Saturday, August 7, 2010

Swimming Upstream- Breastfeeding from My Perspective

This post is part of the Breastfeeding Blog Carnival hosted by The Leaky B@@b. It's World Breastfeeding Week and the carnival theme is "Perspectives: Breastfeeding from Every Angle." Visit The Leaky B@@b for more perspectives on breastfeeding.

Ten years ago, if you would've asked me if I would breastfeed my future children, I'm sure I would have said "no way!" There are several reasons why I was not likely to do so. First of all, I was not breastfed myself. Second, none of my sisters (all three had children before me) were successful at breastfeeding. I was never around anyone who breastfed their child, and if I was, I sure was oblivious! I guess people just didn't do it around me. I have no idea how that's possible, but before I had children, I'd only really ever seen a baby being fed formula. From a bottle.

I was born in the late seventies. From what I gather, many moms of that day subscribed to the formula feeding method, and also started their babies on rice cereal early on...especially to get their baby to "sleep through the night". I was one of those babies. In fact, according to my baby book, my mom started me on rice cereal at six days old! Six. Days. Old. I can't even imagine. But, moms back then- like moms today- did what they knew was best. As far as I know, all of my sisters were fed that way as well. So needless to say, I never saw my mom breastfeeding any of my younger siblings. I don't think I remember ever hearing breastfeeding mentioned in our home in any capacity. I was pretty unaware that breasts were designed for feeding babies! Further, during my pregnancy with my first child, my step-dad asked if I was going to try to breastfeed. When I answered in the affirmative, he said something to the effect of "well, good luck with that, kiddo, your mother never could" (I've never been able to ask my mom about this, as she passed away when I was a teenager).

As I entered adolescence, I became an aunt. I really have no idea whether my sister ever considered breastfeeding. Several years later, another sister started a family. Again, as far as I know, bottle feeding was the preferred method. Good, bad or indifferent, that's just the way it was. At that point, I certainly didn't have an opinion about breastfeeding. It still really wasn't on my radar. I've seen cousins, sisters, friends and others have children and I can't remember a single one breastfeeding.

I have spent almost my entire adult life in a state where breastfeeding rates are extremely low. (I think it's something like of the 85% that start off breastfeeding, only 15% are still breastfeeding their child at six months old). I think I finally was aware of a breastfeeding mother when I started attending a church as a single in my mid-twenties. She and her family were also very committed to healthy organic eating. In fact, this mom ended up being a teacher in a health seminar that I attended at our church. Basically what I knew about being "healthy" at that point was to avoid drinking soda, and eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. That was about it. Since attending that health seminar, I really caught on to even more truths about healthy living. It's been something that I've pursued wholeheartedly since that time more than seven years ago.

So, almost four years ago, when I learned that I was pregnant, the decision was an obvious one for me. I would breastfeed. I began receiving prenatal care from a midwife, and also saw a chiropractor on a regular basis who also was a good resource for natural baby care. I researched and read all that I could, and took a free breastfeeding class at a local store. I prepared as much as I knew to so that I could be successful in my breastfeeding relationship.

I was absolutely floored when I faced such a struggle during my early breastfeeding days with my newborn son. Between my postpartum hemorrhage, needing a blood transfusion, and being ordered to stay in bed for the entire day after my son was born, as well as my son having Jaundice and needing to be in the nursery (so I was told- not sure if there were any alternatives available), there were many things working against us. Add unsupportive hospital staff and a lactation consultant who had the weekend off (I gave birth on a Friday night) to the mix- and you can well imagine the drama that ensued there! It was kind of a nightmare. I left the hospital with a son who did not know how to latch on and a breast pump. He eventually learned sometime around three weeks old after I received counsel from an independent lactation consultant.

I returned to work when my son was three weeks old. Thankfully, I had really great employers who were family-friendly and allowed me to have him in my office with me. I opted to enroll him in the on site day care when he was three months old as I was not able to focus on my job and him! The first in-real-life person that I knew who was breastfeeding at the same time as me was my younger sister who gave birth to her fourth child when my son was seven months old. It was nice to finally have somebody to actually talk to about breastfeeding triumphs and challenges, and it felt good to be an encouragement to her. Aside from my experience with her, I felt basically alone in my commitment to breastfeeding. I would be on the lookout for other moms with babies- at church or what-have-you, but all seemed to be formula feeding. (I don't know the reasons or anything, but it just felt pretty isolating to not be able to connect with other moms in my "circle" about breastfeeding).

I breastfed my son until just past his second birthday. Now I am nursing my second child and this time around (I'm happy to report) it was much easier getting started. I wasn't fighting with anyone over feeding preferences or anything like that. I still get surprised responses from doctors and others that learn I am breastfeeding, and it just makes me wonder if it really is that rare to encounter a breastfeeding mom. I really hope that it's just my perception! I am so thankful for the online resources that are available for the breastfeeding community, but hopefully someday breastfeeding will be much more common with the people in my "real" world!

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