Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Glorification of Breastfeeding

This is not a pro breastfeeding or anti breastfeeding post. It's simply a pro feeding your child post.
My daughter, Henley, and I struggled with breastfeeding. It seemed to be a series of events one after another. First of all, my milk came in days later than expected. I then promptly got an infection. To top it off, Henley seemed determined to look right into my eyes while she was eating, adorable right? It made positioning, which was already a challenge hard. I saw four lactation consultants at the hospital. All of them encouraged me to just keep forcing her onto my breast even if she was crying. It didn't feel right.  
Then the pediatrician told us Hen had lost too much weight. They were ready to hospitalize her with a feeding tube. I was in tears and felt her doctor was undermining my breastfeeding dreams. 

The doctor snapped me back that yes, breast was best, but not to glorify breastfeeding so much my child didn't eat.

That hit me hard. My daughter was only days old and I was already failing. Her doctor was right. My own feelings of failure didn't mean anything, because my sweet Hen had a diagnosis of "failure to thrive". The doctor gave us 24 hours and formula to get her weight up. That was all the time we had before they were going to hospitalize her. So I went home that day, gave her a bottle of formula, and started pumping. 

In that 24 hour period, we went against all the advice about how to be successful with breastfeeding. There are times when I wonder if those 24 hours are the reason why breastfeeding didn't work for us, but I can't dwell on it. After 24 hours, Hen's weight was up and she's continued to be in healthy weight ranges. 

At first, Hen would still take my breast from time to time. We even had a consultation with Candice from Stork Maternity at our home. Candice, like Henley's pediatrician, encouraged me to do what felt right to make sure she was fed. Unlike the consultants at the hospital, her goal was for Hen to be comfortable and for me to not be in pain. She also took time to help me with my breast pumping technique. After this visit, I unsuccessfully tried breastfeeding for another month. At that time, I made the decision to exclusively pump. I ended up exclusively pumping for eight months. 

During maternity leave, I learned to pump standing up (shout-out to this hands free bra!) while pushing Hen's stroller. When she was hungry, we snuggled while she drank from a bottle. We'd look into each other's eyes and I'd sing and stroke her head until she fell asleep. I enjoyed and still enjoy those moments. With breastfeeding I was in fear she'd delatch or I was in pain. With pumping I was in the moment. Having pumped milk on hand also allowed my husband and other family members to have those moments with her. I don't write this to speak poorly of breastfeeding, but simply to share my experience that was different from those around me. There were so many individuals that were sure I wasn't trying hard enough. I even had individuals without children expressing their displeasure and confusion. It was hard to feel judged right off the bat and it was hard to reset my plans. 

I read a story during this time about a woman with twins, a boy and a girl, in poverty. She was only feeding the boy, because boys are of more value in her culture. Both babies, however, were dying of starvation. An aid worker went to the nearest town to buy formula, but when she returned both babies had passed away. What I learned was how lucky I was. So breastfeeding wasn't working. But I had health insurance that paid for a free manual and electric breast pump. I had money for formula. 

I could feed my baby. That was all that mattered. 

In letting go of my romanticized view of breastfeeding, I felt relief. I also felt guilt and embarrassment. I initially only confided in my family and my friend, Jessica. Jessica had a daughter the day before me so we were experiencing a lot of the same things. I felt that my decision was the easy way out, but Jessica lauded it as a sacrifice. To be honest, that's exactly how I saw her relentless dedication to breastfeeding. It's been special to have another mom in my life that thinks I'm doing a good job even when I'm doing it different from her. Her support, my family's support, and my husband's support let me start believing that I was a good mom. 

If I have another child I'm going to try breastfeeding again. If it doesn't work I'll pump. If that doesn't work I'll buy formula. No matter what I'll take care of my baby. 

What do I hope you take away from this post? If you know someone that's a new mom and feeding her child formula or pumped milk instead of breastfeeding, know that child is being cared for and loved. If you're struggling with breastfeeding I hope you take away that feeding your child is what matters not the how. You are enough. 

On the way to the doctor right before her "failure to thrive" diagnosis

Hen + Dad cuddles
Additional Resources: 
The Ultimate Guide to Survive Breast Pumping at Work 
How to get a breast pump through health insurance 
Book Read: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (sections on pumping and formula feeding)
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