Friday, May 7, 2010

Breastfeeding Does a Body Good, But Why is it So Hard?!

Babies are BORN to breastfeed. And mothers finish the cycle of childbirth by lactating. There is no question in my mind or even the American Academy of Pediatrics, that baby's optimal nutrition source is human milk, ramping up starting in the middle of the baby's first year to solid foods. Breastfed babies are sick less than formula babies (from Le Leche League). Breastfed babies are shown to have fewer allergies, lower risk for obesity, better jaw development, better absorption of nutrition since human milk is easily digestible. And mom's uterus contracts after childbirth by breastfeeding, which helps her uterus return to normal size easily.

When I thought about being a mom, exclusive breastfeeding my baby without formula was always THE priority. I never questioned it. I thought that I'll deliver my baby and breastfeed the baby because that's the most natural and best way to feed and bond. I heard from other moms that it would be hard, but who knew HOW hard! When I was pregnant, I read the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding from the Le Leche League, a national breastfeeding support group of nursing moms. But, my friend, Jill reminded me when Ava was 5-days old and I felt I was at wits end trying to breastfeed little Ava that that's why breastfeeding is called an "Art" and not a science. That really comforted me!

My in-laws sent the LLL book when I was pregnant. My mother-in-law, who is an amazing support, was a LLL group leader back in the 80's when she was heavily in nursing. Moms in the group are breastfeeding advocates now, but can you imagine what the climate was like 30 years ago when nearly every baby was formula fed, including yours truly! Michele brought the whole family into it. Aaron and his sibs babysat the babies and my father-in-law talked to the fathers in those days about the benefits of breastfeeding, peer-to-peer. Growing up knowing breastfeeding is best for babies, Aaron was in lock-step with me and my biggest supporter. He told me Ava's position should be adjusted and comforted her when she was raging because she was hungry and couldn't latch so we could try again.

I'm now 8-weeks into breastfeeding and it's still a challenge sometimes. I'm wondering why is it SO HARD?? If it's natural, then why? I've learned that it's dance between babies and mothers that involves the right and left brains! Emotions and biology are wrapped up in one with breastfeeding! The good thing is that I have established a fantastic supply of milk starting with the frequent breastfeeding in those early hours and days. I used a nipple shield in the hospital because I had flat nipples and Ava had trouble latching the second feeding. By about 6-weeks, my nipples were drawn out by frequent nursing for Ava to latch and now by 8-weeks, she's completely weaned from the shield. BUT we're not out of the woods, yet. Now, we're working on her latch, which I suspect is shallow sometimes. I'm reading a great book that I borrowed from the LLL library Breastfeeding Made Simple, which has helpful techniques for getting the baby to latch in the "comfort zone."

Needless to say, I've spent countless hours breastfeeding now all over the place (check out my 6-week post), reading books, learning from lactation consultants and moms at breastfeeding support groups by now. One mom told me that if someone says breastfeeding is easy the first time is LYING! Just look at the numbers. The current stats from the CDC are staggering! By 3-months of age, when mom's are most likely back to work, only 33% of US babies are exclusively breastfed, not to mention only 13% by 6-months! It's so heartbreaking.

Now, I know why it's so hard to get right! Our culture has evolved to enable the $13B formula industry and take power from mothers. (A must read article Huffington Post) Before formula was invented, women had no choice but to breastfeed their babies, unless they were in the elite classes and they had wet nurses, which was obviously a handful of women. We give birth in hospitals that may not support breastfeeding. My disclaimer is that my hospital, OBGYN, pediatrician, and nurses were extremely supportive and pro-breastfeeding. But, women are giving birth in hospitals and coming home with the baby without their mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers there to support her not just after a couple days, but for weeks and months. We lack experiential knowledge, needed for breastfeeding. My mom fed me formula because it was too hard for her. No one jumped in to support her and she didn't seek it. But lets face it, that was 1976 the height of the "formula is more scientific movement."

The negative side of American culture is obsessed with quick fixes and letting corporations cook for you - look at the grocery store aisles. It's a vicious cycle. Moms that don't get the support and work hard at this careful dance, lose their confidence and their milk supply goes with it. There many moms are frustrated, embarrassed, and feeling down-right guilty. It makes me angry. I'm angry enough to fight for me and little Ava to continue as long as she needs it, which yep, folks, that means I may be nursing a toddler. But she'll be getting her nutrition from human milk until at least 1-year. Ava is worth fighting for. And now, I can't imagine not breastfeeding her. It's a constant bonding routine that gives her comfort, security, and mother's love.

I'm returning to work next week and I've already scheduled times in the Mother's Room to pump for daycare and to keep my supply strong. My first 4-weeks are really flexible, working 1 day in the office and 4 days at home. I'll have Ava in 1/2 day daycare so I can be productive and have time with her to continue to establish our nursing relationship. Then in June, I'll go back to the office 3 days a day and 2 days at home with the 1/2 day daycare to support me.

I struggle emotionally with going back to work, although I'm blessed with a flexible and supportive work culture that provides me a good transition schedule to keep me with Ava longer. I believe my emotions as a mother are hard wired. Mothers and babies are not meant to be separated. I'm reminded of that every time it's about 3-4 hours between feedings! Ouch! Working mothers need technology, AKA breastpump, to be apart from the baby. See, it's hardwired in our biology to stay together. Our household, at this point, is a two-income household to accommodate our financial needs and goals like providing shelter and still saving for the future like Ava's college and our retirement. Working mothers do it every day. I've admired many of my friends who have maintained their breastfeeding relationships with their babies by being diligent with their schedules. On Monday, I'll be one of those mothers with her mysterious "bag" who goes into a room to pump. But in my thoughts will be Ava and her smiles and cuddles. This picture above is from her first week of live when breastfeeding was a battle with the flailing arms and legs, but it's the image in my mind all the time. I love her to pieces, my little Ava!


  1. Do you know a mom who is or will be breastfeeding against all odds? Mindful Mama wants to provide one lucky, worthy mama with a Hygeia EnJoye LBI breast pump and a case of thinkbaby bottles ($700 combined value). Click here for more info:

  2. Forgive me if I'm repeating something you've already heard, but some working moms find it helpful to take a recent photo of their sweet babe to work with them and look at it while beginning to pump. You already know that the pump isn't quite as "inspiring" for your letdown as Ava is, and at work, you're on someone else's time. Getting the milk to flow on schedule might be helped along by thoughts and pictures of the sweet little girl who started it all.

  3. I will be thinking about you and Ava all day tomorrow. I hope it is a smooth transition back to work for both of you. The flexibility afforded by your job is wonderful and will definitely benefit you both. Until this country offers anything remotely close to a humane length of time for maternity leaves, we working moms will struggle with leaving our little ones too soon. Know that you are in good company and you are doing EVERYTHING little Ava needs!