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The Journey of Breastfeeding

by April Almeida
Hamilton Ontario Canada
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 1, January-February 2001, pp. 10-11

Our precious first-born, Julianna, was born in November of 1999. I had a fabulous pregnancy and prepared myself for the rigors of my first childbirth and subsequent breastfeeding. Although I had heard breastfeeding was tough in the beginning, I was naive enough to believe it would just come naturally to my baby and me.

Julianna's birth was long, drawn out, and, in the end, a traumatic experience. I labored at home for 22 hours with my incredible husband, Mark, as my coach. It was a great experience being at home and able to do as I pleased. When we finally arrived at the hospital, I was excited to learn I had dilated to seven centimeters all by myself. Even the nurses were amazed. But it all ended there. We stayed at that dilation for another five hours before I had to have an epidural in order to get some rest. I hadn't slept in two days and was not going to be able to push. After another five hours of rest, thanks to the epidural, and four hours of hard pushing, my Julianna was finally born via vacuum extraction, because she had her hand stuck to her head in the birth canal and was trapped under my pubic bone. I didn't think things could get any more difficult, but they did.

She latched on to my breast beautifully about 20 minutes after she was born. It took that long because I needed serious stitching done. I figured she would breastfeed from then on without problems. I was wrong. Julianna had severe jaundice immediately after birth, and it got worse day by day. The nursing staff, although helpful and pro-breastfeeding, was concerned about her becoming dehydrated. I fought like crazy to breastfeed. I ignored my need to rest, trying everything in my power to wake my sleepy baby. Nothing worked. When I hit my breaking point and postpartum blues kicked in, the nurses convinced me to let them take her to the nursery for the night and give her some formula to get her tummy filled. In my fear for my baby and my naiveté at how breastfeeding works, I allowed them to give her formula.

My breasts never felt engorged so I thought I was just lucky. Eventually I was convinced that I could not make enough milk for my baby, so we supplemented. We struggled with awful smelling formula that Julianna always ended up vomiting. I felt exhausted and was beginning to get very depressed that something I thought I could do without effort had become a mission that I had to fight for day and night. My baby struggled through jaundice, only to get thrush. We seemed to have one problem after another. Family members thought I was pushing myself too much, which made me more upset. There is nothing worse than hearing your own family tell you to just 'give it up and give her formula!' and "you need a break," as if breastfeeding was a sickness that I needed healing from. Friends told me it was okay to give formula. Even our family doctor said so, which upset me more. The only true support I had was my loving husband who kept telling me it would all work out and I would breastfeed exclusively, and my local LLL Leaders who listened empathetically over the phone as I cried because I felt that I was not a good mother.

I began pumping my breasts constantly to help make more out of what I thought was a dwindling milk supply. I joined Internet newsgroups on breastfeeding and they became my sources for experience, inspiration, and support. I read everything I could on the subject. Julianna's pediatrician also encouraged me, telling me all Julianna needed was the breast.

When Julianna was approaching ten weeks old, she started a growth spurt. I knew from previous growth spurts that she would want to nurse a lot, and I didn't want to keep offering formula. I decided then and there to stop the formula and nurse her throughout the spurt as much as she wanted. To my utter happiness and bliss, it worked! For the very first time since I had given birth, I felt my milk let down. It happened frequently as she worked to nurse and build up my once small but ever-present supply. I learned how to breastfeed in the relaxed fashion women are meant to. I nourished my precious child and became comfortable with new positions that previously would upset me because I thought we could not do them. Julianna has not touched a drop of formula since then, and she is now nine months old and still nurses every two to four hours. We have become an amazing nursing couple. This bond is something I never dreamed would be so strong. All the work Julianna and I did was worth it.

I still attend LLL meetings once a month, and plan to breastfeed Julianna indefinitely. Every mother should experience breastfeeding. It is more than just feeding and nourishing your child. It is about love and bonding. Breastfeeding is an incredible journey that opens your soul.

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