This post in no way is to cast judgement on those who choose to formula feed or formula feed out of necessity. This is my story and my path may not be right for others.
My husband and I had just sat down in a classroom at Children’s Hospital. We were attending a breastfeeding course that came complimentary with our prenatal class. The nurse teaching us opened with the fact “The World Health Organization and Health Canada both recommended breastfeeding from birth past two years of age.”
She followed with, “Don’t worry, we don’t expect you to do that!”
I scoffed at the initial suggestion and looked over at my husband as if to say, “Ya right.”
The course proceeded and was filled with many illustrations of a proper latch, how to position the baby, the breast, and so forth. She cited studies on the benefits of breastfeeding and underscored that breastfeeding should never hurt.
We didn’t need convincing on the former.
Breastfeeding was something I had seen modelled to me as a little girl. My mom fed my younger brothers. And, I knew my grandma nursed her daughters; my great grandmother her children, and all of the women on that side before them. Aside from it being natural, instinctive, and ingrained in me, there were loads of studies to back up our choice. We bought a nursing canopy, some lanolin, and were ready! But as is the case with so many facets of life, it hardly went the way I foresaw it unfolding.
Here are five things that surprised me about breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is a Labour of Love
I wish the nurse in my breastfeeding course had said something more along the lines of, “If breastfeeding is hurting, ask an expert for help on your latch.” Not, “If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.”
The latter set the perfectionist in me up to think that if I followed the rules, I would ace. I would do exactly as I had seen illustrated and everything would be perfect.
One main thing I didn’t know about breastfeeding was that colostrum doesn’t turn to milk as quickly as my baby’s ravenous appetite would have liked. My daughter and I spent our second night with her perpetually feeding because she wasn’t satiated. Day three through, probably, day ten of breastfeeding, I would soak my nipples in warm salty water, pat dry, lather myself in lanolin, and wince in pain as my daughter fed every 1.5 hours. My reassurance came from my mom who affirmed me, it was a labour of love and would only get better. My public health nurse came and visited at the tail end of this time and did offer a slight correction on how my daughter was feeding, which helped.
The Convenience and Lack of Humility
Though late night feeds are exhausting, I was perpetually grateful to not have to prep bottles. I simply grabbed my sweet girl from her bassinet, nursed her, and set her back. At the time, we lived a ten minute walk from a beautiful shopping centre, and fifteen minutes from the beach. I just loved trekking out each day and being able to walk as long as my heart desired. As long as I had diapers, wipes, and food for myself, the two of us could stay out all day (again, no prep for her meals was great).
At first, our outings went off without a hitch, I could be relatively discreet with my nursing cover. By about two months in, however, my let-down became MUCH stronger. Using the cover was no longer a subtle, peaceful process, but actually started looking like a curtained Sea World show with flailing arms and whale-like sprays coming out every which way. By four months, my daughter hated the confines of the canopy and would no longer nurse underneath it. Shortly thereafter, I became one of those brazen breastfeeding moms who just let it all hang out.
Frankly, I came to terms with two things during this time:
1. I was less comfortable hiding away and not going out than being out and somewhat exposed.
2. When I thought about it, I realized the only reason I might be uncomfortable was because society had sexualized breasts when really they were intended for what I was using them for.
Nutrition isn’t the Only Need
My pre-nursing self assumed that nursing was strictly intended for nutrition. And as such, I anticipated that once on solids, my babies wouldn’t need to breastfeed. What I had not yet witnessed or read about was how nursing actually increases self-regulation. The misperception is that toddlers who breastfeed are more reliant on mama when research has demonstrated breastfeeding leads to increases in serotonin and oxytocin, neurotransmitters responsible for mood balance. In both of my kids, nursing in toddlerhood has been a large player in a near-immediate shift from upset to contented.
Not Wanting to Nurse; Not Wanting to Wean
Despite its wide-ranging benefits and the fact breastfeeding has been a real success for both of my kids, there have been times I have wished I could just stop now. However, when it’s come to actually thinking about weaning, my heart has broken a little bit. Even though nursing drained me (excuse the pun), it is such a tender, sweet bonding experience between mother and child.
When I got pregnant with my son, based on research and my maternal instinct, I decided against weaning my daughter at just under seven-months-old. I had read that when pregnant, milk production decreases and then eventually turns into colostrum. Generally, children will wean as the milk tappers or when the less fatty colostrum arrives. Neither happened, and I was very comfortable with the idea of nursing both my babies when baby #2 arrived. When my daughter hit 18 months, I started considering weaning. It always winded me a bit to think of doing it and I couldn’t put forth a plan to do so because it went against my instinct as a mom.
One year after starting tandem nursing my two little ones, the heat of the summer hit. I found no matter how much water I consumed, by afternoon I couldn’t shake feelings of nausea and feeling headachy. It was time to wean my first. Because I was ready this time around, unlike failed attempts before, it went relatively smoothly. Now it’s one down, one more to go!
If there is any advice I could give any expecting mothers, or new moms, it would be to follow medical advice, but listen to your maternal instincts above all else. Only you and your babe will know what’s truly right for you!