Breastfeeding: Why I Do it, and How I Did It

When I was in high school in 1988, my sister had her first baby.  She “tried” nursing, but within a day or so didn’t.  maybe less.  I remember thinking, gross!  first of all, pregnancy was gross because there was this little alien moving around inside of you, and then having the baby suck milk out of you?  eww.  That was my point of view for several years afterward.  Then, in 2001 I got pregnant.  during the pregnancy, I had to make the decisions, circumcision or not, breastfeeding or formula feeding.  Luckily for us, we were having a girl so I didn’t have to make the circumcision decision, but still had to choose how to feed the baby.

So many studies showed that breastfeeding was best, plus my husband was breastfed and his family treated breastfeeding like it was the normal decision.  It’s not even a decision for them.  You breastfeed.  No question.

I wanted what was best for my baby, so I decided to breastfeed.  I took breastfeeding classes, and bought nursing bras.  When Molly was born, she was on the breast within minutes of birth.  The nurses all said the latch on was perfect, though it did hurt a lot.  They also said her blood sugar was low and took her from me and gave her formula.  exactly what I was told in the class to not allow, but I was a new mom and scared and when they asked me, I said okay.  There was no one there to advocate for me.

She was born at 8:30 am on Christmas Eve, and we went home at noon on Christmas Day.  In that time, every nurse said our latch on was perfect.  The lactation consultant was not at the hospital due to the holiday.  Nursing was painful, and I was developing cracks.  Molly always seemed to be upset and hungry.  We were dribbling formula into her mouth (those nipples they give you at the hospital were horrible and choked her with too much formula).

The day of Molly’s 3 day check up, I met with a lactation consultant.  She saved breastfeeding.  I thought my milk hadn’t come in because my breasts didn’t get hard, but she said the milk was in, she was just drinking it so it was going away.   She showed me the “My Brest Friend” nursing pillow, and showed me how to achieve a perfect latch on and what to look for.  She advised I use the football hold as it is easier to start with.

But on her one week checkup, Molly had lost weight, and the doctor was concerned.  My DH wanted me to pump and give her bottles so we knew how much she was eating.  I agreed.  I was afraid for my baby.  I didn’t want her to starve!  Molly was a high needs baby, and we were sleeping in shifts as she never wanted to be out of someone’s arms.  I was spending all my time pumping and washing and sterilizing bottles.

Then one day, when she was two weeks old, and we had been struggling with all of this for nearly a week, Joe was asleep.  Molly was hungry.  I had no milk pumped, and to pump to feed her I would have to put her down, so I just pulled out the breast and latched her on.  She drank so happily.  There was no feared nipple confusion.  For the first time in a week I was relaxed, and she was happy.  Imagine that!  Two weeks of struggling and doing EVERYTHING wrong, and in one moment, it was all fixed.

I continued to nurse her and she gained weight. I loved the drunken baby look when she was done eating.  That mouth open, asleep completely limp look.  Molly was a comfort nurser, so no wonder she was upset all that time.  She wanted to nurse a lot.  She liked to “nub” while she slept, too.

When I went back to work, I pumped JUST enough.  Even one wasted ounce would cause tears because it just wasn’t enough food.  Molly rejected formula supplements (She is still a very picky eater).  She nursed every two hours all night long for months.  I never complained because I knew she was making up for the food she missed while I worked.  She was a thin baby, and she’s a thin little girl, but her growth line was moving up in a steady arc, so the doctor had no worries.

I continued to nurse her during my pregnancy with her sister.  At this point, Molly was a little over a year old, and was eating solid food.  She nursed at bedtime, but that was it.

Morgan latched on within minutes after birth like a pro.  Both of us knew what we were doing!  She nursed for over an hour that first time.  She, too, had that milk drunkenness I love.  I continued to nurse Molly at bedtime after nursing Morgan, but cut her off when Morgan was about two months old.  It was the hardest thing I had done, to cut off Molly.  She loved nursing and cuddling so much.

It was a given that I would nurse Maddie and then Lucas.  Lucas was my hardest nurser, yet.  It had been nearly three years since I nursed a baby, plus I had a C-Section and didn’t get to nurse him for a long time after birth.  I was anemic after the C-Section as I had lost a lot of blood, so I don’t think I was producing the way I should.  He was also a very lazy nurser.  He didn’t open his mouth very wide, so it would take 20 minutes to get a good latch. Often, I was letting him latch on wrong and enduring the pain just so he’d eat.  I got so damaged, I had to stop nursing on one side and pump only for three days.

Lucas lost weight, and we supplemented him with formula.  I would nurse, then make a two ounce bottle.  I’d let him eat a few milileters, than pull it out and see if it was enough.  I didn’t want to overstuff him with formula, because I wanted him nursing every two hours.  The supplement system was working, but I hated it.  It made me feel like a bad mom who couldn’t provide for her children.  xthen on June 8, exactly one month after he was born, we achieved perfect, effortless latch on.  When I think of how many times I thought about quitting nursing during that first painful difficult month, I am proud that I stuck it out.

I love how Lucas’s eyes roll to the back of his head when he’s nursing, like its the best thing in the world.  I like how he gets shaky when he’s tired and he’s looking for the breast to latch on to.  I love how he feels snuggled up next to me.  I love how happy he gets when I nurse him right when he wakes up from a nap, so he’s well rested and well fed.  I love how his cheeks get pink from the warmth of being against me.  I would never give that up.

What I learned from the ordeals with MOlly and Lucas is that breastfeeding is less delicate than the breastfeeding classes led me to believe.  In both cases, the baby’s should have rejected nursing because they had been given formula in bottles very early in life.  But it wasn’t like that at all.  Granted, though, I WORKED at it to keep the milk flowing.  I pumped often, I nursed and then pumped, nursed and them pumped, but I was still able to do it.  It makes me feel like a rockstar to have worked so hard to provide this for my children.

I am sympathetic with women who didn’t keep at it and who ended up using formula, because it’s hard, and it seems like everyone is against you when you’re breastfeeding.  My mother criticized me for “denying other people the joy of feeding the baby” (she’s a convert now, and is hypercritical of formula feeding!).  the breastfeeding classes taught that once you give the baby formula in a bottle, you’re pretty much screwed with nursing.  The lactation consultants at the hospital with Lucas kept telling my latch on was great and perfect even though i KNEW it wasn’t right.  If I had believed them, I may have quit sooner thinking that nursing was just too painful if that was normal.  THen so many people think traveling is easier with formula than breastfeeding (that’s one of the selling points on the formula bottles, great for traveling with a nursing baby–um, nursing is way easier).

I also recognize that there are legitimate reasons to not nurse.  I don’t judge a woman I see feeding her baby a bottle.

Anyway, I nurse not because it’s healthier for the babies.  I think you can raise perfectly healthy babies on formula.  I nurse because I love how much they love it.  I would love to have a meal that makes me as happy as breastfeeding makes them.

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