Before the birth of my first son, I made the decision that I was going to breastfeed. I furiously studied breastfeeding techniques and holding positions, and I attended a day long class with other soon-to-be moms that were as determined as I was to live up to the credo that “breast is best.”
When my new baby arrived, he latched like a champion, and we were off to the races. I experienced some slight discomfort the first few days, and then my milk came in. And when it came in, it came in with a fury. All of a sudden I was producing more milk than my little baby could seem to handle. I worried and spent sleepless nights rocking a crying infant who seemed to have tummy issues and choked every time we settled in for a feed.
The constant worrying led me to seek out a breastfeeding support group, which was run by a wonderful lactation consultant, and I sat in a circle with around ten other new moms who held their new babies and shared the stories that brought them to the support group in the first place.
There was the mom, who discovered with the lactation consultant, that she had inverted nipples, which was making for a hard and uncomfortable latch.
There was the mom whose infant was on his third round of thrush.
There was the mom whose feeds and pump sessions lasted over an hour at a time, who was panicked as to what would happen when she returned to work.
There was the mom whose nipples were cracked and bloodied who cried in pain during every feed.
There was the mom who was producing so little milk that she was pumping every hour through the day and night in between regular feeds in order to try to encourage her supply and get her baby its much need sustenance.
And there was the mom in tears, whose baby was continuing to lose weight, despite all of her best efforts.
When it was my turn to share my “war story” I sheepishly turned to the group and said, “I think I have an overproduction problem.” I was met with various groans, and the kind lactation consultant later remarked to me that often times when we learn about other people’s problems we realize how lucky we are. Attending this support group made me realize that I had pretty much every card stacked in my favor for a long, wonderful journey in breastfeeding.
- I had a vaginal birth and did not have the pain and long recovery time that often accompany a C-Section.
- I had a supportive husband, who encouraged me every step of the way (though I’m still wondering whether this encouragement might have had to do with him getting a pass on night feeds), and despite initially being squeamish about public feeding, became my biggest proponent.
- I had a supportive mother, who because she had the experience of breastfeeding all of her children until nearly a year, encouraged me to press on and did not offer advice like, you need to supplement! Or give the baby water! Like so many of my friends well-meaning mothers suggested.
- I had a supportive but non-judgmental pediatrician, who said she would stand behind any decision I made regarding how to feed my child.
- I had a fabulous daycare center, located at the doorstep of my office, that encouraged me to come in and breastfeed my little one on my lunch hour, solidifying our bond.
- I had a wonderful boss who not only supported my pumping at intervals during work hours, but even found a more convenient (and private) location for me to squeeze in my much-needed pumps.
- And I had extremely cooperative breasts, that efficiently produced a feeding and enabled me to stockpile a massive library of expressed milk for when I returned to work, or in case of emergency.
As I had learned at the support group, not every woman has this amount of support or resources when attempting to nurse their child and I felt extremely lucky. But even for me, breastfeeding was still hard. It is a commitment which requires you to be “chained” to your baby, or your pump, for as long as you wish to continue. (Though it ironically becomes a lot easier the longer you persevere). It was a commitment I threw myself into, and only with the support of a very tight knit and encouraging group of people, and a strong milk supply, was I able to press on.
I often wonder about what happened with the other women from my breastfeeding support group – if they persisted or if the weight and pain of their issues ended their journeys earlier than they wanted. Women put so much pressure on themselves to breastfeed and sometimes the odds are not stacked in their favor, leading to disappointment and tears. I met those mothers who so badly wanted to breastfeed, and were beating themselves up because it wasn’t an easier road. And I have also heard some well-meaning breastfeeders remark on another woman’s difficulties dismissively. I am fairly confident that had I been carrying the burdens I learned about in my support group, my journey would have ended much much sooner. I love the idea of a World Breastfeeding Week to encourage and support women who make the choice to breastfeed. But I think that we need to recognize that breastfeeding is not an easy path for every woman, and that each woman’s journey, should she choose to embark on it, is going to be different.