As I mentioned last week, I was honored to be involved in a photo shoot for my local breastfeeding coalition. It was so much fun! As you can see, Max pulled out his adorable tears for the occasion, so we got a lot of fun comforting shots. My husband went along mostly just to watch the shoot, but I was really glad that they included him in some of the photos. His support is a big reason that I’m still able to pump for Max, and he deserves some credit for that.
Looking over the photos this week (and seeing some of the other photos of moms from the shoot) got me thinking a lot about why I do what I do. Why I keep on pumping even though my son will never be able to suckle at the breast. The biggest reason I do it is because I know that it is the best possible nourishment for him. Over and over I hear doctors and therapists say, “if he gets sick, it’s going to hit him harder than other kids” or “it’s just going to take him longer to get over colds and things.” But really, he has done very well. He is at risk for aspiration, and repeatedly gets a strider in his throat after coughing, but he has never had pneumonia. He has gotten a few colds this winter (all kids do), but they weren’t bad and he recovered well. Is it because of the extra antibodies that he gets from his milk? I don’t know, but I gaurentee it doesn’t hurt. I don’t want him to be prescribed antibiotics over and over because I want him to build his immune system. I don’t want to be building antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
The next biggest reason I keep at it, I think, is because I don’t think of it as the huge inconvenience that so many people seem to think of it as. I am an introvert who craves her alone time. In my hectic life of doctors and therapists, tube feedings and medicine times, pumping gives me a perfect opportunity to pause, pull out a book, check my e-mail, or just think. I don’t sigh and whine about how much I hate pumping or think about all the other things I could be doing. I just do it. When I was first pumping in the NICU after Max was born, I thought three months seemed like an eternity to pump for. But as my husband predicted, I just got used to it. For the first few months I kept at it because I really believed that he would heal to be able to breastfeed when he was a bit older. As I slowly realized how unlikely that was, I had already developed a habit. Sure I complain about it every now and then. It’s not like I love to do it all the time. But it’s a part of my life now, and it’s going to be weird to stop.
The final reason I’ve kept up pumping for nine months is because I always believed breastfeeding was worth fighting for. I don’t mean to sound to judgmental here (although I know I will sound somewhat judgmental), but even before my son was born I knew that I would work as hard as necessary to make breastfeeding work for us. I keep hearing about moms who say that breastfeeding just didn’t work for them, or they intended to breastfeed but this or that happened. And I can’t help but wonder, how hard did you try? If your milk is slow to come in, what’s wrong with formula feeding while you pump to encourage milk development? Did you call a lactation consultant or a La Leche League leader? We don’t live in the village culture anymore, so we don’t have mom and grandma there to teach you how to nurse your children. It doesn’t come naturally anymore. We’ve socialized it out of our culture. And if you want to make it work, you need to have support.
I was really exited to be a part of this photo shoot because I wanted to help the world to see that breastfeeding is worth working for. I’m sure many mothers would quit pumping if their child had a permanent gastronomy tube placed. And I think doctors expect them to. I feel like an alien sometimes when I tell Max’s doctors that he is receiving x mL’s of expressed breastmilk fortified with x amount of formula. For nine months not one of them has asked me how it’s going or how long I’m planning on continuing, or has really talked to me about it at all. I figure if anyone really needs that real, natural nutrition its my son. It’s those kids who probably aren’t able to breastfeed for some reason. Babies with kidney failure, those undergoing cancer treatments and babies with genetic syndromes requiring tube feedings. I want mothers to see that it can be done. I want them to be supported. I am a part of a great Natural Parenting of the Child with Special Needs group on Facebook. They put me in touch with an Exclusive Pumping yahoo group geared towards moms who aren’t able to breastfeed for various reasons. The women in these groups have been an amazing source of support for me.
I understand that breastfeeding is a highly personal issue because it involves the mother’s own body. Women don’t want to feel pressured to breastfeed or pump because they associate it with their freedom and flexibility. But that is ignoring all the benefits. The amazing feeling you get when you give your child a part of your own body. In special needs cases, the ability to do something for your child. Your milk is so nourishing for them. I think that pumping for my son has made me feel much more ownership of his care. He is my son, and I know what he needs: mama milk.
Without trying to sound too judgmental, I beg you, for your child’s sake, please work to make breastfeeding work for you. Seek out your local La Leche League for support. If you are breastfeeding and aren’t able to relax and enjoy it please get some support. Don’t just do it out of guilt or drudgery. It can be an amazing experience for both of you. My dream is for every mother and baby to have an enjoyable breastfeeding experience.
That’s my soapbox, I’m getting down now. I just wanted to get the word out that it is possible. My family has a history of low milk supply, yet my son has some great chubb. It took work, but it’s possible.