Mother’s milk

I always enjoy his White Coat, Black Art show but this one struck a special chord. He examines the problem of new mothers who face pressure to continue nursing even though they’re having problems with breastfeeding. He also talks about how many Canadian children are breastfed to the age of six months (less than 20%) and the fact that Vancouver has Canada’s only donor milk bank.

All this got me thinking back to when I had my first baby and breastfeeding was such an issue (and inspired Healthy Mum!) and I reflected on the pressure I felt, or didn’t, to continue despite the problems I was having.

To recap: my now seven-year-old would not nurse for the first three and a half weeks of her life. Literally she’d look at my breast, twist away and scream as though I were offering her poison. Imbued with the breast is best message I persevered. I pumped milk and then fed her with a syringe, a spoon and finally on the much-needed advice of a lactation consultant, a bottle. I’d continue to occasionally offer her the real thing and eventually one day she went for it. And never looked back. To the point where she never actually took a bottle again, graduating directly to a sippy cup.

Aside from the pressure I put on myself, I was extremely stressed out by a book by Dr. Sears which implied that if you couldn’t nurse you just weren’t trying hard enough. Not the message a harried, worried new mother needs to hear. And I was trying really, really hard. Too hard perhaps. The local community health nurses were incredibly supportive, offering me assistance and ideas but they couldn’t help either. Then they referred me to a lactation consultant and to my amazement the first thing she said to me after I explained my dilemma was: You don’t have to keep doing this you know? You can switch to formula.

Now if anyone was going to judge me or push me towards breastfeeding I’d assumed it would be the lactation consultant. But she relieved me of a huge amount of pressure because she made me realize I was going to keep trying because I really wanted to, not because I felt guilty or felt judged by Dr. Sears. Despite not actually, you know, knowing him…

Anyhow, Dr. Brian’s show brought back all those feelings and memories from the early day’s of M’s life. I was also pleased that I did exclusively nurse my child til she was six months old, but I would have started her on solids sooner had she seemed interested. And again this made me realize how hard we are on ourselves and each other when it comes to the choices we make as parents.

In fact I walked away from listening to the show feeling guilty that I hadn’t donated some of my milk – I had oodles and oodles, I even gave it to friends who will remain nameless for their babies – to the milk bank. But honestly in those early, hazy, exhausted days it was all I could manage to feed my daughter and myself.

All this got me wondering how long you exclusively breastfed your child (if you breastfed)? Or if you had problems with nursing what solutions you came up with. And if you didn’t breastfeed how judged you felt and who you felt the most judged by (your doctor, your friends, random strangers in the store commenting on the fact you were bottle feeding)…