This week is World Breastfeeding Week.
Nursing an infant means that I have lots of time to sit and think, but not much time to put many of my thoughts into action. I haven't mastered the art of nursing hands-free, and it actually takes both my hands to nurse most of the time. So, while I nurse -- I read, watch TV, listen to music or podcasts on my ipod, talk to my boys, or think about all the things I'm not doing. Sometimes I feel frustrated by having to slow down my life so much, but other times I'm grateful for the break that nursing gives me.
I realize that breastfeeding my child is an extremely important thing to do. It obviously provides her nourishment. We bond as we cuddle together at all times of the day and night. It's supposed to provide her with numerous health benefits, and even protect me against breast cancer.
My boys are young lactivists. They are insulted when anyone mentions that we might use bottles and proudly tell them that "mama milk is best!" They are patient when our outings are slowed down by my need to feed L. When she cries, my youngest son often will often order me to "put her on the boob!!" I don't feel that I have done much proselytizing about the subject, but if you listen to my boys, there's no doubt they believe that breastmilk is best for babies.
Breastfeeding is natural, but I think many women are mistaken and think natural means easy. For some women, establishing a nursing relationship is easy, but I think it is difficult (at least initially) for many more women.
With my first, I thought I was a failure. He didn't gain weight quickly, and my supply was immediately questioned (and questioned and questioned until I finally switched to formula full-time). I consulted a lactation consultant and began pumping and using fenugreek and oatmeal in an attempt to produce more milk. My husband tried to help me out and let me sleep by giving him bottles of formula (provided by the hospital) when he was still very young. Then, I returned to work and struggled to pump when he was 3 months old. By 7 months, I decided I was a failure and I cried when he struggled at the breast. We switched to formula and bottles full-time until he was a year and weaned to cow's milk.
I learned more by the time I had my 2nd and I was determined to make it work this time. He was small, and had a lousy latch. I once again consulted lactation consultants. He was re-admitted to the hospital when only a few days old for jaundice, but I pumped and also put him to the breast as much as possible. He was probably 5 or 6 months old before we finally had a good latch. We struggled through thrush for months. I would nurse him and clench my toes and tears would flow down my face because it hurt so much. He gained weight slowly, but steadily. I am stubborn, though, and decided I would do whatever was necessary to nurse him for a year. Thankfully, it did get better around 6 months, and he weaned close to 18 months. He had maybe 3 or 4 bottles in his life.
L and I struggled with her latch the first few weeks. We haven't had thrush (knock on wood!) We haven't used bottles. At her first doctor's appointment, she hadn't yet regained her birth weight. The doctor questioned my supply and wanted me to come in for multiple weight checks. I declined and told her that my sons were the same way and they grew just fine. We still struggle with latch when we fall asleep together and I wake up sore. It's nothing like the pain I had with N, and I am confident we'll nurse until we're ready to wean sometime after a year. While it's still early, she's been the easiest of my 3.
Breastfeeding has felt right for my children. Through the struggles, I'm glad I gave them this part of me and that I made the effort. I'm proud of myself for what I've done. I do also believe, however, that it is a choice. It was the choice I made for my children, yet I understand that it's not the choice all moms make. I don't think it makes me a better mom than a mom who doesn't breastfeed, or only breastfeeds a few weeks or months. We're all moms, who love and nourish their children.
I grin when my boys tell people that "mama milk is the only milk my sister gets for now." I love how protective my oldest gets of me when I feed my youngest out in public. I can't help but smile back when I look down at the milky grin of my 3 month old. And I can just keep making the choices that I feel right for my family.
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, support a mom you know who's trying to breastfeed. Give her encouragement! Help her make sure she drinks enough and eats enough and gets enough rest. Let her know that it's not always easy, but it's definitely possible.