Denise is a fellow doula in my area. She also offers birth photography and placenta encapsulation. Seeing how passionate she is about breastfeeding, I was surprised when she recently shared she didn't nurse her first two babies. Intrigued by her evolution, I was eager to read her story.
I have never thought to write about my long road to becoming a full-term nurser and huge breastfeeding advocate. I even run a breastfeeding support group now on Facebook! I haven’t even really shared my story with many others. I decided it’s time to sit down and share my experience in hopes that it will help another mother that may be going through the same struggle I was.
I found out I was pregnant with my first child in the fall of 2004. I hadn’t given much thought on the subject of breastfeeding because I knew from the moment I was pregnant that I wouldn’t be breastfeeding. That was it, my mind was made up -- why would I breastfeed a child from breasts that were used in a sexual manner? How disgusting would that be!?
At the age of 19 I couldn’t even fathom the thought of nursing a child. At that time in my life, I was newly married and just found out I was expecting a child. My husband was already enlisted and we were preparing for him to leave for boot camp in May (mind you my due date was July, and he of course missed the birth). My mother didn’t breastfeed my brother because he was a micro preemie in the early 80s. I’ve asked her why she didn’t breastfeed me, and she said because she didn’t want to nurse me in front of my 3 year old brother! Her mother didn’t breastfeed her children either. I was so young, and none of my friends really had children, so no one that I knew really breastfed a child besides my grandma (whom I didn’t get to see that often). She graciously nourished 8 kids from her breast and even tandem nursed my father and uncle (HOW AMAZING!). My husband never suggested of brought up to me that he thought I should breastfeed our children. It was just something we never talked about.
On July 1, 2005 I gave birth to my first child -- a girl! She was light of my life and we named her Isis. I remember at that time I was never once asked at the hospital if I would be breastfeeding? I wasn’t encouraged by any of the staff to give it a try. I just remember packing my bags the days before my due date and making sure I packed my little formula bottles I had bought to take for our hospital stay. My oldest daughter never had a drop of breast milk and no second thought was given by me or my husband. When my daughter was 5 1/2 months old I found myself pregnant with our second child. Much of a shock that it was to us, we dealt with it and made the best of the situation.
In January of 2006 we moved to Washington state and started our life as a navy family. This is when my feelings on breastfeeding began to change. I remember always feeling really awkward and uncomfortable when I saw a mother nursing in public. I would make snide comments like, “wow she needs to cover that up!” I made friends with my neighbor who had just recently had a baby. She was breastfeeding her son and I quickly learned to set aside my feelings, and I slowly began to feel comfortable around her nursing.
In the area of California that I’m from it isn’t common to see a woman in public breastfeeding. For example, I’ve been living back in my home area since September 2011, and I can count on 1 hand the number of times I’ve seen a nursing mother out in public. Washington was a totally different culture and it really opened my eyes to things.
I gave birth to my 2nd child, another girl, in August 2006. We named her Athena and she also was strictly formula-fed. I remember my neighbor asking me why I didn’t want to breastfed, and encouraging me to try because it was the best for baby. She explained how close she felt to her baby when nursing him, and how it was such a wonderful bond. I admit I really almost gave it a try, but something kept telling me to just stick with what I was doing and not listen to anyone but myself. My 2nd daughter had severe colic for the first 10 weeks of her life.
My husband and I decided in November of 2007 we would try for another child. After 3 miscarriages, we finally conceived our 3rd child in March of 2009! I still knew I was going to formula feed because that is what I did with my other children. How could it be fair to them if I decided to nurse my 3rd? That was the mindset I had for my entire pregnancy, and even after delivery. My 3rd child was born in December of 2009 -- we had our first son and named him Thayden.
Thayden’s first few feedings in the hospital were formula. The first night in the hospital he became really fussy and uncomfortable. I was trying everything to keep him calm and comfort him, but it just seemed like nothing worked. I was in my room with just my husband who was asleep, and I decided to try to breastfed him. After all, this was supposed to be our last child, and the thought of never experiencing breastfeeding was disturbing to me. I had no clue what I was doing, and I just hoped that from watching a few friends over the last 3 years I could figure it out. I remember feeling really nervous, and at that time feared my husband would wake up and be totally sickened by the fact that I was trying to breastfed. I set those feelings aside and took down the left side of my hospital gown. I held my son in a cradle-like hold and tried to latch him. I couldn’t believe it!!! He latched the first try! How on earth could it be this easy, I thought to myself? He nursed for 30 minutes and was soon asleep -- the fussing had stopped.
