Sunday, October 25, 2009

AP Principle #2: What I wish I'd known when I started breastfeeding

Welcome to the October Carnival of Breastfeeding: What I wish I'd known then. This post is also a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of Attachment Parenting Month, October 2009. This article focuses on the second principle of attachment parenting: Feed with Love and Respect (Breastfeeding).

This month in the breastfeeding carnival we're discussing what we wish we'd known when we began nursing. Be sure to check out the links at the end for the other participants' amazing posts!


This month's carnival is on "What I wish I'd known then," and I struggled to think of a nifty, finite piece of breastfeeding advice to pass along, like "Your milk letting down will feel a little like electricity, but don't be scared," or "Cloth nursing pads work better than disposables," or, "Breastfeeding lying down is a life-saver," or "Always nurse from the left side if it's a full moon." (All right, that last one isn't true, but the first three are!)

But instead my mind kept going back to nursing my newborn and what I most wish I'd known then, and it's one, big, scary, hairy, emotional bundle. I've been trying to distill down what I'd say to the me I was then, and I think in its purest essence my message from the future to my past self is: Trust yourself.

I'd done so much research on breastfeeding before giving birth. I'd gone to the sites, I'd checked out books, I'd talked with my midwives, I'd surreptitiously peeked at other nursing mothers. I knew that, in the hospital, a lot of women intending to breastfeed end up going home with formula samples and having supplements pushed on their baby by well-meaning but ill-informed nurses. But that wouldn't be me, I reasoned, because I was having a home birth.

Only, we transferred to the hospital after 39 hours of seemingly unproductive labor (there's another post for another day, with the same general conclusion), and I ended up at what was purportedly a breastfeeding-friendly hospital, in that there's no routine policy of giving new mothers formula, and all the nurses did seem to have a thing or thirteen to say about breastfeeding. Boy, did they! All the information was overwhelming, and my sense of wanting to please those in authority kicked into overdrive, despite my attempts to remind myself that I was a thirty-one-year-old woman and my child's mother. No one could boss me around...but I let them.

I got contradictory breastfeeding advice; I was told things I knew flat-out were untrue old wives' tales (e.g., no spicy food while breastfeeding); no matter how I was breastfeeding, whenever a nurse came in, she would invariably wrench my breast some other way and reposition the baby and tell me I was doing it wrong — then the next nurse would jerk me back the way I'd been to begin with.

But the worst was that one nurse convinced me that Mikko needed formula supplementation, just "to be sure he could eat." Huh? I don't even understand it now, but with my hormone-flooded, sleep-deprived, new-mama brain then, and despite my reservations and, really, a sense of horror to see a bottle of formula approaching my child's sweet newborn mouth, I figured the nurse must know what she was talking about. I've moaned about the results before, but basically it led to a week of breastfeeding obnoxiousness, where Sam & I had to supplement and pump, just to keep Mikko happy.

My midwife, the voice of reason, came to visit us at home the day after we were released and set us straight. It was fine. Everything was fine. My milk had come in (oh, that's why my breasts are so tremendously hard and tremendously tremendous!), Mikko was learning to latch on, and we could wean him off the supplemental feeding to concentrate on just.plain.breastfeeding. It still took several more days, but we did. I just wish we'd never started down that road in the first place.

If I could go back in time, I would be the advocate for my tired, timid self and tell the pushy nurses to back off. I would remind them that my breasts are part of my body and to treat them, and my baby, with respect. Since the me in the past was sore and bleeding and unsure and not wanting to leave the hospital bed to get into a fight, I would do the walking and defending for me by gently removing the formula from the pushiest nurse's hands and oh-so-sweetly dropping it into the wastebasket, and then asking her to leave and stop undermining my breastfeeding progress. I would remind everyone around me, including myself, that, no, that beautiful, sweet, yellow colostrum is not a raging fountain, but that's OK. It's supposed to be a trickle. Let it be. I would remind everyone that it's entirely normal for babies to lose a little weight in their first week or so, and just to chill unless there was clearly a medical problem. I would remind everyone that sometimes babies cry, even if they're well fed, and particularly if they've just emerged from a tight, warm, wet cocoon into the harsh, bright world of a hospital room, and that it doesn't mean that something's nutritionally wrong.

