Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Nursing Musing - Part 1

When I started nursing my first child 3.5 years ago, I hated it. Now I dread the day I wean my youngest. What began as simply a way to feed my baby is now one of my proudest accomplishments. Here is my journey.

According to my paternal Grandmother, her pediatrician actually discouraged her from nursing. My Dad dined on a concoction of evaporated milk, water, and Karo Syrup as a baby.

When I was born, my Mom attempted to nurse me at a time when moms weren't encouraged to nurse. Unfortunately, I was born a month premature, was tongue-tied and couldn't suck. Desperate to get food in me, my Mom fed me with an eye dropper. By the time the problem was discovered and fixed, my Mom's milk dried up. Frustrated with the experience, she didn't attempt to nurse my younger brothers. And I probably would have made the same decision if I had that experience at that time.

Growing up in the 80's/90's I remember a massive public service campaign, I guess on TV, on the benefits of nursing babies. Breast is Best, was the slogan. As a teen, without hesitation, I thought I would nurse my children if I had any. And then I went about my business, and didn't really think about it much anymore.

When I became pregnant with my first child, one of the first questions I was asked was if I wanted to "breast or bottle feed" my baby. I was surprised to realize in the whirlwind of coming to terms with the fact I was really pregnant, I hadn't really thought about it.

Since "breast is best," I decided to try nursing. Being the researcher I am, I did what I do best, and read up on nursing. What I gathered was ensuring a milk supply was all about the proper latch as determined by how the baby was positioned at the breast. Suddenly, I became nervous about achieving this proper latch.

My high school and college days were relived as I dutifully memorized the 4 different holds: 1. cradle, 2. cross-over, 3. football, and 4. side-laying hold. One of my nursing books used these 4 terms to describe the different holds, complete with illustrations. I went through the motions with a doll. Imagine my frustration when a few pages into the same book, the author referred to something called the "cuddle hold." I went back to the pages describing the 4 holds and thought, "Wait a minute. There's no cuddle hold. What's this about a cuddle hold?" I was tempted to throw the book in the trash and probably should have.

When it came time to nurse my first baby, my initial problems stemmed from late milk production, probably due to my difficult labor and subsequent emergency c-section. My milk didn’t come in until the 5th day. Seeing my daughter, who entered this world at 9 lbs; get below 8, broke my heart. She hit the 10% weight loss mark and I had to supplement with formula. One thing I should get out of the way: formula is not the devil. There... that's better... moving on. My books did somewhat prepare me for late-milk and I was careful to only give formula after a complete nursing session, and give no more than the 1 oz. my pediatrician recommended. After a day or two of formula supplementing, my milk came in, and my daughter started gaining steadily, regaining her birth weight right on time. I stopped the formula supplementing, but my challenges weren’t over.

None of my books could prepare me for how much time nursing would take. And my daughter was a slow nurser, taking 20 minutes on each side and sometimes needing to nurse every 90 minutes, from the beginning of one session to the next. I would nurse her; change her and 15-20 minutes later need to start the process all over again. I remembered a friend, whose children are slightly older than mine, who stopped nursing after a few weeks; explain that she got tired of her baby constantly hanging off her. I didn’t sympathize at the time, but suddenly knew exactly what she meant. I began to wonder if breast really was best, if it caused me to resent my baby for invading my physical space almost 24-7. I had no desire to cuddle or hold my baby because I felt she was on me often enough. Rob didn’t understand why I didn’t just throw in the towel, and I considered it so many times.

What kept me going? This sinking feeling that I would regret giving up too soon, giving up wouldn’t make my life as easy as I imagined, and I would be left always wondering if nursing would have gotten easier. And it did get easier. After about 8 weeks there was a turning point. It was a long road, but after 8 weeks, nursing seemed easier in some ways than the alternative, although there were still challenges which I will describe in the next part in the series. Until next time.

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