Friday, June 16, 2006

Breastfeeding 101

The United States Department of Health and Human Services recently issued a public service campaign to promote breastfeeding in first-time mothers. Current statistics indicate that 70 percent of first-time mothers initiate breastfeeding, but that only 33 percent are still doing it when their child is 6 months of age. NBC News reported that the primary reason for that drop is because mothers return to work, and while I agree with that....well, here's my two cents.

From the minute I learned I was pregnant, there was no doubt in my mind I would breastfeed Anja. The benefits were far too many to count. The sperm donor and I went to breastfeeding class at the hospital where Anja was born. I think the woman who taught it was high on crack. Seriously. She spent the entire 3-hour class talking with a smile on her face and her eyes closed. It was almost as though she was singing dreamily about breastfeeding. So we learned the basics: how to latch the baby, how to hold the baby, how long to nurse the baby, how to know the baby is finished, what the waste products of breastmilk look like, why to breastfeed at all, etc. There was nothing covered that I had not already heard or read. Crack woman made it sound like it was so easy; you just pick up the baby, hook her on the boob, and, abracadabra, she eats. No problem. Right?

I asked to see a lactation consultant from the minute Anja was born, which was at 8:45 on a Wednesday morning. In fact, I asked before they even wheeled me into the operating room. Said lactation consultant finally showed up the next afternoon, and was about as helpful as a little toe. Meanwhile, I can't latch poor Anja on because I had just had a C-section and was connected to an IV, a catheter, and a pulse ox. And she keeps falling asleep while eating. Here's a mental image: me, Anja, the sperm donor, and my mother, all hovering around my boob, trying to get newborn Anja to latch on and eat. Little toe lady said Anja is supposed to nurse for 30-40 minutes. First, her stomach is about as big as a quarter. Second, she keeps falling asleep. "Breastfeeding is so easy," the crack woman sang. Right.

Anja has never really had the normal yellow poops of a breastfed baby. Hers are green. Various shades, some quite pretty. I mentioned this to the pediatrician at our 2-week check-up, who said it was because of my diet. But Anja was growing at the 95th percentile, so whatever. Later Anja started choking and wheezing and sputtering every time I ate. What was this?? Crack woman mentioned nothing about the possibility of my daughter choking to death while eating off me. A call to a lactation consultant revealed that my milk came out too fast for Anja to keep up with. That's when I learned that if you ask three lactation consultants one question, you will get three different answers.

So the bottom line was that my milk came out too fast for Anja, so she would fill up really quickly. Unfortunately, she would fill up on the skim milk version of my milk rather than the half and half. If you know anything about the science of breastfeeding, this will make sense to you. I've spent the past several weeks trying different strategies for Anja to have more half and half.

Sometimes I sit in my nice glider nursing chair listening to my daughter sputter away and I think to myself "I could just pump everything out and stick a bottle in her mouth. Or better yet, get formula." But I don't because I made a commitment to her. It has been a commitment that has brought many tears wondering if she is getting enough to eat. I can be the persistent type. But I can easily see why other women would give up.

I am in debt to the La Leche League website. Their message boards have showed me that though my problems are relatively minor, there is a lot of empathy from other moms. Many of us posting are new at breastfeeding, and I for one am thankful for the experienced moms giving suggestions and support.

So I hope the US Department of Health and Human Services takes this into consideration. I have had to educate myself about breastfeeding; I have had to find my own answers. I also have a master's degree (indicating some modicum of intelligence) and internet access. But not all women are me, and they get scared and the process becomes intimidating, and they quit. I strive to still be doing this in four months. Again, I made a commitment to her.

Anyway, someone's hungry. Gotta go whip out the boob again. And at her two-month check-up yesterday? Still 95th percentile for height and weight; the doctor said she got an A+. Something's working.

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