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The Instinct to Breastfeed

Katie Morgan
Canby OR USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 1, January-February 2006, pp. 17-18

Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my babies. Little did I know that my desire to breastfeed would one day be put to the test. Our son, Eric Sicar`u, was born on a beautiful June afternoon on our back patio in a tub of warm water. The birds in the oak trees above us sang him his first song, and my husband and I felt so blessed to have welcomed him into this world with such a peaceful and lovely experience. He showed interest in breastfeeding within minutes of birth, and one of our midwives helped him latch on for the first time. The first day was euphoric, but after the second and third days, I began experiencing nipple pain. I thought this was normal because I had heard that the first couple of weeks can be very difficult. But after two weeks, I decided that we needed help because my nipples were getting worse rather than better, and Eric wasn't gaining much weight.

I made an appointment with a lactation consultant who had been recommended to me by a friend, and as I began to explain our troubles to her, I burst into tears, not realizing until that moment how utterly exhausted and hopeless I was feeling. The first thing she noticed was that Eric had a tongue-tie, which meant that he couldn't stick his tongue out very far. She weighed Eric and watched me breastfeed him in an uncomfortable chair in a position I had never tried before, and under the very bright lights of her tiny office. This was not exactly a relaxing atmosphere for me or my son. After he had breastfed for about two minutes, during which time I felt no let-down, she weighed him again and he had only taken one-eighth of an ounce of milk. She was very concerned and said that I might have a hormonal deficiency because I wasn't producing enough milk. I will never forget her saying. "Let's face it. You can't get blood out of a turnip." This made me feel worthless as a new mother. She also said that Eric would never get a good latch-on with "that tongue" and that it needed to be clipped immediately. After a few other emotionally damaging comments, she sent us home with a recommendation for blood tests, the herbal supplement fenugreek to increase my milk supply, a recommendation for a tongue clip for Eric, and two cans of formula for supplementing him after every nursing session. She led me to believe that I would probably have to supplement him with formula indefinitely. I was devastated, but we followed her advice. We needed to feed Eric.

I made an appointment with our primary care physician for Eric to have a procedure to clip his tongue called a frenectomy, and for me to get blood work done. Upon seeing Eric's tongue, the doctor decided it was not tight enough to need clipping, and that our latch-on problems must have another cause. He quickly finished with me and left, leaving me feeling desperate for a solution. My nipples felt as though they were going to fall off and I sobbed through every breastfeeding session. My husband was very supportive and understanding of my desire to exclusively breastfeed, since he was breastfed for a very long time and also feels a strong conviction that breast is best. But, I think neither of us knew what else to do. We just wanted our son to be healthy and strong.

The next few days were a blur of uncontrollable sobbing with me repeating to everyone, "I just want to feed my baby!" I felt like the animal within me had been released and that my desire to breastfeed successfully was an instinctual drive that had power over my rational thought. My lab results all came back normal. In fact, my naturopath friend said they "looked great" and she saw no reason why I couldn't produce enough milk. All this time I was in close contact with our midwife, Celeste, who also happens be my brother's wife. She expressed a great concern for me after hearing the lactation consultant's negative comments and seeing my distraught condition, so she recommended I meet with her friend, Meg, who is also a lactation consultant. I decided to call Meg as a last attempt at fulfilling my dream of exclusively breastfeeding my son. She was so positive and encouraging during that phone call that I wanted to see her immediately. I was also comforted by the fact that she successfully breastfed her tongue-tied son and knew firsthand about the issue. We made an appointment for her to come to my house, which wasn't for another four days. All of my hope was placed in waiting those four long days. I'm so thankful for the wonderful support I received during that time from my husband, my mother, and my sister-in-law, Celeste.

When Meg came over, I immediately felt that I didn't have to explain my "animal instinct" to breastfeed, and I was so relaxed because we were in my own home, with my own couch and pillows around me. She watched me breastfeed Eric and gently showed me some position changes that helped Eric have a better latch-on. I couldn't believe it, but all of a sudden I realized that he was breastfeeding and I had no pain! It was a miracle and I suddenly believed that we were going to make it after all! She warned me that as Eric and I learned these new techniques, there would still be ups and downs. The next few weeks were filled with moments of euphoria and frustration as my son and I both learned how to breastfeed. We were like two clumsy people learning to dance together. But the most important thing to my husband and myself was that the day after Meg's visit we were able to stop giving Eric formula. My milk supply became so plentiful that he grew and grew until he weighed in the 90th percentile range! What a chub!

After about two months, I began attending La Leche League meetings, and I have been going ever since. There I am able to share experiences with other mothers who place the same value on breastfeeding. It took about four months until I could breastfeed Eric in any position, in any place, and at any time with no pain.

Breastfeeding finally became the lovely, pleasurable bonding experience I had imagined. Our son is now almost two and I am eight months pregnant with our second child. We're getting the back patio set up again in preparation for his or her arrival this summer. Eric and I still sit down for "a la la" several times a day, and I look forward to our next endeavor: tandem nursing! I can't imagine what mothering my child would be like without the breastfeeding relationship we share.

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