A Badass Breastfeeding Mom of 1969

Breastfeeding storyThe year was 1969. I was a 20-year-old student nurse looking forward to the Christmas time birth of my first child.

My family shook their heads when I signed up for the rooming-in arrangement in anticipation for my post-birth hospital stay. Rooming-in—the idea of having the infant kept in the mother’s hospital room instead of a nursery—was a new and innovative concept at the time.

I happily imagined having access to our baby and learning to breastfeed. I pictured my husband and I holding our baby, bonding as a young family.

However, that was not to be.

I could not breastfeed, as our daughter was jaundiced. An incubator containing a bilirubin light was at my bedside while I pumped with an awkward plastic hand pump, and then I discarded the milk. We held our daughter only to give her water.

I was sad, but undaunted.

We were discharged in 5 days and I found myself in my grandmother’s home, surrounded by experienced women who had raised healthy bright children on formula made from canned PET milk (“the best”) and Karo Syrup.

My clothing was inconvenient at best. I wore handmade jumpers and smocks designed to hide my wide hips and self-consciousness.

To add to my sense of discomfort, I was ordered to nurse “upstairs.” I felt alone, banished, and isolated and so did my husband.

I was armed with good intentions and Dr. Barry Brazelton’s articles in Redbook Magazine. His writings encouraged so called “on-demand feedings.” He opened the door for moms to consider each baby as an individual personality from birth, and invited them to respond freely to their infants.

To add to my list of breastfeeding influences, I was surrounded by well-meaning voices confident in schedules, the dangers of “spoiling,” and too thin or weak breast milk. “Babies are to eat and sleep,” was their mantra—but not my baby! My now very awake little one made me question my choice to work as a Nursing Assistant 11p-7AM shift during the final months of my pregnancy.

As I agonized over my breastfeeding choices, I realized I was my own worst enemy in more ways than one.

Humbled, overwhelmed, and disappointed, my breastfeeding efforts lasted three weeks.

My daughter drank bottles of canned Enfamil and then whole milk at four months—GASP! But, I can report that she grew and thrived. Decades later she herself successfully nursed two daughters.

I’m happy to say I went on to have three more children, and had other opportunities to breastfeed. I will always remember the experiences as tender and empowering.

My marriage would go on to last forty-six years, and my nursing career lasted thirty-five.

In the end, I nursed for a total of two years…a drop of time in life’s bucket, that I wouldn’t change for the world. I never imagined all these years later I would have the opportunity to help develop a solution for easier breastfeeding and pumping.

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World Breastfeeding Week: A Jamaican Mom Tells Her Story – Why My Breasts Were Best: Breastfeeding with Rheumatoid Arthritis

I have rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve carried this burden around with me for more than five years now. I knew I would be faced with huge obstacles when trying to get pregnant, dealing with the pregnancy, and of course, the aftermath.

But in life, it’s impossible to be prepared for everything.

When I got pregnant, I was determined to not pressure myself about breastfeeding. Though Jamaican society strongly believes that breast is best, the fact that moms all over the world are condemned if they don’t breastfeed is extremely upsetting to me. Sometimes, and for whatever reason, you just can’t do it. Every body, and every baby, is different.

I had a unique experience when I was pregnant, to say the least. I had to taper medications which would be most harmful to the baby. I hit a brief reduction in RA symptoms, and for a moment I thought I was going to experience pregnancy remission…

And then the complete opposite happened. My body flared so much so that I had to reintroduce prednisone, get a steroid shot, and restart taking Celebrex. Despite all of that we confirmed the little bean inside me was perfect and healthy.

I was calm and I had my game plan down to a science in the moments after my water broke. My one must was that I wanted my baby to have a great latch so right after birth he would get colostrum. I would continue to breastfeed for as long as possible, but if my RA flared I had a fridge filled with sterile bottles. I knew that I could only take care of my baby if I was healthy and in a good place, so I researched which formula would be the most suitable substitute if the need should arise. But, if I could breastfeed for at least one week, and at best six—struggling through pain if necessary—then I would call myself an amazing Mom.

