Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Year Of: Breastfeeding

Brees Elizabeth turned a year old on November 15.  I know that every mother says this, but
I really can't believe how quickly the time has passed.  As I reflect on this last year and all
the adventures and milestones we have experienced, I hope that you enjoy this series of
posts about our family and all the things we have learned this past year.
A year of breastfeeding...
This is my personal testimony of my experience with breastfeeding.  Brees and I have
been on an amazing journey this last year, learning and growing and perfecting the fine art
of nursing.  Of all the elements of motherhood that consume my heart
everyday, breastfeeding is the bond I hold closest, the gift I feel the most blessed for.
To nurture my child from my own body, to be the source from which she is strengthened,
it is truly amazing to me.
I was fully determined to breastfeed Brees, as I did with Isabelle, from the moment I
found out I was pregnant.  I set a goal for one year: ONE year of exclusive
breastfeeding, ONE year of making it work no matter the obstacle.  I knew that, as a
working mother, achieving this goal would require preparation, organization, and
an unbreakable determination.  I knew that the entire family would have to be onboard,
I would need the support and encouragement of Shawn and Isabelle to get me through
the hard times, the inconvenient moments.  But, most of all, I knew that I wanted to
ENJOY this process, to appreciate what an amazing experience breastfeeding can be.  For
my first baby, I was nervous and anxious, recounting every horror story I had ever read
and heard about, panicking every time a feeding didn't come naturally to both of us.  It
took me a while to learn to relax and let nature take its course.  This time, I would
remember to breath, I would remember to stare into my baby's eyes and breath in her
smell and trust in what I was meant to do.
I talked with my doctor about my wishes well before my due date.  I met with my
lactation consultant and we developed a plan before Brees was born.  I wanted to nurse her
as soon as possible after birth.  I did not want the nurses to offer her a bottle for any
reason, she was to be nursed exclusively from day one.  Our hospital practiced "rooming
in", meaning I labored, delivered, and recovered in the same room and Brees never left
us.  Unless medically necessary, she was to stay with us at all times and would be nursed
on demand.  We were to have as much skin to skin contact as possible.
Our lactation consultant was amazing, making herself completely available and lending a
hand whenever and however needed.  She helped me to identify a proper latch, showed
me how to readjust when she was not latched on properly.  We brought our pump with us
to the hospital so that she could show us how to use it.  She gave me all the supplies I
needed to make pumping a part of my daily routine, read more about that journey
here.  When I developed a blister due to Brees getting the hang of latching on, she gave
me nipple shields to protect me from any further soreness or sensitivity.  After I
nursed Brees, Shawn burped her and changed her.  He brought me water and kept me
fed, rubbed my back and whispered words of encouragement.  Having this support
system made me feel confident and sure of myself, they carried me through the long
and tiring nights.
The women in my family believe very much in spending your first few weeks
postpartum tucked away in your home with your new baby.  My mother would throw
herself in front of a moving car before allowing me to take my newborn out in public
for anything other than an emergency.  And so, upon arriving home from the hospital,
I propped my feet up and held my baby close.  Skin to skin, nursing on demand.  We
slept together, rocked together, started our new life together.  The "euphoric" feeling
that breastfeeding advocates talk about: it really does exist.  Your body releases surges
of oxytocin, a hormone that makes mothers feel relaxed, content, and less anxious, when
your baby is kept near and your let-down reflex occurs.  It is the body's most natural
anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drug.
We followed this routine from day one, allowing it to change and grow with our baby.
We faced several challenges along the way like an overabundant milk supply.  So many of
my friends and family have struggled with a low milk supply, making nursing difficult.
Our problem, on the other hand, involved my body making so much milk that Brees
often became choked and winded while nursing, she developed reflux and frequently spit
up because she was too full too fast.  It took us several months to figure out how to
control this issue, resulting in us have to do smaller feedings more often, using the side
lying position as much as possible, and treating her reflux with prescription meds for
several months.  For the first few months, I had to wear two layers of breast pads to
absorb my swollen, leaking boobs.  I had hot flashes throughout the day and my blood
sugar frequently dropped to dangerously low levels, making me hypoglycemic.  But we
kept at it, using every resource available to us and crossing each bridge as we came to
it.  Both my pediatrician and  my lactation consultant were on speed dial and I
even befriended the president of the breastfeeding coalition through Isabelle's Girl
Scouts troop.  And I remembered to breath and enjoy the process.  For that's what it is:
a process, a learning experience.
I felt embarrassed and insecure about nursing in public.  I got over it.  I was late
for everything, all the time, because I could never time her feedings correctly.  I got
better about it.  I held her all the time and never wanted to share, wanting to keep her all
to myself.  I eventually did and her first word was, of course, "Dada".  I had to pump
several times a day when I went back to work.  I learned to love my pump and appreciate
it, regardless of how inconvenient it could be because it played an important role in
the success of our breastfeeding experience.  I sometimes felt isolated and exhausted.
I learned to rest whenever possible and ask for help when I needed it.
One year, that was my goal.  And here we are, Brees is one year old and I see no reason
to wean her.  Our breastfeeding experience has been amazing, rewarding, and soul fulfilling.
I have grown as a person in patience and strength.  She has been given the gift of
nature's most perfect nourishment.  And so we shall continue, with no deadlines this
time.  Brees will make the decision when she is ready.  Shawn is not only supportive
and encouraging, he is PROUD.  "Keep at it, babe,  I think you're amazing".
When people ask me for advice on breastfeeding, I tell them those same words: Keep at it.
It gets easier, after several months it does begin to feel natural.  The awkwardness,
the readjusting, it becomes second nature.  The feedings that used to take 30 minutes
at a time, the engorged breasts, the uncertainty: it gets easier.  Keep at it.  Formulate a
plan, surround yourself with supportive, encouraging people who will cheer you on,
be prepared for the unexpected, and keep at it.
When Brees was 8 months old, she started saying "mama".  When she was hungry, she
said "mama".  When I pulled out her nursing pillow, she said "mama".  When she was close
to the breast, she said "mama".  Brees associated the word mama to nursing, her voice
warm and her hand patting me gently on my chest.  The bond that began from
the first moment she was placed in my arms,

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Indi said...

Such a wonderful gift (for you both)!!

Jodi said...

I plan on breastfeeding when i have a child. I think this post is wonderful and i look forward to others in the series.

I hope you are having a wonderful week my friend :)

Little Gray Pixel said...

Bravo on meeting your goal. Breastfeeding is no joke. It's hard, hard work. You should pat yourself on the back.

Caitlin said...

This was absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing all of this :)

Jamie - Snow In December said...

Beautiful post. Thanks for the honesty... so many people think that breastfeeding just comes perfectly and naturally to all mothers, but it takes work! It's sad how many moms quit after the first few weeks because they think it will never get easier... It does get easier, but like you said, you have to keep at it sometimes.
Good job mama.

Randalin. said...

Love this post. It's so lovely to hear women share their positive breastfeeding stories.