Listening to My Baby
Rolla MO USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 6, November-December 2006, p. 253
Before my son, Lann, was born, I felt prepared for frequent nursing, comfort nursing, and for the experience of nursing in public. I started attending La Leche League meetings when I was 26 weeks pregnant and was also involved with my local breastfeeding coalition. I fondly imagined cuddling my baby as he nursed away. I also imagined proudly nursing wherever necessary -- doing my part to increase public perception of nursing being a normal part of everyday life, not secret or shameful.
After newborn Lann's first growth spurt had passed, I was surprised to learn that he had other ideas about what our breastfeeding relationship would be like. Lann did not like to comfort nurse: he nursed when hungry and stopped when full. He would become upset and cry loudly if the breast was offered and after the first few sucks he got milk that he wasn't looking for. He also vastly preferred nursing lying down in our own bed. In public, he would refuse to nurse at all or would nurse a bit, choke on a mouthful, and become upset and not continue. He would often choke while nursing in any setting (though less frequently while lying down at home) and become very distraught and turn away from the breast, sometimes even pushing at me with his hands. These experiences were very difficult for me. I felt embarrassed to go to LLL meetings with a baby who cried and fought the breast despite clearly appearing hungry, but then would nurse happily in the car. I did not have the cozy, peaceful nursling I imagined, though I was comforted by the fact that at home, lying down, when he was hungry, he certainly loved to nurse.
These challenges continued for three-and-a-half months before I finally accepted that listening to my baby's needs applied to these situations as well! Things became much less stressful when I finally realized this. Even though Lann didn't breastfeed the way I had imagined or in the way I thought he needed to breastfeed, I still needed to listen to what he was telling me. If we were in a public place, I went to the car to nurse him and generally averted the crying, gagging/choking on milk episodes. At friends' houses, I would ask to lie down in another room. I made sure to "tank him up" before we left our house and planned to be home again within approximately three hours so we could nurse in our own comfortable surroundings. I stopped being embarrassed that my baby wouldn't nurse the "right" way and accepted that his style was different than what I had anticipated. After Lann went through a very challenging nursing strike at five months old due to a cold, I also learned that it often worked to nurse him standing up and moving around and I successfully employed this strategy in other settings after the nursing strike had passed. I also learned that if I let him let go to look around frequently while nursing in public (something I had never expected to "allow" before he was born), we could usually manage to complete a nursing session without struggling.
Lann's disinterest in comfort nursing and his preference for private nursing both faded away when he was about 10 months old. He began to enjoy nursing "just because" or for comfort when distressed. He started to nurse around other people and in public places with ease and continued to nurse happily and frequently until he was two-and-half and weaned during my pregnancy with his brother, Zander.
I loved the feeling of being able to meet multiple needs in one interaction with Lann. Even during our early "conflict" over where and how to nurse, I loved the experience of feeling both of our bodies suffused with peace as we lay down together to nurse. I also deeply cherished the times we eventually spent comfort nursing. I felt so sad to be missing out on those times when he was younger, so every time toddler Lann asked to comfort nurse, I felt like it was a true gift.