The first thing you should know about me is that I never thought I’d breastfeed, let alone write a “hey everyone, let’s breastfeed” article. I’m a 39-year-old, relatively repressed Catholic woman, the youngest in a family of three bottle-fed girls. And quite frankly, up until 11 years ago, breastfeeding kind of grossed me out — just catching a glimpse of someone else’s tatas made me squirm.
The next thing you should know about me is that I did breastfeed each of my three children until they were about eight months old.
Before me, the only person I knew who’d even tried breastfeeding was my older sister — can you say worst-case scenario? A few weeks after giving birth to her first baby, my poor sis wound up in the hospital with terrible mastitis. I was 18 years old then, and it became clear to me that breastfeeding could be a painful and stressful thing. I remember watching her sob as she tried to feed my nephew, thinking “Why are you doing this? Bottles don’t hurt!” After a week in the hospital Shannon, understandably, stopped nursing. And it was bottles from then on in my family.
So, when it came to feeding my own little love muffin, I was thinking formula, all the way. I’d read the research in favour of breastfeeding but it didn’t change my mind. I am prone to depression and I assumed nursing equaled sleepless nights for mommy. Since I know depression is linked to sleep deprivation, I figured why even consider it?
When I was four months pregnant, I told my favourite aunt all of this. And do you know what she said? “Why don’t you just try and see if you like it?” Pfft. No way — wasn’t she listening? My girls are my own!
But a few months later, when my husband heard about the benefits of breastfeeding at our prenatal class, he asked me the same question. “Why don’t you just try?”
An unforeseen development
So when baby Charlotte made her big debut, I decided to give nursing a shot, anticipating an icky and painful experience. But a crazy thing happened. It worked! Even crazier, I kind of, sort of liked it. It was sweet and nice.
And it turns out, for me, nursing isn’t so much about sore nipples and flashing my fun bags at strangers, it was about snuggling my babies and taking time to relax and enjoy them.
Did it hurt? Oh yes! At first. But then it got better.
Was it weird exposing myself to feed my baby? Yup, especially since my family wasn’t exactly pro-breastfeeding right off the bat. When she was visiting me in the hospital, my sister Kilby actually got mad at me for nursing in front of her — it wasn’t like I had anywhere else to go, I had a catheter in for crying out loud! But eventually even Kilby lightened up.
The hardest part for me was not having anyone to ask for advice when I needed it. My mother and mother-in-law both bottle-fed their babies, so their ‘help’ consisted mostly of worrying about how much milk my baby was getting.
Breastfeeding wasn’t always easy for me. I lived through split nipples (ouch!), thrush and one painful case of mastitis, but none of that was bad enough to make me think bottle-feeding 100 percent of the time would be easier. There’s something to be said for having food on tap!
I tried to make things easier on myself by supplementing with formula once a day, from the very beginning. In my mind this gave me the best of both worlds; I got all the closeness and convenience of nursing my babies and my husband gave a bottle at night so I could get some rest. At first, I worried that supplementing would harm my milk supply, but my doctor recommended doing it at the same time each day, so my body would get used to that pattern of demand. And it worked fine, all three times.
I know too many women who weren’t able to nurse and who still bear the emotional scars they got from trying. I only had one negative experience with a lactation consultant and I don’t know if I would have kept breastfeeding if it meant dealing with that old bag on a daily basis. In a way, I’m glad I met her, because now I understand how helpful advice can sometimes be twisted into biting and condescending remarks that can break a new mom’s spirit. But the staff at my local breastfeeding clinic were wonderful — I always went home a little more informed and feeling a lot more relaxed.
Once I got the hang of it, I quit worrying so much. I had the occasional beer, I drank coffee and I took the medicines I needed to manage the postpartum depression I experienced after my son was born.
I’m so glad my aunt and husband gave me the nudge I needed to try nursing my babies. Without them I never would have discovered that for me, breastfeeding is actually pretty awesome.