry like I did with the breast milk spill incident. I didn't go into a deep depression, but I will admit that I felt a pang of guilt. It isn't the type of guilt some feel when they just feel like failures. I felt guilty because I thought about how hungry she must be. The pediatrician and I adjusted plans. I still breastfeed every meal, but she gets offered a 2 oz bottle after 3 of those sessions. And trust me, she sucks them down with immense satisfaction. I still pump after nursing to see if I can build up the ol' supply. In addition, I have 24-or-so lactation cookies (thanks for the recipe, friend!) and two bottles of Fenugreek.

Bottom line: This has turned into gamesmanship for me! You mean, if I take this supplement and eat cookies and surrender about 82.3% of my day to either feeding or promoting milk supply, then maybe  just maybe over time I will be able to exclusively breastfeed my baby. And, for the record, when we breastfeed, I spend half the time trying to keep her awake. I find myself relentlessly staring at her jaw to see if she is swallowing anything. When I even attempt to take off the nipple shield and feed her, 10% of the time she will go for it for a while. The other 90% of the time, she turns her head and literally scoffs at what is being offered to her. I can't help but laugh. I love the contradictions too. Be well rested, but nurse around the clock. Don't stress about it, but eat this, take this, drink this and count diapers.

In conclusion, if breastfeeding was an effortless journey for you, then that is great! I don't even mind if you brag about it all over the Internet. In my mind, it really is either some act of extreme determination or your body was cooperative from the get-go. Be proud of it! But if you find yourself even on the verge of judging me or other people who supplement or may end up exclusively formula feeding (or even those who simply chose to formula feed), then take a pause, go look in the mirror and ask yourself "what will I accomplish by thinking this?" Or better yet, "what would I accomplish by making this comment?" I'll solve the mystery for you: there's good chance you'll just hurt someone's feelings or piss someone off. Let's stop shaming moms for things, okay? Thankfully, no such comments or attitudes have been thrown my direction (to my knowledge), but I would not take too kindly to them. I am educated on the matter, so also don't assume that I haven't considered what's best for my baby given my own unique circumstances. The truth is, I am continuing to try to breastfeed, but the minute my pediatrician tells me to give up the good fight, I will not bat an eye. My baby needs food, and if it doesn't come from me, it needs to come from somewhere, right?

If the fact of the matter is that we are all doing our best and making our own educated decisions about  how best to sacrifice, how much stress is too much, and what method is best for the whole family, then there is certainly no room left for haters or shamers. At the end of the day, my baby is well, and that's my life's greatest pleasure.

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