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Second Chances

By Kim Ruiz
Tyndall AFB FL USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 5, September-October 2000, pp. 163-4

Like many first-time mothers, I wanted to do everything right during my first pregnancy six years ago. I decided during my pregnancy that breastfeeding was the right choice for our baby. I'm sure my family must have thought my decision a little odd since no one in my family had ever breastfed their baby and I didn't know anyone who had nursed either. Without a support system in place, I had set myself up for a challenging task. I would later learn that simply deciding to breastfeed wasn't enough to make my decision a reality.

It all started when my son Joseph was born pre-term and had to be placed in an oxygen tent and on IV fluids within hours of his birth. His lungs were immature and he needed special care. Since I had expressed my desire to breastfeed at the hospital, I was shown how to use an electric breast pump to help my milk come in. Once Joseph was taken off IV fluids, we started feeding him breast milk by bottle. He was hooked to monitors and receiving oxygen in a special bassinet in the nursery, so my husband and I took turns feeding him there. I felt uncomfortable trying to learn to breastfeed him in an open nursery, and the nurses teased me about not wanting to nurse in public. I was sent to see the lactation consultant at the hospital who reduced me to tears. She seemed more interested in selling me aids to "help" me breastfeed my son but never came to the nursery to help me learn. Frustrated with his extended stay in the hospital, the lack of privacy, and the unsupportive "help," I continued to pump my milk and feed him by bottle. I told myself that once we were home I would try again. At least I could take comfort that he was receiving my milk and that it was the best thing for him.

We finally took Joseph home when he was 11 days old. The next morning I resolved to try breastfeeding in the quiet and privacy of our home. The nursing session lasted 45 minutes and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a sense of closeness with my baby that I hadn't felt at the hospital. But my husband said he thought it took too long and suggested that we continue pumping and bottle feeding him. Since we were already familiar with that routine, and because it allowed my husband to help with feedings, I gave in and never tried to nurse Joseph again. Looking back, I regret that decision and still fondly remember the one nursing session we shared together.

For the next few weeks, I continued to pump milk every three hours for five minutes at a time with the electric double pump. By the time Joseph was six weeks old, my milk supply had decreased to the point where it wasn't enough to feed him. I didn't know that I should have been increasing my pumping times to ensure that my milk supply would grow with my baby's needs. Without any information on breastfeeding at home or another nursing mom to call for help, I felt I failed in my attempt to provide our son the best possible food ... his mother's milk. I had to believe that I had given him a good enough start and that formula would be fine for him after that.

When I finally got pregnant with our second baby four years later, I was determined that breastfeeding was going to work this time. The cost of formula was a big motivating factor since I had quit working after our first son was born to be a stay-at-home mom. With this in mind, I started talking to other women right away about breastfeeding and even borrowed a videotape on how to nurse a baby. I also checked out THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING from the library. I found this book so invaluable that I purchased my own copy a short time later.

During my first pregnancy I remembered hearing about flat or inverted nipples, so I contacted a board-certified lactation consultant in our area. She provided me with nipple shells to help draw out my nipples in preparation for nursing. At my doctor's office I asked for more information on breastfeeding and was given the number of a La Leche League Leader in my area. I was also determined not to have any formula in the house, not even samples given out at the hospital. This would keep me from feeling tempted to give my baby a bottle if things got tough. I was ready!

Our second son Gabriel was born four days past his due date. He was allowed to room in with me at the hospital and we started our nursing sessions right away. If I had trouble getting him to wake for a feeding, a nurse would help stimulate him and get him latched on. I kept track of his schedule and the staff at the hospital checked on us to make sure we were off to a good start.

At home, I practiced the different nursing positions - football hold, lying in bed and crossover hold. I kept track of how often he nursed and for how long and whether or not he had a wet or soiled diaper, just like they showed me at the hospital. During the day, I preferred to nurse lying down, since I felt more comfortable having the whole bed to ourselves, and then I sat up to feed him at night. I felt very lucky that I didn't have any trouble with sore nipples or plugged ducts and within two weeks, our nursing routine was firmly established. During those early months, I referred to THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING whenever I had questions. I also found the encouragement I needed from our LLL meetings to keep breastfeeding even when things got a little tough.

Perhaps my single disappointment has been that my family doesn't seem to understand how important breastfeeding is for at least the first year and beyond if desired. When they ask when I'm going to quit nursing and switch to bottles, I simply tell them I'm not. Breastfeeding has been the best and easiest thing I could do for my baby and I've never questioned whether I should continue nursing him. There's a lot to be said for second chances- and following your heart.

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