Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On Breastfeeding

I have been able to nurse all five of my babies for at least a year each, am fully intending on nursing this next one, and feel very blessed and grateful to do so. Many women that I've met either found that they were not able to nurse due to any number of problems, whether it's baby's allergies, being on medication, infections, problems with milk production, or one of the other myriad of things that can make nursing difficult or even impossible.  I have had no such trouble thus far, and have been so grateful that not only have I been able to nurse for as long as I have, but have even had the opportunity to donate milk to a milk bank. It was not, however, something I'd always planned or even wanted to do.
I remember before my first was born thinking it's a rather odd thing - sticking a body part in a baby's mouth to provide life-giving nourishment. Weirdness. I was, however, sold on the idea that God designed my body to do just that, that it really is the best option for my child, and the most frugal option for me (I am cheap, I must say.). So, I guess I could say that breastfeeding, for me, was an opportunity to respond in faith.
It took roughly a month to get the hang of it. A month of being sore, dreading the cry of this hungry infant, knowing there would be at least 30-45 minutes of stinging pain, sitting there crying while trying not to resent my child for "doing this to me". A month of calling the midwives to check that I was doing it right...a month of learning:
  • It hurts, and anyone who says different is selling something. I suppose, theoretically, it's possible that for some women, it does not hurt, but everyone that I've come across, whether their first child or tenth, breastfeeding hurts a bit in the beginning. And that's normal.
  • The encouragement of people who cared about me mattered, especially my husband. He would rub my back, pass me a tissue and tell me how beautiful it was. I remember feeling like I didn't much care how it looked, but having him tell me how proud he was of me and encouraging me made such a difference - I might not have kept going without it.
  • Nipple shields were/are, for me, a godsend. I have used them for everyone of my children, and they have proved invaluable. I know some people are very anti-shield, but they allowed me to heal while continuing to nurse, which meant that I didn't give up. It made such a big difference - I continue to be grateful for the friend who first told me about them!
I am also grateful for a few other things - people who encourage new moms, lactation consultants who go the extra mile, the many different styles of nursing clothes and covers that mean you can nurse where you need to without disrobing in public, and even the options and flexibility that formula brings. It wasn't too long ago that if you couldn't nurse, your options were either find a wet nurse or your child would die. Few, if any, in our culture now face that decision.
A friend once told me how she felt judged because though she had tried to nurse her children, she was unable to do so and had to switch to formula. She felt the need to defend her decision or explain herself, somehow. It broke my heart to hear this, partly because I knew how much she wanted to nurse and the hoops she jumped through to try, and partly because I knew I have been guilty of judging others in a similar way. Fortunately, she gave me the opportunity to see my own sin and confess that judgemental attitude. I was humbled and grateful for how her humility served to show me my own pride.
If you're a mom who's struggling with nursing, I'd encourage you not to give up. Call a friend who's been there, call the lactation consultant, send someone to buy some nipple shields for you. Drink lots to help your production, and drink warm drinks to encourage your let-down reflex. Be prepared to learn with your baby - this is the first time he or she has done this, too. But if it's not happening, if your baby is losing too much weight, remember - you have not failed as a mother if you switch to formula. Nursing for 12 months doesn't make a good mother - loving, caring for, training, and lifting up your child to the Lord in prayer makes you a good mother.

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