I just heard back from the IBCLE (International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners) that I passed my international test. I am now an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). That means that I can offer breastfeeding help and support as a lactation consultant now. Yippee! I’m looking forward to helping more mothers nurse their babies and overcome any difficulties they might have.
Tomorrow is the first day of August and the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week. I was just thinking about what nursing my son meant to me. Before my son was born I planned to nurse him. My mother had nursed me and I knew a lot about the benefits of breastfeeding, not just to my son, but to me. I felt that I had carried my breasts around all my life and I wanted to get some good use out of them. My attitude was that nursing would be a chore, but a chore I was willing to do, like changing diapers.
What I found was that nursing was an interaction between my son and me. This is why in La Leche League we call a mother with a baby a nursing “dyad”. We started off with some difficulties in nursing, but once we had overcome them, we both enjoyed nursing.
Before you have children, people tell you things will be different with your own child. That’s the way nursing was. It wasn’t an endless painful austerity. It wasn’t painful. It was joyful. You get to snuggle your own baby and nurse him into drowsy, happy sleepiness. Then perhaps, you can take a nap together. It is a blissful time in a mother’s life. It is a magical time. That is the experience I am trying to help other mothers have. A joyful time with their own beautiful baby.
World Breastfeeding Week is the first week of August. Getting ready to celebrate, I have been thinking about how my family had affected my breastfeeding relationship. Also how breastfeeding has affected my family. As a doula I have seen how family relationships play a big part in not only helping breastfeeding to succeed but also how long breastfeeding lasts. Keep in mind that research has shown the longer a woman breastfeeds the more health benefits she receives. It is also true that breastfeeding continues to have health and other benefits for the baby. So the longer breastfeeding lasts, the better.
My family’s support was very important to my breastfeeding success. My mother breastfed me and was very supportive of my nursing her grandson. My mother-in-law had formula fed her babies but more recently she had been convinced of the health benefits of breastfeeding and she was very supportive. I also had the support of my doula friends and other friends who had breastfed. Essentially, even though this country isn’t a breastfeeding culture, I had a small enclave of breastfeeding culture to sustain me.
As I have written earlier, I had difficulties with breastfeeding in the beginning. My husband and my family’s support was crucial. When I had things to work out, their support meant they understood why I was working hard to overcome my difficulties.
I have seen mothers struggle with overcoming some breastfeeding difficulties only for their families to tell them not to bother, formula is enough. My family never wavered in their support and I appreciated their support so much.
As for how breastfeeding has affected my family, I am a La Leche League Leader and I am working on becoming a lactation consultant. My family has had to support my helping other moms. My son will grow up appreciating the importance of nursing. He will support his wife’s breastfeeding when I have grandchildren.
Breastfeeding is not just about the human milk. Human milk is best for human babies, it is true. But breastfeeding is also part of your relationship with your baby. This relationship is about attachment of mother and child. It is also about learning your baby’s cues and your baby learning to trust that his needs are answered. This give and take is the start of your mothering experience.
The good news is that women who have difficulties making a full milk supply, can still have this breastfeeding relationship. They can still nurse their baby at the breast with a supplementer. Adopting mothers can also do this.
Some breastfeeding moms who return to work use bottles of breastmilk which they pump for their babies. It is a good way to continue giving your milk while you have to be away at work. When you get home, nursing your baby is a great way to reconnect.
There is another thing moms are doing, which makes much less sense. Some moms feel that nursing a baby is icky and so they pump their milk out to give to their baby in a bottle. They know that the milk is important for their baby’s health but they don’t want to be tied down to their baby.
There are several reasons I don’t think this is the best solution. First, instead of bonding and forming the attachment of nursing, these mothers distance themselves on purpose. Second, it is much more difficult to pump your milk and maintain an adequate supply, especially over the long term. Even though pumps are continually getting better, your baby is much more efficient at getting milk from your breast. Also, pumps can’t stimulate your breast to make as full a supply as your baby can.
