I have a somewhat unique experience of having my children very far apart. My son was born in 2005 and my daughter in 2017. My children were born in two completely different world views on nursing, to two different fathers, and with drastically different experiences. I was a different mother when I had my son. After the birth of my daughter I began studying to become an IBCLC. This decision has completely changed everything I thought I knew and felt about the breastfeeding journey.
I tried to nurse my son. I took my 4 day old baby back to the hospital to talk to lactation consultants because I felt I was failing. I sat in the waiting room, a lump in my throat, a hormonal mess, whispering to my husband that I was a failure because I couldn’t figure out how to feed my own child. Ultimately I was unsuccessful, and it’s taken many years to fully grasp why I failed. And yes, I failed. If I’m truly honest with myself, I gave up. I stopped trying. I failed my son.
My body didn’t produce like I expected it to, mostly because mothers are sent home from the hospital before their colostrum transitions to milk, and no one is there to tell us how to cope with the engorgement and pain that comes along with it. I was told to use cabbage leaves and bind my breasts to help with the swelling. No one told me that can decrease supply. The consultants at the hospital told me to use nipple shields and pump and shoved a bottle of formula in my sons mouth. Nipple shields helped with the pain, but made it impossible for my body to interpret cues from my son’s saliva. I was never told I could use them for a short time and then latch without them. I was also never told that breastfeeding hurts. Some hurt is normal. It will go away. Pumping very early on works for some. I wasn’t told that we let down differently for the pump versus the mouth. When I pumped and produced less than an ounce, I was convinced my son was starving and that’s why the consultant gave him a bottle.
Of course pumping, supplementing, and binding was decreasing my supply. No one ever told me what cluster feeding was, so when my son always wanted to be at my breast he must have been starving. When he wanted to latch and sleep, he must have been starving. It never occurred to me that he was a baby and babies want to be near their mothers.
My husband wasn’t patient with the learning curve of it all. No one told me how hard it would be, and the bottle just seemed like the best option at the time. I was the first of my friends to have a baby so I had virtually no support group. I didn’t know what to try, or how to succeed, and I will always wish I powered through. It’s easy to say the system failed me. And that may be true. It’s also true I failed myself and my son. I didn’t research. I didn’t trust my instincts. I listened to people tell me it was OK to stop doing this hard thing and that was what I wanted to hear. No one told me it wouldn’t always be hard.
There’s a rise in the “Fed is Best” movement. Of course you have to feed your baby. That’s obvious. But just fed? Is that best? No, it isn’t. Fed is the bare minimum. Breast is best. There are, albeit rare, instances where breastfeeding is not physically possible. If you are simply choosing not to breastfeed, you are not doing what’s best for your baby. And neither did I. There are socioeconomic, maternity leave, and racial disparity issues at play in the decision women make to breast or formula feed. In the US, our system is broken. But that’s a topic for another article.
I did nurse my daughter. I was so anxious and paranoid after my experience with my son I became obsessed with my colostrum, and then with my milk, and feeding her every hour on the hour. I still packed up my 4 day old baby and went to speak to a lactation consultant, this time she told me my daughter was tongue tied and handed me a bottle of formula. I immediately drove her to the pediatrician who explained to me that the rise in women being told their babies are tongue tied is shocking. He assured me she was perfect, I was doing everything right, and we would both have to learn together. It took my male pediatrician to tell me what the female lactation “specialists” couldn’t be bothered to say. It was easier for these women, these LACTATION CONSULTANTS, to tell me something was wrong with her, or with me, and hand me a bottle and send me on my way. Where was the hand holding? The reassurance? The education? Why were they there? I felt they had failed me, and my children.
My body didn’t produce like I expected it to, but this husband is ever so slightly more patient. I have the benefit of mom-friends, other women who had been where I was. One friend, who happens to have an oversupply of breast milk, told me that she struggled to nurse her first child and if she could figure it out, so could I. Just hearing that someone else in my inner circle struggled, too, helped me feel stronger somehow. This time the bottle didn’t seem like the best option, and I powered through.
With my son, I was told to leave a restaurant while he screamed as I tried to nurse him. I will never forget how it felt as my family quietly sat by and ate while I hurried outside alone to sit in a cold car and feed my infant son. And at a gathering with my ex-husband’s family, when he told me our son was hungry his step-mother jumped up and quickly escorted me to the guest room so I could “sit here until he was done.” Was what I was doing so shameful? Why did I have to hide among family?
With my daughter, if she is hungry I will feed her no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I will NOT go sit in the car, I will NOT “do that somewhere else” for your benefit. I suppose that level of strength comes with age perhaps. Or the cultural shift I’ve seen in the last 14 years. Now, there are laws in place guaranteeing I can nurse her wherever she’s hungry, and if someone has an issue it is crystal clear that it’s THEIR issue to work through, not mine. Even if I wanted to wear a nursing drape, which I don’t, there is no way my daughter will keep it over her face. Would you eat under a sheet?