Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Nursing my babies

Sarcastic Mom started this, and I guess it was supposed to be yesterday, but I am late to the game again. But this seems like a good excuse to write about this, so I will!

I nursed three babies.

When I was pregnant with my first, I didn't really think about what I would do. I didn't have a "birth plan," or a "feeding plan." I just figured, sure, I'll breastfeed. That's the way women's bodies are built, so that's what I'll do. But I also registered for bottles and figured, "maybe I'll do both." I didn't read about it, didn't take a class about it, didn't have any friends with kids. My mom had nursed both of her babies, but I didn't talk with her about it.


When my Big Girl was born, nobody asked me if I wanted to try nursing her immediately after the birth. I was being sewn up from the episiotomy/tear (L4, thankyouverymuch), and that took an alarmingly long time. I was on the oxygen mask and so tired. I didn't know to care about it.

After a while, after being moved to my recovery room, a nurse showed up to tell me to nurse the baby. She had to show me what to do, but we couldn't get latched, and it HURT, and the baby just wanted to sleep, and oh who am I kidding it's all a haze. I remember a lactation consultant coming the next day and after much trial and tribulation she finally got the baby latched on. But then I couldn't do it again without her.

At home, my milk came in. And I cried and cried from the pain. And I cried and cried from the pain of the poorly latched nursing baby. And there were bad days and bad nights and bad days and I was LOSING MY MIND.

Then my mom came into town to help me. And she said, "tell yourself you'll do it for six months. or three months. You can make it three months. Then, if it's still horrible, give yourself permission to stop breastfeeding."

My mom is a genius. I cried with relief. Even though I could barely make it through one latching attempt, the thought that I could stop in a few months gave me such an emotional boost, I cannot tell you.

So the next couple of months contained more crying in pain, and nursings that took 30 minutes to achieve latch-on, so that by the time the two sides were done it was time to start over again, and mastitis, and antibiotics, and lo and behold, it suddenly one day was easier!

And then it was EASY. It took just a few minutes. My baby could latch herself on and go to town. I didn't pump, because she didn't like bottles, so there was no clean-up and no money spent on formula.

I nursed my first baby for 12.5 months, and weaning just took a week or two.

In short, I became a true believer in breastfeeding.

But I'm not a fanatic. With all three babies, I had the hospital staff take the baby for 8 hours during the night, doing one formula feed, so that I could get some sleep. And I gave my babies pacifiers, because otherwise they would have been attached to my sore, raw nipples 24 hours a day. And despite the fact that each child had two formula feedings in their life and a couple months of pacifiers, I was able to nurse them all. Some people make you think you won't be able to nurse if you do those things. Those people need to chill.

I was so shocked that it was hard to learn. And it was hard to learn all over again with each subsequent baby. The biologist in me is frustrated to no end that this makes no sense, survival-of-the-species-wise. I guess it proves that humans evolved to be a tribal species, needing females around to teach the new mothers.

My second baby was a big one, 8.5 pounds. The pediatrician in the hospital told me to give her formula after every feeding since I was only making colostrum. She said the baby would still be hungry. Good thing it was not my first baby and I knew that this was hogwash. An 8.5-pound baby does not need to supplement! So I just said, "okay," and then when the nurse came back I told her about the advice and she and I had a chuckle about what bad advice that was. This was the nurse who told me I had flat nipples and gave me some nipple shields to help prep them for latch-on. What a Godsend! How I wished someone had told me about this for the first baby! Middle Girl was a great nurser, and even took bottles of pumped milk so I could go to choir rehearsal one night a week. She was happy with the milk however it came. But I still got mastitis.

I nursed Middle Girl for 16 months.

My third baby was a terrible nurser. He also would NOT stay awake for about the first two weeks of his life. So in the hospital, with my other two kids safely taken care of by my mom at home, I didn't worry about it. I tried nursing him, but when he just fell asleep, I too went to sleep and then told the nurses that he ate. Hey, I was tired and I wanted to rest, knowing I wouldn't get any at home. But the problem was, he didn't get any better at home. We tried, but he was determined to sleep. At his two-week checkup, he had lost too much of his birth weight (which was 8 lbs. 12 oz., by the way), so I had to wake up and smell the coffee. We had to really teach this kid how to nurse. So I poured a little formula on the nipples and used cold washcloths to wake him up and let him know there was food coming, if he'd just work for it a little. Hubby and I had to hold his tongue down to teach him how to do it (he had it GLUED to the roof of his mouth), and I had to hold everything in the right placed while Hubby was in charge of KEEPING BABY AWAKE. It was hard, but we got him to figure it out after a while. In one week, he gained plenty of weight and no one was worried anymore. I was glad that I had 2+ years of nursing under my belt, so I knew I could do it if I just remained calm and lived through the initial pain and difficulty.

I nursed The Boy for 18 months. It was hard to stop, knowing that it was all over!

My mom's advice is what saved me. And I give this advice to all of my friends who are having their first baby and want to try breastfeeding. And they have all told me that it helped them.

Tell yourself you'll do it for six months. or three months. You can make it three months. Then, if it's still horrible, give yourself permission to stop breastfeeding.

Most women find that it gets easy by two or three months. And those that don't, don't deserve to beat themselves up about it. And those that don't feel relief from this advice, who still feel like they just can't do it, should stop. And they should not feel guilty about it.

Thanks, Mom!


bluemountainsmary said...

Your mum is a genius.

It took me three babies to really understand the beauty of breastfeeding.

And then at nine months little Margot looked at the breast, laughed and weaned herself.

So that was that!

The Roaming Southerner said...

Great advice...I'm not pregnant or have babies yet...mainly "girding my loins" for what I could face. I will add, it freaks me out a bit. But I really appreciate the advice and will try to remember it when "my time" comes.

Rebecca said...

Good story! :)