Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mom Knows Breast

August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week!

It seems that nursing mothers cannot win. It is widely accepted that breastmilk is the perfect food for babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it. The World Health Organization recommends it. I know, in reality, many women cannot breastfeed for a variety of reasons. I know that many women choose not to breastfeed, for various reasons. It is a great thing that formula exists for those that need it. That is not what I am here to discuss.

As the mom of two breastfed babies, (the oldest self-weaned at 16 months and the youngest is going on 12 weeks) I have been surprised conflicting information and recommendations that I have seen from health professionals. Both my OB and my GP (also my sons' current GP) wanted me to give bottles of formula to the boys for various reasons, the main one being jaundice. Upon further research, it was completely unnecessary. I wish I had been firmer and refused both times. It went against my instincts.

Nathan's bilirubin numbers were high at his first doctor's appointment. His doctor suggested supplementing to flush him out. I thought that formula was harder to digest and would take longer, but since she was the doctor, I did as I was told. (I was right: breastfed babies poop MORE, hence flushing out faster. This was confirmed by a pediatrician in my nursing mother's group, who was appaled at the advice I received.) Giving Nathan the bottle interfered with our nursing during the first 2 weeks. My nipples were torn to shreds due to our difficulty latching. Once we eliminated the bottle, he took to the breast like a champ and I was able to heal. In fact, we had trouble getting him back on the bottle (breastmilk) for my return to work. He's now doing great at the breast and bottle.

Harry nursed SO much, that I was told by many, including his former doctor, that he was too hungry and I couldn't provide enough. I was told that he needed solid food to be satisfied because he was a big baby. I was told it would help him sleep. Everything I read told me otherwise. Infant's digestive systems are not ready to accept solid food until at least 6 months. I held off until 5.5 months, and started with cereal to see if he would take less pumped milk and if it would help him sleep. It did neither and he didn't really like it. I wish I had stuck to my guns. He was gaining and doing fine. We now know that Harry nursed a lot because of sensory issues, not hunger, so my gut was right. Nathan is even bigger than Harry and I've already been asked about starting solids. Ummm, yeah. We're not doing that. First of all, he is HUGE. Doesn't that tell you he's doing well on milk? Second, he's only 12 weeks old! He's nowhere near physically mature enough, despite his size. Third, he sleeps great, so that myth is just that...a MYTH. In fact, this time around, I hope to try Baby-Led Weaning.

I remember Harry's former doctor saying in a condescendingly surprised tone that "I must have good milk" when I told her he was exclusively breastfed at 2 months. Those kind of comments belie the attitude of many healthcare professionals. "Breast is best" but they still pitch to the lowest common denominator. They don't expect you to stick to it. They like formula because it is an exact science and can prescribe exact amounts and combinations. An ambivalent attitude from a doctor can undermine a new mother, especially when her family is not supportive or knowlegable about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is hard and a new, nursing mom needs support and encouragement from everyone around her. If it turns out that formula is medically necessary, that is all well and good, but it is sad to think of all the mothers who quit because they didn't get the help they needed.

I'm very happy that this time around, Massachusetts has a law to protect breastfeeding moms. Every little bit we can do to make it easier is a step in the right direction. (And for you naysayers who say nursing in public is immodest, you have never seen me - or most women - nurse in public. I show less skin than most teenage girls while nursing.) I'm proud to have provided for Harry while he needed it and am just as proud to do the same for Nathan. With Nate hitting his 3 month growth spurt this week, we will certainly be doing our part to participate in World Breastfeeding Week!

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