Thursday, February 19, 2015

More Than A Decade of Breastfeeding

When I was pregnant with my first child, I devoured all the books I could get my hands on.  I read every book on pregnancy, natural childbirth, and breastfeeding that I knew existed.   I took the breastfeeding class that was offered at the hospital.  As well as a private Bradley Birth course, and even a water birth class offered at the hospital too!  I had my plan to birth naturally in water at the hospital with which ever Certified Nurse Midwife was on duty and we'd blissfully breastfeed without issue because I'd read all the books and knew all the tricks.

Well.....reality did not happen that way.  I had a c-section.  I struggled with postpartum depression and flat nipples causing nursing to be very painful and difficult.  I incorrectly used the pump offered at the hospital and it rubbed blisters on my nipples.  I was left cracked, bleeding, engorged, staples in my abdomen, a baby that wasn't sucking properly, and nurses on staff that just wanted to give her a bottle and had no experience breastfeeding.

The 2nd day of her life I finally relented and allowed them to take her to the nursery and they gave her a bottle.  I was told she sucked it down no problem and was sleeping peacefully.  I cried as I walked the halls with my husband and felt like a failure.  A friend visited us just after I'd pumped some milk and asked why my milk was orange.  She had breastfed her kids but never seen orange milk before.  That was weird.  Maybe it was from all the orange juice they'd given me in the hospital.  (It wasn' was because it was colostrum.  AKA liquid gold!)

On the 3rd day it was finally a Monday.  A Lactation Consultant came on staff and worked with us before we were released to go home.  I still remember the moment she told me she was swallowing my milk and I'd just had a "let down" (milk ejection reflex).  I hadn't noticed as I was preoccupied by the period like cramping as my uterus was apparently contracting due to the nipple stimulation.  I looked at my baby and saw her little jaws working hard as she swallowed rapidly.

We went home and continued on our journey.  Many trips were made back to the Lactation Consultant over the following weeks.  I was given a nipple shield that added to our drama as then my baby would not nurse without it and I had to figure out how to wean her back to just the breast.  I spent 4 weeks in excruciating pain as my nipples stretched out and we worked out this breastfeeding thing.  Knowing I also needed to pump and work on a stash of frozen milk for when I went back to work at just 8 weeks postpartum, added to the stress.  As did the loss of the birth I had envisioned.  I think possibly the ONLY reason we made it through was because I was absolutely determined that since I didn't get to birth my baby the way I had wanted, that by golly, I was gonna feed this baby the way my body was intended to feed her!

I looked for a support group like La Leche League to join and there was none around.  Well meaning family members told me of their breastfeeding failures of big babies and not enough milk, as well as of how I was creating bad habits holding and sleeping near my baby.

I was exhausted.  My baby would only sleep in my arms.  I tried all the tricks to get her to sleep in that nursery we'd put so much time and effort into, yet she would have none of it.  We finally gave up trying and just left her with us.  It was the first time we all got sleep.  Sweet, glorious, peaceful sleep.

After a while I started getting comments from others that breastfeeding was gross, that co sleeping was going to destroy my marriage by letting the baby into our beds and ruining our sex life.  When I would attempt to defend my choices by pointing out how other cultures cared for their babies, I was told that they were spiritually dark and deceived.   It's unbelievable the things that our current culture has warped in regards to our family dynamics and stolen from us.  Many of them in the name of Christianity and all things biblical.  I desperately wanted to find support for our journey.  It seemed I was the only person in the United States making the choices that we were.

I had set out to breastfeed for the recommended 6 months, but then I learned that the American Academy of Pediatrics had recently changed their recommendations to a year!  So then I thought, "Well....maybe I'll go to a year then."  THEN, I found out that the World Health Organization recommended 2 years!!!!  I honestly didn't think I could nurse that long but filed away the info anyway.

We moved just before my baby's first birthday.  I was SO excited to learn that our new location had numerous La Leche League groups that met up.  One even had a Toddler and Tandem group that met regularly!  Finally, I had found others like me and I was no longer alone.  I nearly cried with joy and relief.

