Step One: Have a baby.
Step Two: Feed it.
Ha! If only it were this easy. In case you didn’t know, it is World Breastfeeding Week. I’ve been meaning to collect my thoughts on my most recent breastfeeding journey for some time now and this was just the nudge I needed. I’ve had different breastfeeding experiences with all of my kids. N was a great nurser, but I was young, not super well-informed, and uncomfortable nursing in front of people, so I opted to do a combination of nursing and formula feeding. K couldn’t latch for the entire first month, so I pumped for her (though now I know I had no real knowledge about how to properly do so) and supplemented with formula. Once she could latch, she hated it and basically refused to continue. We know now that all of these complications were symptoms of her undiagnosed hypotonia and other assorted medical issues. We switched to formula and that was that. She’s STILL on formula at 11 years old. And then there was JOSEPHINE!
With Josie, I strongly desired to exclusively breastfeed, I researched and read and we jumped in with both feet, fully understanding the commitment and sacrifice it requires.
Even though she had latching issues from the start and was latched to me almost constantly, we persisted. No bottles; just me, Josephine, and a nipple shield.
When we noticed her low weight gain, I started pumping in addition to perma-nursing. Nursing plus pumping and bottles, no formula.
When her heart defect was diagnosed, I had started pumping exclusively (doctor’s orders), she had to briefly have an NG tube, and we had to add formula. No nursing, all pumping and bottles, plus formula and some tube feeding.
When her dairy allergy was diagnosed, I gave up dairy and we switched formulas (multiple times). My supply was low and a sweet mama offered to GIVE UP DAIRY and donate some milk to my girl, and then another friend offered hers as well. All pumping and bottles, plus hypoallergenic formula and precious, precious donated breastmilk, minus delicious dairy.
After her open heart surgery, she was cleared for nursing again, but she would not do it. It had been too long and was foreign. So we kept on. All pumping and bottles, plus hypoallergenic formula and precious donated breastmilk, still no dairy goodness.
Right before she was a year old, she had additional allergies diagnosed. We kept on chugging (or, more accurately, limping) until she hit a year and then I weaned from pumping and she moved on to soy formula.
It looks so nice and neat written out like that, but it was agonizing. Every time we “lost” something, it hurt. I loved nursing her, even though it was very, very demanding, but I hated pumping. I HATED IT. I hated how it felt. I hated having to choose between Josie and the pump. I hated having it rule our schedules and how far from home we could go. I hated waking up in the night to pump when everyone else was asleep. I hated washing the parts. I hated the hand cramps from massaging and compression to maximize output. I hated agonizing over how much milk I was or was not making. I hated trying new supplements and medications to try and increase my supply. I hated that it took up every inch of my brain that was not devoted to heart failure and open heart surgery and failure to thrive and food allergies. I. Hated. It. And yet, I’m very, VERY proud that I was able to provide her with mostly breastmilk for the first year of her life. Breastmilk is AMAZING! It is so much more than a food. (This article is pretty great at delving into that.) Josie had so many things working against her, being able to provide her with up to date antibodies and easily digestible, perfectly personalized nutrition was something *I* could do to help her, no matter how much I hated it. It was worth enduring all of the hated bits to see her get through that first year so successfully. I’ll always be a bit sad at what we lost through the ups and downs. In a perfect world, we would have had an exclusive breastfeeding relationship and we’d still be at it today, but the world we live in is decidedly NOT perfect, so I had to learn, once again, that FED is best and what I want is not always what my children need. Exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, formula feeding, tube feeding, donor milk feeding…we’ve done them all and they have all worked together to build this perfect little baby.
There is so much constant debate in the world about the RIGHT way to mother, the “right” way to feed or sleep or discipline, and while there are certainly clear cut WRONG and dangerous ways to do such things I am unconvinced that THE singular right way even exists. Breastfeeding is VERY, VERY important and I wish more people truly understood the amazing process from start to finish and the myriad benefits and I wish our nation had policies that supported breastfeeding women and helped them do so successfully, but it is also VERY, VERY important to mother the child you have, in the way that child needs to be mothered. Josephine needed to be fed THIS wild and crazy way, and so that’s how we did it. I just can’t have regrets about that, and I know I’d make the same choices if I was zapped back in time. I’m sure there are breastfeeding mamas who saw her with a bottle and pitied her or formula-feeding mamas who wondered why I was being a total crazy person and didn’t just give up the loathsome pumping instead of complaining about it, but this is what RIGHT looked like for us. This is what BREASTFEEDING looked like for us.
If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, RESEARCH breastfeeding, whether you are for or against or undecided. I have read lots and LOTS of posts and articles about about feeding babies; breastfeeding babies, bottle-feeding babies, bottle-feeding with expressed milk, bottle-feeding with formula, why breast is best, why formula is just as good, breastfeeding myths, pumping tips, OY! There is a ton of information out there; some of it solid, some of it mean-spirited, some of it idiotic (only feed your baby homemade organic broths because formula is GMO poison. NO. Just, no.), some of it is defensive, some of it is neutral, some of it is very helpful. Find the good stuff and read and read and read all you can. La Leche League, Kellymom, and The Leaky Boob are all good starting places. Find out what your amazing body is capable of! Read about feeding on demand and clusterfeeding and co-sleeping and how consuming and rewarding a breastfeeding relationship is, read about the highs and the lows of it, read about caffeine and alcohol and medications, read about “booby-traps”, read about all the amazing benefits for moms and babies. Then decide if you want to breastfeed (I am pro-breastfeeding, but there are loads of valid reasons why someone may not want to breastfeed and it isn’t anyone else’s place to judge or question those reasons), read and read and read some more. Too many healthcare professionals know little to nothing about breastfeeding and if you rely on your OB or pediatrician as your main resource, you can easily be led astray. Be informed about your body and your baby, and do at least as much research about it as you do on car seats and nursery decorations (this goes for pregnancy and labor, as well, YOU should be the expert on YOU). If you want to breastfeed, be prepared for the demands of it and understand why the sacrifices are so worthwhile. Make sure your partner is also prepared for the demands of it and understands why the sacrifices are so worthwhile. People expect it to be an easy, natural thing, but there is a definitely learning curve and many people think that means that it is not working properly and give up. Know more than you think is necessary. And then, be prepared to LISTEN to your baby, and do what is right for him/her above all else…a practice that has applications and benefits that extend WELL beyond feeding and infancy. ♥