My name is Alli, I am 30 years old, and a mother of two darling children. My breastfeeding story is one of relative success. I am unsure where I got the idea that I would ‘exclusively breastfeed’ when my husband and I learned we were expecting our first child three years ago. I know that my mother breastfed; myself for only several months, and my younger brother for about a year. But I have no pictures, no memories to validate this. Only the information I was told. I come from a very large and localized family, with a slew of cousins I cannot even count on both hands and feet. Yet again, I do not recall seeing anyone breastfeed. In fact, I do not even recall how these children were fed, period.
I did not hail from a home of breastfeeding crusaders, breastfeeding doers or breastfeeding naysayers. But there I was, 27 years old, newly pregnant and blissfully unaware of the “choices” that lay ahead. In fact, it wasn’t until a prenatal check-up when my midwife asked if I planned to breastfeed that it dawned on me that I did have a “choice.” To some, it might be a choice. But to me, it was not. I was going to breastfeed. No ifs, ands or buts. And why? Because in my mind, this was THE way you were supposed to feed your child. Not the “best” way, but “the” way. And why wouldn’t it be? Our species has survived on this planet for thousands of years, long before manufactured and artificial milk came onto the scene. And note: this similar mindset carried through into my preparations for the arrival of my first child. If my ancestors could survive without the latest baby gadget, well hell, so could I.
As I neared full term I was asked again and again if I planned to breastfeed. The answer was always the same, of course.
And I need to interject here. When I was 24 years old, I had breast augmentation. I recall telling the doctor during our initial consultation that when the time came for us to have children, I did plan to breastfeed them and was curious how the surgery might impact my ability to do so. He responded with ‘every woman, their bodies, and their ability and success in breastfeeding a child is different, regardless of whether or not they have elected for breast augmentation surgery.’ He went on to say he could not guarantee success or failure because there is more to breastfeeding than simply the addition of implants. And he was correct. But we discussed and elected for various options that would provide the least impact to the functionality of my breasts.
My first, an adorable baby boy, was born 2 weeks past due. I had an incredibly long labor which lasted nearly three days, had planned on a natural birth, but ended up getting an epidural. When he (finally) arrived we made immediate skin to skin contact and he latched on very well. I remember thinking to myself that I had no idea what I was doing, but the wonderful staff at my hospital assured me I was doing an excellent job. After our new little family was released from the hospital, I made my appointment with Merrilee Costello at the clinic. Between the time of our release and my scheduled appointment, feeding had been going wonderfully. I brought Merrilee up to speed on our success thus far, we visited for some time, weighed in and went on with our day. She provided me with every resource and bit of information needed and assured me help was always available if we ever needed it.
I am unsure how many other mothers experienced the same thing, but I never had to go back to the clinic. Our breastfeeding began successfully and continued on in the same pattern.
When my son was one month old I began giving him a bottle as I was planning to return to work soon. He took to the bottle just fine. On his three month birthday, I returned to work full time. Each day I would drop him off at the sitter, with enough pumped breast milk to sustain him for a full work day, and off I went, making my 2-hour commute to work and back. It was a commitment, no doubt, but one I was willing to make. I would spend my breaks and lunch pumping at the office, just so I could do it all again the following day. Everywhere I went so did my Medela breast pump and my handy little ice chest. Trips, parties, work-related events... That pump was my number one gal, my sidekick. She never left my side.
When my son turned one, I made some changes, resigned from my job and began working freelance from home. I loved being home, being closer to my son, not spending two precious hours of my day on the road... and not having to pump so often (by this time I was already onto my second Medela pump thanks to a nasty fall Medela number 1 took). At 14 months my son weaned himself. I was sad to loose that special time we had but felt so fortunate to have had it. I continued putting pumped breast milk into his pureed food for a couple months following until there was simply no more supply.
Fast forward two years, and we found ourselves expecting a little girl. I had the same mindset going into baby number two. Only difference now was I had become the breastfeeding crusader. I loved sharing my experience with others and had no problem voicing my opinion or educating on the subject.
Our little girl arrived, just like her brother, two weeks late. Excruciating for any pregnant woman. This labor was much shorter than the first, 12 hours from start to finish to be exact. And like before, I ended up having an epidural although I had planned on a natural birth (looking back, receiving the epidural was something I am happy I did because this child ended up being a whopping 9lbs). But her birth story was a bit different. She had a difficult time, got stuck, and when she finally did arrive they whisked her away and exclaimed she was “a little shocked”. We immediately felt panicked watching a team of people try to bring life into our little girl. After some time, she finally came around and was eventually returned to us. I remember thinking how I had missed out on something so special, having that immediate skin on skin connection. And then the fear set in, all in the course of several minutes. Would she latch? Were we going to have problems? What the heck would I do if things didn’t work out to plan?! Note: with parenting, nothing ever works out to plan.
When she was returned to us, we spent some good quality time just holding and loving on her. I cannot recall how much time passed before we attempted latching her on, but when the time did come, she latched on very well. I remember the lactation consultant coming in to check on our family and me telling her “no worries, we got this.” From that point on, feeding went exceptionally well. I didn’t feel the need to go into the clinic, but knew it was available to us should we need it.
At three months old, we evicted her from our bedroom, moved her into her own big girl room and crib, and she began sleeping through the night. A major coup for any parent. I typically wake up in the middle of the night and pump to keep my production up and leave myself with ample supply of frozen breast milk, should I need it.
Our girl is now 6 months old and is a wonderful eater. Like before, I began the process of pumping and introducing a bottle when she was one month old as I needed to return to work. But this time around, I was working from home and had much more flexibility. I began giving her one bottle of pumped breast milk daily at one month old, and since that time the number of pumped breast milk bottles varies depending on my work schedule. Some days she doesn’t receive any bottles and some days she receives multiple bottles. When at all possible, I prefer to breastfeed her rather than bottle feed her with pumped breast milk. It is enjoyable for both of us. We have always known we only wanted two children, so because this is our last baby, I find myself trying to soak up every moment possible of the “baby” stage. It simply passes too fast. We have also just started her on solids, oatmeal fortified with iron, that I make using pumped breast milk. To keep my production up, I typically pump while I am feeding her the solids, again adding to my frozen supply.
Her older brother has been wonderful during the transition of only child to sibling and has shown no signs of jealousy, especially during breast feeding. He is in the questioning stage right now and everything is “what you doing” and “why?” So explaining the process of feeding his sister is fairly entertaining for us. Especially when he lifts his own shirt, exposing his chest and asks if he can feed his sister. For a two year old, he certainly is helpful!
I do not know what my secret to breastfeeding success has been. I know I have been lucky. But I also know that I had the necessary information and support, both at home and beyond. I approach all parenting issues rationally and calmly, but firmly. There is determination, and I try like hell to avoid frustration if things are not going to plan. I just take deep breaths and keep trying. I tell my family that should anything happen to me and my ability to feed our child, to please reach out to a list of friends that could help with providing pumped breast milk. It is amazing how willing other moms are, should they have the supply, to provide in-need parents with pumped breast milk.
Now, don’t think that all this breastfeeding success is picture perfect. The stunning vision that was Olivia Wilde in her recent Glamour shoot by the iconic Patrick Demarchelier is not what you will find in our household. I am usually smothered with some type of infant bodily discharge, my hair tied back in a ponytail and not an ounce of makeup on my face. But it is real, our reality. And I wouldn’t trade the hard work and resulting countless benefits for anything. As our youngest continues to grow, I look forward to continuing our breastfeeding experience for quite some time.