Monday, April 19, 2010

Everyone's breastfeeding experience is different

I was reading a blog post about breastfeeding/bottlefeeding today and really enjoyed reading all the comments. For the most part, people were very civil and non-judgmental about others choices, while sharing their situations and the choices they made. It was fascinating to read about other people’s breastfeeding/formula situations.

When my daughter was little, I felt sorry for people who didn’t/couldn’t breastfeed. Breastfeeding was (and is) such an amazing experience for me, it made me sad these people missed out. I thought if they had just tried, or medically able to, they would have the same amazing experience. That was na├»ve. Do you ever suddenly realize how stupid you were and feel embarrassed about it? Not everyone has a great experience.

Breastfeeding was not easy for me, but I’ve come to realize it was WAAAAY easier for me than it is for many others. I was definitely sore in the beginning. Really sore. But I never bled. And I never had mastitis. Never had thrush. Never had latching issues after the first 2-3 days.

I did have to nurse/pump round the clock for 2 days to get my milk to finally come in when she was 6 days old. That was a horrible 2 days. I would nurse for 20 min, bottlefeed her colostrum from the previous pumping session, pump for 30 minutes, clean the pump parts, then start the whole process over again about 45 minutes to an hour after finishing. For those two days, I didn’t sleep for more than 1 hour at a time. BUT, after my milk came in, we had no major problems until she was 9.5 months old and I wasn’t getting enough milk while pumping at work. NINE WHOLE MONTHS of problem-free, blissful breastfeeding.

Not that it wasn’t work – at the beginning, it was so difficult to get up for EVERY feeding all night long without any help from my husband. He couldn’t feed her, so he got to sleep all night long. When she was about a month old, I actually thought I might not survive until she started sleeping through the night. She started sleeping 5 hour stretches at 7 weeks and that’s when I finally started feeling human again. But even though getting up every 2-3 hours to feed her was difficult, the actual breastfeeding was easy. And I loved it. And SHE loved, loved, loved it, too.

Then there was the pumping. At this point, I’ve been pumping at work for 8.5 months, and I’m SICK OF IT. I want to QUIT. But when I first went back to work, pumping actually helped. Pumping milk for her made me feel better about being away. I felt more connected to her. I felt like I was taking care of her, even though she wasn’t with me. That said, I’m over it. I only pump once a day now, and THAT feels like a giant chore to me. The only reason I still do it is because she won’t drink straight formula. There has to be breastmilk mixed in. (I also nurse her twice a day, so overall, she gets about 50% breastmilk, 50% formula).

There’s another woman where I work who had a baby 4 ½ months after me. She really wanted to breastfeed. She was impressed by those of us at work who pumped for months and months and was ready to do that. When she first came back to work and wasn’t pumping, I’ll admit I judged her. I though she couldn’t hack it. I thought I was superior. I was wrong. She tried and tried and tried. She worked WAY harder than me at breastfeeding and it didn’t work - she had an inadequate supply (really inadequate - she produced almost no milk). She nursed constantly, went to several lactation consultants, tried everything they suggested. It just never worked. When her son was a few months old, she gave up. She still wishes she had been able to breastfeed, but is happy she stopped trying, because it was driving her and her son crazy.

Another woman at work had her baby two weeks before me. When she came back to work, she also wasn’t breastfeeding. It turns out her son is allergic to almost everything. For the first month or so, he cried all. the. time. because he was allergic to milk, soy, nuts, and wheat, I think. He was exclusively breastfed, but those allergens were in her milk. The pediatrician finally decided it wasn’t colic and they went to allergists to find out what her son is allergic to. She had to cut entire food groups (like dairy) out of her diet. It got to be ridiculous and the best choice for her baby was some super-expensive dairy, wheat, and soy-free formula. She definitely wishes should could just breastfeed him (like she did her other child) instead of shelling out big bucks for this formula, but it doesn’t work that way.

One of her friends has a child with similar allergies and her friend continued to breastfeed. To do so, she could eat nothing but baked potatoes. Morning, noon, and night. With nothing on them. He was allergic to pretty much everything else – wheat, soy, dairy, even additives in wheat-free pasta. Its possible my colleague was exaggerating, but I’m sure the diet was very restrictive. Even with vitamin supplements, I don’t think that sounds like the healthiest solution for the mom or the baby. I’m amazed the other mom made it work (that’s dedication!) and don’t blame my colleague for not doing the same.

So, while breastfeeding was/is hard work, it went really well for me. And, while hearing and reading about other women’s multiple infections, latching problems, and other bad experiences, I realized I got off easy. I shouldn’t feel sorry for people who couldn’t breastfeed for medical reasons or had major problems breastfeeding and decided to stop. I should be happy they had the courage to make the right decision for them and their babies. And try to remember that my decision to breastfeed was right for me and my daughter, but that doesn’t mean its right for other people. I still hope people give breastfeeding a try. A serious, hard-work try. (I’m so glad I didn’t quit when my milk didn’t come in.) But if after trying it isn’t working, people should make whatever choice is best for them.

P.S. One comment broke my heart – a mother said she went to lactation consultants, tried everything, and still couldn’t make enough milk for her baby. She said “I look at my son and feel like he is happy and healthy due to formula. not because of me. I failed...” No one should EVER feel this way. You are not a failure – your child is happy and healthy. I’ve always thought breastfeeding extremists go too far. I agree with their points – breast IS best, if its possible – but I really disagree with their tactics. And when their extremism makes a mother feel like she is a failure, when she tried everything she could, that is terrible.

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