So pumping out your milk to keep your breast out of your baby’s mouth takes much more work and has fewer rewards. It is also strange. As a cultural phenomena I think it says we are still stuck on breasts being sexual objects rather than nurturing ones. My hope is that our society will get over that and that we will become a breastfeeding culture once again.
How has breastfeeding helped me as a mother? It has helped me to never give up.
Every mom knows that there are two versions of her, who she is now and who she was before children. In my case, early breastfeeding was not easy. I had had a very difficult last trimester and a planned cesarean birth(my son was breech). Not an easy start to motherhood. Then, after nursing for three days in the hospital, I went home with my baby. He had jaundice and a bili-blanket. We had a visiting nurse who came the first day we were home and said all was well…
The next day (our second day home) we had another visiting nurse who did not trust breastfeeding. She informed us that our son was dehydrated to the point of almost needing the hospital and that I would have to pump out 4 ounces every two hours to give him by bottle. We compromised on giving it to him by syringe. However, she gave us a very small syringe. We had to give him about 75 syringes full per feeding. It was ridiculous! Of course, my milk was in but I couldn’t pump out that amount (4 ounces every two hours). It was the weekend and my son’s doctor was on vacation (naturally)! I was frantic!
We had to supplement with formula. I simply couldn’t reach anyone who could tell me that I didn’t need to supplement with formula. (My LLL Leader couldn’t diagnose and neither could my doula — it isn’t in their scope.) So I basted my baby with my milk and formula all day and night long.
The next day, my son had passed all his meconium poop, which was good. But he would no longer latch on to my breast. The first visiting nurse (the first nice one who believed in breastfeeding) came back that day. I was so angry I refused to see her. She weighed Simon and he had gained 7 ounces in one day! We obviously over-fed him. However, he was not dehydrated in any sense. She was satisfied when she left.
But that second nurse who I have tried to forgive many times, had left me with a severe problem. Simon would not latch on to my breast to nurse. He rejected me in favor of the syringe. He had imprinted on it as an easier source of food.
Next came the 8 week-long struggle. I went to lactation consultants who helped us. I tried every piece of nursing assistance such as nipple shields, nipple shells, the breast pump, the supplementer, and so on. I had a three-step feeding system. I would try to get him onto my breast, then I would give him the supplement of formula plus my pumped breastmilk and then I would pump for next time. During this I was also recovering from my cesarean birth. Each feeding led into the next feeding. Days led into night and that led into days…
It was more difficult than it sounds. By far! I wanted to give up so many times. But I knew that as a doula, I would never be able to help mothers succeed with breastfeeding if I gave up. I also really wanted to succeed for myself and Simon too!
We got advice for me to take Simon into bed for three days and do nothing but nurse. His doctor had told me this would be OK and he had gained enough to miss a few feeds. He was just turning 8 weeks old. I knew I couldn’t pump forever. So I did it. I envisioned endless crying while he rejected by breast over and over again.
The first time I placed him on my breast, he cried and cried until he fell asleep. I fell asleep too, thinking this was the beginning of the longest three days of my life. When he woke up again, hungry, I tried to latch him on. This time he said to himself, “Breastfeeding? Of course I know how to do that!” and he latched right on and nursed. I was so overwhelmed! Even though I was hunched over and in the wrong position, I refused to move an inch. He nursed!
I thought, well that was once. But from then on, he nursed and it was his very favorite thing in the world. I spent those days in bed because he nursed almost continually (except for my bathroom breaks) the whole time.
And that was the start. He nursed for about three and a half years, give or take. By that time I was so proud of what we had accomplished. Nursing became easy, not a constant struggle with baby and equipment. Those eight weeks seemed long at the time, but were short in the context of our whole nursing relationship. And as for breastfeeding and mothering? It taught me never to give up on something that really matters. Never Give Up!