World Breastfeeding Week

According to Mothering Magazine it is World Breastfeeding Week.  So I need to take a little break from musical topics to wax lyrical on the joys and the benefits of breastfeeding.
Except surely by now you know the benefits of breastfeeding, right?  If you don’t, click here.  (And we lactivists, by the way, prefer to talk about the deficits of formula feeding, since we believe breastfeeding should be normative.)
So I think I’ll do something a little more personal and share with you some of my own adventures in breastfeeding.  And I have had a lot of them!
What do I think about breastfeeding in public?
If a woman has a right to be there, she has a right to feed her baby there.  Period.  Would I whip out a bare breast to make a point?  No.  Do I think babies need blankets or nursing aprons over their heads?  Absolutely not.  A nursing bra and a shirt that pulls up from the bottom will do just fine.  If anyone sees a nipple during the latch on process, they were staring.
Did I always feel that way?
No, it was a process.  I covered my first baby with a blanket, often left the room to nurse her, and stopped nursing her in public at six months.  Baby number five was nursed whenever, wherever, for at least two years.
How long should babies be breastfed?
Exclusively, for six months, or until you can no longer stop them grabbing food off your plate, whichever comes first!  After that, as long as both parties feel comfortable.  All my babies self-weaned, some with more encouragement than others, depending on my mood/needs at the time.   I nursed Emily for 26 months, Jake for 38, Teddy for 26, William for about 44 months, and Lorelei for about 50 months.  I have breastfed for over 13 years of my life–very well spent years!
Where should breastfed babies sleep?
In bed with their mothers.
Did I always do this?
Somewhat.  Emily had a cradle next to my bed.  I started nursing her in my bed, in my sleep.  I had never heard of co-sleeping, couldn’t believe this great secret I had discovered.  I was never tired!  It was wonderful.  With my first three babies I was always trying to get them to sleep through the night, so at some point I would be sitting up on the sofa in their bedrooms nursing in the middle of the night and falling asleep sitting up as often as not.  I gave all that up with four and five.  Lorelei never had a cradle or crib.  She has always slept with me and still usually does.
What are my favorite books on breastfeeding?
Nursing Your Baby by Karen Pryor.  I don’t mean the updated version, which I have never read.  I mean the original 1970s version, which is charmingly dated and yet full of good advice.  Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley.  If you aren’t interested in child spacing you can ignore that part and concentrate on the theme of mother-baby togetherness.
What about schedules?
No.  When the nurse asks how often your baby is eating, make something up.  Don’t even look at a clock.  If your baby wants to eat every thirty minutes, so what?  This time will not last forever.  Maybe he isn’t hungry.  Maybe he just wants to be comforted.  That’s okay; breastfeeding is about more than just food.  And no, I did not always know this, and baby #1 ate every two hours like clockwork, and slept with a pacifier.
What about pumping and bottlefeeding?
I worked part-time when Emily was a baby, starting when she was four months old.  She flatly refused bottles, and learned to wait till I came home.  Jake got a few bottles (twelve ounces worth) ONCE when I went to the symphony when he was three weeks old and his godparents kept him.  I never pumped any more after that.  I don’t think Teddy ever had a bottle.  I never left him until he was about nine months old.  William never had a bottle.  Lorelei is a separate case–see breastfeeding challenges below.  I HATE pumping.  I am terrible at it.  I can’t get any more than four ounces out EVER, even with a double electric milking machine pump.  I am in awe of women who cannot breastfeed for whatever reason who then pump and feed breastmilk exclusively for a year.
What were my biggest breastfeeding challenges?
I can think of three big ones.  #1   A few days after William was born I was rehospitalized due to chest pains, shortness of breath, and a terrible headache. Turns out I just lost a lot of blood giving birth to him (he weighed 13 lbs. 5 oz. and was my first vaginal delivery).  But while they were figuring this out, I was subjected to a radioactive test and told I could not nurse my newborn baby for some undetermined amount of time.  My lactating sister (her baby was 17 months old), her baby, and my mother spent the night at the hospital so that she could nurse the baby for me.  My step-sister also donated pumped milk which my mother and I took turns feeding William by syringe.  The nurses thought I was crazy, but he never had a drop of formula.    #2   When William was about seven months old, and pretty much exclusively breastfed, I suffered through a terrible attack of thrush which lasted for weeks.  The pain was excruciating.  I tried every ointment available, stopped eating almost everything that can promote the growth of yeast (sugar, milk, bread), and finally had to pay $60 for one Diflucan pill.     #3  Lorelei did not gain any weight from two months to four months.  Although she was taking in enough milk to stay hydrated, she was not getting enough calories to grow.  I took every galactacgogue that existed–even got an online friend to mail me some domperidone.  We visited a lactation consultant regularly.  We had her medicated for reflux.  We rented ($100) a double electric breastpump so that I could build supply and feed her the extra via SNS (a royal PITA!).  Finally we had her hospitalized and tested for a variety of problems, eventually reaching the conclusion that a recessed chin was preventing her from effectively milking the breast.  Formula was prescribed by the doctor, and from four to eight months she had about 15 ounces each day.  I was fortunate to have a doctor who was 100% committed to breastfeeding and worked with me in every possible way until we were both convinced that this was a rare case in which a bottle was needed.  We kept nursing as well and the nursing continued long after the formula was discontinued!
Where is the strangest place I have ever breastfed?
When Lorelei was about nine months old, my Aunt Wilma died.  I had her with me at the funeral home, of couse, and I was getting ready to nurse her there in the chapel when my mother got all weird about it and wanted me to go find a private place (which annoyed me but it was hardly the time to have an argument about it).  So I asked the funeral director if he could direct me to a private room.  At which point he showed me into a vacant parlor, saying, “There’s no one in here but Mr. Smith.  And he won’t mind.”  Yes, I nursed my baby in a room with a STRANGER’S CORPSE.
How’s that for an adventure?

