I knew I would breastfeed before I became pregnant. I didn't read any books (I probably should have) or attend any specific breastfeeding classes. I didn't grow up surrounded by women who were actively breastfeeding their babies. I did, however, babysit/nanny for a family where the mother nursed both her children. I clearly remember my very first day at their home when the mother freely nursed her 10 month old daughter as we sat in the living room together. She didn't apologize to me or use any kind of special cover; she just did what was natural, which was to feed her child. This is my first memory of breastfeeding and it left a lasting a impression.
Almost 15 years later I gave birth to Punkin Head. She entered the world earlier than planned and feeling the effects of the epidural and pitocin that had been in my system. I was not allowed to touch her with my bare hands and hardly had a chance to hold her before she was rushed out to the NICU due to "trouble breathing." She was given formula before I could breastfeed her and she spent her nights in the nursery and brought to me for feedings. Like so many first time moms, I was given my "gift bag" of formula when I left the hospital even though the hospital staff knew I was breastfeeding. I am working hard to overcome the guilt I feel for how I allowed Punkin Head to enter the world. If my husband and I have another child, I guarantee things will be different next time.
However, in spite of how the odds seemed stacked against us, Punkin Head and I forged a strong breastfeeding relationship. She came into the world ready to breastfeed; we were made to fit together like all mothers and babies. I had no doubts about my milk supply; I worked through what seemed to be never-ending trouble with engorgement and months of plugged ducts. I exclusively breastfed for over 6 months; through Punkin Head's colic and having a pediatrician who advised me to only nurse my 8 week old baby every 3 hours as a way to help lessen plugged ducts, which, I now know, is horrible advice. I stuck with breastfeeding and Punkin Head thrived. We have maintained this relationship for 14 months...still going strong.
Was I successful at breastfeeding because I was confident I would be successful? Or was I lucky enough to have a baby who was a "natural" which allowed me to feel confident? I'm guessing it's a combination of the two. I honestly think the major factor that kept me from ever feeling discouraged was: Support. Not one person in my life told me I should "just give the baby a bottle." My husband was always there to hold Punkin Head while I took 45 minute showers and tried to massage out painful lumps. My mom always had words of encouragement and reinforced that what I was going through was normal and things would get better. My in-laws never questioned our decision to breastfeed. Formula was never seen as a solution to any of Punkin Head's problems, be it colic, gas or sleeplessness.
When my family or close friends didn't have answers to my questions I called lactation consultants and La Leche League leaders. I attended new mom support groups, if only to talk to the nurses there and googled my heart out, where I found websites like Kellymom.com and helpful blogs like The Leaky Boob. I made a point of seeking out women of older toddlers and children who had breastfed and asked them questions about their experiences and I found out I wasn't alone in my struggles. Sure enough, over time, things got much, much better. I have learned that just because something is natural doesn't mean it's easy.
Over the past year I have come to realize how much I was set up for breastfeeding failure and it makes my heart ache. It's not just for myself that my heart aches for...my heart hurts for women who wanted to breastfeed but didn't have the necessary support. Society undermines breastfeeding on all fronts. You can't trust that your doctor or baby's pediatrician is going to really support your decision to breastfeed even though to do so is undeniably the best thing you can do for your baby and yourself. There will be setbacks and obstacles while learning the art of breastfeeding and a woman needs her family and friends behind her...reminding her that she is doing the right thing, that there are solutions to any problems she might be experiencing and helping her to find those solutions when she is feeling too tired or discouraged to find them on her own. So, to any friend or family member of a new breastfeeding mom, before discounting a woman's ability to feed her child and offering a bottle of fomula, why not offer to do her dishes or make her a snack? That way she can focus on what's really important: gaining confidence as a mother and feeding her baby the way nature intended.