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Adventures in Breastfeeding

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Before my son was born, breastfeeding always seemed like an alien activity that would come naturally to me. I realize the paradox now.

I always felt that, in essence, breastfeeding was the ejection of a bodily fluid. So how hard could it really be? Plus it was all part of nature’s health care plan – seriously how hard could it be?

I scoffed at my mother’s advice to take breastfeeding classes before the baby was born. I thought to myself “Right. she wants me to go practice with a doll? Listen to an “expert” prattle on about positions, latching, and the joys of breastfeeding? You have got to be kidding me. I have better things to do, like picking the right homecoming outfit for my baby.” So I can’t say nobody warned me that breast feeding would be the most difficult thing I would have to do after the baby was born.

I did do a lot of reading on breastfeeding and learnt that it was widely advised that, due to the immense benefits for both baby and mother, that mothers breastfeed babies right after they are born. There is meant to be a natural window for mother and baby bonding right after birth which makes it easier to begin breastfeeding. The baby is at her most attentive state, right after birth, and this is usually the optimal time for her to begin breastfeeding with minimal assistance. Additionally, there is a colostrum (or super milk) build up in a new mother’s breast right after birth making breastfeeding right after birth to be immensely nutritious for the baby.  Breastfeeding is also meant to trigger the release of oxytocin, in mothers, which leads to a shrinking of the uterus.

Some studies have also shown that newborns who breastfeed and have skin to skin contact with their mothers in the immediate hours following birth have less problems breastfeeding later on and in some cases also breastfeeding for a longer duration of time. Therefore, in my birth plan, I included that my baby be given to me right after birth.

However, breastfeeding right after birth might not be a feasible option for all new mothers. For instance, after a C-Section the procedure needs to be completed and then the mother needs some post-surgery recovery time which might hinder this type of bonding between mother and baby.

I had a C-Section and did not meet me son till two hours after he was born. I was still quite dazed then and when I held him my first instinct was to stare at him not to breastfeed him. But my nurse interrupted our moment and reminded me of my birth plan and my insistence to feed him after he was born. Surprisingly, even though his eyes were closed latched on quite well and started to nurse him. I was positively euphoric! I was overwhelmed and was reminded of a quote by one of my favorite writers:

When she first felt her son’s groping mouth attach itself to her breast, a wave of sweet vibration thrilled deep inside and radiated to all parts of her body; it was similar to love, but it went beyond a lover’s caress, it brought a great calm happiness, a great happy calm.

Milan Kundera

“Wow this wasn’t so hard”, I thought. “So glad I didn’t waste my time practicing this with dolls”. I naively thought that since my son had suckled so well the first time I was all set for the rest of my breastfeeding journey.

I opted to keep my son in the nursery that night as I needed to get some sleep after the arduous birth process. While in the nursery, my son was fed with a bottle. This was mistake number one. I was not aware that I could have asked the nurse to feed my soon with a sippy cup or syringe to avoid any issues related to nipple confusion.I had heard about “nipple confusion” but the term sounded to funny to be true.

The following day my son was brought to me in the morning and I tried to breastfeed him again and he just wouldn’t latch on. I was confused and called for the “lactation consultant” (yes nowadays they have experts for everything). She came by and tried to help me with the latch and eventually my son did latch on. However, this time it reminded me of an entirely different, but equally famous, quote:

Holy @#$%%%%!!!!!!!!

His latch was all wrong and it hurt like crazy- what went wrong in a day? Why wasn’t it as easy as it looked in baby books- mothers with their glowing skin and perfect hair smiling fondly at their sweet babies suckling contently. In retrospect, maybe the glowing skin and perfect hair should have tipped me off.

Apparently, it is common for babies to suffer from “nipple confusion” if they are not exclusively breastfed in the first few weeks of their lives. The way they suckle from a bottle is very different from the way they suckle from a breast so getting fed from a bottle early on in their lives throws them off.

The lactation consultant was a heaven sent. She had a wealth of information about breastfeeding positions, the most common ones being:

  • The football hold
  • The saddle hold
  • The cradle hold
  • The sideways, lying down hold

She introduced me to the miracle cushion- the boppy pillow which made some of the holds, mentioned above, a lot easier to implement. She also referred me to my local La Leche Leagu chapter for additional help.

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by all the resources available to new mothers who wanted to breastfeed. However I was a little taken aback by some of the condescension that I had to deal with, from the lactation consultant and the nurses, when I cribbed about how hard it was to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding is hard people. Let’s not pretend it is the most natural thing in the world. Not all women fit the perfect image portrayed in those baby books.

So bottom line: if you plan to breastfeed your baby and are a newbie at it, go to nursing classes. They might seem ridiculous at first but trust me, nursing is an acquired skill and there is a long  list of “what not to dos” which you can’t learn from just reading about breastfeeding. Also, your local La Leche League chapter can be a great resource to help with breastfeeding challenges.

Rest assured that it gets easier – it really does. And if anyone turns their nose at you when you vent about how hard it is to nurse, politely tell them to stop being unhelpful.

As for me, after my second day nursing my child my journey seemed a lot longer and riddled with hurdles than it had on the first day. I stared out of the window and yearned for better days and day dreamt of being one of those women with the shiny hair and contented babies.

 


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Contributed by Manic Mama

Manic Mama, is an urban mom balancing her career and her extremely hectic life as a new mother. She brings her honest, and hysterically funny, perspectives as a parent to Bright Babyhood. Her articles about the trials and tribulations of parenthood can be found at www.BrightBabyhood.com

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