Saturday, May 2, 2009

Thoughts on Breastfeeding

During our hike last week, one of my fellow hikers commented that sometimes while feeding her son, she realizes that he'll never remember this and she'll *always* remember it. I've been meaning for awhile to put together some thoughts about breastfeeding Stella, and that quote--as well as the fact that Stella's quickly approaching her six-month mark and the opportunity to start solid foods--got me thinking.

Hungry girl

Now I'll say right off this post is really just a way for me to think about my feelings and experiences. I'm not writing this to espouse a particular view or comment on anyone else's choices. Breastfeeding is frought with emotion--I've known people who desperately wanted to breastfeed and couldn't, and those who may have chosen not to and can have a hard time not feeling defensive about it, especially in a place like Seattle. Most people seem to have opinions about it--whether to do it, how long, bottle vs breast, when a child's too old, where it's appropriate. So hopefully this post can be taken in the spirit intended.

While I was pregnant, particularly in the last month or so, I had lots of people talk to me about their babies or experiences, and I started hearing an alarmingly common refrain that "breastfeeding was harder than I expected." Now I would probe a lot more to understand what that really meant, but at the time it made the whole thing seem a bit more daunting.

I probably assumed they meant it was painful (chapped nipples) or difficult(hard to get a good latch). For our part, I was lucky from the start. Stella ate well and heartily from the beginning, I've had no milk supply issues to date, and I never even got sore or chapped from the feeding process.

Ater having Stella, the challenges of breastfeeding were a common refrain among new moms I was around. And there have been challenges that I didn't necessarily anticipate.

It really ties you to the baby in a way that's hard to comprehend until you're in the middle of it. Until I started pumping more consistently and she got used to the bottle, we couldn't be apart for any length of time. Even now, contemplating a night out means finding a sitter AND making sure we have enough milk saved up to use for that and to have for my work days away from home.

Before starting work, I worried a lot about being able to continue with exclusive breastfeeding--would I have enough milk? Would I be able to pump effectively at work? Would it all work out? So far, I've found a good routine, pumping once in the morning and once in the afternoon, which is providing enough milk for the next day and a little extra. I'm really fortunate to work in a supportive work environment. But it is one more thing to have to fit into a busy day at the office, timing meetings to not miss the right window of opportunity.

Probably the biggest challenge since bringing her home had to do with gas. From weeks 3-6 or so, Stella suddenly got really fussy, crying, arching her back and seeming physically uncomfortable. Eventually, we put two and two together and realized it was all from gas. Through process of elimination, we were able to figure out the worst offenders--cow's milk, coffee, wine, beans, most cruciferous veggies. But before we figured it out, she'd get hungry, nurse a bit, then pull off screaming. It wasn't fun for either of us, and really demoralizing when I was supposed to be doing this beautiful, natural thing that seemed to just be causing her pain. Fortunately, Stella's doctor was a great support and helped me by saying that although it seemed painful and bad , as long as Stella kept gaining weight, she was getting the nutrition she needed. So we forged ahead and despite the occasional forgetfulness on my part, we worked through it. But whenever she's gassy or has an upset stomach, I feel totally responsible. After all, I made the food to give her, so when I eat something that bothers her, it really falls on my shoulders.

And it definitely means some of the caretaking falls unevenly between Tyler and I. While we tried a brief period of having Tyler take a nighttime feeding, it just doesn't work for us to do that. I'm not interested in pumping more than I already am, and having one sleep deprived person versus two in our household means a happier family unit overall. But it does mean that I'm sleep deprived....and while the end may be coming into view (I have great hopes for the post-six-month period) it's been tough to be a functioning employee/mom/wife when I can count on one hand the number of times I've gotten to sleep five hours in a row since Stella's birth.

One of the things that surprised me about breastfeeding was how I felt about breastfeeding in public or around others. When the baby's hungry and that's how they eat, it was hard for me to feel that I needed to worry about other people's feeling or comfort around it. I mean, no mom would feel funny using a bottle in public, right? And trying to use the cute "hooter hider" or a blanket never seemed to work--Stella would get claustrophobic or overheated, and I couldn't see what she was doing. Sometimes I surprised myself with my feelings of militancy about it. Then again, I'm not much of a crusader. There have been more times than I care to remember when I've been trying to feed Stella, balanced on my lap in a bathroom stall--never the most fun or hygenic-seeming.

It's also influenced other decisions we've made about life with Stella. Before she was born, I would not have guessed we'd be co-sleeping (having her in our bed). We knew we wanted her close in the beginning, with a bassinet in our bedroom for the first month, then three months, now six... And a big part of that is the convenience of feeding her at night. Once I got back to work and was getting so overtired, being able to feed her in bed while half asleep kept me vaguely functional.

Satiated Stella

Overall, I feel really lucky and blessed to have this experience with Stella. And it amazes me to think that until she has her first meal (we're still deciding what that will be!), all of her growth has come from me--nearly 20 pounds, all from my breastmilk. It's pretty incredible. I'll be a little sad to see this phase come to an end, but I'm also really excited to introduce her to new tastes and textures and experiences. I only hope she'll be an adventurous and enthusiastic eater like me!

1 comment:

dianec said...

I just wanted to share with you that you are not alone in having problems breastfeeding in public. Dylan used to grab onto my shirt for comfort, and would suddenly pull off and look around at things many times, both of which made me more exposed than I wanted to be! I also got a rude comment once in the mall which made me resort to bathroom stalls.
There is nothing better or more sacrificing you can do for her than to breastfeed. Also, I think those close tactical ties hold mentally between children and their mothers as they get older.