Jan 27 2009

Let’s talk about breastfeeding

Jonathan is a little over five weeks old, and I’ve been exclusively breastfeeding him for his whole little life.

When I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. The health benefits for him (and myself) are tremendous; the convenience and cost (free!) were also important factors. But, I was nervous. I didn’t know much about breastfeeding. And to be honest, the whole thing did seem a little weird, even though I knew it was a natural thing. Hey, childbirth is natural and that’s also a bit weird to me!

I can only recall seeing one woman breastfeed a child, and that was my mom feeding my sister. My sister is now 18 years old. I’m sure I’ve come across more nursing mothers since then, but either I can’t remember seeing them, or they were so discreet that I didn’t know what they were doing anyway.

I also haven’t been around many infants in my life. I guess lack of infants = lack of being around a breastfeeding mom.

If I wanted to breastfeed my baby, I knew that I’d have to turn to outside help if I wanted it to work out.

My Bradley childbirth class spent a class session on the topic, I attended a La Leche League meeting (and I hope to go to another one soon), I read lots of info online, and read a few books.

After Johnny was born, I requested a visit from a lactaction consultant. She came by about 36 or so hours after delivering. She would be the only help I received while in the hospital — my midwife didn’t help, and neither did any nurses. The nurses asked me how often I tried to feed him and how I thought it was going, but nobody took the time to observe us to make sure it really was going well.

Fortunately for us both, we were able to get breastfeeding off to a decent start. But what if we hadn’t? What if I hadn’t tried to prepare myself beforehand? And what if I needed more help?

Though breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t mean it comes naturally for mother and baby. It’s a new skill for both to learn, and it really does take time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for at least their first six months of life. After that, they can be introduced to solids, but the AAP recommends they still receive breast milk through their first year. I believe the World Health Organization recommends even longer.

Given all of the benefits of breastfeeding, it’s easy to see why they have those recommendations.

So then, why are new moms left to fend for themselves for this oh-so-important task? Why the minimal support? We have doctors (and everyone else) telling mothers that “breast is best,” yet moms aren’t widely getting the support they need. Moms deserve better — and so do their babies.

I know that many readers of this blog are my friends from school. You ladies don’t ever seem to comment, but some have mentioned that you read, so I know you’re there :). Many of you hope to be moms on down the road. Because of all you readers, I’m going to blog about my experiences with breastfeeding.

I don’t have much experience, but I have done it a few hundred times already.

It is my hope that eventually, breastfeeding is the norm for moms and their babies. To get there, breastfeeding has to be talked about and made more common. And, new mommies need lots of support.

16 Responses to “Let’s talk about breastfeeding”

  1. Weird how things can be sooo different according to what hospital you’re in. When both of my kids were born I had lots of help in the hospital… from my nurses, my baby’s nurses, and from 2 lactation consultants.

    You’d think it was a good thing that I got so much help. But ummm NO. There were just too many people grabbing at my boobs. Really, I felt sooo uncomfortable but I put up with it only because I knew it was best for my kids to get the help and support we needed.

    And another thing… the information, techniques, etc. varied depending on who was giving the information. Of course I trusted the lactation consultants the most. But it sure was confusing to have everyone telling me something different.

    But you know what? We did fine… when we finally left the hospital. We had been doing the right things all along… only problem was that both kids were just too sleepy to wake up and eat, no matter what we did. So a few days after each of their births we were home and doing well with breastfeeding.

    Kookaburras last blog post..Parents Magazine…. FREE!

  2. Embarrassed — I’m one of your friends that rarely comments. :-[
    But this topic is v. important to me. My mom raised me with a strong sense that breastfeeding, as well as natural childbirth, the de-medicalization of pregnancy, and even cloth diapers are v. important for optimum health and they should be encouraged and strived for (I understand certain situations that can make these things impossible, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage them as much as possible and promote the facts). I’m so glad you decided early on to do almost all of those (and you even considered cloth diapers, too!). I’m sad to hear you didn’t feel you got much assistance with breastfeeding, but I understand that’s a pretty typical experience (although it’s great that kookaburra didn’t, even though she was uncomfortable) and it’s unfortunate. I’m not a mom, and maybe some people consider my opinion irrelevant, but all of this connects to women’s (and men’s, really) health in general, whether you’re a mother or not, of childbearing age or not. I’m glad it’s going well for you, though — that’s one less stressful situation you’ll have to deal with and I’m thankful for that. Perhaps you can use your concerns about it to educate other new or soon-to-be-new moms! The movement to doing what’s best for all bodies can never be too strong. Especially with health care costs so extreme, we should be encouraging people to do it — less expensive (free, even!) and healthier! How can you get a better combination than that?

