Happy World Breastfeeding Week 2018!
The first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week. I've been seeing great pictures and articles pop up in my Instagram feed. And the reason I decided to write about it is because I talk about breastfeeding every single day.
When did I become an 'expert'? When I became a mom.
Back in residency, we only learned a little bit about breastfeeding, which is a bit ironic since we should be talking about it at every well baby visit. However, the reality is that pediatric residency focuses more on inpatient medicine than outpatient medicine out of necessity, though our program worked to balance the two. And if you had an attending in clinic who taught you about breastfeeding that was bonus too (I definitely tried to bring up the topic more when I was an attending at the same clinic for many years before joining a private practice.) Long story short, I learned the most about breastfeeding during my breastfeeding elective AKA maternity leave. I devoured all kinds of books and articles and scrolled through many message boards (this was 2006) while I attempted breastfeeding my first daughter.
You know why? Because breastfeeding wasn't easy. It didn't come naturally. And it hurt! Why didn't anyone tell me it would hurt at first? Mini Me kept falling asleep and she lost more than the maximum ten percent. And later she went on nursing strike at three months of age. So, yeah, I learned all about milk production, mastitis, thrush, nursing strikes, pumping times and rates, and different latching positions.
When I see a newborn in clinic, one of the first questions (after a 'Congratulations') I ask is if mom's milk has come in. And then we strategize. We talk about ways to increase production, we talk about prenatal vitamins, we talk about Vitamin D for the baby. And, we talk about the fact that BREASTFEEDING IS HARD. For some it comes naturally, but for most first time moms, it can be a bit of a challenge. So I'm there to confirm that it can be difficult, and to help support them, and, yes, to also let them know that it's okay if they give the baby formula. Or if they have to give up breastfeeding. There's a lot of mommy guilt that starts right away, and I like to take away as much of it as possible.
I also like to support those parents who decide to do extended breastfeeding. And not just because I was an accidental extended breastfeeding mom. I confess that when I was pregnant with my eldest, I thought that maybe I would only breastfeed her for the length of my maternity leave (six weeks). I had the last few months of residency to finish and at the time I was going into a neonatology fellowship (I left after six months). I didn't know where that would leave me....but in the end I worked through nursing strikes, leaking breasts and stained clothes and scrub tops, and even pumping in our NICU pump room and once in an ambulance (on the way to pick up a far away patient). I never got the hang of pumping while driving like one of my colleagues was able to do. But past all that, I nursed both my girls until they were over two years old. I got funny looks, but we did what was right for us as a family.
So when I see posts going viral of a mom breastfeeding or pumping, it makes me glad. While I didn't feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, I fully support the right of many to do so. It was NOT fun going to feed my baby in a restroom, and maybe I would do it differently now.
To all the moms and dads who were up feeding their babies last night, I commend you. I know you're tired, but, trust me, those days go by fast. Enjoy the moments of peace and quiet bonding with your baby.
And to those of you who were up with a screaming and unhappy baby last night, I commend you too. Those moments weren't peaceful, but I promise that they too will pass.
As for myself, Little Lion crawled into my bed at 340am. A remnant from extended breastfeeding is that she goes through cycles of waking up and coming to our bed, and then weeks when we don't see her at all. But it's okay—because one day she'll be off on her own and I'll be missing those nights, just as I miss being able to hold all of her in my arms.