What does Breastfeeding mean to you?
I shared with Monet while she was taking our photos that I was struggling with my response to this question. I could go on and on about the significance and the impact of my breastfeeding relationship with Molly, but the first word that jumps to mind, as trite as it is, is everything. Breastfeeding is everything to me. For an endless moment in my daughter’s life, breastfeeding is everything. Breastfeeding summons simultaneous feelings of accomplishment and anxiety, as you pour every ounce of your strength, love, and sustenance into the little life that suddenly gives yours renewed purpose. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about breastfeeding or where breastfeeding and Molly’s needs don’t dictate my choices and actions. I chose to make breastfeeding, and by association, her, my priority. I committed myself to making this work – for her, for us. That meant tackling supply concerns head-on with herbal supplements and dietary supplements. It meant turning down social and professional opportunities that would call me away from my daughter or require an additional pumping session. It meant devouring information from trusted resources and asking questions. It meant pumping three times a day during my busy day as a high school teacher, often hurriedly eating lunch alone while I pumped – for an entire school year. It has been exhausting, it has been painful, but it has always been worth it. My daughter is worth it. She deserves the best that I have to offer, and if that means sacrificing my own time and energy, I will do so willingly every time, and without hesitation.
What has been your biggest Breastfeeding challenge?
When Molly was born, we dealt with jaundice and slow weight gain. Those first few days were agonizing, as we were coerced into supplementing with formula in the hospital in the effort to lower her bilirubin levels, and uncomfortably gave in to syringe feeding that night as a way to ensure our swift discharge from what had become a toxic environment. Once home, we were unnaturally detached from her so she could undergo phototherapy, although we kept breastfeeding on demand with the hope that it would be enough to flush the excess bilirubin out of her system. I dreaded going to the doctor’s office those first few months, where her weight would be called into question. I lived in fear of the “Failure To Thrive” label. I armed myself with information and wrapped my daughter in the heaviest cloth diaper combination I could find when we took her in for check-ups. I stood my ground and probed her pediatrician with questions about whether their growth charts were those from the World Health Organization, normed on breastfed babies, and informed him that the matter was being addressed by an IBCLC. I’m pretty sure he could sense the mama bear defensiveness, and eventually started to back off; I was prepared to leave the practice if he didn’t. Our next blow was during a breastfeeding support group in which an inexperienced IBCLC told me that I should start supplementing with an ounce of formula after each feeding. It seems mind-boggling in hindsight, and fortunately we disregarded the suggestion after one emotional attempt. Finally after getting a referral to Cathy Janoka, the most respected and experienced IBCLC in the area, and being told that we were doing everything right, my burdens were lifted and Molly began making significant gains at four months of age. I had to trust in the process and trust in my body’s ability to provide for my daughter.
Breastfeeding while working full-time outside of the home and serving in the military (I am an Air Force Reservist) presents its own challenges. I researched extensively in the beginning, as to not set ourselves up for failure. I waited to introduce artificial nipples, read up on paced feedings, and enlisted the help of my husband and father-in-law (my daughter's caretaker, who lives with us). To this day I have never given her a bottle, even of my own breastmilk, but she will ask her dada and Guh Guh (grandpa) to nurse ("boob, boob"). They haven't induced lactation yet, so I guess that idea is out. ;) In the meantime I have done everything in my power to ensure that my daughter has received only my milk (in addition to solids starting at 6 months) while I am away from her. Both working environments have had their own hurdles. Scheduling has been the most difficult at school, where I can't just break away at a moment's notice from a class full of teenagers to go pump. On several occasions, I have also had to refer to the state and federal laws for pumping and provide that to my supervisors and administrators. Eventually, people stopped questioning me as I got up and excused myself. My Air Force squadron has been much more accommodating, with my superiors offering up their offices for pumping, and not having to combine my pumping and lunch time. Eating with two hands is vastly underrated! On the other hand, I am currently awaiting a military school date that would take me away from my daughter for more than two months. I lived with that knowledge during our entire first year, knowing that I would have to wean her prior to my departure [pumping and shipping while there would not be feasible]. The idea of leaving your child is heart-wrenching for anyone, let alone a lactating mother. It has been a mixed blessing that the process has proved to be lengthy, as it allowed me to meet our one year milestone - a goal I never thought possible. I was also reluctant to resume a vigorous diet and exercise program to get back to shape for my first physical fitness test, as I did not want to jeopardize my supply. My abdominal strength suffered and I failed that first postpartum PT test. Fortunately, I was able to safely build myself back up and passed the second time.
