Happy Breastfeeding Awareness Week!

Breastfeeding Awareness Week is almost over, but it's a very important topic to me, and it definitely deserves a post.

I am so proud to have exclusively breast-milk-fed Little Man his entire life. It wasn't anywhere NEAR easy. In fact, at times it was excruciatingly difficult. I even wanted to give up entirely one weekend, but my husband gave me all the support I needed to continue (thanks, hun!).

You may have noticed I said breast-milk-fed. You see, Little Man was born at thirty-two weeks, and was fed exclusively through a tube, first through his mouth, and then through his nose, until he was almost thirty-five weeks. We got to start "recreational breastfeeding" sometime around thirty-four weeks, not for food, but to introduce him to the concept of sucking on mom instead of a pacifier.

When I think about all the obstacles the Little Man and I had to overcome to successfully breastfeed and compare it to other nursing couples that quit at far fewer problems, it makes me very sad. I think it all boils down to breastfeeding education, a strong support system and available resources to make nursing successful. I feel very fortunate that our NICU had a wonderful Lactation Consultant available every day, Monday through Friday, to help us moms with pumping, latching and positioning techniques and more.

I know I would have been determined to keep trying if she had not been available, but I also wanted to quit three weeks after Little Man came home from the hospital because it was JUST. SO. HARD. No sleep plus a constantly hungry baby makes mommy crazy and eager to give dad, grandma, anyone a bottle. So I know that if you don't have a good support system, which is wholly supportive of your breastfeeding plans, in place when the going gets rough, it is very likely that you will give up.

Luckily for me, I had tons of milk pumped from my twenty-one days of exclusive pumping, plus seven days of mostly pumping (I breastfed Little Man while I was at the hospital with him his final week there, after he learned how to feed, plus still pumped because I had more milk than he could eat). After Little Man came home from the hospital, my husband was able to give him a bottle of my milk every morning, and then when I needed a nap at night and on the weekends. It was a great relief for me. I was able to get a shred of sanity back in the three hours I could sleep, and not feel guilty because my son was getting my milk, and not formula.

I don't know how women who are breastfeeding exclusively (full-term babies who come home from the hospital with you) would find the time or energy to pump milk in order to get a break from the constant care a newborn requires. You do not get a break from breastfeeding in those early weeks, at least not very easily. Sending formula home with parents when they leave the hospital makes it a very attractive option when you're literally going insane from lack of sleep.

Not that breast(milk) feeding has to be all or nothing. I believe every bit of breast milk a baby can get is a good thing, and the more the better. But is it really that detrimental if a baby gets one bottle of formula a day? It really depends on the baby and the situation.

If one bottle of formula a day leads to two and so on, and the mother's milk supply dwindles because the breasts are not getting enough signals to produce milk (i.e., being sucked on), then obviously it is detrimental to the breastfeeding relationship. If you are of the opinion that breast milk is the perfect food for babies, then it is also detrimental to the baby. If you don't have an opinion one way or the about the difference between breast milk and formula, then, eh...it doesn't matter.

The babies I personally know that are mostly breastfed and get a bottle of formula occasionally all have to use pre-digested versions of formula, as regular formula gives them funky digestive troubles. Formula is just not as easy on their immature digestive systems as breast milk. Some of these babies still have trouble with gas and eliminating even with the "gentle" formula. In this situation, perhaps it's not optimal, but I wouldn't say it is detrimental unless the baby is really suffering from gas, etc., from the formula.

I fully support formula use where it is an absolute necessity for the mom. If you are prone to depression, or have had post-partum depression before, it's probably best for you and the baby to formula feed. I believe that Mommy needs to be sane to function and be a healthy and happy (well as happy as you can be coming down from all those hormones!) caregiver. If there is some other medical reason you need to formula feed, then by all means go forth and feed without guilt. If you CAN'T do something about it, then why beat yourself up over it? It's not productive for you or your family to feel bad about the smart choice you are making.

