There is nothing natural about breastfeeding for modern women, but this should not be an impediment for providing the best source of nutrition to our babies. Unlike my mother who grew up seeing her aunts and their friends breastfeeding, I never saw it. My friends who gave birth in the late 80s and 90s all bottle-fed. Having a Ph.D. in public health, I had a good deal of information on the benefits of breastfeeding, all of which were confirmed by my doctors and later the girls’ neonatologist and pediatrician. I was committed! Uh huh! Not! I wanted to breastfeed because I understood its benefits, but I had no idea how hard it would be to do, nor was I prepared for the physical pain it entailed or the labor intensity it required.
As my daughter would say, “Oh, come on?!” Ph.D. in public health and all, even I sometimes had a difficult time believing experts who make breastfeeding sound like a magic pill. You take it and BAM! You are less likely to be obese, develop type 2 diabetes, lower risk of asthma, Leukemia, ear infections, eczema, diarrhea and vomiting, lower respiratory infections, necrotizing enterocolitis, and SIDS to list the main ones. What mother would not want to stack the cards in favor of her child? Me actually, I really, really didn’t want to do it! But, I never let my self-interest, sometimes preservation, get in the way of my quest to be the best mother that I could be. So, I bit the bullet; what is one more bullet after all? And, so I breastfed my babies . . .
So, you stick the breast in the baby’s mouth, and she just starts sucking, right? Not on your life! I don’t want to hear about your amazing story where it all came together magically. Both the babies and I were completely lost. Thank God for the hospital “milk tyrants!” These ladies, not always nurses, would stop by my daughters’ NICU cribs and show me how to hold the baby and literally squeezed my breast into my baby’s mouth until I learned to do it myself. Sometimes they encouraged with kind words, but most times they simply told me to buck up and “just do it!”
It hurts like hell! The milk tyrants called it the “toe curl.” In other words, when the baby latches on correctly, it felt like an electric shock ran from my breast all the way to my toes, and they literally curled! My lovely milk tyrants would smile and nod knowingly. Yep, the baby and I were getting it right! I wanted to shove a bottle into the baby’s mouth and cut off my breasts!
I went through a Ph.D. program, and I’m here to tell you that breastfeeding my babies took as much determination as getting my degree. Every three hours on the dot, Baby A would demand to be nursed! No, not three hours from the time she finished her previous nursing, but three hours to the second of the time she had began nursing the time before! She would nurse for ten minutes on each breast, then I had to keep her upright for twenty minutes because she had acid reflux. Then it was on to Baby B who would not wake up. I would awake Baby B; she would nurse ten minutes on each breast, and then I bottle fed her while I hooked my breast to the Symphony Preemie Breastpump, which I considered my own personal torture machine! When it was all said and done, I was lucky if I got 45 minutes of sleep between feedings.
I was exhausted and continued to be exhausted for 16 months. I was trying to reach the experts’ ideal of nursing for 24 months! Didn’t quite make it but think I can still be proud of myself? What do you think?