So much to write about and not enough time, even though I am at home full time with the baby. This piece is being written with the gentle whirr of the swing in motion and Baby Mozart in the background, what has recently become our go to for nap times. Amazing how that 28 minute DVD actually works, but more on that another time.
I’ve now been exclusively breastfeeding Luna for nearly 10 weeks, from the moment she was born. Apart from the 5 minute meeting with the lactation consultant on duty at the hospital and a 2 minute discussion with one of the nurses I have done this all alone, with advice from a few friends in California and the unwavering support of my boyfriend. I think the worst weeks are finally over (touch wood, you never know), and we are finally getting the hang of it. I’m still being woken up every 2-3 hours at night but I know at some point that is going to get better. In the meantime I am not working so I can nap at other times to stop myself from going completely insane. Luna has thrived from day 1, despite our latching issues and the pain that that caused me. Granted we probably could have fixed things sooner by consulting another lactation consultant or going to a La Leche League meeting, but I could barely leave the house during the first 4 weeks, and I was insistent that was going to make this work and that it was all going to be fine. And if I say so myself, I have to applaud my stubbornness because my daughter now weighs 13lbs (at 2 months), when she was born at 7 lbs 13 oz. She’s healthy, happy and growing very fast, hitting all the milestones and showing alertness and an ability to resist sleeping for as long as she can. I mean, really, what can be better than feeding your child the food that your body is creating for him or her?
Just to preface the following, this is not a post about how everyone should breastfeed or about how it is better than formula feeding. It’s up to every parent to choose what works for them and I completely respect that. For myself there really was no choice, I was brought up breastfed and surrounded by people who breastfed their children. My close friends who have children have all breastfed them, so to me it was the most normal thing in the world. Formula was really the second option. Keep in mind that I grew up in Europe, but assumed it would be the same in the US. I was a little bit confused when I started doing my research during pregnancy and most websites and books tell you to write a birth plan and if you plan on breastfeeding to make sure you let everyone know before you deliver. And if you plan on exclusively breastfeeding to make sure the nurses knew so that no one would feed your child except for you. It made me wonder why it was so important to state this, but I thought that it was a “just in case” thing. Then my doctor warned me about how nurses often feed babies formula in the hospital to make sure they sleep in the nursery. OK, warning taken into account. I made sure everyone knew that I was planning on exclusively breastfeeding. Even though one of my friends did try to warn me that it wasn’t always possible and to not be disappointed with myself if it wasn’t there was no way on earth I was not going to be able to breastfeed. I’m not a Taurus for nothing: we succeed in what we set our minds on doing!!
Fast forward to the delivery room. I was not given the option for skin to skin contact immediately after birth, even though it was in my birth plan. The nurses whisked Luna over to the table to do all the tests. Fine. There were three doctors around me and at least C got to hold Luna until they needed to take her to get cleaned up and for all the other additional tests (I did get a couple of minutes but she was already swaddled up). When she was finally brought into my room a few hours later she was fast asleep. I didn’t want to try to feed her until she was awake. Anyway, she had a big Exclusively Breastfed sign on her bassinet and the lactation consultant came in and talked to me for 5 minutes, as I had requested someone come to make sure that I was doing it right. It was later that night that the nurse tried to push me to supplement with formula to make her sleep. Excuse me? She had been nursing all day and all a baby needs for the first few days is the colostrum that we produce! Wait… Is my child REALLY hungry then?!
