Monday, July 30, 2012

Reflections on Breastfeeding

[I want to be very clear that while I am a strong proponent of breastfeeding, I understand that some women are not able to breastfeed for one reason or another. As I've stated in the past, I think that all new moms should really do their very best to make it work. I do take issues with moms that don't even want to try and don't have a really good reason.]

Felicity is almost eight months old, and as I was feeding her this afternoon, I couldn't help but think about all of the very pleasant memories. I say this now as a woman who was very seriously considering stopping nursing when Felicity was two months old in favor of pumping; the first few months were so very painful and hard. But, after the baby was diagnosed with acid reflux when she was three months old (and successfully treated), and we saw a lactation consultant to work on her latch, and I was able to heal a little... nursing became a much more pleasant experience. It took months and months, but I now enjoy it the process, when I used to dread it. Maybe it's because Felicity is becoming increasingly interested in food, I'm slowly realizing that these small moments throughout the day, where the baby is still and laying in my arms, are coming to a close. And really, it is nice to just sit with her and have her calm and relax; you never quite realize how much and how fast a baby will move about once they've figured out how to crawl. Or do the worm, in Felicity's case.

Meeting Felicity, December 1st, 2012
But really, even though Flick and I struggled through some of the beginning, some of the nicest memories come from this period. I don't have very clear memories about the first few hours after Felicity's birth, but I do remember Ian placing the baby on my chest for the first time, as I was laying down, unable to move after the cesarean. My mom helped her latch on for the first time (it's amazing how many of your boundaries completely disappear when you're pregnant, and then even more so during birth and immediately afterwards!). I remember holding her small body, very awkwardly as I could barely move, my mom saying, "Just let her smell you." And that little mouth, always sucking on her hand; I do believe she was pulled out of me making her small sucking movements, like a little bird.

I also recall with fondness our weeks of poetry. There were several weeks through March and April, where we had figured out the latch a bit and I could have a hand free, and before Felicity realized she could stretch an arm back and smack anything I might be holding, where I would read poetry aloud as the she ate. The poetry seemed to relax her little body, and she'd often stay still and happy in my lap after she was done eating, cooing, often drifting into a nap.

Snack at The High Line, May 2012
More recently, I've been enjoying just... nursing! And not just at home or in a small room, but wherever we are, whatever we're doing. At the park, at the museum, in a cafe or restaurant. At one point I almost felt shame for needing to feed Felicity publicly. Maybe it was because I had so many negative sensations and emotions, or maybe I just needed a little exposure (pun intended! so sorry, I know it's dreadful).

Breastfeeding is one of those things that people often don't talk very honestly about.
I read and heard over and over again how easy and natural it was, what a smooth transition it would be for mother and child. It wasn't natural or easy. As I mentioned, we had a three-month adjustment period, and I thought about quitting many times. It can hurt like the dickens (the first two weeks the most), let-down can feel like fire burning down your breasts, engorgement feels terrible, and blocked ducts are more frequent and painful than you often hear about. I never developed mastitis, and for that, I'm really grateful.

Yet breastfeeding is a very special bond. I remember, as we were feeding Felicity her first solids on her half birthday, how my body had completely sustained her body for six whole months, in which time she'd learned to smile and laugh, had somehow doubled her birth weight and then some, and developed rolls tires deep on her bitty thighs. And how proud I felt.

Our bodies do some amazing things. Pregnancy and birth are remarkable, and how interesting that breast milk has so many benefits for baby and mother. And did you know that breast milk has cannabinoids in it? Neat.