One hour after birth, and on our first try, my baby latched like a vacuum cleaner. He took as much colostrum as he could and “asked” for the other breast. Doctors and nurses were ecstatic, and so was I! I would breastfeed for as long as possible; he was fine and I was fine.

The next day, everything changed.

My baby was swept away and rushed to another hospital for immediate surgery. He had an imperforate anus. Following surgery, his food was restricted until they felt he could be introduced slowly to milk.

Doctors told me that breast milk would help flush bilirubin from his system and help his bowels to really start going. It’s also completely natural, and it would give him antibodies that would help his system get back to normal. But, at that point I had been expressing a little for relief, but not collecting anything. Why? I felt like my body was laughing at me, making liquid gold that he might never get to have.

I let myself cry, wiped my tears, and got tough.

Soon after, I discovered two other moms who had just been given the same instructions; pump and save. We became fast friends. We cheered each other on when we got a full ounce, and you were a goddess among us when you went over two!

When he could finally have milk, the nurse fed him only four milliliters, just to see what would happen. He gobbled it up! Two hours later he had some more, and it continued like that for a few days.

Then we hit panic mode. We needed more milk. But my hands were exhausted from hand expressing, and my RA was getting aggravated from all of the extra stress.

Eventually I would find myself sitting in the NICU, naked to the waist down, with a strange woman (a senior nurse) massaging and expressing my milk into a bottle. We got four ounces and my engorged, painful breasts could finally feel relief. We continued this way until they determined that it was safe to not monitor his milk intake by measurement.

At last, we were able to latch on again, and he did it like a champ! Two days later we went home.

He’s now 15 weeks old and thriving. I feed him directly when I’m around him, and I pump for his feedings during the day while I’m at work. I also pump in the filing room and my office completely understands, and sometimes we even continue to conducts conversations through the door if necessary!

I have two bags of milk which I brought home from the hospital. I can’t bring myself to defrost them. They are the most nutrient rich milk because his body would have told mine through breastfeeding what antibodies to produce.

But to me, they represent something deeper and stronger than just food. They remind me that I fought to get this baby here, that he fought to stay here, and that I was able to give him one of the most important and beautiful gifts and when his body needed it most. Those two bags represent for us why my breasts were best.

With love,
Camille Stephenson

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A Dad’s Perspective

1.) What is your name?

“J.P.” John Patrick Davit IV

2) How many kids do you have?

I have one child, “Jack” John Patrick Davit V, who is currently 2 months old.

3) In general, how do you feel about breastfeeding?

For my wife and I, breast feeding is just what we do as responsible parents who want to give our child the best chance that he could possibly have. We felt that breastfeeding would add to increased health even past the colostrum stage.

4) Did you have any preconceived notions about breastfeeding?

We didn’t know what to expect at all. Personally, I knew it would be harder for my wife than myself. But what I did not think about was how helpless I would feel upon realizing that my wife has to do all the work.

5) Did your parents breastfeed you?

My parents bottle fed us (they had four children including myself) because according to my mother that’s “just what people did,” at the time.

6) From your perspective, what are the difficulties surrounding breastfeeding?

The biggest difficulty is the factor of time, and the problem is twofold. Our son Jack is constantly dependent on just my wife Brigette. It is tough for her to get a break as he is a ravenous feeder who screams uncontrollably when he is hungry and many times my wife does not have enough breast milk to fill him. He cries and she feels awful that we have to supplement; it makes her feel like she cannot provide for our son.

All I can do is support her. This was especially true for the first six weeks. However, Jack recently had a growth spurt and she is now producing significantly more milk. Constantly feeding also is very tough on her back and neck as you are always leaning forward.

Breast feeding also takes much longer than bottle feeding. Jack receives more nutrition from breastfeeding as he is more able to hold down the milk. When we bottle feed he gets the milk much faster. He therefore spits up. My wife would certainly have more free time if she bottle fed, but we know the medical benefits are significant.

