02 August 2013

How to Feed a Baby (Year One)

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, so what better time to share these thoughts that have been tumbling around in my head for months. Let me begin by saying that breastfeeding, at it’s core, is beautiful and natural—and I support a woman's right to breastfeed her child when and where she needs to.

Personally, I have had a difficult, emotionally draining relationship with breastfeeding. As I prepared to welcome my daughter into this world, I expected breastfeeding to be a natural first connection between my daughter and me. Between my mom and two sisters, they had successfully breastfed a dozen children. I thought it would surely come naturally to me and should I have any small struggles, they would support and guide me through it.

By the time I left the hospital, I had not mastered any productive techniques in getting my daughter to latch and remain interested in breastfeeding, and my daughter's pediatrician and the hospital’s lactation consultant sent me home with formula samples and instructions on how to supplement her feedings, while we worked it out and in order for her to gain weight. The following weeks were peppered with multiple weight checks, stressful days and nights as I tried to breastfeed (30 minutes to over an hour sometimes), and then supplemented and then pumped for up to 30 minutes and then after a very brief “rest,” the cycle started all over. I cried so many tears. Every little triumph was soon forgotten with another setback. I would find a position that worked, only to fail miserably with it at the next feeding. I was exhausted. I was confused. I was miserable. I couldn’t enjoy my newborn baby. And I desperately wanted to.

My sisters and my mom invited a lactation consultant to come meet me and support me. On her advice, we bottle-fed my daughter to make sure she was receiving full feedings, while I started to pump to build up my supply. What a different baby I had when she took the bottle. I would feed her all the milk I could pump and sample formula to make up the difference. Despite continued attempts, my daughter never took to the breast. Although I understood that feeding my daughter formula was a viable and completely normal feeding option, I was still desperate to feed my daughter breastmilk.

At this point, I learned of the option of “exclusive pumping” and heard a couple stories of women who had successfully fed their children while exclusive pumping.  I decided I would try this option for as long as I was able. In the beginning, to build my supply, I was pumping about 30 minutes every 2 hours. My family and friends were wonderful to support me by coming over to help with the baby while my husband was at work. My mom spent countless hours washing pump parts, preparing bottles, feeding and caring for our baby.  Other than that, I was a hobbit.  The ease of breastfeeding and always having food available, anytime, anywhere for my child, was replaced with schedules and a yearlong attachment to the pump.  I felt better, but still had plenty of time to consider and cry over my failure at such a natural interaction. When the nurse at the pediatrician’s office asked, “Are you nursing or bottles?” I had to hold back tears as I explained that I was pumping exclusively. Exclusively pumping doesn’t really fit into any sort of category. It’s not nursing and it’s not formula feeding. It’s some sort of hybrid of the two. Don’t get me wrong—I would not have continued if I didn’t see a benefit, but it was a long, exhausting, difficult experience, that without the support I received, I would not have been able to continue.  I got pretty good at scheduling out my time and had worked out a system for pumping on the go, but I never had a very good supply and eventually my daughter’s appetite surpassed my production.

I was again at a crossroads with formula, when my sister shared a story about a mom she knew who could not breastfeed and her son received donated breast milk from another mom for his first two years. Another feeding option I had never even heard of. It sounded strange and uncomfortable at first, but the more I considered it, the more “normal” it seemed. Milksharing is not a new phenomenon—Wet Nurses existed at least as far back as biblical times. I did my research, found the Human Milk 4 Human Babies Facebook page and put out my request. Our first donor had a little girl a few months older than mine and shared with us her excess freezer stock several times. We’ve had about a half dozen donors (“milky mamas”) and I am abundantly grateful for their generous donations of “liquid gold”—it truly is (crying over spilt milk never seemed less funny—and ½ an ounce has never been so precious).

Over the course of about six months, I became an expert in a few things I had never heard about prior to having my daughter. I was able to offer words of advice and support as I encountered friends who came upon similar struggles. And I will continue to offer my experience and advice, based on my experiences, to other moms who find themselves in the same spot. I have all sorts of plans for the next baby (not yet!) and how we will work to make breastfeeding successful.

Last Friday morning, I pumped for the last time (I think). I had thoughts of pumping longer, but my daughter has turned one and was able to transition to cow’s milk and she is getting more nutrition from solid foods. I was ready. And I feel so free. I no longer have to schedule my entire life around pumping. I have yet to put away all my pumping supplies, but it is going to feel so liberating when I do!

Despite my ability to feed my daughter breastmilk almost exclusively during her first year (barring baby foods, etc), it still breaks my heart when I consider the connection we did not get through breastfeeding. I am conflicted. When I see a mother breastfeeding in public, I see the beauty in it, but it also brings up the disappointment I felt in my own inability to do the same thing. I always pictured myself, out and about with my baby, breastfeeding when she required it, feeling confident and content. So, when I see another mom living my dream, I am sad.

I didn’t expect to be so negative in this narrative. I just wanted to share my experiences, so that others might know they are not alone. And to explain a little bit of where my mind has been this past year. There were many, many triumphs and milestones along the way as well, and my daughter is beautiful, healthy, smart, sweet, growing, loved…the list could go on and on. I am proud to be part of an elite sisterhood of superheroes—all moms are superheroes—this was powerfully evident to me during my first year of motherhood! The support, advice, encouragement, love, commiserating and more that I received from those who have been doing this “mom thing” for years or just a few months has been incredible and much needed. Thank you!

I just realized that there isn't much mention of Daddy in this post. I want to note, that although my husband did not always understand why breastfeeding and breastmilk were so important to me, he fully supported my decisions. And despite my words and actions, that were almost entirely driven by emotion, he stood by me and showed me how much he loves me and our daughter through the way he took care of us so tenderly. We are blessed and abundantly loved!