If you CAN breastfeed, and choose not to (not even try), I would just hope that you are making a well informed decision. I think the many benefits of breastfeeding (always there, ready, right temperature, no bottles to lug around) outweigh the inconveniences (little to no freedom for mom), and that the benefits of formula feeding (more freedom for mom) do not outweigh the inconveniences (lugging bottles and formula and water everywhere, risk of running out, etc.). At least for me.

There have been times when, of course, I have thought, "well, wouldn't it be nice if he could just take a bottle (of formula)?" I wouldn't have to pump milk for him if I wanted to go out for an extended period of time...I could do something spur of the moment. But being with my son is not a burden. And he can easily go most places I want to go. I am not ashamed to breastfeed in public. With my Hooter Hider and my legal right to do so by my side, we are an unstoppable nursing pair!

One reason women wean early or cut way back on breastfeeding is because of our country's piss-poor excuse of maternity leave. I am lucky enough to be able to stay home with my son, for much, much longer than most moms are able. This has enabled us to successfully continue our breastfeeding relationship well over seven months.

If spending time with my baby because he absolutely must breast feed is the sacrifice I have to make for the first year of his life, well then, that's the way it has to be. When I look at it in a positive light, i.e., I get to spend time with my son which will never occur again in the same way, it sounds awesome. If you look at it as "I never get to go out and do anything by myself," then of course it sounds bad. I do get to go out, just not for very long. Hopefully when Little Man is less dependent on me for nourishment and comfort, I can get some "me" time back -- but for now, I just remember that my entire life before having him was, essentially (more or less), "me" time.

I am extremely proud that Little Man has had less than a half-cup of formula his whole life. He wouldn't have gotten any, but he was having an allergy issue and we were to try hypo-allergenic formula. (Btw, that stuff is NASTY! It seriously smells like rotting Fritos.) Little Man, however, had the wits to refuse that stuff, and we gave up on that and just hoped that my elimination diet would do the trick. It did, eventually, after nine weeks -- we had great improvement followed by a small relapse. But now, four months later, he is symptom free, all without the formula the GI doctor was heavily pushing on us as the answer.

I was on bed rest for almost two weeks before Little Man was born, so fortunately I had some time to educate myself about breastfeeding. The parent education department of the hospital brought Labor, Breastfeeding and Baby Care books to my room. I learned the science behind breastfeeding, along with technique tips and resources available to me should I encounter a problem. I feel very lucky that I got this education, as I needed all of the information I learned to become successful at breastfeeding.

Having resources available to you as you learn to breastfeed is a crucial part of the puzzle that many women don't have. A Lactation Consultant, experienced breastfeeder, and supportive partner are great resources to reach out to for advice, moral support, and a shoulder to cry on. Unfortunately, not all women can afford a visit with a Lactation Consultant. The two to four days you spend in the hospital are not enough time to learn how to breastfeed -- if your hospital even has a Lactation Consultant. Some women don't know anyone who has successfully breastfed, or perhaps they feel awkward asking her for help. Finally, a supportive partner can be hard to come by! Imagine not having any of these resources and trying to breastfeed. It is an immense struggle. We need all the help, love and support we can get in learning how to feed our baby. This support needs to continue throughout the breastfeeding relationship to achieve the one-year goal, heck, even the six-month goal.

Congratulate yourselves, ladies, if you've been able to breastfeed your baby -- even a little bit. It is hard work, and I applaud you!


Anonymous said...

WOW – I really admire you for pumping for months on end. I think that’s harder that attaching a baby to your boob. At least then, well at least once you get past the excruciating pain in the first week, you can sit and relax while the baby’s eating. My mom and husband were HUGE supporters for me. My mom nursed both me and my sister and really helped me with my first. People who don’t know don’t really understand just how hard it is for the first week. It does get easier, but there’s SO much to think about. You can’t just get up and go somewhere. You have to plan EVERYTHING around the boob.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

Great post. It is nice to read a balanced opinion from a bf-supporter.

I bf-ed both of mine. I weaned my son at a year, and there are days when I still feel bad about it. I miss it, but he was a BAD BAD biter. I have to remind myself of that, too! Great blog! I will be back.

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