My Reasons for Breastfeeding
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 4, July-August 2007, pp. 154-156
I don't remember making the decision to breastfeed before having Sofia -- it was just something I expected would happen. My baby would be hungry, the food is right there, and so she would eat! I thought, "Breastfeeding is cheap, so why not? Who needs to take those classes anyway? Seriously, how hard could it be?"
Hard. Painful. Emotional. Wonderful. Who knew? I was right in a way. Sofia was hungry, the food was there, and she did eat. I believe some books characterize her nursing style as "barracuda." The term "latching on" suddenly had a whole new meaning to me, complete with endless tries, pain, tears, and in the end, pumping to provide her with some nourishment. My mother was in town to help for a while and had convinced me that breastfeeding just might not be for me. She claimed to have had the same issues with me, and had also stopped. I cried because of pain and what felt like failure. I asked many friends and family, looking for reassurance that giving up would not make me a bad mom. I was still hurting inside. How could I not breastfeed? I had never given up on anything. After five days and traumatized nipples, it was time for Sofia's doctor's appointment.
It was Sofia's wonderful pediatrician who helped me temporarily get back on track. I went in that day with Sofia and my husband and was still red and puffy from a day of tears. I took him my list of how much Sofia had eaten and when. I told him about my painful issues and he asked why I hadn't called him earlier. "I could talk to you about my nipples?" I guess I could have. Who knew? Giving him my feeding list, I asked how I could continue to feed her by pumping and feeding her my milk. He didn't answer, and what happened next is still a blur, but involved him asking me "Do you need to breastfeed her now?' He answered his own question by leaving the room and closing the door behind him. On his way out he said to stay as long as we needed.
And there I was, afraid of what seemed like a lack of options, holding my hungry baby and looking at my husband, who looked pretty surprised, too. So what else could I have done? I sat down, pulled up my maternity shirt, and remembered the doctor's advice to pull down her chin as I offered the breast. She latched on! It wasn't perfect, but she was nursing, wasn't falling off, and there were no clicking sounds as I had heard before. "She's doing it!" I told my husband in amazement. And it certainly wasn't as painful as it had been. This was a wonderful day, thinking back, but little did I know, it was only the first hurdle to jump. For clearing that first hurdle, though, I owe Dr. Nudelman.
Nursings were happening on demand, even though I found myself procrastinating as each nursing approached, knowing that my already sore nipples were about to be nursed on again. My mother asked me to stop. My grandmother asked why I was putting myself through this. I have a very high pain tolerance, yet was still crying through each feeding. Breastfeeding while lying down? Impossible. In fact, we wouldn't master that for at least seven months. I called Loretta, my LLL Leader. I wasn't going to give up.
I took my mom with me that evening to a La Leche League meeting. Sofia was about a week and a half old. When the members realized why I was there, they ended early and cleared out so that Loretta could work with me one on one (well, one on two). She watched us nurse and I told her how painful it was. I told her that my whole body hurt, even my teeth, after nursing. She looked at my posture and she noted that I was sitting straight up to nurse, with no back support. She also noted that while I was sitting, I was raising my toes as if standing on them in order to raise my knees to bring Sofia to my chest. My calves hurt so badly! Later that night, I bought pillows to support me and a nursing stool for my legs.
"You have to relax!" Loretta told me. It took a few months, but we did. Loretta also noticed that my entire nipple area was disproportionately large compared to the size of Sofia's little mouth. It was hard for her to get enough of my breast in her mouth to be nursing on the part that she was supposed to be nursing on. I had no idea! But I immediately thought that this had probably been my mother's issue, too, when she was trying to breastfeed three children. She just hadn't been able to find the support she needed like I had. This was the night Sofia and I jumped hurdle number two. Loretta showed us a technique called "nipple sandwich." Finally, Sofia was nursing on a comfortable part of the breast. I owe many thanks to Loretta.
Months later, I realized that every time I had breastfed during the first three to four months, I was gritting my teeth. I went to the dentist when Sofia was six months old complaining of multiple cavities (which didn't really exist), only to find that I had ruined the enamel on my teeth from gritting them. Eighteen months later, I still see a chiropractor twice a month to help the spot to the left side of my spine, below my shoulder, that I hurt holding my body rigid every two hours for months.
As time went on, nursing got more comfortable. But any slight slip on Sofia's part or movement on my part would still bring me to tears. I certainly still couldn't be bothered with nursing in public. I had to have my shirt completely off, sitting up, and pillows everywhere. Forget having to reach to get something to help cover me. I wasn't moving!
At least my body began to heal. I know that we were nursing correctly at that point, but my nipples were so traumatized by the whole first month and the healing was going very slowly. I'm also someone with rather sensitive skin, and I have problems with my skin reacting to adhesive bandages. In retrospect, I suspect I was having a similar reaction to the breast pads or lanolin I was using.
But, at two months, I called the lactation consultant, Kathy, at the hospital where Sofia was born. She agreed that two months was way too long to still be in pain and that I should come in.
Upon observing us, she noted that both Sofia and I were doing everything fine. The problem was definitely my nipples at this point. She gave me hard, plastic breast shells to wear over them with holes that allowed air to pass through, and the book that I would have received had I attended a class. I had my doubts, but I wore the breast shells when I wasn't nursing. I leaked immensely, but my bra or shirt didn't rub against me.
Very, very slowly, with Dr. Nudelman's support, Loretta's knowledge, Kathy's help, the breast shells, Sofia's growing mouth, and the intense desire I had to keep breastfeeding, we did better until one day, around six to seven months, I made the mental note that (knock on wood!) breastfeeding didn't hurt anymore. At about eight months, I was able to let Sofia latch on by herself without all the coordinating I had to do before.
I had begun to breastfeed in public a few months before this. Sofia and I have nursed in restaurants, malls, church, picnics, friends' houses, airplanes, cars, eight states, and three countries, and you bet, great grandma's house. We never gave up.
I remember other mothers at LLL meetings asking for suggestions on how to feel comfortable breastfeeding in public. I couldn't identify with these moms at first. After all of that struggle and pain, there wasn't anything or any place that was going to stop me. The last thing I cared about was what others thought of me. The more I learned about breastfeeding throughout our struggle, the more my reasons for wanting to do it changed. It wasn't about my milk being free, or it just being the thing to do anymore. It wasn't about me at all. If it had been, I would have stopped when I was very tired from being up with Sofia at night, or when I got my dentist or chiropractic bill, or when I lugged my breast pump downtown after I returned to work when Sofia was nine months old, or when every time there is a party after work with my colleagues, I don't go.
Breastfeeding is about meeting Sofia's needs. I came to feel very strong about providing the superior food of human milk to my infant for as long as mutually desirable. And actually, I fell in love with it! I also carried the LLLI-published book about working and breastfeeding, HIRKANI'S DAUGHTERS by Jennifer Hicks, with me on train rides to and from work to inspire me to keep pumping. I believe that almost all mothers can breastfeed with adequate support, and now I'm a huge advocate to new and pregnant mothers in the workplace.
This month, Sofia and I celebrated 18 months of nursing, and she shows no signs of stopping. I attribute a large part of these 18 months to my local La Leche League friends and our Group's supportiveness of all types of mothers, my very supportive husband, and, of course, Sofia.