I might have been a first-time mother who had never held that young a baby before, who had never breastfed in her life before, but I knew the right things, and I knew whom to ask if I needed help. What I didn't know was how to hold firm when all the authorities around me were eroding my faith in my own judgment and sense.

All I can do is hope that next time will be better for me, and that maybe by saying it enough times here, the first time or the next time will be better for you, too.

Trust yourself. You're the mother. Trust yourself.


Please read the excellent posts from our other carnival participants:

Massachusetts Friends of Midwives: "What I Wish I'd Known Back Then About Breastfeeding"
Lucy & Ethel Have a Baby: "If I'd Known Then..."
The Starr Family Blog: "I wish I would've known!"
Momma's Angel: "What I Wish I'd Known Then — My List for Next Time"
Breastfeeding Moms Unite!: "You Don’t Have to Grin and Bear It"
Birth Activist: "What I Wish I Would Have Known About Breastfeeding"
Three Girl Pile-Up: "4 things I wish I’d known about breastfeeding"
Happy Bambino: "I wish I had known then…that it wasn’t up to me alone"
My World Edenwild: "What I Wish I'd Known Then: A Poem"
The Milk Mama: "When breastfeeding begins badly, and what I should have done about it"
Fancy Pancakes: "Breastfeeding: Wish I'd Heard More Good Things!"
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: "Swine flu ate my carnival post." :( Go wish Tanya a quick recovery.
Breastfeeding Mums: "15 Breastfeeding Facts I Wish I'd Known as a First Time Breastfeeding Mum"
Fighting Off Frumpy: "When Breastfeeding Feels Wrong"
Cave Mother: "Nursing Wisdom"
Breastfeeding 1-2-3: "Trust Yourself and Your Body"
Blacktating: "Breastfeeding is life changing"
Mum Unplugged: "Breastfeeding: What I wish I’d known then"

Photo courtesy manueb on flickr (cc)


amy friend said...

Excellent post and links! It's frustrating that despite our awareness and education, "authority" can override our best interests and intentions. I won't share my hospital experience - too maddening - but I did experience the all too familiar formula push. There was, however, one angel of a nurse that appeared one know how hallucinations can kick in after 5 days of no sleep.....and completely reminded me that I could do it.

Melodie said...

Right on. Your inner queen sounds a lot like this: Just know that if you ever do have another baby at a hospital you will be able to say those things. And if you don't you are giving a lot of upcoming moms the strength to say it in your place.

Rebekah said...

Loved reading this! It reminds me of my thoughts when I was pregnant with my first in '05. One of the books I got was mostly kind of hokey to me but gave me the image of the tiger defending herself and her baby. It's amazing the strength we have that can get so easily undermined.

Cave Mother said...

It is quite terrifying to learn just how little some medical professionals know about breastfeeding. Just the other day, my SIL was told by a doctor to stop nursing her ill baby until it was better. Doesn't it make you want to scream? At least things worked out OK for you in the end, and you came out a stronger person.

Kristine said...

Ugh. My heart aches for you and me and all the other moms who are SO at the mercy of people we don't even know after we give birth.
I am still astonished at how many strangers (in medical gear) want to come along and just SCREW STUFF UP.
One theme I see is that we ALL have regrets about birth and early breastfeeding- I didn't blog about my BF regrets (I did in an earlier draft) because they are, like you said, all jumbled in that haze of the difficult first oh, 12 hours after the birth (mine also did not go the way I hoped, and I also try not to dwell on that, bc ultimately it was fine, just not ideal).
I'm glad we talk about these things though. My husband gets upset when I tell him what I regret about my early BF- not doing it more in the first 24-48 hours- but it still hurts me that I could have done a better job. Rather, I hurt for my baby, bc knowing how much we love BF now, I don't know why I didn't do it more then!
Can't change the past, just the future, and I'll do it differently with my next.

Claire said...

I loved this. In essence, it's the only advice any breastfeeding mother needs - it's so empowering to realise that even as a first-time, sleep deprived, inexperienced mama, you STILL know best!

Rita Templeton said...

If only I had read something like this before my oldest son was born four years ago! I was too quick to listen to everyone else's advice, even if it was conflicting, rather than listen to my own instincts. I'm sure that 3/4 (or more!) of the problems I've encountered stem directly from misinformation!

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