mother’s milk

I am an admitted CBC nerd, it’s the soundtrack to my day while I’m working at home. And today I heard a repeat broadcast of a piece by Dr. Brian Goldman on breastfeeding. 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)…

Here’s the podcast if you’d like to take a listen.

3 Responses to “mother’s milk”

  1. Charlie W Says:

    My daughter was born prematurely by emergency c-section at BC Women’s and had to spend several days in the NICU.

    Despite all its claims to support b/feeding, I found the staff at BC Women’s really unsupportive. The NICU staff just didn’t care about it at all about b/feeding, with their sole aim of getting her weight stable and monitoring milk intake, so they could discharge her to a ward.

    Their techniques were completely contray to how to establish breastfeeding. When I expressed my concerns about nipple confusion I was told by hospital staff that it was a myth and I was encourage to pump so that NICU staff could bottle feed.

    The ward staff were constantly contradicting each other in their so called “help” and “advice” on how to establish b/feeding which is the last thing an emotional, tired and confused new mother needs.

    It was only because of an amazing midwife, a totally supportive husband and my utter perservance that we did finally get breast feeding established.

    But what I am most angry about is that there is all the “Breast is Best” propaganda around, and hospitals such as BC Women’s claiming to support it. But when a new mother arrives at this heightened point in her new role in life, there is a little useful support or guidance. So if some woman do understandably give up, all they are left with is the guilt.

  2. Laura Says:

    I literally JUST had my second baby and am going through the same feeding issues I had with my first. I pumped for a whole year with some formula supplementing near the end. It was so difficult, stressful, emotional and guilt ridden. BUt really the only judgement I got was from myself. I tried everything (tubes, cups, the nipple shield, UBC breastfeeding clinic, public health nurses) and am now going through it all again. It gives me hope that your daughter finally caught on. I can only hope the same thing will happen for me. Right now it’s mostly dealing with the disappointment and sadnessof not being able to do this ‘naturally’.

  3. Melanie Says:

    My eldest will be 5 in a few weeks. He was born at 36.5 weeks, so *just* preterm. He would not nurse. Absolutely wouldn’t. We were kept at BC Women’s for three nights, then sent home on a Sunday afternoon with no support, having been told that “When he’s hungry enough, he’ll eat”. He wouldn’t – he couldn’t – and we had to go to Children’s emerg that night. When discharged from BCW, he was down 8% from his birth weight, and upon arrival at Children’s about 10 hours later, he had dropped 12% and was becoming jaundiced. While at both BCW and Children’s emerg, the lactation consultants failed to answer their pages and did not ever visit us. At both, I was made to cry by medical staff (including an emerg physician who woke me with the words, “If you don’t feed your baby right now, he WILL go into seizures”). And, adding insult to injury, that very weekend the hospital was participating in a “breastfeeding challenge”, and twice someone tried to recruit me and my newborn – once while I was pumping. Speaking of pumping, they had me pump and dropper-feed my baby, and flat-out refused formula or the milk bank. It was breastfeeding or nothing.

    Thank God for Verity Livingstone. She took one look at my baby, and asked whether he was preterm as his jaw was small. He was physically unable to latch! Under her guidance, I pumped and bottle-fed for a month, then he suddenly latched and nursed. He weaned himself at 15 months.

    My second will be two in November. Also born at BCW, but with a completely different experience. He was sent to the NICU, and they gave him formula as needed. I also pumped and was able to get so much (moooo!) that the nurses couldn’t believe it was colostrum. Rather than making me feel inadequate (or downright useless), the staff encouraged me and supported our choices. The overriding consideration was “what’s best for the baby?” There was no dogma. He’s still breastfeeding contentedly, to the point where I wonder how I’ll eventually wean him!

    I’m grateful that my second experience was positive, to partially counter the horrible experiences we had at first. But even five years later, the memories make me anxious.

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