Wait a minute… I thought that the hospital was meant to promote breastfeeding?? That was one of the main reasons I actually agreed to deliver there! Not push first time mothers to formula feed their babies! Thankfully the hospital pediatrician reassured me that Luna was doing fine and to not give up. And obviously I didn’t. While we were going through all of our trials and tribulations of getting used to it (why does it hurt so much when all the books say it shouldn’t? Why is it so damn hard?? How will I know if she’s getting enough food?) I did a lot of research on the subject (I should obviously have done this before she was born, but I had no idea it was going to be such an issue). Guess what I found out? That more people formula feed their children in the US nowadays. Or at least breastfeed and supplement. And that there is a big movement to bring breastfeeding “back”. Wait, WHAT? So it went away?? How on earth did this happen? Children have been breastfed I assume since the dawn of times, and before the time of formula that was all you had! I know that nowadays there are many different sorts of formula and it is probably easier to feed your child that way (again, no judgment, whatever works for you and your child as long as your child is healthy), but for the main percentage of children to be formula fed bewilders me. I had a chat with my doctor at my post partum visit about this, as she congratulated me on still going strong. She mentioned that women didn’t get the support they should get and often gave up, starting off with supplementing as they were told that their supply wasn’t enough (although all they needed to do was nurse on demand and their supply would increase or decrease as needed), and once they started supplementing would often just give up on the breast feeding. Also, with maternity leaves being so short, many women couldn’t face the idea of pumping breast milk multiple times a day so would just go straight to formula. Also it takes dedication to be up every two hours to nurse your child during the first few weeks. And then there was the question of nursing in public.
I’ve nursed in public from the moment I left the house with Luna. If we are out for more than 2 hours I know that she is going to be hungry. Doctors office waiting room, subway car, mall, restaurant, park, street, even the back room of the bar I used to work in. If Luna is hungry I need to feed her. Sometimes with a cover, sometimes without, whatever is more comfortable. Mainly with, for my own peace of mind, as with many things in life I started out being a little self-conscious, not because I might show some boob in public, but more because I felt like we were already struggling with it and I didn’t want people thinking that I sucked at feeding my child. That was in the beginning, now it’s all good and I know that we are doing fine. And it’s also getting hot now, and summers in NYC are hot and sticky. If Luna gets annoyed because I’m covering her face with a cloth or a light blanket who can blame her. I don’t do that when we are at home! But ever since I have been doing it myself I haven’t noticed too many other women nursing in public. Even at the park. It’s not like I ever looked out for this, as I’ve said before it was never something I even thought about noticing, “OMG that woman is FEEDING her child in PUBLIC!!!!” But now I do. I don’t really mind what people may think, as feeding my child is more important than anyone’s thought on whether I should or should not do it in public, with or without a cover. It took a few weeks to get used to doing it though, and I can understand that it could be extremely daunting for people with a little less confidence or stubbornness than myself, as there are times when people stare or look at you strangely. Like the one time on the subway when a woman literally stared at me for the 20 minutes it took me to feed Luna. It was actually making me feel uncomfortable as I had no idea if she was actually sleeping with her eyes open or just openly staring at me, silently judging me. Well, it was that or let Luna scream the subway car down, so we all know what the better option was there.
Anyway, I was planning on writing a post on breastfeeding from day 1, but kept pushing it off, especially after things got much, much easier for me. With hindsight there are a lot of things I would advise to women that I didn’t do (sign up for WIC earlier as they have free lactation consultants on duty for anyone who needs help, go to La Leche League meetings before I gave birth etc), but I will definitely do it all again. I think my main concern was that I never felt like I was getting the support that I needed from professionals, even from the moment Luna was born. The lactation consultant spent less than 5 minutes with us and tried to help me by instructing me from afar. Honestly, the text message service the WIC lady had me sign up for has been more helpful than the consultant ever was. The first time we tried the nurse on duty just grabbed Luna’s head and latched her on and then left me to it. I requested the consultant come back the next day but she never did. Then there were the nurses who tried to push formula on me to “help the baby sleep”, and when I tried to explain that I was breastfeeding lifting their eyebrows and telling me she was hungry… There was the head pediatrician who I saw on the last morning before we were discharged who said she was doing fine and not to listen to people. Then Luna’s pediatrician, who I actually really like and who is otherwise really good, telling me that it’s OK to supplement a few times a day. But why? And then telling me at Luna’s 2 month visit that it would be fine to add rice cereal to her milk so that she sleeps through the night. I reminded her that I was breastfeeding and made it clear that my daughter would not be eating solids until she was at least 6 months old, and even then I would only slowly be introducing them. Yes, I could take the easy road and fill her up so much that all she can do is sleep, but I honestly think that a few months of waking up every 2 hours to breastfeed to ensure what I feel is the best nutrition a mother can give a child outweighs the effects of sleep deprivation. I mean I could be napping right now, but I feel so strongly about the subject that I am writing about it instead of catching up on sleep!
