Breast is Best – But at what Cost?
Every parent has seen them – pictures of a serene looking mother smiling down at her peaceful, suckling baby. They’re in every medical office, hospital and parenting brochure. It’s a beautiful image – one that as a mother-to-be I aspired to.
I was unsure about a lot of things where motherhood was concerned, but whether or not to breastfeed wasn’t one of them. I knew that breast milk was the healthiest choice for my baby, and I was looking forward to sharing that special bond with her. I truly believed that once she was born all of the pieces would naturally fall into place.
After a very long labour and an emergency C-section, I felt like I’d been hit by an eighteen wheeler. Exhausted and delirious, I barely remember my first attempt at breastfeeding. The marathon feeding that followed, however, is still fresh in my mind.
A few hours after delivering the baby, a nurse nudged my sleeping body and I opened my eyes to see my tiny daughter wailing helplessly in her arms. “The baby needs to be fed,” she said with a smile, as though it was the simplest thing in the world. I sat up, held the baby the way I was shown, and waited for that magical moment to happen. It didn’t. I could barely hold on to her squirming little body let alone get her in the right position to nurse. And despite constant reminders from the hospital staff that it shouldn’t hurt, it did… a lot. Every two hours, my baby and I performed the same fumbling duet, and no matter how long I nursed her, she was still hungry.
On day three, I was depressed, worn-out and my breasts felt like they’d been put through a pulp grinder. I was ready to give up, and this filled me with guilt. How many nurses had been in my hospital room praising me for doing such a good thing for my baby? What kind of mother would I be if I couldn’t give my baby what was best for her? She was only three days old and already I feared I was going to fail her.
When I expressed my feelings to one of the nurses, I was set up with a lactation consultant who put me on a recovery program that involved supplementing with formula, pumping my milk and improving the baby’s latch. With her help and support I persevered.
Once my milk came in and we were back at home things improved for a little while, but when my daughter was about three weeks old, I developed a very painful breast infection. At five weeks the breast infection was gone, but the let down (or flow) from my right breast had become so aggressive that my daughter would choke and sputter with every gulp. She would get so frustrated that she’d refuse to nurse and we’d have to try again later. This resulted in constant feedings, and I was getting no rest or relief. The lactation consultant made several recommendations but nothing seemed to help. All I could do was hope that it would work itself out in time.
Then at ten weeks my daughter went on a nursing strike. I was floored. Who knew that a tiny baby would have the wherewithal to go on strike! This was the most worrisome obstacle yet, as my daughter refused to feed for almost twelve hours and lost close to 10% of her body weight. After consulting the doctor I was advised that all I could do was pump my milk and feed it to her in a bottle. I was shocked at how emotionally devastating this was. My own baby was rejecting me, and despite all the difficulties we’d had along the way, I felt a loss. For weeks I worked with the lactation consultant to try and coax my daughter back to the breast, and with every rejection I pumped. I pumped eight times a day for up to an hour, leaving me little time to sleep or nurture my child.
The emotional strain was taking a toll on my marriage, while breastfeeding and pumping were taking over my life. It was preventing me from being the mother I wanted to be. I had to face it – trying to achieve that picture-perfect breastfeeding experience was now coming at too high a cost. I was missing out on quality time with the people I loved most.
Putting away my breast pump provided me with an overwhelming sense of relief. My breasts were no longer the centre of my universe and I could now focus my energies on more important things, like building a relationship with the little person I’d brought into the world. Since quitting the breastfeeding game, I’ve been able to laugh and play with my baby and encourage her in her many developments. I’m proud that I gave her the nutritional benefits of breast milk for the first four months of her life, and I don’t regret my decision to stop. It was the best choice for my family, and it gave me the chance to experience all of the other wonderful things that come with being a mother.
Mel Bednar is a mother of two and owner of Squishy Fish, a Canadian organic cotton clothing line for babies. Her unique, playful designs can be viewed at www.squishyfish.ca.