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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Breastfeeding - A Love Story

It's 3:30 a.m. and I'm sitting in our arm chair, a squirming, crying bundle of baby in my arms. I murmur soothingly as I struggle to adjust the Boppy and get her in position. Her little mouth opens as she twists and turns, stretching to reach me. Finally, her mouth closes around my nipple and my toes curl in pain.

One, one thousand. Two, one thousand.

I know that as soon as I reach ten, the pain will ease and all I'll be aware of is the sounds of Elizabeth nursing, her warm little body nestled against mine. I know that in a couple of days, a week, there won't be any pain, that I won't have to count to ten.

Three, one thousand. Four, one thousand.

It was so different with Joseph.

Joseph was put in the NICU immediately after birth. Since I'd had an emergency Cesarean, I wasn't able to hold him in my arms until I could get out of bed. Blurry Polaroid pictures taped to my tray were the only confirmation that I'd actually had a baby. Shortly after giving birth, a nurse visited me. She told me that Joseph needed fluids and I had a choice. Either my baby could be hooked to an IV or he could be given a bottle of formula.

In a drugged blur of morphine and Ketamine, I consented to formula. I didn't have any hard and fast negative feelings towards formula. I wanted to breastfeed, but everyone I knew, with the exception of my sister-in-law, had formula fed. I'd read that breastfeeding helps the mom lose baby weight and that it was best for baby. was free. The cost of formula nearly gave me heart failure. What I didn't know then was how much I wanted to breastfeed.

A lactation consultant visited me, pump in tow. She showed me how to work it and told me that every drop I pumped was liquid gold.

When I finally got to meet Joseph, the nurses tried to help me get him to latch. I sat in a chair in the middle of the busy NICU and tried desperately to get him to feed. He screamed and turned red and pumped his little fists. Every passing nurse had a different position, a different "trick", a different opinion. Near tears at my inability to feed my son, I gave him back to Chad who fed him a bottle, promptly ending Joseph's cries. What I didn't realize was that the bottles being used were the same bottles given to preemies. Tip them over and the milk flowed from the nipples, requiring minimum effort on the baby's part. Was this the reason for Joseph's inability to latch?

Five, one thousand. Six, one thousand.

My milk finally came in. For thirty minutes a session, every three hours, I sat in front of a pump, milk flowing into bottles. We left the hospital and made the commitment to not buy formula. Instead, I set my alarm and pumped. I sat in front of my pump while Joseph and Chad slept. I sat in front of it, tears streaming down my face as Joseph screamed in hunger. I sat in front of it and watched Chad feed our baby. I had been warned not to do so myself and felt useless to ease my newborn's cries.

We visited a lactation consultant for eight weeks. We still couldn't get a latch. Finally, she sat us down and told us that pumping was a third option. That it didn't have to be all or nothing. Resigned, I began to feed Joseph bottles and continued my long relationship with the pump.

I resolved to pump for three months. Then, four. Four turned into six and six turned into ten. I pumped in the car, at the drive in, in restrooms, in a tent - everywhere I went, I was attached to the pump. The little bottles turned into frozen bags. I didn't have a great supply, but I did everything I could think of to boost what little I had - oatmeal, lactation cookies, Fenugreek, water.

At ten months, my supply dwindled away to nothing. I put my pump away.

Seven, one thousand. Eight, one thousand.

When I became pregnant this time, I worried about having a repeat c section. I worried that history would repeat itself. But this time I was also a little more knowledgeable. I had family and friends who breastfed. I'd read enough to have an idea of what went wrong the first time. I had resources. I had confidence. And, if worse came to worse, I knew I could pump again.

As I was leaving the operating room, a nurse told me that they might have to give Elizabeth a bottle if her blood sugar was low. I protested. I was armed with the knowledge that she'd be fine for the two hours I would be in recovery. I insisted that she not be given a bottle.

I lay in the recovery room, trying to make my numb toes wiggle. I stared at the clock, each tick one minute further from the first sucking instincts of birth. Each tick, one minute closer to latching difficulties. I concentrated on my toes, willing them to move.

I was wheeled into my room, lowered into bed and then, held my little girl for the first time. My sister assured me that she hadn't been given a pacifier, that she hadn't been given a bottle. Everyone left the room. I sat in bed and pulled down my gown. I arranged pillows under her tiny body. Elizabeth squirmed and rooted and turned red, like her brother. I told myself that it was going to be different this time and positioned her the way the patient lactation consultants had shown me with Joseph. I moved her head the way the websites and books had instructed. I held my breath and silently begged her to please, please be a good nurser.

She latched on as if her mouth was magnetic.

Nine, one thousand.

The lactation consultant visited us the next day. After reviewing my history, she watched carefully as I nursed Elizabeth. She smiled.

"You've paid your dues and now you're being rewarded. You have a champion nurser. It's like she's nursed for years. Look at how her jaw is naturally positioned. Look at how her lips are open to the proper angle. Look at how quickly and efficiently she's nursing. You're both going to be just fine."

Ten, one thousand.

Ahhhh...the pain subsides as Elizabeth settles into the serious business of eating. I lean my head back and smile.

Mandy Dawson lives on the Central Coast of California with her husband and two children.  She's celebrating ten months of nursing with a trip down memory lane at

1 comment :

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. So beautiful.


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