Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My first (sort of) guest bloggers talk about nursing

My last post was on nursing and prompted some discussion among some of my friends and family who have also struggled with breastfeeding. I find their experiences inspiring and their commitment to providing what breast milk they can/could encouraging. They enthusiastically gave me permission to share their stories.

Before I get to their stories, I wanted to list a few resources, so they don't get lost at the end. My post called, "Oh, the places I've pumped (and other nursing adventures)" has some resources listed about breastfeeding and can be found by clicking It also has my story and was the starting place for this post.

Here are some other resources that I thought might be important based on my guest bloggers' experiences -- they want you to have all the resources possible to help with whatever breastfeeding trials you might encounter:

Final thoughts before we get to the stories: I hope this post provides the encouragement it was designed to -- these stories of charting new paths through treacherous territory are supposed to draw attention to the "new paths" not the "treacherous territory." Certainly, everyone's experience is different, and many women don't encounter the trials found in my story or those below.

I also hope that no one who reads this blog experiences any shame about breastfeeding -- no matter what your experience is or may have been. As women, let's keep speaking up and speaking out to provide each other the help we need to make it on this rewarding and exhausting journey called motherhood, an often mystifying blend of art and science. Hearts out and hats off to you all!

NW’s nursing story

I'm still very new at all this and kind of feel like a fish out of water, but I'm open to sharing my experience.

I went into this with the idea that I would give breastfeeding a try and if it worked, it worked; if not, no big deal. So I was pretty shocked at how disappointed I was when it wasn't working and we were told to supplement because my little guy was not gaining weight. I felt like I was a complete failure and that I was starving my child.

Even though he nursed 15 minutes on each side and showed no signs of hunger, he was only gaining an ounce or two a week and rarely having a poopy diaper. The doctor deduced that he was getting just enough to not be hungry, but not enough to be full, and that he couldn't/wouldn't work hard enough to get much milk out. We decided he defiantly got the lazy gene from my side of the family. I think he also had a bad/shallow latch because it was pretty painful for me. I never could get him to get his mouth very wide open. He has a bit of an recessed chin, so I don't really even know if it was physically possible for him to open his mouth any wider. All the lactation consultants we saw were completely useless. 

I gave up trying to feed him from the breast after two weeks because in addition to him not gaining weight, neither of us were enjoying it, and my stress level was through the roof. However, I decided to exclusively pump for a year or as long as I'm able to produce milk. After I switched to pumping and bottle feeding him so that I could tell just how much he was getting, he gained 10 ounces in one week and had regular poopy diapers.

Before I finally made the decision to pump and bottle feed, I felt that I was being selfish by insisting on breastfeeding when it wasn't working for him. No one really ever told me there was another option besides formula. I'm not one of those women who thinks that formula is the devil; obviously, I know lots of kiddos that were fed formula that turned out wonderfully (my sweet niece and nephew being two of them!), so I don't know why I have such an overwhelming insistence on providing breast milk – especially since formula would be so much easier. But as for now – three weeks in – I’m going to try doing the pumping thing. I pump every two hours and he eats every three, so pretty much every hour on the hour I'm either pumping, feeding him (or sometimes both at the same time), or sleeping! Don't know how long I'll be able to keep that up for, but I'm going to give it a go!

I know it's not 'technically' breastfeeding, but I think it's important for women out there to know there's another option besides formula if breastfeeding doesn't work out. It's time consuming and at times restricting (I'm pumping 10 times a day to establish my supply, so it's hard to get anything done/go anywhere between his feeding schedule and my pumping schedule). At times I think about how much easier it would be just to use formula, but I'm stubborn and decided this is what I wanted to do, so it's what I'm going to do.

NG's nursing story

I wish there was more information on the problems some moms have nursing. Nursing is not always as easy as some people would have you believe. I spent many hours crying because I wanted it to work so badly for both my boys. I would have given anything to have enough milk. I loved the bonding. But it was emotionally and physically draining to have my babies crying 20 minutes later because they were starving! So—committed to giving them as much breast milk as possible—I pumped, oh the places I have pumped and for only 2 - 3 ounces TOTAL!

To top it off, I recently had to throw more than 50 ounces of milk away that I had stored up because it went rancid in the freezer. Apparently some women have an overproduction of a hormone that makes the milk bad once frozen! So, on top of not having enough milk, the milk I did freeze was bad! Since I couldn't pump enough for a full feeding, I froze the milk I pumped at night and formula fed the night feeding in the hopes my little guy would sleep longer! It took me forever to store up enough milk to freeze...three nights of pumping to freeze one bag of milk! It was heartbreaking. It is very inspirational to see others sticking it out through trying times, too!