What do you love most about breastfeeding?
I love the maternal bond that comes with nursing my daughter. As a motherless daughter, I am acutely aware of the finite nature of the time I have with her. I don't ever want her to question my love for her, and breastfeeding lays the foundation for a loving, respectful relationship between the two of us. Nursing provides us with the opportunity to unwind and connect with each other, sharing tender moments that are so precious to me. There is nothing better than the smiles she gives me when she's laughing and nursing - the brightness of her eyes and the knowledge that she has thrived because of all of my efforts to maintain our breastfeeding relationship. I am so proud of what we have accomplished together. Despite everything and everyone standing in our way, we have made it. Everything from here on out is a bonus to me, and I will continue to nurse her as long as our hearts are both committed to doing so.
Who (or what) has offered you the most support?
So many other cord mamas have cited their husbands/partners as their biggest source of support when it came to breastfeeding. While I wasn't quick to identify with their proclamations, I realized that my husband has indirectly supported me by giving me what I needed the most. I remember him making a comment early on in our nursing journey about how giving her a bottle would be easier, as he watched me struggle with a fussy infant. At the time I didn't understand that he was coming from a place of concern for my sanity and well-being. I brushed the thought aside and persisted despite the struggle. Historically, he has always taken a step back and supported me quietly on the sidelines, whatever the aspiration, as he knows I can hold my own and fight my own battles. And fight I did. If I can stand strong in my convictions when being questioned by my biggest supporter, I can stand strong against anyone in my way. For that empowerment, I am grateful to him and his greater understanding of my needs.
My husband aside, Kari Kwinn, CLE, gave me the education, Michelle Rodriguez gave me the encouragement and inspiration, and Cathy Janoka, RN, BSN, IBCLC, gave me the peace of mind. These three were the most influential on my breastfeeding career. My mother died when I was 20, and I had no other close female relatives that were passionate about breastfeeding. Like many others, I had to create the community I craved through LLL, online communities and information sites (KellyMom.com, The Leaky Boob, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots), and connecting with other BFing moms. Having "pumping buddies" while serving in the Air Force has created solidarity out of an otherwise isolating task. I would also be remiss if I didn't thank my father-in-law and everything that he has done to care for my daughter while I am away. He has never questioned me when I brought forward new requests or information about how he should be feeding her, how much he should be feeding her, and he has always followed through. When you're handing over precious ounces of breastmilk and entrusting someone else with your child, those little things are the big things!
Ultimately, you have to be your own cheerleader. No one is going to force you to do this. You have to want it for yourself and your child.
Any other advice for breastfeeding mamas?
I believe that success with breastfeeding revolves around three key components - Motivation, Education, and Advocacy. If one of those elements isn't in place or isn't solidified, the relationship will suffer, and potentially end. We assume that because breastfeeding is a natural process it must be easy, which we soon learn is far from the case. Our modern lifestyles throw "booby traps" at us that set us up for failure and encourage convenience items that only serve as setbacks. That being said, you must prepare for success. Someone once told me that there is no "try" in breastfeeding. By using the word "try" when discussing your breastfeeding, you are giving yourself an out. Immerse yourself in a supportive community that will encourage you along your breastfeeding journey, and call on those individuals for help and reassurance. Exhaust all options and get second opinions before compromising your beliefs. Know that every day you make a conscious decision to do this for your child. You can have the most supportive, informed community backing you, but you have to want to do this. Most importantly, trust your mama instincts and know that your top priority is your child and yourself. You can do this.