Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Breastfeeding, Take Two

I successfully nursed my daughter for nine months, and then again 29 months later for a month.  And yet, I still feel like I failed her the first time.  I was able to have that re-do with her, but I will never get that first time back.

There is a lot of guilt spread around on mothers that tried their hardest and yet still couldn't reach the personal goals they had set for themselves when nursing their children.  A lot of the guilt, especially in the United States, is that they shouldn't have tried so hard since it didn't work anyway.  So women wonder what they are doing wrong when they are upset about their lost nursing relationship.

So when you get pregnant again, or if you are even just thinking about another child after a bad nursing experience the first time, do you want to nurse in spite (or because) of that, or has it completely changed your perspective on nursing and it isn't even worth trying the second time?

Stephanie Casemore has written and released a new book, Breastfeeding, Take Two.  This book is all about working through the issues of previous nursing experiences and learning how to change them the second time.  A lot of what happened in previous nursing experiences can be changed.  The issues you had, maybe not so much, but even just having the right support and information can make the world of difference when you are tired and wondering if you can go on.

Trying to make sure I got as much out of this book as I could, and so that I could give a quality review, I read the book three times, with a few days in between each reading so that the information would seem fresh and not rushed.  Every time I read this book, the introduction had me in tears.

"Where did I come from?" the baby asked its mother.  She answered, half-crying, half-laughing, and clasping the baby to her breast, "You were hidden in my heart as its desire, my darling.  You were in the dolls of my childhood games.  In all my hopes and my loves, in my life, in the life of my mother, and in her mother before her, you have lived.  In the lap of the eternal spirit you have been nursed and nurtured for ages." (page 12)

What a beautiful start to this book.  This quote resonated with me like nothing I have heard.  I do come to this in a different way, and a lot of this information I felt mirrored infertility and wanting another child.  Some of the parts were so beautiful, but none more than this quote.

The biggest feelings of guilt from a mother that felt she had failed herself and her baby when breastfeeding didn't work out how she dreamed just don't go away.  These last from one child to the next.  Every breastfeeding relationship is new and different, even if you have successfully nursed before, but one of the major pitfalls is thinking that you did something wrong.

However, having looked at the subject from every angle, I've come to one conclusion:  there is no such thing as breastfeeding failure.  In truth, the only differentiation that is valid is "did" and "did not".  The reasons for not meeting your breastfeeding goals are varied, but if you attempted to breastfeed - regardless of how long you actually breastfed - then you were a breastfeeding mom. 
The real issue is one of satisfaction.  Success and failure is far to black and white for such a complex activity.  You either did or did not breastfeed and within that black and white division there is a range of satisfaction. 
If you are ultimately unsatisfied with your experience, then it is likely that you feel as though you didn't achieve success with breastfeeding:  you failed.  But this ignores all you did do and the knowledge you gained - knowledge you will take with you to breastfeed the second time around.  Life is merely an accumulation of experiences and growing in them is all we can hope to do.  Even one day of nursing your newborn makes you a breastfeeding mom.  Although it isn't likely what you intended and as a result therefore not a satisfying experience.  (page 15-16)

This topic is said many times throughout the book.  As a mother that feels she failed at breastfeeding, I really needed to be told multiple times that I didn't fail.  Normally repetition becomes stale, but in this book, and for mothers that had issues previously, need to be told over and over that they did nothing wrong.  For most women that "failed" at breastfeeding, they tried for a very long time to keep it going.  Pumping, herbs, every tiny thing that could help their milk supply or the issues they had, most have tried them all.  How, in any sense of the word, does that make you a failure?  If you try everything and it still doesn't work, you tried harder than most.  Be proud of yourself, you really and truly did everything you could.

Another thing she really talks about through most of the book is how society has failed nursing mothers in every step and in every sense.  We are caught between what is socially accepted (formula) and what is frowned upon and looked at as abnormal (breastfeeding).  Everywhere you look, baby symbols point to staying away from the breast.  Invitations to baby showers and gift bags all have bottles and pacifiers.  Bottles and formula are handed out like candy on Halloween at the hospital and at baby showers.  When a woman has issues breastfeeding, one of the biggest pieces of advice she gets is to "just switch to formula, don't try so hard."  We are told to go against our biology and physiology and accept societies view without comment.  This is not natural nor normal.  So many women end up feeling like failures because of this struggle between their natural instincts and society's expectations.

One of the biggest issues I have had with with the slogan "Breast Is Best" is completely addressed in this book.  By saying that breastmilk is best, you are in effect saying that formula is okay in comparison.  Breastmilk is the best thing for a baby, but it is also the most natural thing for a baby.  Breast isn't best.  It is the biological normal.  Formula is and always will be an artificial substance, and by putting breastmilk in the running, formula seems like a normal alternative, as if it is a completely normal option to take.  "Breast Is Best" is an amazing slogan, but with just this slogan, we are giving no information to help new mothers breastfeed.

With breastfeeding comes so many issues, mostly from the outside.  The lack of information, lack of support, and the social pressure and influence all make breastfeeding so much harder.  Most go into their first nursing relationship thinking it will be such a natural thing and there won't be a learning curve.  This is very far from the majority of stories.  Breastfeeding takes time, patience, and a lot of information and help.

Stephanie discusses how most providers and nurses are not trained in breastfeeding.  Yes, they understand how it works, but they are not prepared for any of the issues encountered, and a lot don't even know how to help achieve a good latch.  When 99% of the women in the United States are having their babies in the hospital with illtrained or untrained providers, no wonder only 33% are still breastfed at 3 months, and 13% are exclusively breastfed at six months!

