Thursday, December 1, 2011

Five Things That Helped Me Breastfeed Successfully

I did it! As of today, I've been successfully breastfeeding for a year. This was the goal I had in mind, and I usually do a good job of working towards my goals, but I have to say that this one was challenging. I was told (explicitly and implicitly) that I wouldn't be able to make it--because I was working full-time, because my daughter was born too big, because I would get too tired, because I wouldn't have time to pump, because I wouldn't be able to produce enough milk, because it would be a pain to nurse in public, because, because, because.

So, in honor of making it to one year, I'm putting together a list of the things that helped me get there:

5) The Right Gear-
Some tout the benefits of breastfeeding because it is inexpensive. While I was on maternity leave, that was true. Once I went back to work (when my daughter was seven weeks old), however, there were a lot of things that I needed to make it work. One of those things was a good pump. I didn't have a lot of time to pump at work, and I often struggled with production. A double electric pump was a necessity to help overcome these problems.

I have the Medela Pump-in-Style-Advance, but after learning more about the WHO Code (which I'd never heard of before my daughter was born) and how Medela has violated it, I won't buy from them again unless they change their marketing.  If I am ever in the market again, I will probably get a Hygeia pump, which is WHO compliant and gets good reviews.

Pumping hands free was also essential. At one point, I was having supply problems and had to pump in the morning after my daughter ate, three times at work, as soon as I got home, in the evening after she went to bed, and once in the middle of the night. That's nearly two hours of my day. I am not good (in case you haven't noticed) at doing only one thing at a time. I am also not good at spending money on items that seem superfluous, so I bought a few cheap clasp-in-the-front sports bras from Wal-Mart and cut holes in them. It may sound silly, but I honestly don't think I would have been able to stick it out if I hadn't found the freedom to read and write while pumping. 

4) Getting Over It-
I hadn't been around many breastfeeding mothers when I gave birth to my daughter. I had read a lot, and I knew that breastfeeding was important to me, but I hadn't seen it happen very often--certainly not in public.

Early on, I attempted to avoid nursing in public at all. I planned trips out around the feeding schedule, but sometimes she ate every hour, and it was exhausting. Once I started building a freezer supply, I tried to take bottles of milk to feed her. It worked sometimes, but sometimes she finished the bottle and was still hungry. I tried just going to the car whenever she needed to eat, but it wasn't always possible. I live in an urban area, and sometimes the car would be blocks away--she was also born in December, so it was cold. 

I had two choices: get over it or stop going out. I wasn't about to isolate myself from the world, so I got over it. 

I've fed my daughter in restaurants, at friend's houses, and in stores. By the time she was about six months and eating solids, I didn't have to nurse as often in public, and it's still my preference to avoid it if possible, but coming to terms with the fact that feeding my baby was not a shameful act was a major step in making breastfeeding work. I hope that becoming more comfortable with it also made some of the people I was around more comfortable with breastfeeding, too.

3) Balancing Medical Advice and My Instincts
My daughter weighed nine pounds at birth, and from practically the moment she was born the doctors were telling me I'd probably need to supplement. I ignored them. During her check-up on the day after she was born, they tested her blood sugar and said she needed formula. When I told them I didn't want to give her formula, they insisted that she had to have it and they would not be able to release us until this test was performed and the results were where they wanted them. I gave in, but insisted that she get it from a dropper instead of a bottle to avoid nipple confusion. She had four droppers of formula (the only formula she's ever had), the test came back fine, and we got to go home. 

Then we had to go back. She was jaundiced, and had to be on bilirubin lights for about 15 hours. There were again suggestions that I should supplement to help her get rid of the bilirubin, but I held firm. I fed her every hour or every time she woke up, whichever came first. Her bilirubin levels dropped and we got to go home. 

Then we had her first check-up. She didn't weigh enough, they said. She was few ounces shy of birth weight. If I couldn't get her weight up over the weekend, I'd have to supplement. I cried. I was so frustrated, but I just kept nursing her the way I had been, on demand, and her weight was fine--until the next appointment. We did this song and dance three times. Each time they said her weight was low (even though she was in the 60th and 70th percentiles) and each time I dealt with guilt, wondering if I was somehow hurting her by not supplementing.

During a more recent check-up, her weight wasn't the issue (she's still in the same percentile, but I guess since she's older there's less focus on her exact weight). This was her 9-month appointment and the doctor told me to drop the overnight feeding because she shouldn't still be waking in the middle of the night to eat and she surely isn't really hungry. I started to take her advice because she made me feel like I was doing something wrong by still feeding my daughter at night, but then that first night came. As I held my daughter, shushing her and trying to comfort her, I listened to her cries. She was hungry. I know she was hungry because I spend every day with her. I know what her cries mean. Sure enough, I fed her, she went to sleep, and I put her back in her crib.

It's hard to stand up to experts, especially as a first-time mom, and I do value expert input, but in the end, I have to do what feels right to me.

This website is a fantastic source for any breastfeeding mother. I love that, even though the author clearly has a viewpoint and an opinion on when/how to wean, she provides information for situations that she wouldn't consider ideal. The information is well-organized, thorough, backed up with tons of resources, and a welcome perspective.

1) A Supportive Partner-
My husband is a fantastic father. There are arguments that breastfeeding is a challenge to equally shared parenting because the mother ends up with a large bulk of the caregiving that she can't equally share. While, yes, breastfeeding meant that there were times (and in those early days, hours upon hours) that I was committing to caregiving on my own, my husband has always been supportive and worked hard to make up that balance. While I nursed, he would clean, do laundry, or even just sit and talk to me. In the middle of the night, he would go and get our daughter from the crib and put her back down after she ate. He put together bottles of pumped milk for daycare and was actively involved in the transition to solid foods. Though I did sometimes resent the ease with which he could have a Jack and Coke when all I wanted was one--not even very big--margarita but the baby had to nurse in thirty minutes, I never felt like breastfeeding threw our parenting out of sync. And since equally sharing parenting is an important part of our larger family philosophy, that was an important step to making breastfeeding work.

What about you? What things helped you (or do you wish you'd had to help you) reach your breastfeeding goals? 

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on reaching your goal! I know that the thing that helped me the most to breastfeed in public was having other mothers around, doing the same thing. The first few months of Gus's life, we would meet up at a coffee shop every week with 4 other mothers with babies the same age, 3 of whom were also breastfeeding. No one is going to say anything to a group of women like that!