As a women’s college student, I took a class on women’s health issues and became interested in topics related to birth and childbearing before I ever thought of becoming a mother. I continued to read about breastfeeding, midwifery, and natural childbirth in the years leading up to my first pregnancy. I was so thankful for the time I dedicated to becoming informed because the hospital where I delivered my first child felt like a time warp. You would have thought I delivered my daughter in 1964 and not 2004.
I know that breastfeeding rates vary by geographic location, but breastfeeding was widely accepted as the healthiest means of feeding babies when my first baby, Elizabeth, was born. The doctors and nurses at the hospital, though, were completely unsupportive of my breastfeeding. There was no option for “rooming in” with my baby, and the nurses took her away from me each time they had a shift change. I remember wandering the halls in my hospital gown looking for the nurses’ station when they failed to bring Elizabeth back to me after more than an hour.
What was most baffling to me was that the nurses were flabbergasted that I refused to allow them to bottle feed her. Each time I explained that I was breastfeeding her, they pressured me into allowing them to feed her formula. They tried to lure me by telling me I could rest if they gave her a bottle, which was quite the temptation after 17 hours of labor. I was thankful that I was well-informed and strong in my desire to breastfeed because I think a less confident mother could easily have been swayed by their pressure.
I certainly didn’t expect to be pressured to formula feed by my nurses, but my pediatrician’s response was completely disheartening. When Elizabeth’s pediatrician learned that I intended to exclusively breastfeed, he refused to sign our discharge papers until I learned how to cup feed her. He was completely convinced that I would be unable to provide for her nutritional needs by breastfeeding. Since I was refusing to bottle feed, he insisted that I learn how to feed her by cup because he was concerned that I was going to starve my baby to death. I have to repeat here that this was 2004, but the mentality felt like I had stepped into a hospital of a generation (or more) ago.
Needless to say, I did not have the support of a lactation consultant, and I bought a terrible pump because I didn’t have anyone to offer advice. Luckily Elizabeth latched on her own because I not would have known what to do if we had any problems. I was able to forge a path on my own and continued breastfeeding my daughter until she self-weaned.
As I write this, Elizabeth is now 14 years old, and I am pregnant again. I’ve had two children in the meantime. I breastfed all my children exclusively for six months, and I continued to breastfeed each of them past the one-year minimum mark recommended by pediatricians. I plan to do the same with the son I am now expecting, and I am happy that the entire culture around breastfeeding has changed drastically since I first became a mother.
With my first child, I felt completely unsupported in my efforts to breastfeed, but my experience with my second child was much better. With my second baby, I met a lactation consultant for the first time and learned that the pain I tolerated for all 22 months of breastfeeding the first was completely unnecessary (some welcome news!). While at work, I did have to pump in a restroom, but I was happy overall with my experience and the support I received.
By my third child in 2014, breastfeeding felt completely commonplace. I finally saw another mom breastfeeding in public, and now I frequently see moms nursing in public. I had a big gap between my second and third pregnancies, so I no longer had my pump or other breastfeeding supplies. I was ecstatic when I learned that my new pump would be covered by insurance (big score for me!). This time around, I wasn’t the only nursing mom at my work. I was happy to have fellow breastfeeding moms to help me make a case for clean spaces to pump at work, which meant I didn’t have to resort to a restroom for my pumping sessions with my third child.
While I was always content to feed my babies where ever I was when they got hungry, I am overjoyed when I see nursing rooms that offer privacy and quiet for breastfeeding moms who aren’t so comfortable feeding their babies in public. Employers, too, seem to be improving their efforts to provide clean, private spaces for mothers to pump. I certainly have never heard another story of medical professionals being as discouraging as mine were.`
Despite sending six years of my life (so far!) breastfeeding, I am not the type of mom to chastise other moms who choose not to breastfeed. How to provide nutrition for a baby is a decision best made by the new parents. No one needs judgmental people offering unsolicited advice, but every ounce of support for new moms as they juggle the demands of a life that literally changes in an instant is a step in the right direction.