Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bottles and Boobs

A few days ago, A and I were naming body parts and she pointed to my chest and asked "What that for?" C jumped in with "Mommy milk A! Don't you remember mommy milk?" A looked at me questioningly and I concurred with C. "Yes A, that's where you and C got milk when you were babies." She started to laugh. "Silly Mommy! Milk come in bottle. See?" And she held up her baby's bottle. I had to resist the urge to scoop up all of the play bottles in the house and throw them out. Actually, Rebecca finally talked me down. If I had been left to my own devices, the bottles would have been gone and I would have been explaining to my two year old about milk production and latch issues.

I never intended to be a breastfeeding fanatic. I began my breastfeeding experience by saying "I'm just going to try it and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out." I was particularly squeamish about the nursing in public thing, and worried about my ability to be the sole source of nutrition for my child. It was just too much responsibility. But somehow between the theoretical breastfeeding class I took while pregnant with C and the traumatic weaning of A at 12 months because I had to go on some medicines incompatible with breastfeeding, I became a raving advocate.

Without the many supports I received when I was trying to establish a nursing relationship with C, I never would have made it as far as I did. I was incredibly lucky in both my inadvertent choice of obstetrician and my default selection of the only pediatrician I had a chance to interview before delivering C earlier than planned. The hospital my OB had privileges at just happened to be a teaching hospital that also trained lactation consultants along with the doctors and nurses. So in the days after C made his appearance in this world there were lactation consultants in and out of my hospital room almost as frequently as the 43 billion doctors, residents and interns. After discharge, they offered a free walk-in breastfeeding clinic and I was a repeat customer there; they sent C a first birthday card.

My first pediatrician turned out to be a devout breastfeeding advocate who insisted at every visit that I just had to keep going. He had a lactation consultant on staff, with whom I was also on a first name basis (can you tell we had some issues?). His office sponsored a nursing mom's group through which I met enough other nursing moms to feel like I wasn't the only mommy in Manhattan who didn't formula feed. Between the hospital staff, the pediatrican's office, and the knowledge that I wasn't alone, I kept going even when I wanted to quit. And I have never regretted pushing through the hard times.

Fast forward two years, and although I delivered A in the same hospital, the lactation program had been scaled back and since I was a second time mom, I didn't rank high enough to warrant any support from overextended staff. My new pediatrician, while herself a proponent of breastfeeding, did not have nurses who knew anything about the nursing process. At one point when I called with a question about A's weight gain, I was told "I don't know what to tell you if you are still nursing." When I called for support while I was trying to work out a way to temporarily transition her to formula because I had to undergo some tests that would require me to stop nursing for a week, I got better advice from my cardiologist's nurse than my pediatrican's. I frequently thought to myself, "Thank god I know what I'm doing here, but what about the women who don't?"

If I had been a first time mother, I never would have continued nursing A because I didn't get any positive support or helpful advice from the medical personel I was interacting with on a regular basis. And, in fact, I finally weaned because my doctor convinced me to to try some medicine even though my heart condition was not life-threatening and the probability of the drugs working was fairly low. But at the time I was so stressed out and hysterical over my flip-floppy heart, I was incapable of questioning the medical system, which is probably how most first time moms who are interested in nursing but give up because their doctors tell them to must feel.

As I watch A lovingly give her baby dolls bottles, I know that whether you breast or bottlefeed doesn't change how you love and cherish your child. And I would never encourage someone who was being made miserable by the experience to continue. But on the one year anniversary of weaning A, I wish that everyone who wanted the experience of nursing a child could receive the encouragement and support that they need to nurse as long as they desire.