    And now, on my end, I promise to comment more. :-)

    Bethany Bs last blog post..Optimism in ‘09, Day 5

  3. We had two completely different experiences with our sons. We had trouble breastfeeding our first. The lactation consultants seemed to try every solution except breastfeeding. They gave me a pump, but no explanation on how to use it (and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing it right). They had me push formula through a syringe and into a nipple shield so he would think he was breastfeeding. Not surprisingly, I ended up exclusively pumping for him.

    With our second we had such a more positive experience. We saw several different lactation consultants. Each offered us suggestions and different positions for feeding. They came when we asked for them, instead of several hours later. I left there feeling confident that we would continue being successful with breastfeeding.

    Beckys last blog post..Snow Day

  4. I’m glad it’s working so well for you even without much help. I can’t wait to learn more!

    Becky@FamilyandFinancess last blog post..A New (To Us) Car

  5. I had a lot of help at Home Hospital in regards to breastfeeding. The lactation nurses where very helpful (I had no idea what to do!). I breastfed Karoline exclusively until she had to have her spica cast (until she was about 4 1/2 months old). After that, I pumped a little and then eventually went to formula. I would have continued to breastfeed her, but it was just too awkward for her and I with her legs and waist all casted-up. I’m glad I stuck with it for as long as I did because I really never got to the point where I enjoyed it. Before I had Karoline, all I heard from moms about breastfeeding was that they loved it and it was such an amazing experience. I’m very glad I breastfed Karoline, but if the health benefits for her would have not been as good as they were, there is no way I would have done it. I felt like I was a slave, being her only source of food and her needing me every 2 1/2 to 3 hours, 24/7! I’m sure you know I how feel. I wouldn’t say I hated doing it, but it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine like so many women make it out to be. We were never able to get her to take a bottle (until we switched to formula), so I’m sure if I could have pumped and had someone give her a bottle every once in a while, I would have been less stressed. Anyways, I have typed quite a lot, but I totally think breastfeeding is the way to go, especially for the baby. And I think it’s very important to say that it’s not easy AT ALL and every mom who does it should be congratulated for stickig with it and doing what is best for their baby. Good luck on getting some sleep, don’t worry, he will start sleeping more soon!!

  6. I didn’t really give a lot of thought to breastfeeding until the whole facebook photo “controversy.”

    While I probably wouldn’t be posting pictures of myself doing this online, I think I would like to breastfeed my children if I ever have any.

    Neither my sister or sister-in-law even tried to breastfeed their children. They considered it too inconvenient and a little weird. I’m not going to judge them because that would be totally unfair, but I think if breastfeeding were more “mainstream” and more supported by doctors and nurses, it would certainly make it a lot easier on women.

    It seems a bit wacky that new moms have to look online for most of their breastfeeding assistance.

    Side note: I miss you!

    Baughs last blog post..Let’s open up the tool bag

  7. I also had a positive experience at my hospital. After my emergency C-section, the nurse helped hold Hannah up to me so I could breastfeed her for the first time while my arms were still pretty numb. The nurses in my hospital were so helpful – they even came in and woke me up when it was time to feed the baby. I lost all modesty – because I had about 4 or 5 nurses help me.

    The only resistance I had was from the pediatrician that was assigned to us – she wanted me to supplement with formula since Hannah had lost weight at first – but I resisted and she gained weight a few days later. I went on to breastfeed her for 14 months and she self weaned.

    I’m glad to hear that even though you didn’t have great support from the nurses, you sought out the help you needed. It sounds like it is going great!!

    I think the first few months are the hardest, after those you become an old pro with it!

  8. I have been exclusively breastfeeding my son for 4 months now… and like you it’s gone pretty easily for us.

    I actually received GREAT advice from the nurses in the hospital. I remember calling one at 4 Am just to have her watch and tell me if she though I was doing it “right”. (we were – but its so hard in the beginning to tell if they are getting anything!) She was so helpful. I thought all hospitals had these great nurses, but maybe not!

  9. I’m really glad to hear so many of you have had good experiences with bfing in the hospital. Maybe my case is isolated!

