The Gift of Breastfeeding Support
by Sara Smith
‘Tis the season for quality time with loved ones, laughs with good friends, and celebrating all that we have to be thankful for. Most of us pay extra mind to the things often taken for granted during the normal course of the year: the roof over our heads, the food on the table, shoes on our feet, a safe place for our children to lie their heads, perhaps a few gifts under a tree. These are all very worthy things to be grateful for, but as my oldest child’s third birthday draws near, I am reminded of another gift that not all are fortunate enough to have…the gift of breastfeeding support and a successful breastfeeding journey.
In and of itself breastfeeding is a gift, to the mother and the child, and to generations to follow. We know about the unmatched nutritional content of breast milk, the healing properties the milk carries, and the ever-growing list of things breastfeeding aids in preventing for both mom and baby. The long-term benefits of the bond formed between mother and child during nursing are well documented, and it’s not difficult to find a mother who can attest to loving the connection she has with her nursling. But breastfeeding is not always an easy gift to give. Indeed, for many of us, it comes only as a great burden, of which we have no firsthand knowledge, at a time when we just want to sleep! This was my life nearly three years ago, and none of it felt healing or preventative, and my son and I seemed to have a terrible connection. I was giving every ounce (no pun intended!) of myself to an insatiable pink screamer, and “gift” was not in the list of words I chose to use about breastfeeding.
I was hopeless and defeated. The hospital staff gave no breastfeeding support, the women in my family either didn’t breastfeed, breastfed decades ago, or lived hours away and could only help via text when they had time in their own busy lives. As my baby lost weight, and the pediatrician “prescribed” supplementation, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried about my failures as a new mother. It was this feeling of failure (and utter exhaustion as my husband and I fed our hysterical son formula with a dropper in the wee hours of the morning), the led me to call on a woman whom I had met briefly just weeks before at a holiday dinner. She was an IBCLC, and at the time I could not have cared less what this meant, because I was going to feed my baby with no problems and wouldn’t need any help. Baby comes out, put baby to boob, baby eats, baby sleeps. That was it, right? I admitted to myself that that wasn’t it, pushed my pride aside, and begged her as nicely as possible to come help.
She came. She saw. She conquered…our poor latch, that is. Our lives were changed that day, mine, my son’s, and my husband’s, even the life of the second baby I swore at the time I wouldn’t be having. As she flipped through my pile of breastfeeding reference books to the exact pages that I needed, propped and stuffed pillows into every nook and cranny of my glider, and smashed (so gently!) that little open mouth against my engorged breast, I felt an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders (literally and figuratively). This was it, this is what I had been needing. She didn’t feed him for me, couldn’t heal my scabbed nipples in one afternoon, and wouldn’t be able to take back the upsetting first week we’d had. But she listened, she sat with me and looked for ways to improve our technique, she smiled and hugged me when he fell asleep at the breast completely full for the first time. She followed up, still follows up…three years later. It was her gift of unwavering support that enabled me to gift breastfeeding to my children.
I sit here now, tearful with recollection as my little family slumbers in the next room, looking at the wrapped presents under our tiny tree. I know what all of the packages are, I spent weeks carefully picking out things I know my son will love, sneakily wrapped them while he was distracted playing with his baby sister. But in my heart, I know there is no greater gift than what breastfeeding has given him. The remote-controlled car and the child-sized guitar might be fun, but I’d like to see them prevent against obesity and cancer! The new boots and ball cap with be cute, but nothing will ever fit as well as the perfect chemical balance of breast milk. As for my five month old, there’s not much down there for her to open this year since she’s gotten most of big brother’s hand-me-down toys. I don’t imagine she will mind much though, she’s still getting the best gift of all…boobies!!
Do you have a special support person who changed your breastfeeding journey?
Tell us about him or her! A grateful heart (and a good supply!) is a gift that keeps on giving. <3