February 15, 2013

on breastfeeding...

the third day.
— Eisley, three days old

I've wanted to write this post for a while now, but I could never find the words I was searching for. Also, I know that not everyone likes to read about these sorts of things. (And some people enjoy them in a way that I don't exactly appreciate, like the old man who tried to add the above photo to his creepy breastfeeding group on Flickr. Sir, you make me hate the internet.) But I guess that if you don't want to read about a subject like this, then feel free to move along. I just figure there are some new mothers or soon-to-be mothers that would be able to learn from my experience, so I'd like to share.

Now that I am no longer breastfeeding Eisley (after seventeen months, which is hard to believe!), I felt the need to at least write down a few things I learned throughout my own experience. For the past few months I'd actually started this post in my head, so now seems to be the perfect time to finally write all these thoughts down.

I never thought I'd be someone who feels so passionately about breastfeeding. I always knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I don't think you ever realize how much it changes your life until you have your first child and go through this wild transformation from woman to mother. Within moments, you realize that you are no longer just you—but, instead, there's this tiny little person who is completely and entirely reliant on you. Morning, noon, and night. You are all they need.

After Eisley was born, I knew I was going to breastfeed. My mom breastfed me when I was a baby, and it was always my desire to do the same. Although my heart was set on it, I halfway expected to come up against a bit of trouble at first, considering I rarely came across any stories where a woman says, "Oh, breastfeeding is easy peasy! No trouble at all. Instant pro." On the contrary, most people I spoke with or read about had some sort of trouble. I'm glad I was at least aware of that, because I know many women feel like something is wrong with them when they realize there is a bit of a learning curve to the whole thing. It's the most natural thing in the world, sure, but it certainly didn't feel like it for me.

The hospital I had Eisley at was very pro-breastfeeding, which I appreciated. It meant that during the few days I spent there, I had more than my share of nurses and lactation consultants all up in my business. I'd say I'm generally a modest person, but it's a little ridiculous how quickly that went out the window when I was trying to figure out how to breastfeed Eisley. Pretty much any nurse who came in would try to help me throughout the day, and I left that hospital with more people seeing "the ladies" than I'd ever thought possible. Still, I appreciated the help and feedback and encouragement. I remember how awkward it was in the beginning, trying to figure out how to hold this little six-pound baby and do everything correctly.

Hold her like this. Move this way. Lift her head at just the right moment. Her mouth needs to look like this. Latch! Latch! Latch!

Despite all the help I received at the hospital, I didn't leave feeling confident in my abilities. It was a tough beginning, for sure.

Long story short (and to spare you all the specific details), it took me about six weeks to get the hang of it all. Six long weeks. In new-mama time, that felt like a year and a half. (Especially in the beginning, when you're feeding your newborn nearly every 3 hours!) Eisley had issues latching and I ended up having to use these little shields until she figured out how to latch properly. Anyone who has used them will tell you how inconvenient and annoying they are. Helpful, yes. But also just another thing you have to worry about keeping track of and washing and figuring out how to inconspicuously put on beneath a nursing cover while standing up in a museum bathroom trying to breastfeed a screaming three-week-old baby. (Yes, that happened. Why don't all womens' bathrooms have places to sit, anyway? Nursing mothers do not approve.)

After she was a month old, she would still have screaming fits after eating and couldn't latch without the shields—no matter how hard I tried. I was having so much trouble that I made an appointment with a lactation consultant at the breastfeeding center affiliated with the hospital where I had Eisley. An appointment I had to cancel after learning it wasn't covered by my insurance, and it would cost $90. Um, hi? That is ridiculous. I get very bitter when I think about how much breastfeeding is encouraged by doctors, yet if a new mom needs help from a breastfeeding center, she has to pay such a high out-of-pocket cost. Sure, I could have attended a La Leche League meeting, but at that point in the game I was so intimidated and frustrated and overwhelmed, and the last thing I wanted to do was drive somewhere I'd never been to meet a bunch of people I'd never met.

I ended up sobbing to myself one night, watching YouTube videos on latching (INSTANT REGRET AHHHH) and wondering what my life had come to.

I was so exhausted and frustrated, but I kept going. And one day, determined to figure it out on my own, I threw the shields into the back of a drawer and (kindly) forced Eisley to nurse without them. And what do you know? It worked. I don't remember how old she was at this point, but I want to say it was somewhere between six and eight weeks. And after that, I finally got it. It was magic. For the first time, it actually felt natural and easy and every bit the calm, bonding experience I was hoping for.

