My name is Jennifer and I met Jen and Dana when we were all teachers. Now I am a homemaker for my amazing husband, two beautiful sons, and one slightly neurotic cocker spaniel.
In July, Jen and Dana invited me to guest post with the instructions to write about something that “fired me up”. I never anticipated breastfeeding to be the topic that pushed me into writing.
August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month and I realized that I needed to tell my story about my experiences. When I was pregnant with Jacob I assumed I would breastfeed. I mean, it’s free and healthy! How hard could it be? Oh the naiveté! I know some women who are so incredibly fortunate to have had easy experiences. I am not one of them.
My initiation as a breastfeeding mother was a rocky one. When Jacob was a newborn he refused to nurse. He would shut his mouth and go to sleep every single time I tried to nurse. So there I was with a hungry baby and my “talent”, which as a friend once put it, is producing a lot of breast milk. I will forever be thankful to a dear friend, who is a Lactation Consultant, for giving me peace of mind over using a bottle. Once we made this feeding decision, I heard a lot about how now he would never take to nursing and that I needed to keep trying. The comments were masked in concern and support but I felt like less of a woman/mother for feeding my baby with a bottle. I fought the guilt since it was still my milk; plus, this way my husband was able to feed and bond with Jacob too. Prior to this I didn’t even know that exclusive pumping was a thing but I did it. I remember crying as I learned to use the pump and asking God why Jacob wouldn’t latch. Thankfully, Jacob decided to nurse at three weeks old but it was still touch and go for some time after that. We got through some days “nursing session by nursing session” but we didn’t give up and I ended up nursing Jacob until he was 14 months old. (Take that, naysayers!) I know now that I had to learn to pump so that I could provide milk for Jacob while I was at school earning my MA. Plus, six months later a friend of mine had a very similar situation happen and I was able to minister to her in her time of need!
When I was pregnant with my second son, Andrew, I thought I was ready. I knew what nursing was like. I knew it might be difficult and that it would probably hurt. If all else failed, I knew my way around a pump. As it turns out, I was not prepared for the entirely new kind of hard that establishing, and maintaining, a breastfeeding relationship with Andrew would prove to be.
Last week, Andrew turned 1. But he was born one month early at 36 weeks gestation. His birth was very quick and he was small so he ended up with fluid in his lungs (Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn) and became a NICU baby for a week. Unfortunately, he could not eat those first three days because of his rapid breathing. As I did with Jacob, I pumped every three hours so I wouldn’t lose my supply. Within a week I had a stash of over 100 ounces. The NICU nurses were impressed. He went from tube feeding, to a bottle, before learning how to nurse. Remember my “talent”? My less than six-pound baby had to learn to nurse from breasts that were bigger than his head. Once again, it was not easy and it hurt. He was five days old before we had a successful nursing session. I still cry when I think about how relieved I was that day.
Nursing Andrew was easier than Jacob only because he was eager. The hard parts were the technical ones like correct latch and drinking enough. Because of my “talent” I also had to worry about foremilk/hind milk imbalance which is a product of the vicious cycle of having so much milk that he would be full and I would have to pump out the excess; I was desperate to avoid mastitis. I had to actively work to decrease my supply just enough so that he wasn’t choking at every feeding but not so much that my supply went away. I went back to see a Lactation Consultant for some peace of mind and the reassurance that we were doing things right. Unfortunately, when Andrew was about two months old he rejected the bottle and would only nurse…I felt like I was on a leash tied to my baby. There were other factors at play but Andrew’s refusal of the bottle, and my subsequent inability to get a break, were big factors in the severity of my Post Partum Depression (PPD). There were a few months there where I just wanted to get out of the house and part of me resented nursing Andrew. Statistics will tell you that breastfeeding reduces the likelihood of mothers developing PPD but it was making things worse for me. Despite all this, I believe my PPD would have gotten worse, due to guilt, if I had stopped nursing Andrew at four months of age. This was when my PPD was at its strongest point, as four months is when PPD tends to peak.
Since my baby refused to take a bottle, my freezer filled up with pumped milk. I knew I needed to donate it but I could not bring myself to give it away. It took me months to give away the first batch of milk and I totally cried over it. I was literally giving away part of myself and it was super hard to do. (You know the phrase “There’s no use crying over spilled milk”? Whoever came up with that nugget never had to pump their own milk.) I ended up donating over 300 ounces to our cousin’s baby with Down Syndrome who couldn’t latch. Each time I gave away my milk I cried but it also got a tiny bit easier. I knew it was needed elsewhere, my baby wasn’t got to drink it, and I sure wasn’t going to let my milk go to waste in my freezer!
My baby is 1 and I am doing better. I am at the point where I am cherishing every nursing session with Andrew because I know they are numbered. It’s interesting though how things change. When I was almost done nursing Jacob I was ready. I was looking forward to having my body back to myself. Maybe it’s because things started so poorly for us. I don’t know. I just know that I feel differently about weaning Andrew. Jen has a theory that we attach more strongly to our PPD/Anxiety babies. That could be it. One thing I do know is that I am proud to be a breastfeeding mom. It has been so much harder than I could have ever imagined but I am so glad I didn’t give up. It is such an amazing experience to watch my babies develop rolls upon rolls of baby chub because of ME. Rolls that I get to tickle and kiss to my heart’s content.
During this month of Breastfeeding Awareness I celebrate my personal journey in being a breastfeeding mother and I support all mothers in feeding their babies. Exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, donor milk feeding, formula feeding, supplemental feeding, and any other method of feeding, we are all doing the best we can for our babies and for ourselves. We should all be proud of that and we should be supporting each other. I know I would be telling a different story if it weren’t for the support of my amazing husband and the mamas in my village.
For Breastfeeding in the US
Loving Support (Riverside County, CA): www.lovingsupport.org
La Leche League: www.llli.org
For Breastfeeding in Canada
INFACT Canada: www.infactcanada.ca
La Leche League Canada: www.lllc.ca
For Pre and Postpartum Mental Health support worldwide:
Postpartum Support International: www.postpartum.net