by Double Duty Mama
A few weeks ago, my neighbors had their first baby. A couple weeks later, I came by to exchange scones for a dose of New Baby Smell. When I settled down on the couch, fresh baby dozing in my arms, I looked at the new mom and asked, “How are you?”
She hesitated a moment. I remember pausing in a similar way before answering such questions. You want to be a good hostess and not make anyone feel uncomfortable … but that means lying. Because, let’s face it, being a new mom is the strangest, toughest thing ever. You’re sleep-deprived. You’re unsure if you’re doing anything right. And you had no idea what a difficult and time-consuming process breastfeeding is.
I guess she trusted me – maybe because I seemingly survived two bouts of New Parenthood – to tell me the truth. “It’s hard,” she stated. The baby won’t latch on to her nipples, and her entire life is consumed by an endless cycle of pumping milk, feeding the baby and washing bottles and pumping accessories. She had gone to a lactation consultant, and tried a silicone nipple shield to see if that would help, but it didn’t.
I nodded, remembering those difficult first weeks of breastfeeding. Looking back, I told her, I still don’t know how I stuck to it. But some things, you just decide, are important enough to you to keep you going. What I also learned, though, is that you have to do what’s right for you and your family – and shut out the outsiders who insist that you do what they think is right.
Take the nipple shield, for instance. After my first son was born, it was clear to me that breastfeeding was not going to be one of those simple, lovely experiences you see on television with the newborn nestled to the boob moments after birth. We tried that, but he could care less about it. We tried again a couple hours later, but without luck. A few hours later, the crying began. But no matter how hungry he seemed and how much he wailed, I couldn’t get him to latch.
Over the next few days, the only way I was able to breastfeed my child was with the help of at least one, if not two, other people. Someone held the baby, someone squeezed my breast, someone else shoved his head into my chest. By the time we left the hospital, I had no confidence, but my cup runneth over with fear and stress.
The next day, we visited a lactation consultant. Normally modest, I shocked my husband by walking into her office, pulling off my shirt and pointing to my swollen breasts: “Make them work. Please!” I demanded. I stood there, crying, holding my crying son, in front of a stranger. But I didn’t care.
Despite everything I read about such things as “crutches” and “nipple confusion,” she recommended we try a nipple shield. It would slow down my fast, sharp milk flow that was choking my son and solve an inverted nipple problem. She told me to use it for the first few minutes until the baby got a sucking rhythm, then remove it and put him back on the breast. That flimsy $6 gadget, and her advice, saved us.
When I told my neighbor this story, I could see she felt relief in learning she wasn’t alone. I gently encouraged her to keep trying, reminding her how quickly these little guys change from day-to-day. A week can make a big difference in her daughter’s sucking abilities. And I praised her for continuing to pump and bottle feed, recognizing what a huge sacrifice she was making for her daughter’s well-being.
I continued nursing my boy until he was about a year old, and was so relieved when I didn’t have a similar experience when my second son was born. I look back at those first crazy weeks, though, and wonder how I ever continued. At 2 a.m., my husband and I would scour the Internet for the answers for our hungry, crying boy and only find advice like “have patience and perseverance.” I’ve never thought of myself as having either of those qualities. But, I guess, when it mattered the most, I dug in deep to pull them out. And, really, isn’t that what parenting is all about?