I actually haven’t spoken about breastfeeding to many of my friends with kids, only a few who have either been a great help to me in persevering, or others who have been there to commiserate as they were going through the same issues as me. And then just last week one of my friends posted an excellent blog article on Facebook that opened my eyes to a lot of things. It wasn’t the article per se that opened my eyes, but the sheer amount of comments that were made on it. As I commented on it myself I was subsequently subscribed to all future comments and I couldn’t believe some of the things I was actually reading! I know that I should have unsubscribed after a while, because it was making my blood boil, but I found myself addicted to reading all these different opinions, and getting more of a broader view on why women were not so hot about nursing in public.
The article in question was written by Annie Reneau and is called What’s So Hard About Covering Up to Breastfeed in Public? Annie basically wrote an essay explaining why it may be hard to cover up while breastfeeding and why it shouldn’t be such issue. A very informative and realistic article. The hundreds of comments that appeared (and keep getting posted even though the article was initially written in 2013) ranged from the agreeing, the supporting and the thankful, via the I understand but can’t agree on this for myself to the outraged and the angry. Some of the latter were so incredulous that they actually would make me laugh if there were only one person thinking that way. Sadly there are apparently many many people who think that women who don’t cover up while breastfeeding are creating an uncomfortable environment for everyone around them and should go and hide in a corner until they are done. One person actually said that if one were inept at covering up then one should not be a mother (ever tried latching on a squirming and thrashing kid while simultaneously keeping a cover over you in 80 degree weather?). Or that not covering up was making someone’s 14 year old stare because he was seeing boobs and it wasn’t healthy. Hmm, if ANYONE is staring at a breastfeeding mother with sexual intent then I think that the problem lays with them, not the nursing mother. Anyway, you can read all of that and make up your own opinion about it all yourself. I’m not going to rehash what has already been said. I just feel that now I understand much more why breastfeeding has become such a debated subject… With the support not always there for first time mothers coupled with the image that women need to be modest when it comes to feeding their child (when paradoxically the media bombards us with boobs all the time),it must be hard to feel comfortable when out and about and you need to sit down and nurse. And that is sad because it’s easy to be discouraged and give up. On one of the baby message boards that I am on the topic of nursing in public often comes up and sadly many of the women say that they either bring a bottle of formula with them if they go out, or pump their own milk and bottle feed it to their child to avoid having to nurse. And no, I will never be the type of person who feels comfortable being half naked in public but I will not let anyone make me feel bad for feeding my child when she is hungry. Wherever I may be.
It was really refreshing to go into the WIC offices here in Flushing today and to be congratulated and supported for breastfeeding my child. Those ladies sure know how to make a first time mother feel good! And it makes me happy to know that my daughter is thriving, no matter how hard it was the first month. And it’s true what they say – it DOES get easier. And fortunately (or unfortunately?) like with everything else related to pregnancy and childbirth the difficulties become glazed over and rosy and not-so-bad-afterall…
To finish of this rambling essay of personal thoughts I came across some worldwide breastfeeding information on this website, In Culture Parent (the whole website has some really cool information if you are raising a multicultural child, and even if you aren’t). The statistics are quite shocking… While the World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of life, only 33% of infants under 3 months are exclusively breastfed in the US. In Peru this percentage is 69%! All sources are listed in the website. It’s quite sad really, when you think that many mothers and children miss out on the bonding because there is such a push to promote formula in hospitals and doctors’ offices. After seeing these statistics and comparing them to other countries I now understand this movement to “bring breastfeeding back”. I guess it had really gone away! And no, I’m not going to become a militant breastfeeding mum, telling everyone what they should do, but I do think there should be more real support to help those who would like to exclusively breastfeed, even for a short while.