She discusses how being prepared with a provider that can help with breastfeeding after birth can be one of the biggest factors in choosing your provider for pregnancy.  That is one thing I had never thought about before.  When you interview providers, everything with how pregnancy and birth is handled and discussed, bur nursing is passed over.  The truth is that nursing is just an extension of pregnancy and birth!  Every intervention in birth has an outcome with your nursing relationship.  Drugs, medications, induction, vaginal vs cesarean, if your baby is bathed before birth or a hat put on their head, all of these have a way of interfering with your nursing relationship.

In ways, it goes more than finding a good provider.  You need to find support before you even have your baby from those around you.  Find a lactation consultant that you trust and that is truly able to help you before pregnancy.  Find other mothers that have breastfed and know what they are talking about.  Find someone you can call in the middle of the night when you are exhausted and need help.  Don't settle.  This is your relationship with your baby, no one else's.  If someone isn't helping or didn't fully help in the past, you do not have to go back to them.  Proper support is crucial to a breastfeeding relationship, so find it before you are even nursing.

One other big thing in this book is how wanting an outcome doesn't guarantee this outcome.  Now, I do have issue with this in some ways because hope can make you keep trying and finding more information.  You should always go into a situation with hope as a shield, even if that means you will get hurt from it.  When you lose your hope, you lose what you wanted to feel.  But, I do believe that having only hope can be detrimental, and you need to arm yourself with education and preparation.  You need to be completely educated and prepared, especially if you have had a bad nursing experience previously.

Part One of this book is all about causes, ways it has shaped you, society's impact, and our conscious effort.  Part Two is about how we can make our next experience better.  There is a lot of overlap between the two sections, but that is how it should be.

When you have exhausted your resources, and done all you can do, there is no reason to feel guilty.  As new mothers, we do what we believe is right at the time.  There is no guilt in that.  (page 109)

As mothers, we judge ourselves too harshly.  It is just what we do.  We try so hard to be perfect and do what is perfect for our children.  There is nothing wrong with this.  However, we need to cut ourselves some slack.  Being a mother is hard, harder than I ever thought it would be.

Every child is different, as is every situation.  Having a bad experience doesn't mean they will all be that way.  There are so many factors that influence every bit of a situation, and realizing that you have done nothing wrong is a step we all need to take.  Nursing again is something to be strived for, sought after, and I really believe that women that have had a bad experience previously can truly benefit from this book.

I was able to let go of some of my feelings of failure just from reading this book.  There are so many tips in this book, and I wish I could write them all down.  This post is already so long, but I leave with one final word.

One experience does not foreshadow the next.  Believe in yourself and your ability.  Believe that breastfeeding is the biological normal for mothers and babies.  Arm yourself with information and support prior to pregnancy.  Find women that can help you before you even have issues.  Be prepared.

The views in this review are my own, mixed with information from the book.

Next Tuesday, I will be posting a Q&A with Stephanie, and a giveaway for one lucky person to be able to win this book.


Giveaway Hound said... [Reply to comment]

Wow! This sounds like a book I desperately need to read. Thanks so much for the review.

Here's my story: When I was pregnant with my son, my goal was to breastfeed for at least a year, hopefully two. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Instead of the natural vaginal birth I had planned for, I ended up with an emergency c-section because I had HELLP syndrome (my liver and kidneys had started to fail). I didn't see my son for a full 3 hours after he was born because of concerns about his heart. Despite this less-than-ideal start, breastfeeding seemed to go well at first. It wasn't until the day we were released from the hospital that we got the first inkling that things were not all well. My son's weight had dropped from 5 lbs. 8 oz. to 4 lbs. 14 oz. And he started crying whenever I tried to attach him to the breast. Determined to breastfeed, I rented a breast pump from the hospital and fed him breastmilk by syringe for 3 days. At that point, I was able to get him nursing again, but he still wasn't gaining weight as quickly as our doctors' wanted. On the advice of a perinatalogist, who told me that nipple confusion was a myth and he was 99% sure my son would be able to breastfeed, we started giving him bottles at 2 weeks old. For 6 weeks, I would nurse him, bottlefeed him formula and then pump. I also tried feeding him via a supplemental nursing system. Nothing worked. About 2 weeks into this ordeal, my son was started on oxygen because we lived at high altitude. It is my firm belief that his low oxygen levels and later the oxygen tubes interfered with his ability to breastfeed (a lactation consultant told me she had never seen a baby on oxygen able to solely breastfeed). When my son was 2 months old, I threw in the towel on our little routine and turned to pumping and only bottlefeeding. By the time he was 5 months old, I felt like I couldn't take that any longer and tried to get him back on the breast. While I was successful at that, he still wasn't gaining weight like he should have been and he was also nursing every 2 hours at night. I was exhausted. So, we went back to bottlefeeding and I pumped. I stopped pumping shortly after my son's first birthday.

I put more time and energy into trying to breastfeeding my son than anyone else I know. And despite all of that, I still feel like I failed him, I am jealous of my friends who were able to have successful breastfeeding relationships and I have many regrets about the path I took and decisions I made. It still pains me to think about it. I never thought I wouldn't be able to breastfeed exclusively and during all these struggles, I never found the support I desperately needed from those around me.

To be honest, these feelings of failure that I have surrounding my breastfeeding relationship with my son are part of why I want to have another child. I want to put the knowledge that I gained from my experience with him to work.

But I also wonder and worry about the long-term impacts of my breastfeeding experience on my relationship with my son. Will I ever be able to forgive myself? How has our breastfeeding journey affected our relationship? Am I less connected to him because he wasn't able to exclusively breastfeed? It still tears me up inside.

Sorry for the long comment. This is just an issue so near and dear to my heart. I will definitely be on the lookout for this book!

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