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Unexpected Success

Liza Barry-Kessler
Decatur GA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 6, November-December 2007, pp. 254-256

When I first became pregnant, I went into "research overdrive," reading everything I could about pregnancy and newborns. That's how I determined that I wanted to breastfeed my baby for at least the first 12 weeks. After that, I thought, "We'll see." Maybe I'd stick with it for six months, certainly no more than a year. I knew a woman who nursed her preschooler, and I was one of those judgmental people who thought it was weird.

The hospital where I was scheduled to deliver had a great breastfeeding class, which gave me confidence. I was assured that the nurses on staff would support my choice. It turned out that there was a big disconnect between the hospital's lactation consultants and some of the nurses.

I had an emergency cesarean. My water broke, but otherwise, I barely went into labor and only dilated two centimeters. After trying to get labor going for 35 hours, my midwives and doctor felt it was not safe to keep trying for a vaginal birth.

Unfortunately, lots of other babies decided to come at the same time, and it took more than an hour for the nurses to bring Noah back to me after the surgery. Fortunately, when they finally did, he latched on like a champ. The nurse asked how many children I had at home because she thought at least one of us had done this before.

I was told that I would rest better if my baby were in the nursery. Maybe that would have been true if the hospital staff hadn't come in every hour to wake me up and check my vitals, and if they'd actually brought Noah to me every two to three hours as they said they would. Unfortunately, they didn't, and I was too much of a hormonal mess to think clearly and demand that my intuition be trusted. I could also barely move with the pain of recovering from surgery.

When the nursery staff brought Noah to me, he was often hysterical with hunger and frustration, making it harder and harder to latch him on properly. At one point, without my permission, the nursery staff fed him a bottle of formula in the nursery -- and he drank the entire four ounces.

Other nurses were not helpful in different ways. One saw me nursing in the hospital bed, which I'd angled up to a mostly sitting position. She asked, in an awful, bossy tone, "How many beds like that do you have at home?"

Clearly, that it was a trick question, I hesitantly answered, "None."

She continued, "How many chairs like that one?"

"Um, none like that either."

"Any like that one?" she asked, gesturing to an armchair?

"I guess, sort of..." I replied.

"Well what are you doing nursing in a bed like that if you don't have one at home? How are you going to learn to nurse if you keep doing it here in a way you won't be able to do it at home?"

By this time, I was crying, and feeling humiliated and wrong. I was already frustrated and upset that Noah was supplemented with formula so early. The nurse had a valid point, but I couldn't imagine a meaner way she could have made it. My partner and I were already insecure. Now I felt like a failure at my first and most fundamental motherhood challenge: feeding my baby the best way possible.

Fortunately, we went home the next day. At home with my partner and our instincts, we got better at breastfeeding. I continued supplementing with formula, but only an ounce or two per day, until I went back to work.

Once I was back at work full-time, we sometimes needed to supplement as much as four ounces per day, but I knew that my son was getting most of his nutrition from the best source possible -- me! I only wish I had contacted my local La Leche League Group earlier.

I went to a La Leche League meeting for the first time in search of ideas for nursing positions that would be easier on my wrists and elbows. Noah was a very large baby, and by the time he was four months old, holding him to nurse was getting challenging. My local LLL Leaders helped me learn how to nurse lying down and to realize that I probably didn't need to squeeze my breast to help Noah latch on.

LLL also helped me get ready for my first business trip away from Noah when he was not quite seven months old. I pumped like a maniac for the two weeks before I left, determined to leave a stash that would keep him on the "no more than four ounces of formula per day" schedule. I was gone for three and a half days, returned with a great stash, and never needed to supplement with formula again!

When I returned from the trip, I went to his day care right away. Noah climbed into my lap and started nursing at once. Within five minutes, he was fast asleep, still nursing vigorously. (We call it "sleeating" in our family.) It was the best welcome home I could imagine, and the first time I thought, "I can't give this up!"

I continued to pump enough to feed Noah all day at day care until he was a year old. Now almost 16 months, he still nurses in the morning and at bedtime, when he gets scared or hurt, and as much as he can on weekends. We have a wonderful bond, and will continue nursing until we're both ready to stop.

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