JM's nursing story

Just to ease any "mommy guilt" for those who find they cannot successfully nurse—I couldn't, and though I grieved about missing the experience, my two teenagers are happy, healthy, totally well-adjusted youngsters who don't care that they had to settle for pumped  breast milk and formula. I wrote about my experience for a magazine called "Get Born" (since defunct). It was a total shock to me that breastfeeding doesn't always work, so I'm glad there is more info out there to prepare new moms now.

By Jeanette Minnich

                The title of the book caught my eye, "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding."  I felt an urge to pick it up, to see if it contained the secret that I didn't know--that would have changed my life.  But I didn't pick it up because it would be pointless.  My kids are 10 and 12 now.  It's too late--and anyway, I've come to terms with my inability to breastfeed.


                I've always been what is described as "well endowed."  Most of the time, I've been happy about this--except when the fashion of the day favored the flatter chested.  I naively assumed that one day, these ample breasts would be ready for the hungry mouth of a suckling babe.  I envisioned myself, Madonna-like with a lovely baby snuggled in my arms, the lights low, the edges blurred, classical music playing in the background.  As my first pregnancy progressed, I bought the rocking chair where we would sit at night, fulfilling my fantasy...

                My first inkling of danger came during one of the last pregnancy classes, when the instructor made an off-hand remark about inverted  or retracting nipples.  These conditions might make it difficult to breast feed, she commented, before telling us how to see if we had one of these conditions. 

                At home that night, I squeezed one of my nipples.  Horrified, I watched it totally flatten out--there would be nothing there for the baby to latch on to!  In a panic, I called my instructor and she reassured me that I could wear plastic devices that would draw my nipples out, solving the problem.  Praise the Lord, we have the technology!

                So, during my last few weeks of pregnancy, I walked around feeling like one of the Valkyries, with impenetrable breast shields standing erect in front of me.  I tried not to bump into anyone, lest I injure them.  Did I mention that my already ample breasts had grown to roughly the size of watermelons?  They had lethal potential.

                My first child finally arrived (ten days late), and I confidently announced to the nursing staff that I planned to breastfeed.  They woke me up every few hours and watched me struggle to get my daughter to latch.  I was awkward, and so hot and sweaty, and just not able to do what I thought would come naturally.  Finally a nurse suggested that if I wanted to be sure my baby was getting adequate nourishment, maybe I should supplement with some formula?  Disappointed, but fearful of starving my hungry child, I agreed.

                The next few weeks were torture.  I tried and tried to breastfeed.  I had a La Leche coach come to help, and I called all my experienced Mommy-friends. They all advised patience and practice.   I think my daughter successfully latched a total of two times. Meanwhile my breasts became engorged, my nipples cracked and bled.  The pregnancy class teacher had said nothing about breast pumps, assuming we could address this as a "returning to work" subject.  I had to send my husband out on an emergency run to buy a breast pump and some beer (I was told it would help with the engorgement).  I overcame my humiliation and rubbed something called "Bag Balm" on my nipples, feeling a new sense of empathy for all the dairy cows of the world.  Nothing worked.

                I learned to pump, and fed my baby breast milk from a bottle.  My fantasies of breastfeeding were overcome by the nightmare of breastfeeding--trying to discreetly feed a baby in a public place while silently crying with pain a friend described as "enough to curl your toes."  Within a month, I gave up the effort.  I started to recognize some of the benefits of the bottle.  First, it didn't hurt.  Second, my husband could share the arduous feeding schedule.  Third, since the baby was still drinking breast milk, I was fulfilling my mission of building her immune system.  Finally, it made it easier to return to work when my six-week maternity leave was over.

                Still, some niggling part of me grieved over missing the experience.  I talked to friends who told me that bottle feeding at the hospital had sabotaged my efforts.  The baby wouldn't have starved if I'd held out and demanded that the nurses let me breastfeed.  I listened doubtfully.  I was sure my failure reflected deeper flaws with me--my anatomy, my lack of determination, my cowardice--because any "real woman" can breastfeed.

                I faithfully pumped and fed my daughter breast milk for 6 months.  Eighteen months after her birth, I gave birth to a son.  This time I would show the nurses who was in charge--and since I only had to stay in the hospital one day, I could work on my technique without so much pressure.  Surely it would be different this time.

                Again I tried to breastfeed, and again I failed.  We had to move when my son was four months old, so I sold my breast pump and switched to formula.  I convinced myself that it was best for all involved--and my children have grown up happy and healthy.  Of course, they know nothing and would care even less about my breastfeeding struggles. 

                Over the years, I've realized that I'm a good mother and a good woman,  in spite of my retracting nipples (which, ironically, still harbor a drop or two of milk).  I've moved on and gotten past my disappointment...except when I catch sight of a mother breastfeeding, Madonna-like, with classical music playing in the background.

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