Before becoming pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. The benefits, the bonding…..I was sold. Once we were pregnant, I just needed to make sure my husband was also convinced. The price tag on the breast pump and the mere fact that my boobs now had a higher purpose presented some challenges to my argument. I decided to bring in reinforcement and enrolled us in a “Preparing to Breastfeed” class for couples at our local birthing center. I didn’t know it at the time, but other than marrying my husband, this is probably one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made.
On the night of class, we walked into a room full of first-time moms-in-waiting and deer-in-the-headlight dads. My husband went straight for the front row. I tried to pull him back – I’m not a front-row kind of gal – but he said if you’re making me sit through this class, we’re going to sit front and center. I didn’t argue. He listened intently to the lactation consultant, patiently watched the (very-outdated) videos, helped position the doll when practicing how to hold the baby and meticulously inspected (ok, maybe cracked an inappropriate joke in my ear) the stuffed “beanbag” boob passed around the room of nervous parents-to-be. He even raised his hand to ask a question. I was proud and my plan seemed to be working.
Fast-forward 10 weeks and our beautiful daughter had finally arrived. It certainly wasn’t the birth plan I laid out, but she was here. I would quickly learn that not much of what I envisioned about labor and breastfeeding would play out like I had imagined. I was induced and ended up having to deliver by C-section so I wasn’t able to start nursing immediately. About 4 hours after my daughter was born, we made our first attempt and it was a complete bust (pun intended). I was exhausted, she was frustrated and it did not come naturally like I had assumed. We tried throughout that first night with little success. Between the C-section and nursing troubles, I already felt like I had failed as a mom less than 24 hours after earning the coveted title. Of course my hormones played into my feelings of inadequacy all too well.
The next morning, the lactation consultant stopped in to offer some guidance and support. Not long after I brought my daughter up to my breast, I heard these four words, “You have inverted nipples.” I thought to myself, “No, I don’t. I’ve had these nipples for 34.5 years, never heard any complaints and they look just fine to me, thank you very much.” But apparently they weren’t built for latching on. Enter the nipple shield…..a nipple-shaped “suction cup”, I would need to place over my nipple every time I nursed my daughter. It sucked (pun not intended)!
For the first week while getting used to the nipple shield and ensuring my daughter had nourishment, we had to supplement with formula. Again, the feeling of inadequacy reared its ugly head. My husband became an active participant and breastfeeding became a 2-person job for the next week. This meant we were both “on” every two hours. For each feeding, we would thread a small tube attached to a syringe of formula under the nipple shield. My husband would administer the formula through the tubing while my daughter nursed, or at least tried to. They certainly didn’t talk about this in class. This is when I knew – that breastfeeding class made an impression. Not because we learned how to handle our situation, but because my husband walked away believing in the benefits of breast milk. He understood why pushing through this struggle was important. He could have easily thrown up his hands and said this is ridiculous. Hell, I could have too. In fact, many people probably would and even have…..and that’s ok. But we were determined.
We finally got into a groove and the syringe and formula were no longer needed. But the nipple shield became an extension of me. We had our frequent check-ups with the pediatrician and all seemed to be going well until my daughter was about 3 months old. As my daughter started tumbling down the infant growth chart, daily weigh-ins with the pediatrician became a necessity. My husband spent many of his lunch breaks taking our daughter in so I could have a little time to myself. Oh my gosh, that class was a lifesaver. Once we hit the zero percentile, we were back to supplementing with formula and even started introducing some solids a little earlier than normal. But I was still determined to nurse. And my daughter was too. We enjoyed that special time together and I knew that my milk was still delivering many benefits. And my amazing and patient husband never tried to suggest I just hang up my nursing bra.
We got back on track and I continued to nurse my daughter until just four days shy of her first birthday when she just decided she was done. It happened so easily and so naturally. I’ll never forget that day. It was bittersweet. I knew I would miss our quiet time together but I could not get those damn nipple shields into the trash can fast enough! I was proud of us, all three of us. We made breastfeeding a priority despite the bumps and bruises (and bites) we got along the way.
If there is one piece of advice I can give first-time moms planning to breastfeed…..get your husband involved from the beginning. Make sure he is informed and understands why this is important to you and why it’s important to your new son or daughter. Your story probably won’t turn out like mine, but you never know when you’ll need his support and assurance along the journey. I am pretty certain our journey would have turned out very differently had I not registered for that class or insisted we sit in the back row.