I ended up nursing Eisley until she was seventeen months old. (She got her first cold and couldn't breathe through her nose—therefore, we ended up unintentionally weaning her.) At that point, we were only nursing before her nap, before bedtime, and once at night. But I was, and am, grateful for that time I had, and for the experience. I in no way look down on mothers who choose to give their babies formula (every mother does what she feels is best), but I'm very pro-breastfeeding. And wish there was more education and understanding and less judgement and shame when it comes to these sorts of things.

I feel the need to admit that at one point in my life, I was one of those people who judged mothers who nursed in public. At least a little bit. And I also may or may not have rolled my eyes when people talked about extended breastfeeding. But now that I'm at the been-there-done-that point in the game, I thought I'd share a few things that I've learned and wished I had been aware of before being all judgy and ridiculous.

To people who say, "UGH, just give your kid a bottle!": Eisley took a bottle at the beginning, but after a few months she straight up refused. Yes, there are kids who refuse milk unless it's from the source, so to speak. And sometimes nursing mamas need to get out for more than 3 hours at a time to avoid becoming crazy hermit ladies. A bottle isn't always an option in these situations, so we do what we have to do.

To people who say, "Stop breastfeeding in public already! I don't need to see that!": I think it's a shame that our culture all but celebrates nudity, yet when it comes to a woman using her breasts for something other than something sexual, then it's all like PUT THOSE AWAY, LADY. And although there are women who breastfeed in public just to "take a stand" (which I don't necessarily agree with, because I don't think that is the right way to create understanding and awareness), you should also keep in mind that there are mothers who aren't out to make a point by breastfeeding in public. It's just something they have to do. Do you think I wanted to breastfeed on an airplane, or at Disneyland, or at brunch, or at a stranger's house? No, I didn't. But I did, because I had to. On that same note, because I understand not everyone needs to take a gander at my boobs, I was always sure to use a cover when breastfeeding in public. I think it is respectful, and not too much to ask. (Although, it's only fair to note I've heard from some mothers who have babies that refuse to nurse under any sort of cover. So, again, you do what you have to do!)

To people who say, "You shouldn't breastfeed your kid once they can walk or talk or have teeth; that's gross!": It's not as big of a deal as you think. I think I would have continued to breastfeed Eisley until she was 2 if she hadn't stopped before then. It was only a few times a day, and it was always at home before she went to sleep. No, she didn't need to breastfeed after she started eating real food at each meal, but it's not just about nutrition. It's hard to explain until you have a child of your own, but it doesn't feel as unnatural as much of our culture makes it seem like it should. At this point, I also must ask, "Why does it matter to you?" I mean, if it doesn't involve you, and someone isn't forcing you to nurse your 2 year old or watch them nurse theirs, why does it matter?

This is getting incredibly long-winded, but I have to share one specific story:

When Eisley was about four months old, we went to Disneyland with her for the first time. (We live close to the park and Jay used to work there—no, we didn't plan some big theme park vacation with a child that young!) That evening, Eisley needed to eat and we were far away from the nursing station. (Disney is the best. They have a designated place nursing mothers can go to sit comfortably and in private. So fantastic!) She was crying and we didn't want to have to walk a mile just to nurse in private, so I decided to feed her outside. I did my best to find a fairly quiet and unpopulated corner, settled in on a bench completely out of the way, threw on the nursing cover, and fed my daughter.

Two women were walking by, headed to a restaurant near where I was sitting, and one of the women caught my eye, gave a quick thumbs-up and mouthed, "Good job!" I tear up every time I think about that moment, because what that woman did was accept, encourage and validate me in the best way possible at that time in my life. I wonder if she knows how much of an impact she had on me, because after that night I stopped thinking I needed to go hide in the corner to avoid unintentionally offending someone. I was doing everything I could to be courteous to onlookers (and eye-rollers), but also wasn't going to deny my child what she needed, despite the circumstances.

When it comes down to it, breastfeeding is a very personal thing, but also something that I feel needs to be talked about more—and understood more. I guess that's why I wanted to take the time to share a bit of my story, because every woman's experience is unique. I'm grateful for (and proud of) the year and a half I breastfed Eisley, and I'm also grateful for the new perspective it gave me.

