My experience with breastfeeding my daughter is a memory that I will treasure all the days of my life. I had always wanted to nurse my children. However, I was alarmed and even worried by the number of stories I had heard from mothers who had tried to breastfeed and were unsuccessful. My heart’s desire was set on nursing and I ached at the thought of not being able. But, I kept coming back to the fact that, throughout all of history before the last century, breast milk was the only option for nourishing a baby and if a mom wasn’t able, then a wet nurse had to be found or the infant would not survive. I remember talking with a doula early on in my pregnancy and asking her about breastfeeding and she said, “I can tell you a mother’s chances for success at breastfeeding based on how many bottles she has in her house.” She said that while nursing can be H-A-R-D, your chances of succeeding are much greater if you don’t have a Plan B. I took this to heart.
The very best resource I found on breast feeding was/is the book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League. While I skimmed it before Lydia was born, I cannot count how many times I referenced it over the next years with specific questions. About the only thing I felt like I had down before Lydia was born was that nursing should not hurt. So, when she was born and her latch HURT I asked for the lactation consultant at the hospital. She was wonderful and showed me (and especially my husband who was a tremendous help and support in the beginning!) how to make sure Lydia was latched on correctly. I remember her saying it is “breastfeeding” NOT “nipple feeding” which is what Lydia wanted to do.
I’m really thankful I persevered in the first couple weeks to make sure Lydia learned to latch on well or I really don’t think I would have been able to continue nursing her. This was really the biggest issue I faced. From the first day Lydia had a strong suck. I remember many nights in the beginning just aching and being in pain with engorgement but I was absolutely determined to persevere. This all subsided after the first few weeks and then it was just total enjoyment to get to nurse my daughter. I loved the fact that, no matter who was holding her, she always got to come back to me every 2 hours or so!
By the time Lydia was 4-6 weeks old she nursed so much in the evenings I was convinced she wasn’t getting any milk. Again, I think this fear was fueled by so many friends I had who had doctors tell them they didn’t have enough milk and they should supplement. I knew this was a slippery slope for as soon as you do this, your milk supply will decrease and then you really will need to supplement, and the cycle will continue. I realized that overall, we really don’t have a “culture of support” for breastfeeding moms in the west. I had no idea that around 6 weeks your breasts settle into a routine and won’t feel as full; I also didn’t know that there’s always milk even when you don’t feel full.
When Lydia was four months old we moved overseas. We traveled a lot while she was young and nursing made it easy. I would sling her and nurse her about anywhere, one time I even nursed her while walking through an outdoor market in Africa! As she grew I taught her how to use sign language for “milk” and then it was easy for her to ask. We had a wonderful nursing relationship and it was an extremely hard decision for me to wean her a few months before she turned two. (Living overseas, we really wanted her to have a sibling close in age and I did not have a menstrual cycle nursing.) To this day, Lydia and I are extremely close and I believe our trusting relationship has its roots in our nursing relationship.