My breastfeeding goal was 2 years… minimally. I knew all the benefits of breastfeeding and was a staunch breastfeeding advocate at the time. I nursed my son to just weeks shy of that goal when he self weaned. I had no problems nursing him. I was basically a professional breastfeeder. Breastfeeding champion even.
I fell almost a full year and a half short of my breastfeeding goal with my daughter. I have a good excuse though.
Of course, a recent article in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that most women had good excuses.
Approximately 60% of mothers who stopped breastfeeding did so earlier than desired. Early termination was positively associated with mothers’ concerns regarding: (1) difficulties with lactation; (2) infant nutrition and weight; (3) illness or need to take medicine; and (4) the effort associated with pumping milk.
I was right there at number three.
I had an illness and I needed to take medication for about six weeks. That is a valid excuse.
Let’s go deeper though. That’s my just my excuse. Here’s my story.
I was in the hospital for a total of two weeks in the middle of my daughter’s first year. On my first night, I sobbed when my husband sent me a photo of my daughter using a bottle for the first time, but I was glad she took to it and did not go hungry. I pumped the entire time I was in the hospital. I turned cold as I dumped that milk down the drain every few hours, day after day. When I left the hospital, I had nearly a month left of my medication to take. I was determined to make it work. Pump and dump. Pump and dump. I just thought of my little nursling coming back to breastfeed when it was over and it got me through. My husband washed and dried my pumps for me to make sure it was as easy as possible. I even was blessed with donor milk for my daughter during the interim.
I did good. I did it all right. I did everything right.
After my last pill was good and gone from my system, I took my baby girl into my arms and began to nurse her. She turned away. I tried again. She gagged and screamed. She reached away. I tried again. I tried again and again. By this point, she just wanted the bottle. I tried again for a few feedings, but she wanted her bottle. I spent a few days (I really can’t recall how long, it felt like an eternity.) pumping to acclimate her back to my milk. Every time I tried to nurse her, she wanted her bottle. Then, one night, I was sitting at my desk pumping my milk while my daughter slept and I broke down. “I can’t do this.” I packed up my pump and I threw in the towel. I just wanted to feed my baby without the struggle.
I wasn’t lazy. I wasn’t ill-informed. I wasn’t selfish.
I was devastated. I was not prepared for her to reject my breast. I was crushed and decided I was a failure. I had held this prior belief that breastfeeding was easy and always would be. It’s not like I didn’t realize that women often had difficulties. I just didn’t believe I ever would. I was so arrogant. Then, when difficulties arose, I was so… so… Faustus.
I know better now. In addition to force-learning that anyone can have difficulties breastfeeding, I also now know that:
- Even if my milk dried up, I could have re-lactated a few months later when she was old enough to reason with.
- If I had maintained my calm after her initial rejections, she might have grown accustomed to it again. Dr. Sears even stated, “Breastfeeding can be thought of as a confidence game. While nursing your baby, visualize your milk flowing. Imagine your baby properly latching-on and enjoying your milk, and imagine yourself enjoying your ability to nourish your child.”
- If I had started with the bottle then switched to breast after a few minutes, she would have been more likely to take it.
- If I had offered my breast prior to any signs of hunger, she probably would have suckled.
- I could have gotten her re-acclimated to nursing if I had let her comfort nurse at night.
Why was I not told to seek a lactation consultant?
No one offered me a lactation consultant when I was being discharged or when I was finishing up my medication because I believed it was going to be easy. I’m sure I conveyed that clearly.
Why did I not think to seek a lactation consultant’s advice?
I didn’t think to seek a lactation consultant because I was emotionally crushed from my voided preconceptions that breastfeeding would always be easy.
I had adopted an either/or approach to feeding my child. I considered no other possibilities. To me, before, in my closed mind, it was one or the other.
Breast or bottle?
I wish that I had realized that, once difficulties arose, I didn’t have to answer right away and I didn’t have to choose just one.