Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Supermodels don't know everything

A couple months ago, Giselle Bundchen was quoted saying there should be a “worldwide law that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months”. I remember how much that comment irritated me because my own experience with breastfeeding had been so difficult and it seemed as though she was completely disregarding the possibility that breastfeeding might not be the best option for all women.

People kept telling me what a great bonding experience it would be to nurse my child… and for me it has been, but it took a long time to get there. What made matters even worse for me in the beginning was the feeling that I was the only one having trouble. Eventually I reached out to friends and family and quickly learned that most women I spoke to had experienced many of the same problems I was dealing with. Whether their milk never came in, or the pain never got any better, or their baby never learned to latch on, many of the women I talked to stopped breastfeeding sooner than they planned.

I think it’s important that people acknowledge how difficult it can be for some women and respect their decision to do so or not. Below is a recap of my own experience and how I got to where I am today.

I was determined to breastfeed but from the first hour Nathan was born, I struggled. He couldn’t figure out how to latch on properly so it hurt. A lot. Plus my milk took a few days to come in so even when he did latch on for a minute or two, he wouldn’t get anything. I was in tears from the pain. Nathan was in tears from hunger. I would watch Will and our parents and our friends cuddle Nathan and hold him and gaze at him. And I would sit there dreading the next time he let out a hungry cry, knowing I would have to pick him up and attempt to feed him again. Picking up my baby was becoming a negative experience and that was breaking my heart. We were both miserable and we were certainly not bonding!

Breastfeeding was supposed to be a natural thing, why was I having such a hard time?? I can’t remember how many times I broke down crying in the first few weeks. People kept telling me to rest, that I was just exhausted and needed to catch up on sleep. But how can you catch up on sleep when your newborn wants to nurse every two hours and each attempt took a half hour, sometimes longer? I tried everything. I read books, I watched YouTube videos. It looked so easy. Yet every time I tried to feed him, we faced the same problem, we just couldn’t figure it out. I took him to a breastfeeding clinic where lactation specialists worked with me to help find a comfortable position and worked with Nathan, helping him learn how to latch on. But when we got home, neither Nathan nor I could repeat what we had learned.

One night around 2 or 3 in the morning, Nathan was crying hysterically from hunger and frustration and I was crying from guilt and pain. The hospital had sent us home with sample bottles of formula and I finally gave in and fed him one. He drank the whole thing in minutes and quickly fell asleep and so did I. I kept trying to nurse him day after day, week after week, until one day I realized it didn’t hurt anymore and Nathan was actually eating. Will walked in the room one morning to see me simultaneously nursing Nathan while filing his fingernails, and said “Wow, you’ve come a long way."

I don’t know why I was so against formula. I think I associated it with being a failure because I felt so much pressure to breastfeed. The importance of breastfeeding had been drilled into my head week after week during our childbirth class, and in my pregnancy books, and on posters hanging in my doctor's waiting room. It seemed like everywhere I turned, I heard that annoying phrase “Breast is Best”. And I knew it was but it just made me feel guilty for ever wanting to use formula.

One person who never pressured me was my amazing husband. Will was incredibly supportive and told me again and again that I was doing a great job and it was OK to use formula and give myself a break. He wanted me to be happy and to enjoy my time at home with Nathan. He wisely pointed out that although breastfeeding might be best for baby, you also have to consider what’s best for Mommy. Nobody benefits from a mom who’s stressed out and crying all the time, especially the baby. What worked for me was eventually switching to formula for nighttime feeds since after almost 3 months, Nathan was still waking multiple times throughout the night to eat and I was losing my mind from lack of sleep. Switching him to formula at night allowed Will to help out with night feedings and let me catch up on much needed sleep.

I look back at those first few weeks now and I’m proud of myself for sticking it out. But I can also acknowledge that had I decided to stop breastfeeding, Nathan would have been just fine. What’s important is that your baby is fed. And whether you feed him breastmilk or formula, it does not say anything about what kind of mother you are or how much you love your baby.

So take that Giselle and stick it in your teeny weeny Victoria Secret bikini!

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