Another issue is the physical pain that she feels, which can certainly wear on a person. Long story short is that her nipples hurt and sometimes her left breast hurts. We look at it as a temporary inconvenience that will payoff in the long run. If the sacrificed time is 6 months, and if we are lucky enough to have 50 years with our son Jack—that is just 1% of the time we have with him and he is worth it to her.

7) Are you proud of your wife for breastfeeding?

I couldn’t be prouder of her commitment as a mother and to the current and future health of my son.

8) What do you do to support your wife?

My job of course pales in comparison to hers. I do as much as I can around the house as my wife usually keeps a very clean home, but with less free time it can get away from us. I clean, cook, do dishes, and rub her back as much as I can. I just try to do everything I can to make her comfortable, as she is sacrificing a lot for our future.

9) What would you say to a couple expecting their first child?

On of the coolest things that I have ever witnessed is the connection of a breast feeding mother to a newborn. It is absolutely incredible that when Jack cries from hunger milk starts flowing, working in a similar way as a salivary gland does when we smell food.

Also, the increased production during growth spurts is incredible, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. The antibodies in a mother’s body change to accommodate the immune needs of a baby because they cannot support themselves against invaders.

We are mammals, and breastfeeding is so natural that there is a word to collectively describe a specific group of animals that are scientifically supposed to support their offspring with breast milk from the mammary glands of the mother while the child’s digestive system and immune system grow and mature. These two systems are very interconnected.

10) As a couple, would you do it again?

There is no other choice. Yes. My parents did not know what I know regarding the increased health benefits. And while my brother and sisters are okay, the science makes just too much sense. Our health comes from our DNA and babies grow by cell division. Copy after copy of cellular DNA. The more you can support a child’s good health foundations the better shot you give them to live a long healthy life. If the first cells are weak on a DNA cellular level then the entire body will be built weak and with genetic inefficiency.

11) As a father, do you feel support from others in regards to you and your wife’s decision to breastfeed?

Absolutely. I support my wife 100%, and I can see how hard this is for her. She is amazing and I will support her until she decides that it is time to stop breastfeeding. While it is our joint decision, in the end the boobs are hers.

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Worlds Apart: Our Plans Versus What Actually Happens

Growing up, my house was open to any and all who needed a safe place. My mom was the head of her local Le Leche League, so new moms and breastfeeding veterans were always at our house, and I was exposed to all kinds of baby-rearing and breastfeeding techniques. I didn’t know when I would become a mom, but I thought one thing was for sure, I would be breastfeeding for as long as possible.

Years later, my soon-to-be-husband and I decided that we would pursue domestic adoption as a way to grow our family, and to provide an option to those who felt they couldn’t raise their child but didn’t want to abort. We had dreams of having eight children—and thanks to years of LLL exposure—I knew I could breastfeed our adopted children as well. In my mind, it was all set!

Nine years of being home study approved for domestic adoption resulted in no adoptions into our family. It took six pregnancies to conceive our son, who was born 10 weeks early. During my pregnancy, my breasts grew seven sizes larger, and I would find out seven years later that the rapid growth resulted in permanent nerve damage. Needless to say, things had not gone as I had envisioned.

My son’s teeny head, along with my HH boobs, and a lactation department that was closed for two days with no flanges big enough for my breasts, resulted in an inability to breastfeed as I had hoped. Tried as I might with the pump and small flanges, I couldn’t even produce colostrum, as it was all bloody and unusable. My son remained in the NICU and I went home with a brand new, hospital grade double pump. For three weeks, I pumped every two hours away from him. Then during visits, I would hold him near me for as long as possible, then move to another room for more pumping, giving the NICU every precious drop.

We came home with instructions, including holding him upright as much as possible due to hernias and tummy troubles. Because of his 3-pound size, he would need to eat every 1-2 hours until the doctor said otherwise, which ended up being over six months. So, I strapped on my son and got into our groove. Every 1-2 hours, through the night (and often watching America’s Funniest Video re-runs), I would try to teach him how to latch/suck, then I would double pump, then I would bottle feed, then I would burp, then I would sterilize, then I would supplement with formula, then I would burp…and look at that! It was time to start all over again.

