Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My breastfeeding journey - Part 1.

Nothing in life has ever made me feel like more of a failure than breastfeeding. When I was pregnant with the Numa, one of the few things I actually researched was how to begin a good breastfeeding relationship with your new baby. I read tons of forums and talked to my doula and was prepared for it to be difficult at first, but ultimately assumed that I would power through with the help of reading and if necessary, lactation consultants, and that Numa and I would exclusively breastfeed for as long as I was home with him and possibly longer. It was one of my main goals as a new mother and I was really looking forward to having this experience with my baby. I had noticed that, unlike other pregnant women I knew, my breasts hadn't changed much during my pregnancy. They were marginally larger, but nothing like the full cup size or sizes bigger that others were experiencing. I didn't think too much about it at the time and only vaguely noted that I also didn't really become engorged after his birth. For the first few days at home with him, I breastfed on demand and other than some latch issues, assumed that all was well because he was producing the number of wet and dirty diapers we were told to expect and was sleeping fairly well. My world crashed a little when, after more than 10 days, he was still below his birth weight and it became apparent that he was sleeping not because he was sated, but because he was working so hard for so little food that he was exhausted. The guilt and despair at learning that despite my best efforts my baby was hungry were overwhelming. To this day I haven't fully forgiven myself for allowing him to be hungry, even once, as a newborn when he was reliant on me for everything. I am sure this is unfair, but I can't seem to change the way I feel about it and I still have nightmares that he is starving somewhere and I can't help him.

To say that women, and people in general, have opinions about how to feed babies is a ridiculous understatement. Feeding your infant formula is an immediate indication to most that you are lazy, uninformed, selfish or some combination of the three and people are not shy about pointing this out. (I don't have the time or energy to get into it here, but isn't it odd that the same society that castigates mothers for using formula also frowns on breastfeeding in public? Also note that feeding babies is solely the responsibility of mothers...like so many other parenting choices, the fault for not succeeding at breastfeeding falls solely on the shoulders of the mother. But I digress...) There are so many reasons that breastfeeding doesn't work for women in this country - a lack of support, a lack of time, a lack of the money and resources to allow women to be with their infants long enough to develop a good breastfeeding relationship - but the one that almost anyone will tell you is just a cover for some other, unacceptable reason is low supply. Read any breastfeeding support website and the writers will point out at least once, if not multiple times, that very few women actually have a low supply. Instead, anyone who thinks they have a low supply is in reality just mismanaging their breastfeeding relationship with their child and could fix the problem if they were willing to take supplements, pump around the clock as well as breastfeed, never ever use a bottle to supplement the baby for any reason whatsoever, etc. The point is that saying you have a low supply is almost universally seen as an excuse to lazy out of really trying to breastfeed.

Which brings me back to me and the Numa. Once we figured out that he wasn't getting enough food we starting supplementing him with formula based on the advice of our pediatrician and my complete inability to handle the thought of him being hungry for even one more minute. I cried my way through his appointment that day as I thought about my failure to nourish my child. Unlike so many people in this world who struggle to feed their families, I was and am fortunate enough to be able to afford a solution to the most basic part of the problem - feeding my child - by buying formula, but the knowledge that I was failing at what I saw as an integral part of my maternal tasks was devastating. I cried my way through another doctor's visit when I saw my OB later that week and though it didn't help at the time, she said something to me that later gave me some perspective. She very kindly reminded me that formula isn't rat poison and that as long as I was feeding my baby, all would be well. Finally, I contacted my doula to get a recommendation for a lactation consultant, because I was now determined to figure out what was wrong and fix it so that I could become the mother I desperately wanted to be.

I honestly don't know how many parts there will be to this story, but I will continue to write them as I can. I hope that it will help me to ultimately be able to move past the disappointment and if it happens to help someone else who is struggling, then that will be a huge bonus.

Be well,


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