June 7, 2011

On Breastfeeding

They say breastfeeding is one of the most rewarding experiences of motherhood.  They also say newborns can breastfeed all day long if you let them.  There is some truth to that.  When Emilu was born, as soon as she was cleaned and brought to me I put her on my breast and she immediately latched on.  Isn't a wonder how she and many other babies can do that without ever practicing at all!

There she was sucking in all the colostrum that she could get into her stomach.  I was in heaven.  The two days at the hospital were spent like this.  Breastfeeding and sleeping.  Yes, she actually slept!  By the time I left the hospital, my milk hadn't arrived, but I was still feeding her colostrum or very little milk and my nipples had gone through hell.  They hurt, they cracked open and they were swollen. Was it supposed to be this way?  I was so disheartened and scared.

I dreaded the days ahead.  Not the lack of sleep, not the fear of caring for a newborn, not even the drop in hormones was mood-altering.  And speaking of hormones,  the breastfeeding hormones Prolactin and Oxytocin,  held me together through thick and thin, through the hellish nights of nipple pain and wails of hunger from my baby girl. Finally, day four arrived and the milk was finally letting down.  The next two weeks were the most trying of my life.  I struggled with her increasing feeding needs, loss of sleep and constant pain.  I was applying lanolin after every feed and couldn't even graze my chest with plain clothes.  And when I thought I was in the verge of a breakthrough, Emilu hit a growth spurt at 3 weeks she demanded more time and more frequency at the breast.  My healing nipples were again sore and that's when I finally had it and introduced a couple of bottles of formula a day.  It was the best decision of my short motherhood life. Only then was she able to rest longer and sleep more often.  She was finally full!

Of course, I was a bit disappointed that I was not able to feed her exclusively from the breast.  She now drinks 1-3 bottles of formula a day. We all know the emphasis this culture has on breastfeeding, even though half of all moms give it up by month 3.  Then I realized that it wasn't so bad.  My lifestyle and my own perspective has made me realize that a combination of breast and formula (6:2 or 5:3) is much better than no breast at all.  Because of this decision I feel more confident as a mother.  After all, I soon go back to work and the transition will be much better for both of us. 

This choice has also made me enjoy more and even look forward to breastfeeding her.  I love watching her gestures while she's at the breast.  I caress her head and her arms, massage her little toes and feet and emboss myself with an aura of intimacy.  I also love how I feel when I breastfeed her. The hormones are still pretty active in my system, allowing me to reap the physical and emotional benefits of love beyond words.

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