By Heather Sobieralski, originally posted on OwningPink.com
When the supermodel Gisele made a statement this summer that it should be a law for all mothers to breastfeed their babies for six months, it got me thinking about my own experience with little ones at my breasts. I had very different feeding journeys with my two children. My second child latched on immediately. He made sweet suckling noises, stared into my eyes and paused his nursing only to smile at me. It was beautiful, natural and exactly how we are brainwashed that it should be. But it is amazing that I had tried a second time at all, as trying to feed my first child was at best, mechanical. I needed eight arms, 17 contraptions, tea bags for my nipples and a big box of tissues for my tears.
I was firm in my decision to at least try to breastfeed. I had read (just like every other anxious and overly informed first-time mother) that breast is best. So if I was going to be the best mom I could possibly be, I was going to try my hardest — despite infections, blood, puss, and completely losing my freedom, body and confidence, damn it!
Breastfeeding is NOT always so natural
I had a hell of a time right off the bat. My baby would suck my breasts like a high powered Hoover Vac for four seconds and pull off (nipple still attached in mouth) flailing, grunting and stretching me before releasing my injured nipple to let out the most unbearable scream as if to say,”YOUR MILK SUCKS, MOMMMMMMYYYY!!!” We tried this ritual every two hours on the dot for the next two days. I had nurses, lactation consultants and friends with “breasts made for feeding” come and try to help the situation. No luck.
My baby was so hungry in the hospital that all she did was cry — literally, that is all she did for two days. But the “good mother” that I was, I refused to give her formula or a bottle because all of my “handy books” said that bottles would result in nipple confusion — and we both seemed confused enough, thank you very much! The nurses talked me into taping a tiny tube to my breast down to my nipple which would run formula into my baby’s mouth, as she was “breast feeding”. Um, no luck there either — the only difference was that I got a belly button full of formula.
Before I left the hospital I was told I had “inverted nibbles, a slow let-down and a pre-mature baby who had poor sucking technique.” Good god, what do my boobs do right? The lactation consultants gave me a hand pump to stimulate “let-down” before I had even attempted to nurse. I was to wear plastic, cone shaped “nipple shields” under my bra 24 hours a day to try to pull my nibbles to task, and I was to feed this baby formula through a syringe or that small tube because after all, she was STARVING!
Looking back, it is not surprising that I cried, or that my husband frequently left the room, or that I stiffened my body and wanted to refuse my baby every time she let me know it was time to eat. My nipples were cracked, bleeding and actually had puss coming out of them. For the first 10-15 seconds of each feeding I was in excruciating pain. I was sent on my way to somehow feed this baby alone, at home (without the assistance of eight other hands and a team of professionals).
A natural, beautiful and bonding experience? Not for me! God knows I wanted it to be, but what I was living was far from how all of my “helpful mom books” described it!
Banned from nursing
We spent one night at home with our new baby before our pediatrician told us she would have to be admitted to the hospital for severe jaundice. One of the first things the nurses told me (which to this day I don’t understand, but I was too out of it to question) was that I could no longer breastfeed. I must feed with formula because it helped the bilirubin levels pass more quickly. From this point on, I pumped breast milk with tears streaming down my face because of the physical pain and perceived “failure” as a provider.
So the pair of us never did get the whole breastfeeding thing. Whenever we tried, it would usually go a bit like this: suck suck suck, pull off, scream, breast milk squirting in the face, bigger screams, arching back, scream, put baby down (mom crying now) and pump out the milk so breasts don’t continue to squirt like wild fire hoses across the room. Sadly, by now my postpartum depression had set in (a whole other post) and I felt like I was an awful, ill-equipped and unloveable mommy. In my dark and foggy haze, the only thing I felt that I could give my baby that nobody else could was breast milk. So I continued to struggle, to beat myself up, to pump pump pump pump for TEN MONTHS! I only gave it up because I had no more milk to give.
I was recently asked, “What is one thing you would have done differently as a new mom?” I replied, “I would not have breastfed.” I wish I would have spent my time holding and cuddling my baby with a big ol’ bottle of formula, instead of holding a breast pump, obsessing about how many ounces I had, leaking through my shirt at work and feeling guilty because I sucked at this very thing I was trying so desperately to provide.
The debate: breast vs. bottle
The debate continues. This topic certainly has two very passionate schools of thought. Personally, I don’t care if you breastfeed exclusively, formula feed, suppress your milk to bottle feed, whip out your breast to feed your baby while having a conversation with my husband, or have a team of nursemaids to feed your child. I just want moms to be happy. I hope women make their feeding decisions based on what is best for them and what feels comfortable. Happy women make the best moms, so do what makes you happy! (Visit this site for more neutral information about what type of feeding is best for you and your lifestyle.)
What about you? What was your experience with breastfeeding or choosing not to? Do or did you feel this pressure to breastfeed because of societal expectations or your own need to provide the “golden serum”? What do you think of Gisele’s proposed breastfeeding law?
Heather is a regular blogger for OwningPink.com and a life coach for moms, school counselor and mama who is committed to rocking her mojo! She has two extremely “spirited”, independent, and strong-willed children who test her, teach her and exhaust her…several times a day. Visit Heather’s site My Mama Mojo for more information on life coaching for moms.