I always knew I would breastfeed my babies. It was not something I gave much thought to because it was as natural to me as the decision to want children. My parents divorced before I was three years old, and they both remarried while I was young. They went on to have children with their new spouses, and both my mom and stepmom breastfed their babies. My mom actually held La Leche meetings in our home when my sister and I were young. I was breastfed until I was 2.5 years old. I did not pay much attention to how other women fed their children, but within my homes, breast milk was the norm. I can even recall as teenagers my sister and I taunting my mom that we were not going to breastfeed our babies just to get a rise out of her. It worked. Every. Single. Time.
When I found out I was pregnant for the first time, I was so excited for many reasons…one of which was the opportunity to breastfeed. I don’t expect that everyone feels this way but it was so for me. Personally, I was so excited to do for my child what was best and what women have always done for generations past. I bought the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and read it at least twice during my pregnancy. I balled my eyes out during parts of the book where they explained the bond and the feelings that pass between mother and child during their breastfeeding relationship. I took a breastfeeding class and had a one-on-one meeting with a wonderful lactation consultant. During that meeting, at 38 weeks pregnant, was when I first realized that this beautiful relationship that I placed on a pedestal might be more difficult than I ever imagined. She asked me to hold a baby doll to my chest to mimic breastfeeding. Now, I know it was a doll, and I was in a florescent-lit office with a woman I just met, but the whole thing felt incredibly awkward. I knew I was having a c-section, and I was well aware that the cradle hold might not work initially. We tried a few things, and I left feeling slightly deflated.
I was not prepared for how difficult it would be do what always seemed the most natural way to feed your child.
Two hours after I had Mark via c-section, he was in my arms, ready to nurse. I, however, was under the influence of so many medications that I did not feel like I could hold him properly and get a good latch. Thank goodness for the amazing lactation nurses at Ochsner because they positioned him in the football hold and did everything for me as I watched in awe. By the next nursing session, I was able to position myself and Mark so that I could get him to nurse, but I always needed extra hands to hold his hands back. Mark wanted to nurse all. the. time. He came out ready to eat and was sucking his thumb within the hour after birth. And I know I must not have had the proper latch and hold because by the third day, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and I would cry every time he latched. This beautiful experience that I had dreamed of was turning into something I dreaded whenever it was time to nurse. I never once thought to use formula; for me, that was not an option. It was something I knew I would get through but getting through it, well it was tough.
I joined a Facebook support group and discovered an informative website, and with the help of those, I went on to nurse Mark for 13.5 months. I must admit that just like everyone told me, it did get so much easier. Much easier than making and cleaning bottles. I mean at any point in time, no matter where you are, the milk is fresh and the perfect temperature. But in the beginning, it is anything but easy. I had a baby who wanted to nurse constantly, and I was a new mom who thought she had a proper latch. I will be the first to admit that nursing a baby for any length of time is never easy. It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But it is also one of my proudest accomplishments. As we neared his first birthday, our nursing relationship gradually reduced to only a couple sessions per day. Part of this was because I had a surprise pregnancy, and my supply took a huge hit. Also, I had pretty bad nausea that would increase in waves while I nursed and immediately thereafter. I was devastated that this beautiful relationship and bond might have to end for reasons other than my or his choosing. But it did end, and part of what got me through it was knowing that I would get to do it again in 8 months for baby #2.
Nursing baby number 2 was a walk in the park.
It really was. I knew how to hold the baby, my milk came in within 24 hours, and my baby was over birth weight by the time we left the hospital. He was a great nurser, and I think part of the initial success was due to my increased confidence the second time around. It still is more difficult in the beginning in terms of responsibility. If I am nursing, there is not much anyone can do to share that burden with me. I have a love/hate relationship with the pump so that wasn’t something I used much. Once he started sleeping through the night, I no longer felt like it was the difficult feeding alternative. Instead, I cherished the blessing of such a relationship with my child. To be the one who gives him life even after he is outside of my body is a beautiful gift that I do not take for granted. Those peaceful moments where the world melts away and I held my babies while their chubby hands rested on my chest will be moments I cherish for the rest of my life.
My youngest is nearly 14 months old, and we are down to one nursing session per day. I often get asked how long I will nurse him. The truth is that I do not know. I imagine we will wean over the next couple of months but part of me is heartbroken to end that relationship. I know babies grow as they are supposed to do, but that does not make this easy. I can vividly remember nursing both of my babies for the first time, but I cannot recall the last time I nursed Mark. I am sure the memory for Jack’s last will fade as well. Until then, I am going to nurse my baby because it provides a connection that we both still need.