Last week was breastfeeding week, so I thought I would share about my experiences over the years with breastfeeding. I’m sure some would be surprised to hear that breastfeeding did not always come easy to me. It took my third child before I finally got the hang out of it. I do believe that breastfeeding is natural and the best for baby if possible, but sometimes it does not come easy. It can be hard work. But it’s worth it. I also realize that it doesn’t end up working for everyone, even when they work hard at it. This is not meant to shame anyone with their experience with breastfeeding, I just want to share my own story.
My first child ended up being born by cesarean. The hospital that I birthed at was not very baby or mother friendly, and pretty much took him from me right after he was born. I did have a few short moments with him in the recovery room before they whisked him away, but I was so drugged up and out of sorts that the thought of immediately breastfeeding never crossed my mind. Then he was taken away from me for FOUR hours. That’s right, I didn’t see him until almost midnight that night! I was exhausted by the time they finally brought him to me. The nurse plopped him down in front of me and said something to the effect of, “Go ahead and try and nurse him now.” Um, okay? What do I do? I was so lost. I knew I wanted to breastfeed for sure, but had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was late at night and even though the nurse was there to “help,” I felt helpless. I put my son to the breast, and I think he sort of latched on. That’s when the nurse basically said, “ Good luck, let us know if you need anything”, and walked out the door. I’m sure I cried several times that night. The next morning they were already talking about supplementing, saying things like, “He isn’t getting much.” In hindsight, how on earth could they have known at that point how much he was getting? My milk wasn’t even in yet! But I believed them. I was trying to pump to bring my milk in faster, and then the formula was offered. My son had to have an IV because they were watching him closely for a possible infection and they were concerned about making sure he got enough right away. I believed it. How was I supposed to know otherwise?
I went home 4 days later and we still weren’t really nursing well. I was still supplementing with the premade formula bottles that were given to me in the hospital and was pretty much at the point of not even trying to nurse. A dear friend of mine came over to try and help me a little. He was crying every time I tried to put him to the breast and I would just give up and give him a bottle. I thought maybe there was something wrong with my nipples, his latch, I didn’t know. I just knew that this wasn’t working. A few days later my Mom came in town to help me and spend time with the baby. She could see that I was so discouraged that nursing wasn’t working. I pretty much said that I wasn’t even going to try anymore. My sweet Mom said, “Caryn, why don’t you just give it one more try? Just go back in your room, close the door, and see what happens?” So I did. Amazingly, he latched on without crying! I was so overjoyed that he was actually nursing! But the damage had already been done. I did manage to squeeze in 4 solid months of nursing, but did continue to supplement with formula in between feedings. Unfortunately, he began to prefer the bottle again and I finally just called it quits after 4 months. I had to go back to work, and pumping full time did not seem like a fun option to me, especially when my son was quite content with the formula.
With my second baby I had hoped for a VBAC. I hoped that a vaginal birth would help to get breastfeeding off to a better start. Same hospital, same situation. My baby girl was taken away for 4 hours. Same rocky start as the last time, but I at least knew a little more this time around. She latched on a little bit better than my first. But I was fearful. I was afraid she wasn’t going to get enough, and again I began to supplement with formula from the start. It was almost as if I thought that was how it was done. You nurse and then give a bottle. Normal right? I nursed her for about 4-5 months before calling it quits.
With my third baby, even though he was a planned cesarean, I was bound and determined to get this thing right! He was taken away from me just as the others, but I spent a little more time holding him in the recovery room before he was taken away. I kept calling them until they finally brought him to me. Since it was planned and not late at night, I was a little more awake during our first nursing session. This time it seemed so much different! I did not once give him a bottle while I was in the hospital. In fact, in the 15 months that I went on to breastfeed my third child, he only took a bottle once! Please don’t get me wrong, I do not feel that formula is evil. I just knew in my heart that I had the means to feed my child and was determined to make it work this time. It paid off. I would probably have nursed him longer than 15 months, but I was pregnant with my 4th child, and my milk was already starting to dry up. When he stopped nursing, it was a very natural stopping point. I was very happy we had made it that far.
My 4th baby was my first natural birth. I had educated myself about breastfeeding and the importance of skin to skin immediately after the baby is born. I had no idea about skin to skin with my first three births! As soon as my daughter was born, she was put on my skin. They didn’t take her away from me, except to briefly weigh her and put a diaper on. She never left my chest otherwise. Within an hour, she was latching on and nursing! I could not believe this! I had never experienced this before. Nursing throughout the rest of the day and night was so much easier because of this and because I had been so much more successful with my last baby. The lactation consultant came by to see me, but I really didn’t need her help. I went on to nurse her for 2 years! I would have possibly nursed her even longer, but I was pregnant with my 5th child when we stopped. I was not really interested in tandem nursing but had hoped to nurse her almost to the end of my pregnancy. I got sick in the middle of my pregnancy for a solid month and was having a hard time keeping up with breastfeeding. At this point my daughter really was just nursing for comfort more than for nourishment. Since I was so congested from being sick, I really felt so constricted trying to nurse her. So I called it quits. She was not happy at first. I was still nursing her to sleep at this point, and my husband and I had to figure out how to get her to sleep without Mommy helping her. She was so connected to me and needed me by her side to settle into sleep. But it didn’t take long for her to get it. It took about 4 days before she was content with going to sleep without me helping her. Once in awhile she would look at me and pat my chest and say “Nursie?” I would have to sadly say no. It was a sad moment for me. I really loved those two years with her. I can’t even describe the unbelievable bond we had. Nursing an older child is such a rewarding experience. I think a lot of women feel that at 1, they need to stop. I’m so glad I didn’t stop.
(This is me nursing my baby less than an hour after she was born!)
Now I am nursing my 5th child who is currently 3 months old. He is growing like crazy, just on his mama’s milk. He is already around 16 lbs and wearing 9 months clothing! He latched pretty quickly after he was born and continues to do well. Now it seems like clockwork. I don’t have to think about it as much as I did in the beginning.
(Photos by Hawkins Photography)
I love the moments I have shared with my babies through breastfeeding. No, it hasn’t always been easy. It is hard work and sometimes things don’t go the way you think it should. Is it worth it? Every minute of it is! I’m so thankful that my Mom encouraged me not to give up with my first child. If I had, who knows how things would have gone with my babies after that? Maybe I wouldn’t have even tried.
Now I am doing as my Mom did by passing my love of breastfeeding on to my own children. This is my sweet daughter who loves to pretend she is nursing her dolls. I hope that some day she too will share these sweet moments with her babies.