I'm the oldest of four kids. (shout out to the moms of four out there...MVPS!) While I certainly don't remember my mother nursing me, I do have memories of her nursing my younger siblings...even as early as when I was three years old. I remember her sitting in our big brown (oak...it was the 80s) rocking chair and nursing my sister who came after me. I would plop down beside her and do the same with my baby doll. For every baby that came after that, I watched her journey of feeding them. Not always at the breast, sometimes from a bottle. My mom was a working mom, a nurse who often worked nights, and so while I never saw her do it, I know that she lugged that pump to and from the hospital and quietly pumped during her rare break at work. She still tells the story about how picky my brother was...she'd go to all the trouble to pump and he wouldn't drink from a bottle. He had to have it straight from the tap.
Happy World Breastfeeding Week
It may be because my mom happened to be a breastfeeding educator and a nurse, or maybe it's because I'm from a family with a lot of women, but breastfeeding has certainly always been something we've talked a lot about my whole life. My maternal grandmother shared with me when I became a mother that she struggled with breastfeeding and my own mother nearly starved to death. I don't know what she did with her subsequent children, but I'm happy to report that my mother turned out just fine despite my grandmother's struggles.
Even after my mother had finally ended her breastfeeding journey, and I say finally because she had four kids in ten years...so I'm pretty sure my mother nursed for almost a decade of her life, I was exposed to a lot of breastfeeding as a teenager due to the nature of my parent's work and where we lived. I'll admit, the first time I saw a Costa Rican woman pull her breast out in the middle of church, my teenage American self audibly gasped. It wouldn't be the first, or the last time, I saw a Latina mama whip it out in front of me. I spent the bulk of my teenage years watching them nurse while carrying baskets on their heads, nurse two babies at once, nurse on the bus, nurse while doing the laundry...basically I watched these women nurse in any situation or circumstance and it blew me away. Still does today, in fact.
When I became pregnant with my first baby, there wasn't even a question in my mind that I wouldn't breastfeed. I was excite to embark on the journey of something that seemed so normal for me. I imagined what it would be like, and like all first time moms who plan to breastfeed, began prepping for what I assumed would be an exclusive, rainbows and unicorns, beautiful bonding experience for my daughter and I.
There were no rainbows and unicorns. What there was, instead, was a baby with severe jaundice who was sleepy and would.not.nurse. There was an undiagnosed glandular disorder on my part which meant I legitimately did not make enough milk. Those two things combined, meant that my baby was actually starving. I remember sitting in the pediatrician's office and he told me he was worried that my sweet baby girl was failure to thrive. FAILURE TO THRIVE. I tried everything. I tried nursing her round the clock, I tried splashing water on her face to get her to wake up, I tried pumping. I remember sitting in the floor of my living room squeezing my breast in the breast pump so hard that it bruised and crying. "It's not supposed to be like this!" All I wanted to do was breastfeed. But more importantly, I wanted my baby to not be hungry. At the time, I think I thought I was giving up. But "giving up" meant that my baby was going to be nourished and thrive. I ended my breastfeeding journey a few weeks after she was born. After a couple of weeks, she started gaining weight and she hasn't stopped growing since.
After the experience I had with my daughter, I was convinced I would never be able to successfully breastfeed. While pregnant with my son, I shared these concerns with my midwife and she assured me that whatever happened, my baby would be loved and nourished. Unfortunately, he was also born with severe jaundice, BUT he was also a very aggressive eater. And guess what? I made milk! Not a lot, but I did make milk. I was able to almost exclusively nurse him the first couple months of his life and continued to nurse him until he was 2. Since I never made quite enough milk, I sourced donor milk from a total of 11 different moms and fed him donor milk from an SNS system and bottles when he got older. I was able to feed him solely on breastmilk thanks to the beautiful gift from these mothers. (Check out Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human Babies for more info on donor milk and milk sharing)
My third baby surpassed her brother in her vigor for breastfeeding. She also, thankfully, did not develop jaundice and was able to hit her growth milestones much faster than her older siblings. She was a champion nurser from day one. In fact...she nursed round the clock. Sometimes I think she was such a bad sleeper because she was such a good nurser. Like my son, I did need to supplement her because I didn't make extra, but this time, I went the formula route. We had just moved to VA and I didn't have the network I knew back home in Texas. And I was tired. Formula was easy and she didn't care. I nursed her until her third birthday and even successfully managed to pump for the first time in my nursing journey.
Just like your children are unique, each individual nursing experience is unique. Each individual feeding experience is unique. I've done it all and I can tell you with certainty my bonding experience wasn't affected whether I was feeding my babies from my breast, using an SNS with another mama's milk, or giving them a bottle of formula. I was feeding my baby, and that's all that mattered. If you want to breastfeed, and can't...remember that it's ok! If you don't want to breastfeed and don't, that's ok too! If you choose to exclusively pump...cheers to that! Whatever journey you take with your baby, it's the right one for you....never forget that!