If you are a new mama and ever need someone to commiserate with (or vent to) about breastfeeding, please reach out to someone who has been there! There were many days that a bit of encouragement from friends (both online and off) was all that kept me going and kept my spirits up until things got better. If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me (or tweet!), and I'd love to lend any advice I may have!

Further reading: Eisley's Birth Story

29 comments :

  1. This was nice. I almost teared up at the end. Not a mama...and not trying to be one ANY time soon, but still. This was nice. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I have nursed both of my girls and one is still nursing. She is 6 months old. I usually don't care but about a month ago I had to nurse her at Olive Garden and I happened to glance over and saw a man say to his wife, "She is feeding her baby over there in public." I couldn't believe it. I felt like saying, "Sir, can you please go and eat your dinner in private if that is what you expect my baby to do?" I had a blanket over her. Still makes me feel self conscience about it. After reading this I am feeling more empowered and could give a hoot (pun intended) what people think! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Yay yay yay! I love this post.

    Gabe nursed till he was almost two (though it would be once every day or so by then - it was the sloooowest weaning known to man. Which was probably good because there was no plummeting hormones.

    "It's hard to explain until you have a child of your own, but it doesn't feel as unnatural as much of our culture makes it seem like it should." EXACTLY. SO well said. I think Gabe's post-age-one nursing was actually my favorite.

    It was such a sweet, special time. I almost want to have another baby JUST because of the nursing part. Sibling, schmibling! ;) Gabe still thinks boobs are just for milk. I wonder how long I keep him that way. Ha.

    Support makes all the difference. Glad you wrote this!

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  4. First, I love the rosettes in the header! You always have the cutest designs.

    Second, I was a bit surprised/confused at first to realize that this was a semi-defensive PRO-breastfeeding post. Because most judging I hear about goes in the opposite direction: people being upset/disgusted/disappointed about women who DON'T breastfeed. Which then makes the non-breastfeeding mothers feel like monsters who don't deserve children.

    But after reading on, I get it, and you're totally right that there's judgment in this direction too. (Women just can't win, can they?) I've definitely seen/heard people make snide remarks about a woman who is breastfeeding in a public space. I've mostly just shrugged them off as ignorant jerks, but perhaps next time I'll go out of my way to say something, on behalf of women and children everywhere. :)

    "At this point, I also must ask, "Why does it matter to you?" I mean, if it doesn't involve you, and someone isn't forcing you ... why does it matter?"

    Great question that could be asked of most "controversial" social/political issues.

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  5. BRAVO! Lovely! Wonderful! Beautiful! All things warm and fuzzy! Like you, I never thought I would be so PRO-breastfeeding. I actually was not breastfed as a child, and knew I wanted to when the time came. I nursed my son until he was 16 months old. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story, which seems very parallel to mine as well.

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  6. Thank you for telling your story. I find it somewhat shocking that North America "generally" has this weird stigma about breastfeeding. My child right now is one of those babies who will NOT breastfeed with any sort of cover. I usually find people either look away or smile at me and say how cute it is. And it is very unfortunate how many restrooms have no seating, but I suppose it doesn't matter too much….

    Again, thank you for writing your story, I suppose one day I'll have to write my own ;)

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  7. Congratulations on 17 months of nursing!

    I was nervous coming to LA (from Canada) after hearing about the issues women have had nursing in public. Thankfully, I've had no issues. I just wish that there were more breastfeeding stores/groups/etc. At home, there is a free clinic everyday of the week with a certified LC (if needed), breastfeeding meet-ups, etc.

    I don't cover up most of the time because you can't see much when I use a nursing top and my 6 month old just pulls at the cover anyways. Plus, I don't don't expect people to eat with a blanket over their head...same goes for my baby.

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  8. Kerri, thanks for sharing this! I'm not a mom yet. So probably I don't understand all the aspects of breast feeding. (And I'm not pretending to, trust me). But what I felt after reading this post is that the constant judgemental society can have so much influence in a person's life! Women are torn down in so many ways; and this seems like just another way to make you feel bad about yourself. It's just wrong! I hope for you and every mom out there have the courage to deflect all these negativity and do your best. I'm happy that you also got to experience some positivity from people.

    BTW, love the new header! Best wishes.

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  9. Thank you for writing this. I think it will help so many new moms. I wish I knew this is how it could be when I tried bf'ing. There really needs to be more outspoken, open support.

