Hi, I’m Emily, and I am a successful breastfeeder.
It feels like something I need to hide, to qualify, to be a bit abashed about, because nowadays people are so worried about offending those who don’t breastfeed that they bend over backwards to avoid seeming to celebrate those who do. But, despite all the complicated Mommy politics around breastfeeding, the fact remains that we all know it is best for the baby and we should do it if at all possible.
What we don’t acknowledge is that, even in the most conducive of situations, nursing is hard. I mean HARD. It is tiring and hurts and requires a woman to be with her baby pretty much all the time, unless she is pumping, which is a whole other mess of caterpillars. It is not easy, but there are a lot of things in parenting that are not easy, from cutting a newborn’s nails to convincing a two-year-old that watermelon alone does not constitute a complete breakfast to negotiating the terms of a cease-fire between siblings. Come to think about it, just about everything involved with parenting is difficult, although I suspect I bring an unnecessary degree of complication to packing school lunches.
But, like so many other aspects of parenting, nursing is also incredibly rewarding, and given how much I suck at things like remaining-patient-with-a-whining-child and not-allowing-them-to-watch-TV-till-they-are-forty, I am pleased that at least I am able to do this one thing well.
I’ve breastfed a couple of babies by this point, and I am a pretty confident nurser. I know what works and what doesn’t. It the beginning, however, I had no idea what the hell I was doing.
When Zachary was born and the doctors suggested supplementing with formula to help with the jaundice, I was too green and bewildered to do anything but comply. I suspect it did affect my later milk supply, but we muddled on through just the same, perhaps because he has never had particularly high caloric needs and because I had all the time in the world to nurse him.
This time, however, when the doctors suggested formula, I pushed back. The only reason to give formula to a jaundiced baby is to make her poop more. Since Lilah was pooping just fine and I had plenty of colostrum, I saw no need for formula. And I said so.
And then, resident after resident, maternity nurse after maternity nurse, they all kept pushing formula. When I resisted, they sighed as though I was some moron who was sacrificing her child’s health to an abstract ideal. “It would just be for the short-term,” one resident told me, patiently trying to explain why formula wouldn’t hurt. Really? You think that supplementing breast milk with formula just as the milk is starting to come in has no long-term consequences? Anyone who knows anything about breastfeeding will tell you that exclusive nursing while establishing a milk supply is essential.
I am one who usually follows a doctor’s advice. I trust these folks with the M.Ds. But, in this case, there was no earthly reason to give formula except that the textbook said that in some cases of jaundice, supplementing with formula helps. Not in cases due to blood type discrepancy, of course, especially when the mother is producing plenty of milk. The advice they were giving was formulaic, and it made no sense in our case.
But, as Lilah’s bilirubins kept climbing, I began to wonder if maybe I was being too obstinate. When the attending pediatrician came in, I brought it up. “Everyone keeps pushing formula,” I said. “But I don’t want to affect my milk supply later on.”
“Formula wouldn’t help in this situation,” she informed me matter-of-factly.
“Wow. I am glad to hear you say that. Every single resident or nurse has pushed formula really hard.”
“Well, that makes no sense. I am actually surprised to hear that,” she replied. “We have a lot of young people just learning, I guess.”
Fortunately, I had not been one of them. I am experienced, and I am a very successful breastfeeder. I knew enough to know that starting in with formula could affect my long-term milk supply, and I asserted my authority.
But, there are plenty of first-time moms who do not know. They are stumbling along in the confusion of new parenthood, and they will take the advice given them. In the case of breastfeeding, the facile answer can have long-term ramifications, but inexperienced parents may not know that. Advice like the advice I got can make successful nursing even more elusive.
And that’s a shame, because breastfeeding is not easy, even in the most conducive of circumstances.
Thank you all for your support over the last few days. Lilah’s bili count has plateaued and she needs no more blood tests.