This week, more than 170 countries are supporting educational advancements for World Breastfeeding Week. A lot has changed in the six years since I became a mom. Back then I didn’t understand the realities of nursing. Focusing on romanticized versions, I firmly believed my body’s natural predisposition to nurture and care for my baby would be automatic. Like many, I never experienced the romanticized version.
My intent was to breastfeed. When my son was born, the hospital didn’t provide advice regarding breastfeeding. He seemingly latched on and the nurses told me everything was going great. I had no reason to think otherwise.
Discharged, we went home. Physically I was healing from the birth which honestly, really hurt. My hormones were also naturally all over the place and I was completely exhausted. Despite how I felt, I truly thought I was nursing correctly.
Then at one week old, we had his first doctor’s appointment.
Being first time parents we didn’t realize my son’s discharge weight wasn’t recorded on his paperwork. When his pediatrician weighed him and deemed the weight loss significant, a nightmare followed. At first she accused me of harming my baby which immediately put me on the offensive and crying. Then she had me nurse him right there and asked why I wasn’t feeding more often. I was also told to give him formula because I was starving him.
No one should ever have to go through that experience. It was horrible. In addition, my milk arrived in tidal waves essentially turning softballs into soccer balls in hours. The technical term is engorgement. The pain was intense. The absolute last thing I wanted at that point was having anything within a five-mile radius of my breasts. Emotionally I shut down and wanted absolutely nothing more to do breastfeeding.
My experience should never be the norm. Sadly, many women suffer in silence. For something which should seem so inherently natural, more often than not, the first-time moms I’ve encountered had initial difficulty breastfeeding. Some women have supply issues, some babies have difficulty latching on and then feeding for more than a few moments at time. Some women suffer from engorgement and mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue. Those are just some of the physical problems. Emotionally it can be a rough ride as well when reality clashes with preconceived ideals.
Among the ruins of my story there is hope and a reason behind World Breastfeeding Week. In six years there have been many advances in education and support. Support is the real key. In our community, Saint Barnabas Ambulatory Care Center offers a free Breastfeeding Support Group which meets weekly on Tuesdays from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Led by R.N Terry Lastella, the group supports an open dialogue for nursing concerns. Among topics discussed are techniques, lactation specialists, supply issues and the general well-being of the new mother. Most importantly the group provides new mothers a network of peers to share experiences.
There are also two local LaLeche Leagues. One in Montclair and a West Essex chapter, which meets in Livingston. LaLeche is a non-profit organization designed to support and educate expectant and new mothers on breastfeeding issues.
Breastfeeding is not the right choice for every woman and that is okay. I believe each woman knows what best suits her situation and should be supported for her choice. Motherhood can be frightening on a good day. Having support from the beginning, makes a world of difference in the end.