Monday, January 31, 2011

On breastfeeding

On the heels of yesterday's post about things that no one told me, I think it is a shame that our society does not openly support women who choose to breastfeed. My opinion has nothing to do with the debate over breast or formula and has entirely to do with the fact that we do not give women enough emotional and physical support to pursue something as difficult as breastfeeding. I am grateful to all my friends and my mom for sharing with me their stories and encouraging me when I doubted whether or not I could continue to do it.

Fast forward to the birth of my girls. I was still recovering from my c-section and hadn't even seen my girls when the nurses rolled in a hospital grade breast pump and got me started on expressing milk. Although I planned on breastfeeding, no one ever really asked me. So I diligently started pumping every three hours, even through the night. Very quickly I was producing more than enough milk for my little preemies in the NICU.

It wasn't until my girls were nearly ready to leave the hospital that the nurses suggest that we give breastfeeding a try. Until that point I was pumping and they were eating expressed milk. Grace tried first and really had no interest. So she went back to the bottle. Several days later we tried with Ana. She was better but clearly still needed to take a bottle as well. My babies were less than 5 pounds and they sent me home with them without any clear plan on how to feed them. I had never successfully breastfed before bringing them home at two weeks of age.

Despite what "they" say, breastfeeding is at first completely unnatural. It feels awkward and strange. Add in an enormous pillow for support and there is nothing discreet or normal feeling about holding a baby to your boob. There was no way for me to fail at pumping, so I stuck with my machine for the first few weeks my girls were home. Eventually pumping became a chore while breastfeeding felt unsuccessful. The girls had a painful latch and ate poorly from the breast. I had to give them a bottle after every feeding. It was time consuming. It was awkward. It was painful.

I hated breastfeeding. While I was also not particularly fond of my relationship with the pump, at least it didn't hurt and wasn't frustrating. The nurses, lactation consultants and the books all said that breastfeeding should never be painful. They are full of shit. It hurt and it hurt badly. There were moments of pure pain when I cried as the girls latched on. There were moments where I wanted to scream and give up.

To top it off, I felt no bonding as a result of breastfeeding. Everything I'd read said that breastfeeding allowed for a special bond between mom and baby. I saw it only as a means to an end.

I don't know why I didn't give up. At 3 weeks I was miserable. At 4 weeks I was still in pain. At 5 weeks I was sure that I was going to give up. Now that my girls are 12 weeks old I can't even say how I got to this point. What I do know is that I started setting small goals. Instead of thinking about nursing for 6 months, I gave myself permission to reevaluate every week. I started to increase the number of times I tried to nurse. In the beginning I only nursed once a day. Now I nurse 7-8 times a day (per girl). Some time in the last 7 weeks it clicked for us; suddenly the girls' latch improved, eventually the pain disappeared and slowly but surely I replaced the bottles with the breast.

Now I don't even like the one time a day that the girls get a bottle (pediatrician ordered-- it is a formula supplement for preemies with higher calorie content). What I have come to appreciate about breastfeeding is that there is no prep work, no dishes and my ability to do it anywhere. It fits well with my busy (and lazy...) lifestyle.

And most importantly, I have come to love that time with my girls. Occasionally I tandem feed (read: feed both at the same time), but usually I prefer to take my time with each girl. Sure, it slows down the pace of my day, but it gives me a moment to observe each one. They are distinct in their eating style, in their sounds and in their needs. Ana gets a huge smile on her face when I draw her near to nurse. It is absolutely adorable. And with twins I spend most of my day bouncing between the two of them, so I appreciate the opportunity to just be with one for a few short minutes.

I have too much of my own life to live to be concerned with what choice other moms make on how to feed their kids. But I have empathy and compassion for those who want to breastfeed and think they have to quit because it seems unsuccessful. I hope that women who want to do it will find the necessary support to continue. I am happy I did.


  1. You are amazing. I am sooooo happy to read this!!! I, too, loved the whole no dishes, no cleanup aspect of breastfeeding. For me, it was SO much easier to keep nursing. But yeah, it totally hurt at first. I would have told you that, too ;)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I can see the connection you have with the girls as a result of breastfeeding. You all seem more happy and in sync as a result. Apparently having to feed twin girls was the perfect vehicle to improve your patience. You amaze me every day. I'm so proud to be your husband.

  4. Erin, this is a great post!
    In the hospitals I see nurses who aren't so helpful with teaching new moms about breastfeeding. When I did my rotation on the postpartum floor, breastfeeding teaching quickly became what I was most passionate about. You are right - as a society we are not supportive enough of breastfeeding moms. :)

    PS - you are a great writer!

  5. So VERY IMPRESSED that you made BF work with preemie twins. I had a hard enough time with one full term little guy. And I'm impressed that you find time to blog. You have earned your SuperMom cape!

  6. This is beautiful. You are truly amazing.

    I will never forget the nurse telling me my hours old baby would "starve" and not come home with me because his bili was (slightly) elevated because I was having such trouble breastfeeding. (Both statements - I now know were FALSE). It HURT and his latch was so poor - he was drawing blood. I felt helpless and overwhelmed. Watching him get a bottle of formula made me wretch, so I asked for a breast pump. Like you, we never effectively nursed in the hospital and it took some time to transition once home. One day it clicked and I was so grateful we had toughed it out.

    When I was helping new Mom's feed, I told them above all else, to give themselves permission to feed just for two weeks ... Then another two ... Then another two. Most babies and mothers "click" around 6 weeks (which may make sense for gestational age with Ana and Grace). Further, if it still didn't happen - they got 6 weeks of precious immunity that could not be replicated in formula. I believe we need to support other Mom's choices, but I also believe in celebrating the gift you're giving to your children. You said it so powerfully.

  7. WOW. Standing up to applaud you for breastfeeding at all - but with preemie twins?!

    seriously. you deserve some sort of medal. i think this is very rare.

    i am still nursing my 6 month old, and it took us a good 6 weeks to get into even STARTING to feel comfortable. and the pain?! like nothing in my life. every 2 hours. and that was just with 1 baby! one of the things i always tell my friends now is that people who say breastfeeding doesn't hurt are LYING.