I have evolved as a mother. I have learned to ask questions and research more (from reputable sources), while letting my gut instincts influence my parenting greatly. I am confident in my choices (most of them). I’ve learned that although I find some parenting strategies a little excessive and nutty, we are all learning and evolving with our children, trying to do the best we know how. With the birth of Evie I have become an advocate for breastfeeding mothers and the normalization of it in public. I didn’t think I would be so passionate about this, especially after my experience breastfeeding Livi, but I’m glad I am. It is not something that should be taboo or hidden.
Breastfeeding is something that our culture is still coming to grips with. People don’t talk about it beyond “my baby is, or is not, breastfed.” It is hidden behind closed doors or under blankets, literally. New mothers go in to this journey blind. I basically did. We have not seen other women feed their babies or learned from each other. Sure we read the public health literature about how often to feed, how long and in what positions. Speaking from experience, that IS NOT enough information! It is no wonder so many new mom’s have such a hard time breastfeeding their babies and end up turning to formula.
I’m not saying that breastfeeding is the only or best way for everyone. There are MANY legitimate reasons why formula feeding might be the best thing. I am saying that if breastfeeding was more normalized or publicly seen in our culture and not stereotyped as a “granola” or “attachment parenting” mommy thing to do, momma’s might be better equipped to nurse their baby and not turn to formula with feelings of failure.
Since nursing Evie, I have realized so much about what actually went wrong with nursing Livi. Livi gained weight well enough but nursing was never easy for us. First off, in the first few days Livi had quite a bit of Jaundice and I needed to supplement after nursing her with formula because my milk had not come in yet. Unknowing how a bottle can impact their latch we gave her formula in the traditional position, from a bottle. Getting a good latch is the most important thing in establishing a mothers milk supply and the baby getting enough to eat. Now I know that there are alternative and better ways to give a newborn needed formula (or a friends pumped breast milk!). With Evie, we had to supplement a little bit as well. Because of her size she was sucking my colostrum dry before my milk came in and was not being hydrated enough to wet diapers. This time, we spoon fed her some formula after each feeding until my milk came in. If a baby needs more than just a top up this can take a really long time. There are special ways to hold the baby and bottle to minimize affecting their latch or you could cup feed them from one of those small medicine measuring cup.
I have one nipple that is partially inverted (TMI? Oh well, not sharing that would defeat the purpose of this post). Livi never latched on to that breast very well. In the hospital they gave me a nipple guard to use. They didn’t tell me the effect this nipple guard could have. Basically, it is a clear thin cover that covers the nipple and areola. The baby sucks on it and brings the nipple out a bit to help get a better latch. We became dependent on this and used it for the entire nursing session. Around week 3 Jon went back to the hospital to get another one because we couldn’t find them in the stores. That was when they told him I really shouldn’t have been using it for more than a few days and should only have been using it for the first minute or two to bring the nipple out. With it covering the areola, Livi was never able to stimulate the milk ducts to establish milk production. It is the most important in the first few weeks to stimulate these ducts and establish this production for the following months of nursing. It also took us a while to wean ourselves off the guard because we had never put much energy in to learning how to nurse on that breast without it.
I was under A LOT of stress in the first few months of Livi’s birth which can also negatively impact milk production. Jon’s Dad had just died a month before, Jon had just been diagnosed with depression a few months before and was still trying to get the right dosage of meds down, and my sister was dating a terrible human being who was manipulating her and taking her away from our very tight family. Hindsight, I had severe baby blues if not postpartum and cried every day. Because I was so busy taking care of my husband and family, I missed some signs of my lacking milk. No one was taking care of me to notice either.
Livi was a relatively easy baby but I resented parts of my new role. I was never a cuddly person and am not a hugger. I have learned to love hugging and cuddling because of my kids. Although I loved her completely, I yearned for my personal space sometimes and occasionally had to push myself to hold her. I resented her 45 minute breastfeeding sessions. Again, hindsight is 20/20. Evie only eats on one breast for about 5-15 minutes a feed, 7-9 times a day normally. Livi always needed both breasts and took a long time on each. I realize now it was because she was not getting enough milk from me. She was a big baby and gained enough weight, although she was gaining on the low side of average, so no one was concerned. I don’t actually know if she was gaining enough by the end because we weren’t still seeing the doctor regularly, like at first.
The final straw was Livi’s constipation. She would go over a week at a time without having a bowel movement. The longest time without one was either 11 or 14 days (depending which parent you ask). Either way, way too long. I ended up going to a stupid Pediatrician who told me my milk was just really pure and she had no bad stuff to get rid of. Then he told me to give my then 3 month old rice cereal and a bit of formula. My instincts told me no way to the rice cereal that early but we did give her some formula. Once she got a taste for how much easier sucking from a bottle was and how much more satisfied she was, she refused my breasts. I fought for a weeks to keep her on but by 4 months old she was completely weaned. I felt like I failed her somehow.
When I became pregnant with Evie I knew that I NEEDED to do everything I could to make breastfeeding work this time. Partly for my own feeling of accomplishment and partly for the simple reason that we can’t afford formula this time! I wanted to enjoy it this time and not fight through it. I wanted to feel it was beautiful. I researched what I could. Talked to my friends about their experiences and learned a lot. I set safe guards in place to allow me to solely focus on breastfeeding my newborn. Either Jon or his mom was home with me to help with the big girls. I took Blessed Thistle and Fenugreek supplements to help establish production. I did NOT use a nipple guard this time. I waited almost a full 6 weeks to give her a soother (she prefers her fingers anyway). I also did not try to hide the fact that I was breastfeeding.
With Livi, I always tried to do the socially acceptable thing and go in to another room or shield my daughters head and my breast from public view, usually awkwardly with a blanket. I don’t know any baby who likes their heads being so closely draped with a blanket. I get hot, sweaty and uncomfortable. I hate it. Livi was always frustrated doing the work to eat in that stuffy sauna. She hated it. Evie hates it too. Why bother? Because people might get offended that a breast is being seen? We see them on day time television! I see more breast tissue due to cleavage on women than I would if they were feeding their baby.
It used to be a village who raised and breastfed the babies, anywhere and everywhere. New mothers learned from example and had each other to relieve them if there were problems. There was no formula back then.
I now refuse to shield how my baby eats from the public, for the publics sake. No one else is expected to shield themselves from being seen eating in public. Everyone eats openly in a restaurant, snacks at the park or mall or even at church! I now see it as beautiful and want to share it. I am doing what my body was made to do, feed my baby!
I’m not saying we all need to whip out our boobs and let it hang out. I’m saying we need to politely feed our babes however and wherever it is most comfortable. Hiding in a public bathroom stall, sitting in the car, going to the church nursery where you can’t hear the sermon is often not more comfortable for mothers or babies. For the sake of future mothers who may struggle with breastfeeding because she has never seen it done or actually talked about it with her friends, I think we need to try and be more open about it. Support each other. Make eye contact with a mother feeding her baby from her breast or a bottle wherever she is. It doesn’t need to be private. Normalize it.
I do cherish breastfeeding this time. I enjoy it. It was not a fight. Evie latched on easily and has had no issues. I am blessed in that this time. I love feeding my baby and feeling that connection. It was one of my greatest fears of failing at before Evie was born, but now I feel like it is one of our greatest accomplishments. I’m thankful for friends (especially you Danielle!) who led by example, shared their journeys with me, and pursued through some hellish circumstances in order to breastfeed their babes. It showed me that I had support to tackle this goal and that we could do it! It is a beautiful thing.