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  10. Such a great post, Kerri!
    I struggled a lot the first weeks of breastfeeding and definitely cried myself to sleep at least once over feeling like I just couldn't do it. Man, I wish there were more resources explaining that those first few weeks might suck even if you're doing everything right.
    Also, I was definitely one of those people who thought women who breastfed longer than a year were weird, even after I had my first child! I didn't successfully breastfeed my first born, but really wished to be able to with my second. Now that I'm 4 months into breastfeeding my second born, I *completely* get it now. I never want to stop! Of course we'll both outgrow it eventually, but I'm in no rush to wean him off before we are both ready. It's not like he'll go to college still breastfeeding. ;)

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  11. Loved this post! Nursing my little one was SO HARD the first two months. He refused to eat for the first five days, then he had thrush, which meant I had thrush, which meant we both CONSTANTLY had thrush, and then he had HORRID acide reflux... ay yi yi. The first two months were torture. But I was DETERMINED. And we succeeded! And I was so proud of both of us because man, was it work. He self-weaned at 11-months and I had a hard time but was glad that I wasn't the one that cut him off. I let him go at his own pace and choose when he was ready to be independent. I'm lucky he bottle fed (although those six months of pumping in my classroom I would like to forget forever) but we had no problem going back and forth from bottle to breast so it was a blessing since I had to work and I wanted to continue to breastfeed.

    I'm so excited to get to experience breastfeeding all over again with this next one. I hope the beginning is a better experience, but I know that even if it isn't I'll work just as hard as I did with Swee'Pea to make it work. I'm hoping this one goes a little longer... mostly because I just so enjoyed those sweet moments just the two of us! :) Glad it ended up being such a good experience for you in the end! I wish it could be like that for all women because it truly is such a wonderful and amazing gift to your child.

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  12. I've been reading you for a long long time but I don't think I've ever commented before. This couldn't have come at a better time. I'm due to have my baby girl in three weeks and i'm nervous about getting the hang of breastfeeding. Yet i'm so determined to do it. I loved reading this.

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  13. I totally teared up when I got to the part about the woman at Disneyland. I know exactly how you felt. There's such a stigma about it and it really sucks. My daughter will be a year old on the 27th and we have exclusively breastfed the entire time never a bottle and it was tough there in the beginning for sure. I too would like to continue until she's two if she's interested because it is such an amazing thing we share, ya know now that it doesn't 'suck' so bad. Those nipple shields were a godsend for us too for about 6 weeks I'd say. ;) Congrats on the 17 month breastfeeding relationship and great post!

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  14. Eli nursed until he was about 13 months. At that point he was just over it and lost interest. We'd sit down to nurse and he'd be trying to launch himself headfirst over the arm of the rocking chair, so it was time to stop. I was really worried that weaning him would be hard, but he did it himself when he was ready. I'm so happy breastfeeding worked for us. It was something I was indifferent about before he was born, and was not expecting to be so passionate about once he got here! Congrats on 17 months!

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    1. I think it's definitely a bit of a blessing when a child decides to self-wean! I, too, worried that we would be up against a lot down the road, since I continued to breastfeed Eisley before naps and bedtime. But I guess there's just no knowing how things will turn out! I'm glad my worry didn't affect my decision to continue to breastfeed, because now I know I would have missed out on a lot of wonderful moments with Eisley.

      Congrats on 13 months with mister Eli! You're such a wonderful mama. :)

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  15. This was so well written and so spot on - this section in particular:

    At this point, I also must ask, "Why does it matter to you?" I mean, if it doesn't involve you, and someone isn't forcing you to nurse your 2 year old or watch them nurse theirs, why does it matter?

    I have always felt this way but have never been eloquent enough to put it into words - thank YOU for being able to do so!

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  16. My daughter is almost 2, and she still nurses once or twice a day. I wish I had been more prepared for breastfeeding at the beginning. We also used a nipple shield for 6 weeks, but it was because an IBCLC told me we had to. When my daughter struggled with gaining weight, I did some research and discovered that the nipple shield was causing the problem, so like you, I ditched it cold turkey, and then we were fine.

    Now I point every soon-to-be-mom to a couple of websites that really helped me, so that they can hopefully avoid the problems we had. If I had been more informed, I would have realized the IBCLC was wrong. [IBCLC's are amazing, but in this particular case, one lead me astray.]