    The nurses at the hospital were great, but like I said, I didn’t really get much attention. Maybe when I was feeding him and they were in the room, I looked like things were going well?

    Thanks for everyone’s comments– you’ve all raised some interesting points and I’d like to write more about some of the issues in upcoming posts.

  10. I guess my breastfeeding background is a little different. I always assumed that I would breastfeed my babies (the first is coming in August). I lived in Africa for a while and got used to women whipping out their breasts on the bus and nursing away. Now I live in a predominantly African-American community where breastfeeding is not the norm and it makes me so sad to see all the babies in the nursery at church with their bottles of formula. I know that not everyone is able to breastfeed for various reasons, but I also recognize that is not very well supported in communities like mine.

    Sarahs last blog post..Identity and Worth

  11. Great post, full of great information!

    I was formula-fed, my mom has told me, and I’m pretty sure my sister was, too, but I’ve been convinced from facts like the ones you point out as well as friends who nurse their babies & even toddlers (what can I say, I have a few AP friends…) that breast is best and what I’m going to strive for.

    The catch: after we have (future, theoretical) kids, my husband will probably be the one staying home with them. This is going to take a HUGE amount of dedication on my part pumping at work, and I don’t know how feasible it is, but I want to make it work. I’ll be doing more research when the time comes. Luckily I have a great workplace that’s very flexible.

  12. Joanna – It’s great that you’re considering bfing your future children! Even if you do it for a few weeks, there are benefits. It will be tricky to pump, but with a good machine it would be doable I think.

  13. Congrats on educating yourself and being prepared to breastfeed! Many first-time moms in the same situation wouldn’t have known what to do and would have given up, and that’s something that needs to change if the medical community is really committed to supporting breastfeeding. I’ve been breastfeeding my son for 15 months, and I give a lot of the credit to the breastfeeding class my husband and I attended at the Midwife Center in Pittsburgh. The midwife who attended my birth also helped us to start breastfeeding just a few minutes after the birth.
    Like you, I’d seen very few women breastfeeding before having my own baby. Now that you and your son are pros, I’d encourage you to act like it’s normal in front of others as you feel comfortable. As the first in my generation to have a baby in my family and my husbands, I purposely don’t hide in a bedroom when I’m nursing at family events. I don’t make a show of it. I carefully choose my clothing when I know I might be nursing in public to make it as private as possible, since my son won’t stand for having a blanket over his head anymore. But I want my sister, cousins, and even my 3 brothers-in-law to see nursing as normal, and to see someone nurse before they have their own children. I also hope they feel like they can ask me for help or advise if they need it down the road. You don’t have to be a public exhibitionist to advance the cause of breastfeeding in our culture, just “share” as you’re comfortable.

  14. I had a similar experience in the hospital. My L/D nurse was great and she helped me with latching, but I was only with her for about an hour after having Eli. After that I was on my own in terms of breastfeeding. The lactation consultant who came to see me an hour before we left the hospital offered nothing that I hadn’t figured out on my own. Thankfully, we have had a fairly easy time. I supplemented a little bit while I was having supply issues, but now he is exclusively breastfed.

    Congrats on your little one as well!

    Melissas last blog post..Nothing Less Than Beautiful

  15. I just wanted to add that I think a lot more mothers would nurse their babies if they understood that the pain and discomfort subsides VERY quickly. If you can put up with it for a few weeks – it honestly gets SO easy to breastfeed. You VERY quickly reach a point where giving your child a bottle is much, MUCH more annnoying and time-consuming than just giving him your breast. The milk is always the perfect temperature and it’s always prepackaged and ready to go.

  16. Hooray for you for breastfeeding. I breast feed both of my boys, now 10 & 14 and did find it necessary to consult with a lactation consultant/specialist for one of them. She was recommended by my pediatrician and the service was offered right there in his office. All the details are sketchy but I remember that it seemed like my son was needing to nurse every 15 minutes and the lc weighed the baby before and after nursing and devised a plan. Long story short he was only getting light milk and not getting full so after a few weeks the problem was resolved. So, if you run into problems talk to your pediatrician and ask about this service. Keep it up, I nursed both boys between 16 to 20 months and am glad I do. I know both boys were protected from serious illness during this time, including being exposed to chicken pox and only developing 1 pox and no serious illness. When I quit nursing, they both went through many months of colds and viruses. Best of luck, you are doing the right thing, Keep it up!

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