Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Superhuman powers

I had to chuckle when I read this quote from Gwen Stefani -

"I'm still nursing," she says, "and I think it gives you superhuman powers.",,20004425,00.html

I might actually take xray vision or arms of steel (maybe buns of steel). I have nursed g and am nursing s. Although I am not sure if nursing has given superhuman powers, but it has changed me as a human being. I have never had to do a more rewarding, grueling, at times painful, at times thankless but ultimately powerful experience in my life.

Consider the preparation. Breastfeeding is the most complicated natural thing that a woman will ever have to do. Most natural things are fairly self-explanatory. Even childbirth, the pain and contractions brings a woman very close to her instinctive self. I can speak from experience now that even with a horrid lack of preparation, a woman's body "knows" how to bring a child into the world. Breastfeeding seems to go against all reason initially. We are told in classes to put the baby to the breast within minutes of birth. Check. Seems simple, right? There are many considerations apparently. The latch must be checked to ensure proper milk removal and to prevent pain, etc. Feedings should also be done every 2 hours. Now this is every 2 hours taking into account feeding time. Thus if the baby takes 45 minutes to feed and it takes another 10 minutes to change diapers, another 10 minute of burp attempts, the mom would have less than an hour before the process begins again. It is also counter intuitive, but during the first week of life, the baby should be awakened to eat. So the rule of "never awaken a sleeping baby" doesn't apply here. I have done extreme measures to awaken my babies (wipe them down with a cool washcloth, strip them down to their diaper, tickle their toes, play loud music, etc). A mom will do what she has to do.

So you'd think that once you get into the swing of things, it should become fairly routine, right? WRONG! There is always a possibility of thrush, infections, mastitis, plugged ducts, etc. There are such a thing as nursing strikes when the baby refuses to nurse. Super counter-productive. I have endured one and it was no fun. There are also incidents of biting, pulling, preference for one side over the other. This list can go on and on and on. Whole message boards and user groups have been created around breastfeeding support. This "natural" act is an endless amount of highs and lows.

So why? Each person will have a different reason why they chose to do so. Personally it is the best thing I could do for my baby. The benefits are well-documented. It makes me proud that I am able to provide for her in a way unique only to me. However with both of my kids, it is work. It has taught me though to trust in my ability to do this. In the early days of this journey, I have heard VERY OFTEN, "are you sure you have enough?" In those early days, I didn't know for sure. A nursing mom never knows for sure unless you have a scale handy. In this second phase, I have learned to trust in my ability to give enough, to trust that s knows what she needs and will let me know if she needs more.

This is a journey. It's one fraught with hurt and happiness. It's a journey that I still take day by day. There are days when I feel like quitting. There are days when s seems like she want to quit. I have given myself permission to quit anytime. This permission has allowed to soldier on. So superhuman, no. Definitely more human, more myself, a better self.


The He Family Blog said...

The question of "Do you have enough?" is certainly the most feared question for me as the day for my little girl to arrive is coming closer. I know that a mother has enough so long as she has a good diet and is only feeding breastmilk. But it's hard to shake off that question when it's definitely going to be asked by grandmothers who supposedly had many more children than me. I appreciate your sharing of your experience and the reality of breastfeeding . . . that even if I succeed in breastfeeding my child exclusively, it's still going to be a struggle everyday to keep up with the success.


a's mommy said...

"Do you have enough?" is an awful thing for any well-meaning family member to ask. I think it's pretty insulting and counterproductive, actually. Fortunately, I learned to ignore that question with the help of a very supportive husband and friends.

In the early days of breastfeeding "a", my own parents kept questioning my supply since I was feeding him every two hours. Having formula fed my younger brother more than 25 years ago, (and not even raising me-- my aunt did that) my parents seemed to think that frequent breastfeeding was a sign that the baby was not getting enough at each feeding. Little did they know that newborn babies are made to nurse every two hours, and in the very early days, on-demand. And that actually maintains and builds up a mom's supply.

When they visited us a week after "a" was born, they kept saying, "Your younger brother drank 8 ounces of milk at each feeding when he was that age." I doubt that was true; it might have been the case when he was much older. I think their recollection was a bit romanticized and inflated, since a week-old baby's stomach is on average only the size of a golf ball. I tried explaining the impossibility of fitting 8 oz inside a golf ball, and that shut them up! They were further reassured as "a" began to plump up.

I have to say, a lot of my cousins had more accepting parents when it came to breastfeeding. My older cousin's mom even bought her a nursing blanket to encourage her to feed anytime in public or at parties. She was still feeding her baby on demand at two months old, which was about every hour and the baby was huge! And it helped that neither of her parents questioned her supply.

I have read articles where breastfeeding until 2 years of age has been shown to be even more beneficial than just up to one year. And I have actually had to continue nursing "a" past one year because of his allergies. Ironically, when I started weaning him this month since he is fast approaching his second birthday, my mom said she was worried I was weaning him too soon and kept encouraging me to nurse him until at least 2 years of age. And now as I wean "a", I have noticed too that it has taken a while for my once thought of "limited" supply to dry out.

So keep at it, it will get easier as the baby gets older. I think it's wonderful that you are able to breastfeed a baby and care for a toddler at once. Although I have endured nursing "a" for this long, in the future I am not sure I will have the stamina to devote as much time to nursing a second baby while caring for a toddler. But I certainly hope I can!