    The more I read about breastfeeding, the more I realized it wasn't so weird to breastfeed for 2 or more years. I never had a plan to breastfeed for this long, it just sort of happened, and I have no problem telling people, because I want them to know that it's

    I'm glad you shared your story. Women need to know that breastfeeding can be tough and frustrating at first, but with the right support and information, you can overcome the challenges and breastfeeding can be successful!

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  17. I had to use a nipple shield with two of my three boys because they were lousy latchers! Only one of my kids has been an easy transition into breastfeeling. Hoping baby boy #4 will be better adjusted! Thank you for sharing your story, it was so encouraging to read.

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  18. This brought a tear to my eye at the end. Thank you for sharing your story! I agree- there is no reason why we should continue to let breastfeeding be a taboo subject.

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  19. This was such a beautiful post! My little guy is due to arrive in May, and I am hoping to breastfeed. After reading so many toe-curling stories about how impossible it is, it is entirely encouraging to read that it is possible, and it is hard, and it is lovely.

    Thank you!

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    1. You're welcome, and thank you for the sweet comment! Be sure to touch base with me if you find yourself in need of a cheerleader in May. :) Enjoy the rest of your pregnancy!

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  20. I'm a bit teary-eyed now. You make me want to go back 6 years and 4 months and try harder. I tried for 4 weeks with my daughter but we just couldn't get it to work. I applaud you for your strength to stick with it.

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  21. I agree- this is great to read. It makes me sad that there's such a stigma around breastfeeding in public though- here (in England) I've frequently fed in public, without a cover, and have never been aware of offending anyone. A lot of the time people didn't even realise I was feeding Phoebe, and thought she was just asleep on me! She's now one and I'm wondering about giving her cow's milk, but not sure that I want to... breastfeeding is the way we're made to provide for our babies, and that's beautiful.

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    1. If it's one thing I've learned, it's that the US is so ridiculously behind in its acceptance of public breastfeeding. It's the weirdest thing, how mamas are expected to breastfeed, yet many people in the public shudder at the thought of seeing a woman actually doing it. It's all a matter of ignorance, I think. And also the fact that our culture equates breasts to sex.

      I say if you feel fine continuing to breastfeed Phoebe past the age of one, then do what you feel is right! I started giving Eisley cows milk (whole) in sippy cups with her meals after she was one, just so she could get used to the taste. But she still got most of her "liquid" nutrition via breastmilk until she was a little bit older.

      In any case, I agree with you that breastfeeding is pretty amazing and beautiful. That we alone are able to feed our babies is incredible. :)

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  22. Oh, Kerri, yet again I can relate to every word. This is a beautiful post and so well written. You captured so many of my feelings toward breastfeeding including many surprise feelings I didn't know I would have either! It does, so often, feel like you are in it alone even with support from your spouse or friends. Thank you for this!

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  23. Yay! I plan to share my own experience once Meredith weans, and I'm sure I'll have a lot of the same comments. Love it. Were you sad though, when you finally quit? Or was it no big deal? (I'm scared of the feeeelings.)

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    1. You know, it actually hasn't been very emotional for me (which I found very surprising, considering I'm ridiculously emotional!). Actually, the most annoying part was gaining weight right after weaning…I guess I didn't realize how many calories I was still burning. Darn it all. ;)

      As far as every other aspect, it's actually felt nice to not be the only one able to comfort her before putting her to sleep, or during the night. (And she started sleeping through the night right after weaning…hallelujah!) She seems like such a big girl now, though, since she doesn't nurse.

      And as thankful as I am to not be breastfeeding any more, I am a little jealous of mamas who still are, and kind of can't wait for when I am able to nurse another little one. Crazy, right? :)

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  24. oh nursing at disneyland...i remember that!

    nursing is such a labor of love. my 1st quit at 9 months(rude!) whereas my 4th made it to 2 years. and i did that at home because i was slightly afraid that all the social peeps would make fun of me for nursing so long. i wish i was more confident at the time, but girls my age made me feel like i was such a freak of nature for doing it so long. so i hid. bah!

    your sentiments match mine exactly. well written!

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  25. Such a great post - went through a hard time like you to get started and only finally cracked it at about 2-3 months.

    Would absolutely love for you to link up the post at the Baby Shower a linky party for all things pregnancy and new baby, Alice x

    http://mumsmakelists.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/The%20Friday%20Baby%20Shower

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