Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! If you read my post I’d love for you to leave a comment. You can find links to the other Carnival posts at the bottom of this post.
I’m beginning this composition with thumbs on an iPhone. My daughter has just fallen asleep nursing. She might continue her nap if I set her down in the crib, but for the moment I’m cherishing the weight of her little body across mine. As we mark her first birthday I’m aware that she won’t do this forever.
Starting with the machines
I had to fight for this breastfeeding relationship. When I listened the other day to the podcast on the Impact of Birthing Practice on Breastfeeding and heard the assertion that the single most important birth practice to support breastfeeding is immediate and prolonged skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby I nearly cried. Because of severe meconium aspiration my baby had to be taken out of my arms minutes after she was born, and couldn’t be held for days. She was not only hooked up to wires and tubes, but sedated to keep her from fighting all the interventions. No breastfeeding.
During that time it seemed like I was constantly hooked up to the breast pump. I was so productive that before long the nurses asked me to store some of my milk at home. When Bridget was ready for something more than IV fluids she got colostrum and then milk through a tube.
As soon as she was well enough I began to nurse her. It was awkward and anxious-making, propped up on hospital pillows, under the nurse’s gaze, and being carefully judged for how much my baby nursed – a far cry from lounging in our bed at home, nursing when we felt like it, as I’d imagined our first days would go.
We were told that breastfeeding would be supported, but when the rubber hit the road, I and my partner, with our midwife’s help, had to fight for it. Bridget fought for it too. She rooted ferociously even when the hospital staff had told us she couldn’t yet nurse. They were wrong.
Scrutinized and undermined
When it was time to downgrade to a level 2 NICU we looked for one that would support breastfeeding and allow our large support network to visit. A very highly regarded nearby ward basically told John that they didn’t care about breastfeeding. We went with a hospital we’d never heard of after John more than once had to explain to the doctors there that our interest in breastfeeding didn’t mean we wouldn’t reasonably cooperate with their ability to care for our child. Yes, really. The hospitals just aren’t set up to prioritize breastfeeding.
There was no place for us to stay at the hospital, so I nursed and napped with Bridget most of the day, drinking big cups of milk that John fortified with cream, because I wasn’t permitted to eat on the ward. We’d go home to sleep in our bed only long enough to require one feeding a night by bottle, which the nurses reported Bridget didn’t particularly like.
After a very brief period of weighing the baby and weighing the diapers, the doctor wanted to give her formula to increase weight gain. It was Bridget’s dad who pushed back against that, arguing that she couldn’t be expected to exhibit a two week old’s weight gain if she’d only been nursing for two days. The doctor tried to threaten us with a possible longer hospital stay, but we stuck with breastfeeding and sure enough Bridget started gaining steadily each day.
So now my little one is 20 pounds, still made mostly of breastmilk, and has never tasted formula, in part because she’s always been furious about being offered a bottle.
Support for the choice to breastfeed
I cannot say that other moms should imitate me. I had the transportation, the time off work, and the supportive family and midwife that made my choices possible. Still, my choices left me exhausted, slow to heal from birth, and engorged.
I can say that I wish the hospitals were set up so that moms could easily breastfeed very sick newborn babies if they choose to. If I weren’t so committed to breastfeeding, it would have been easy to let my baby get lots of bottles and lots of formula. But babies who get a rough start especially need to be held, and deserve all the health benefits of breast milk. They shouldn’t have to fight for it.
Don’t forget to go read the other Carnival of Breastfeeding posts:
Kate @ Tumbling Boobs: Nursing After Surrogacy or Adoption