On top of that, my son couldn’t make white blood cells and they thought he had leukemia. We couldn’t leave the house and we also weren’t allowed visitors, except for the nurse who came 3 times a week to take blood draws the first month. For a few months after that, we were only allowed to leave the house to go to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh twice a week for blood draws. To say we had a lot of bonding time is an understatement!

After over 6 months of feeding every 1-2 hours, I realized that my dreams of being some super breastfeeding rock star wasn’t in the cards for me. We were now allowed to leave the house, which we did only did once a day because my son got carsick each and every time. I still tried pumping 3-4 times a day, giving him what I had via bottle.

There were so many times where I would be out with other moms, and I was the only one who bottle-fed my child. While they were mostly supportive, random strangers felt the need to yell at me and judge me for not doing what was best for my son, for not trying hard enough, for quitting too soon. I’d cry for days. I’d try cluster-pumping every hour for 72 hours, I was taking 30 pills per day of fenugreek. I have Celiac Disease and was taking whatever gluten free milk-producing product on the market, and even many non-FDA approved supplements from Canada (gasp!).

I had LLL experts, and a great team of lactation consultants from the hospital. I was part of a new mom’s group, who paired us with veteran moms. There was no reason for me to fail.

To this day, I still cry at my failure. Even learning years later that my breasts had permanent nerve damage and the surgeon thinks it’s a miracle I produced any milk at all, my brain feels better, but not my heart.

There’s what we plan, and there’s what happens, and sometimes they are worlds apart. Moms need anything and anyone to support them in any way. There is no room for Judgey McJudgersons, only kindness.

Thank you Millybutton,

Megan Sinagoga

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For the Love of Lactating!!! A Breastfeeding Story

Embracing my Stink Boob, Neenees, and Boobas

When my first baby was born, I was basically clueless about what breastfeeding would be like. I took a prenatal class and studied Lamaze and blankly stared at my mom when she said that doctors in her day suggested “toughening” up her nipples with a rough cloth before the baby was born.

Say what?

Needless to say, I went into the experience pretty blind, with my sights on an un-medicated birth and, naturally, breastfeeding. Things went alright in the hospital; I recall deliriously looking at my new little person and trying to figure out how her tiny little nose could manage to get air while she was pressed up to my breast. I had lactation counseling support and no significant latch issues…except for the fact that I was so innately concerned about my baby getting fed that I would push through pain even if she wasn’t quite latched correctly.

Heading home from the hospital was exciting! And then my milk came in.

I have a vivid memory of ugly crying with my nursing bra unhooked, my enormous (for me) breasts exposed to whichever family member might attempt to help me through my hormonal breakdown. I was healing from the birth, engorged, exhausted, my baby wouldn’t sleep anywhere but in my arms, and the fear of SIDS or some other catastrophe had taken over my thoughts.

Things had definitely gotten real.

Thankfully, after a week or so of baby and I getting to know each other (and sleeping in the middle of the queen mattress without blankets, on my back, with her in the middle of my chest; it worked for her and seemed “safe” enough for my anxiety) we settled into a routine of nursing on demand—basically every 1.5 hours around the clock. It was the only thing that would comfort her and I went with it.

Amidst adjusting to life as parents, my husband and I named my right breast “stink boob” because it would leak more than the other and my nursing pads on that side would get a sour milky scent. We would laugh and it was better than crying over the roller coaster of emotions, physical pain, and exhaustion I had been through postpartum.

Physically, breastfeeding did get easier over time, and I really enjoyed nursing my first-born as a toddler. She called them “nee nees” and offered my breast to many of her stuffed animals and dolls. I breastfed her until she was over two, my second I nursed for eight weeks (another story), and I am still feeding my third child, now a toddler, with my “boobas.”

Marie P.

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