Before Natalie was born, Mike and I made the decision to breastfeed exclusively for as long as possible, ideally for her first six months. Really, I suppose I made that decision long before Natalie was even an inkling of a thought in either of our minds, since I was breastfed as a baby and just assumed that would be the infant feeding route I would someday take. The decision to breast or formula feed can be a challenging one, I think, and there are pros and cons to each. We learned in our breastfeeding class that babies who are exclusively breastfed for 6 – 12 months are at a lower risk of SIDS, ear infections, vision problems, dental problems, diabetes, asthma, obesity, leukemia, stomach viruses, etc. etc. Breastfeeding moms also benefit, with lower incidences of breast and ovarian cancer, post-partum depression, and diabetes, as well as a slightly easier time initially dropping baby weight. With all these benefits, as well as the convenience and cost (free!), it seemed like a natural choice to both of us that we would choose to breastfeed Natalie.
Because I had a c-section, I wasn’t able to breastfeed Natalie immediately, which would have been my preference. However, with the assistance of a fabulously assertive and knowledgeable nurse, I was able to breastfeed within an hour of delivery, while I was still in recovery (out of it, medicated, mostly numb, and completely weepy). I truly think that Natalie’s success breastfeeding is attributable to that nurse’s insistence that, yes, actually, it was just fine for me to hold and feed my baby while I was being monitored, thank-you very much.
The nursing thing hasn’t been completely easy and without challenges, though. Fast forward a few hours on that first day, and suddenly Natalie began struggling to latch on and it was becoming increasingly frustrating to try to feed her. One of the lactation consultants suggested I use a nipple shield, which seemed to instantly solve the problem. The downside of this decision is that I have not yet been able to wean Natalie off the nipple shield, so the “convenience” of breastfeeding has lessened a bit: Mike or I have to get up to wash it after each late night feeding; I have to make sure I’ve packed it when I leave the house; placing it properly in public makes nursing discretely kind of impossible; and Natalie has become an expert at knocking it off my breast just as my milk lets down–effectively spilling milk all over my clothes and her face nearly every time I feed her. Not using the nipple shield results in one frustrated, cranky baby, so I have pretty much given up hope that she will ever go without it. I suppose the positive of using it has been that she has had no difficulty switching back and forth between bottle and breast, so I have been able to pump and share the feeding responsibility without any problem.
While I am still completely committed to breastfeeding, I totally get why some choose not to (and, of course, some don’t have the choice if their milk doesn’t come in properly or they aren’t fortunate enough to have a lactation consultant to help them through the initial challenges and pain). Breastfed babies need to eat more often, which means that Mike and I are still lucky to get a four-hour stretch of sleep between Natalie’s feedings, and breastfed babies poop more than formula-fed babies (something about how digestible breast milk is versus formula), so we’re still changing about 12 poopy diapers a day. Formula is also easier when it comes to having other people feed the baby–even if Mike gives Natalie a bottle, I still have to pump during that feeding to keep my supply up… so while it is nice to have an occasional break from nursing, it really doesn’t save me any time or energy.
Even when Natalie is fussy while she eats, or I don’t think I have the energy to feed her in the middle of the night, I still get the feeling that there is some magic to breastfeeding a baby. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the whole thing, it is such a strange experience to imagine when you’ve never done it, but I have found myself in awe of what my body is capable of doing in my nursing moments. Not only did I help create this tiny human, and grow her in my belly, and try my darnedest to push her into the world, but now by some strange miracle I am able to single-handedly keep her alive. The idea that women have this kind of ability is pretty mind-blowing to me, and yet it feels like the most natural thing in the world.
My favorite part about breastfeeding is the quiet time that it affords me with Natalie. Whether she’s looking up at me wide-eyed and alert, or falling asleep in a milk-drunk stupor, she is her sweetest and snuggliest when she’s eating, and it is the perfect opportunity for me to look at all of her little parts and appreciate just how perfect a little baby can be. I get to slow down a bit and notice how chubby her cheeks are getting, and what shape her feet are (they are my feet, but in miniature), and admire her dimpled pudgy hands, and laugh at her furry ears (yes, she has wolf ears… they are completely covered in fuzz!). While I know rationally that healthy babies are born every day, I can’t help but feel so grateful in those quiet moments that my baby is one of them. Seeing her eat and grow and thrive brings me so much happiness.
It can be frustrating not to know how much Natalie is eating at any given feeding, since there’s no way to tell exactly how much milk she’s expressing and swallowing, but I’ve mostly stopped wondering about that since she has been getting rounder and bulkier nearly every day. At her 1 month appointment we learned she’s up to 11 lbs 6 oz (yup, she gained 3 pounds in a month!), putting her in the 95th percentile. So, I guess she’s eating just fine. I’ve heard people say that babies will either be good eaters or good sleepers… there is no doubt that we have a good eater on our hands, and, yes, she could use some improvement in the sleep department–but I’ll save that for another post.