I found out a while ago that World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated August 1-7 each year encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.
I was visiting with some of my family members the other day. My son came to me being cranky so I picked him up and nursed him while keep chatting. My mother-in-law who was sitting across the living room looked a little surprised. I nodded and said--yeah, I'm still nursing him. Then us three moms had a great conversation about our breastfeeding journeys.
"Breastfeeding--Foundation of Life"
We hear about breastfeeding a lot. We hear that it's great for babies. We hear that it's amazing how female body works. We hear that we should encourage breastfeeding. But there's actually so much more we don't talk about. Breastfeeding means differently for each mom but ultimately, breastfeeding becomes part of the story of motherhood. The good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly. All honest and raw.
I'm Amy. I'm a breastfeeding Mom.
When I was pregnant with my girl, we were living in China, where every mom seems to be feeding babies formula because mom needs to go back to work after the maternity leave. I remember all too well standing in front of shelves of formula in the store, feeling extremely anxious--the formula is expensive; the bottles are expensive; I don't know what kind would be the best. With my girl having a birth defect, after being scared by the recommendation of termination of the pregnancy, we were also preparing to need to save millions of dollars for her medical expenses. All these preparation for motherhood is just stressful. Luckily, I have my husband. He firmly told me--you will do fine. You will breastfeed. We will be just fine! We won't need to buy formula or bottles. Our girl will be alright. So I was determined that I'm not going to buy bottles. I'm going to breastfeed.
Due to my girl's birth defect, she was taken to NICU right away. The nurse was really nice to let me kiss my girl before she was wrapped up and sent to a different floor. In China, parents are not allowed to be in the NICU. Technically speaking, you can go talk to the nurse about your child's situation every afternoon at 3pm. So I took a nap and started to try and pump some milk preparing for breastfeeding when my girl could come back. It's the weirdest feeling--I just had a baby but my baby was not with me but I was pumping milk.
After 10 hours, my husband being an American, said "this is ridiculous. I am going to go get her back!" So there he went. A tall Mandarin-speaking white guy went alone to NICU and got our baby girl back magically. My baby girl was picked up by her daddy and put in my arm. She wanted to nurse right away. My baby girl nursed for the first time 10 hours after she was born. That was the longest 10 hours in my life. Holding her in my arms and feeling her little mouth connected to me made me realize that she is alive, perfectly alive. I didn't lose her. I'm sustaining her life. And I'm now a mom.
So here began my breastfeeding journey.
You would probably think that with such a strong motivation and connection, breastfeeding would be a piece of cake for me. Oh no. Oh no.
With stitches, it took me at least a month before I could sit comfortably let alone holding a baby. But if I lie down and nurse, I couldn't see how she latched and I wasn't able to get a good feeding. Because she was not latched very well, she was sucking extremely hard and I was bleeding like crazy on my nipples. For the first month and half, I was feeling pain after pain after pain all over the places but I was on a new-mom high so I carried through. My mom helped us for the first 2 weeks and my husband was working at home so it was really helpful that I was able to feed the baby and then run to the farmers market without worrying about my baby and come back just in time to feed her again.
Then, sleep deprivation kicked in. I was all a sudden SO TIRED. I was the only one who can feed the baby and my baby just wanted to be eating constantly. Of course, I didn't know that for the first while, babies grow so much and they eat so much. I just felt like I lost myself. I fed the baby, grocery shopped, fed the baby again, cooked, fed the baby again, cleaned, fed the baby again, cooked again, fed the baby again...I felt like a machine. I hated it. I just wanted my baby to sleep! And each time I was awake in the middle of the night, I wanted to wake up my husband just so he could feel how tired I was. Eventually, we worked out a good system where my husband would wear the baby wrap and wrap our girl on him and let me take a two hour nap. That saved me. Also I talked to other nursing moms and found out that we were all the same. I was not the only one who was sleep deprived. I was not the only one who's kid is nursing constantly. I was not the only one who struggles.
Breastfeeding is amazing. Breastfeeding is sustaining my baby's life. Breastfeeding was the gentle reminder for me everyday that my baby girl is alive. However, it was hard. It can be stressful. I needed a lot of support to be able to do it! It was not a piece of cake.
I nursed my girl till I was pregnant with my boy. My milk dried up. One day, I stopped offering. She didn't ask for it. That was the end of my first time breastfeeding.
I've done it once. It should be easy for the second time, right?
My boy came along. I had milk come in right away. I knew how he's supposed to latch this time. I know that I need to drink plenty of water. I know that I will be sleep deprived. I'm prepared.
Until I realize that one thing I really miss about having only one child is that I could sleep when she slept. Now, I'm still sleep deprived from my second breastfeeding baby but my oldest is almost constantly needing my attention. I can't leave her alone in the house without watching her. I can't keep up with the energy either. And sometimes what seems worse this time around is that my girl would get jealous that her baby brother gets mama all the time and she would throw a fit or she would interrupt. It's no longer a peaceful bonding time for me to nurse my baby boy.
Also this time, I found out later that when my boy is teething, he likes to use me as his teething toy. Ouch. Or he would be distracted by his sister in the other room and try to watch while still latching. Looking at my boy's chub chub, I shouldn't worry about how much he has eaten but when he doesn't nurse well because of all the distraction, I worry. Till this day, I still feel bad if he missed his bed time nursing.
It took me by surprise that my mother guilt is extremely strong when I have to feed my baby and I have to send my oldest girl to the living room to "just do something by yourself". She used to be the one I breastfed and holding so close to me all the time. Now all a sudden she seems to be such a grown up.
Breastfeeding itself this time with my boy is not as hard I feel. Probably I now have more knowledge and more experience so I'm more mentally prepared. I'm glad that I could have so much support from my husband and a community of nursing moms helping me to understand that it's all so normal that it can be hard. And also, I can do it!
These struggles are all so real but not many people would tell an expecting mom that hey, breastfeeding is awesome but it's actually REALLY HARD, so prepare for it! Also, I feel that we need more willing people to help breastfeeding moms--take the older kids out for a walk so mom can take a nap; offer to hold the new baby when the baby is not nursing so mom can spend some quality time with the older siblings.
I love breastfeeding. It's beautiful. It's literally the foundation of life. My journey continues.
It's also hard. It's emotional. It could be something that drains the fountain of a mom's life.
We should encourage moms to breastfeed. We also should help and build a community to really support moms who want to breastfeed but facing all these struggles I've gone through.
We need to let new moms know that it's hard but it's worth the effort AND we are here to help! Reach out, and ask for help if needed. Let's ease each other's burden a little bit so more moms can enjoy the beauty of breastfeeding and provide the foundation of life to their babies!