Thanks to all that breastfeeding, I didn't get pregnant with my 2nd child until my baby was 21 months old.  It was a bit trying at times as my nipples were quite sore.  Over time it got better though.  I found that it actually hurt less the more often I nursed.  I guess the hormones helped reduce soreness somehow.  We nursed through most of that pregnancy only getting a couple of weeks break towards the end before the baby was born and my older baby returned to nursing at some point.  That birth, by the way, was a home birth attended by an amazing midwife that supported my desires to have a vaginal birth after a cesarean.

I felt much more prepared for breastfeeding this time, though I did still have sore nipples the first couple of weeks.  Turns out that no matter how experienced mom is, it's still a brand new skill for the baby and takes some practice to get it right.

My oldest is getting ready to turn 12 this year.  I've now breastfed 5 children until they all naturally weaned between 2 1/2 - 5 years old.  One of them is still nursing and is only 8 months old.  Which means I've been lactating for well over a decade at this point and often nursing 2 children at a time.  So here's what I've learned.

  • Breastfeeding is a lifestyle.  Almost more so than it is simply a feeding choice.
  • I don't remember the last time I wore a non nursing bra or sports bra.  
  • My wardrobe is put together based on how easily accessible my breasts are.  
  • Dresses have no place in my life at all.  
  • Nursing shirts are worth their weight in gold as they are pretty and easily disguise my ultimate goal of "whipping out" my breast discreetly in a moment's notice.
  • My children are well attached to me and their dad and will not stay with a babysitter for at least the first year.  Sometimes longer.  They simply are not ready to be away from us and no one else can take our place.
  • With 5 babies, breastfeeding and cosleeping clearly has not destroyed our marriage.  If you are only able to have sex in your bed and your child is hampering that, then your sex life is boring and you could use a little spice.  Be adventurous!   
  • It's been over 12 years since I've slept more than a 2 hour stretch without being awakened.  At first it was bathroom trips in pregnancy, which I now call training for real life as a mom.  Now it's to roll over and put a boob in a kid's mouth and fall back to sleep without ever opening my eyes.
  • I don't know how often my baby nurses nor for how long.  I've never counted.  When the doctor asks I simply say I don't know, but apparently it's enough.
  • I nurse on demand and have mostly missed the last two babies growth spurts until they stopped nursing constantly and I felt engorged. Then I realized they were sleeping more and must have had a growth spurt.
  • I've awakened with a baby attached to my boob and not remembered doing that, but I must have, because it happened.
  • I have permanent headlights.  Which is shocking to me since I had flat nipples pre-kids.
  • It's freaky how far my nipples can stretch now.  I wonder if there's a Guinness Book of World Records category for this? 
  • The best way to talk on the phone is while nursing.  Assuming I MUST talk on the phone, that is.
  • I've attended Nurse In's and I loved it.
  • The best and only book one really needs to read is The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.
  • I've breastfed in just about every place imaginable. Yes, including in public and in church.  And no, I don't cover my kids' head with a blanket.
  • I've never had anyone say something rude to me for nursing in public, although once in Meijer a male employee offered to get me some water.  He said his wife just had a baby and he knew how thirsty she gets that maybe I was too.  :)
  • I've learned the best way to keep a baby from crying is to breastfeed.  Milk cures everything.  Loneliness, spills, falls, sadness, disappointments, boo boos, sickness, everything.
  • I've also learned that milk really does cure EVERYTHING!  Eczema, pink eye, earaches, you name it.  Put a little breast milk on that!
  • Support is probably the most important make it or break it to your breastfeeding journey.  If at all possible, find a local La Leche League Group.
  • Misinformation is the biggest contributor to failed breastfeeding relationships.
  • Chiropractic and/or Cranio Sacral Therapy are amazing tools that every baby (and mother) can benefit from in their nursing journey.  
  • Having breastfeeding babies that snuggle so well is a huge perk when mom isn't feeling well.  Typically the little one will nap more and stay right with you nursing so you can get more rest too.
  • I can't even imagine what my life will look like when I no longer have a child breastfeeding.  As I approach 40 though, I know it will happen eventually.  
  • I will never regret the time I've spent holding and nursing my babies.
This post came about as I thought about how many other moms there are out there that have had a similar journey.  Or, that may be in a similar place.  It's not commonly heard of to be a mom that's nursed for so much of their life.  Yet I know we exist.  :)  Speak up and share your wisdom and support with others.

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