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  1. Julie says:

    One of the most difficult and rewarding things I ever did as a mom (so far).

  2. Emily Cook says:

    Leslie,
    I loved this post! I’m so glad you brought up A) the fact that you bfed well past the one year mark and B) the struggles you faced during nursing.
    I’m always saddened, and a little shocked when people act so appalled by nursing a toddler (remember the Salma Hayek brouhaha and her baby was only 13 mos). Joey nursed until the day after his 4th birthday (I did make him wean) and Jude is still going strong at 3 1/2, but in all honestly, unless I told someone they would never know. After about 2 1/2 mine rarely asked to NIP so I’m not sure why people feel so much animosity towards the idea – they never have to see it but they get to reap enormous benefits from my willingness to breastfeed so long (healthier kids = less drain on healthcare, increase chances they’ll be healthier adults = less healthcare costs and more productive citizens, decrease chance of numerous cancers for me = less healthcare costs, better for the environment, studies indicate they make better students which enriches the school and increases the chances they’ll be able to make a greater contribution to society, etc). So while I can understand that breastfeeding past 2 isn’t for everyone, I can’t understand why anyone would react negatively to someone else’s decision to do it. So kudos to you for reminding people that babies can be breastfed well into toddlerhood!
    As for the part about your struggles, I think it is so important for women to hear that. Sometimes I think there is an impression out there that becausing bfing is natural, it is easy and so when a mother runs into difficulites she feels like there must be something wrong with her or her baby and she quits. I think it’s great for women to know that even extremely successful nursing relationships have their rough patches and that in 99% of the cases there are solutions, help and that ultimately it too shall pass. I especially loved your story about having to endure tests after William was born. That part about your sister wet-nursing him was so beautiful and the radiology part reminded me of one of my own horror stories (that luckily ended well in which I can proudly say I got UTMC’s radiology dept. to change its policy on handling breastfeeding mothers). Overall, a great post to kick of World Breastfeeding Week!

  3. lesliesholly says:

    Emily,
    Thank you! I know of course about some of your breastfeeding challenges but would love to hear about how you got UTMC’s radiology dept. to make a change. One of the things that was so upsetting about my experience with William was the misinformation floating around about whether it was safe to nurse and if not when it would be. I had to seek my own answers–doesn’t it seem ridiculous that they wouldn’t have had a copy of Medications and Mother’s Milk on hand? And yes, I was so lucky to have Anne to help me out. But the nurses could not get over it–apparently were still talking about how strange it was months later when someone else I knew was there having a baby!
    As for toddlers nursing, I don’t know how people mother toddlers without that handy breastfeeding tool–getting them to sleep, making them feel better when they are sick, calming them when they were upset–there are so many non-health benefits to breastfeeding, in addition to all the great benefits to society that you mentioned!

  4. Emily says:

    I’m really glad you breastfed me, otherwise I would probably be one of those people who think it’s weird 🙂 As it is, I’m glad I was exposed to it so that I’m aware of the benefits, both health and otherwise, and I know I’ll do it for my kids when I have them.
    Also, LOL at Mr. Smith!

  5. Miss K. says:

    Whoo – – that it quite a story about the funeral home. I remember being so discreet about it at first, then the first public place I had to breastfeed was at the Detroit Airport, then on planes witting next to strangers. WHEE!

    • lesliesholly says:

      Oh, yes, nursing in the close quarters of a plane–how awful. The last time I flew I had my almost two year old with me. The flight attendant transferred me to the bulkhead seat on her own. Then later when I nursed my toddler she stopped by and made nice comments about how she had nursed her own child.

  6. Justine Martin says:

    Breastfeeding Niall was an awesome experience for both of us – I know he loved it when at 6 and seeing a toddler nurse he said, ” Ahh, those were he good old days!”

    • lesliesholly says:

      That is so sweet! Jake nursed until he was past three and he still can remember it. These boys will grow up to be great breastfeeding advocates and supportive husbands/fathers. 🙂

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