Long Beach NY USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 2, March -- April 2007, pp. 65-66
I am a pro-breastfeeding mama. My daughter is a feisty, extremely vocal, and charming blue-eyed seven-month-old. She has a big Buddha belly matched with a Cheshire cat smile, even for complete strangers. Her name is Angelica Theone, and I am proud to say I have exclusively breastfed her on demand and without bottles since birth. I have done so in spite of some obstacles: misconceptions, engorgement, sore and cracked nipples, clogged ducts, mastitis, thrush, a nursing strike, three cysts and two biopsies (benign), and dealing with ignorant breastfeeding critics.
I went through several "Why me?" periods -- times when I had to adjust my attitude and rethink how to be true to my convictions. Sometimes I wondered why was I putting myself through all of this. Isn't breastfeeding supposed to be pleasurable and problem-free? Not always. While the extensive list of benefits to both baby and mother goes on and on, breastfeeding with heavenly ease all the time is an unrealistic expectation that doesn't match many women's realities. But once exposed to the advantages of breastfeeding, however, I wonder why anyone isn't completely sold on persevering through the ups and downs.
Even in the midst of my "breakdowns," there was no stopping me. I knew the only way I was ever going to quit breastfeeding and give Angelica formula was if I had a medical condition preventing me from nursing. I never imagined, though, that I would experience an overgrowth of yeast deep within my milk ducts that would be a painful nuisance for almost three months, or a bacterial breast infection that would keep me bedridden with a fever and flu-like symptoms for days. Honestly, I didn't even know how to pronounce "candida" or "mastitis" properly, nor did I know that there existed such a thing as a milk-retention cyst (called a galactocele) until I discovered one in my own breast. It would have been great if I had known about the psychological tools needed for potential battles.
I confess, some of the breastfeeding complications I experienced could have been prevented. Now I can see how ill prepared I truly was for breastfeeding. During my pregnancy, I attempted to diligently read THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, but I skipped over most of the information about potential complications. I figured if a problem came up, I'd deal with it then. No reason to read about the negative possibilities and scare myself. I had the same attitude during a breastfeeding course I took with a highly experienced La Leche League Leader, who had remarkably nursed 12 of her own children. I selectively listened to just enough to learn how to hold my daughter in the right position and feed her. (Oh, how narrow-mindedness can cost you!) Having stubbornly learned the hard way, I relish the opportunity to share with mothers-to-be how vital it is to gather all the information before potential problems arise!
While having a pile of breastfeeding books and useful Web sites on hand is convenient for a new nursing mother, there is nothing like having human empathy and knowledgeable assistance. Prior to having my daughter, I didn't have a person to prepare me for breastfeeding and everything that might accompany it. Although my mother is one of my dearest supporters and fans, she is a product of a formula-pushing culture in which it was considered an achievement to get your child on a well-organized feeding schedule and eating rice cereal as early as three months. In my family, only my Yiayia (Greek for grandmother) nursed her children, three of them well past six months. When I got home from the hospital, thankfully, she was there for the first couple of months to give me sensible advice that I so needed. Nevertheless, I encountered many dilemmas with which my Yiayia was not familiar. I quickly realized breastfeeding can be complex, unpredictable, and is more learned than instinctual.
Mothers facing a nursing predicament need more than loyal supporters and admirers; we need practical, time-tested solutions from real women in an attempt to alleviate our burdens. We need to know exactly what to do and where to go to get support. At Long Island Jewish Hospital where I gave birth, they gave me a list of all the LLL Leaders on Long Island. The first line read, "LLL Leaders are available, at any time, to answer questions about breastfeeding." You better believe I started calling these veteran experts all the time to give me the information and guidance I was desperately looking for. I was grateful for access to such precious free advice from real women!
Consider yourself blessed if you have a breastfeeding network in existence before you have a baby. If not, don't procrastinate in establishing one. Find out who your local LLL Leaders are and talk to other breastfeeding mothers. Think of it along the lines of providing your baby with adequate clothing and shelter -- a necessity. If you intend to breastfeed, you are your baby's food source and will most likely require extensive support and educational resources.
As a conscientious mother, I want to provide whatever is best for my daughter. Since offering my baby my milk is unsurpassed by any alternative, I wear my victory over breastfeeding trials like one gigantic medal of honor. Nursing has become part of the way I personally measure my success as a mother, although I hesitate to share that for fear of sounding like a breastfeeding militant who looks down upon formula-feeding. However, being a passionate breastfeeding advocate shouldn't automatically classify me as a pretentious enemy to formula-feeding mothers. We nursing mamas simply need to be able to pat ourselves on the back for our efforts. I will continue to wear my breastfeeding badge, appear to be somewhat smug, and take whatever criticism I get for it. No one can convince me to do otherwise.