That moment of our first latch, I just remember the semi-awkward feeling of him latching, but then a flood of emotions and love. I continued to nurse him and formula feed him for the rest of my hospital stay. I had decided at that point, I would do both formula and breast milk. Once I got home with him, I found it easier to just breastfeed him, and so that is what we did for the most part. If I was around someone and didn’t want to nurse, I pumped milk and fed him the milk by bottle. Around 3 1/2 months, I noticed my son becoming really fussy after feedings, acting as if he were still hungry. I was feeling disappointed, and almost like my body was failing me. How could I have come so far in my journey of breastfeeding for it to end so suddenly? At the age of 4-4 1/2 months, my milk supply completely diminished and my son went back to an exclusive diet of formula. I later found out that my son was tongue-tied and the milk transfer was insufficient, which caused my milk supply to diminish over time.
Fast forward 9 months after the birth of my 3rd child -- SURPRISE! I find out that I’m now expecting our 4th child. I knew from the moment I was pregnant that I was going to breastfeed him. I didn’t buy any bottles, formula or anything that could set me up for disaster. I read a ton of information and had my husband on my side, super supportive of my choice. I also had 2 amazing midwives that always encouraged me to breastfeed. It was a totally different go-around from when I had my first child. We had now been living in San Diego since October 2009. This time I had planned a home birth with midwives because I wasn’t happy with my hospital birthing experiences(but that’s a different story for a different day).
In June of 2011, at 41 weeks, I gave birth in my bedroom on my bed to my 4th child. He was caught by his daddy and handed to me right away. Soon after birth we spent hours nursing and being skin-to-skin. This was something I had never done with my other children, yet it felt so natural to me. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I decided to pump milk as well to have some frozen and on-hand in case I had to miss a feeding or something happened and I had to be hospitalized. In the first 8 weeks of my son’s life, I was able to nurse him exclusively and pump 550oz of milk. I was a milk making machine, but soon my supply established and I discontinued pumping. I found out at my son’s 3 day appointment that he was tongue-tied as well. My midwife gave me some great advice on latching and ways to work around it. I was having some awful blistering on my nipples and cracking. It was caused by a bad latch, but with her help and advice I was able to correct the issues and move forward with no problems. My son’s tongue tie was never clipped.
We moved from San Diego back to our home town of Visalia, CA in September of 2011. I made sure my milk was transported in a cooler of dry ice. I used a majority of the pumped milk to make his baby food and also to let daddy feed him. When my son was around 9 months old, I began pumping my milk again so I could make a milk donation to a local woman who was pregnant and had breast cancer. She was unable to breastfeed her baby, and I felt the need to do this for her. How could it be possible, a self-proclaimed breastfeeding-hater-turned nursing advocate and milk donor! My feelings have changed so drastically that I now regret not breastfeeding my daughters, it is something I wish that I could go back and change. I know that I cannot change it, but I can help encourage and support mothers who may be feeling the same way I was.
It is now 2014 and my son will be turning 3 in June. We are still happily nursing and I couldn’t imagine forcing him to wean. The plan is to let him do child-led weaning and be done when he is ready. So that is, in a nutshell, my journey to becoming a nursing mother of a toddler after a huge struggle with my own personal feelings. My biggest piece of advice for new mothers that may be having the same feelings I was: surround yourself with supportive, encouraging people. Do some soul searching and try and understand why you’re feeling this way. My issue with breastfeeding was due to the fact that our society is raised with breasts being sexualized, and that made me uncomfortable with the thought of nursing. If I would have been exposed to breastfeeding as a totally normal aspect of life and child bearing, I wouldn’t have had such strong feelings against it. If you are feeling this way and are local to the Visalia/Tulare, CA area, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to talk to anyone or answer questions.
These are photos of my son at 15 months and 24 months. We are excited to take our 3 year breastfeeding pictures in June!
Find Denise Online:
Tree of Life Photography & Birth Services
Here you go! Feel free to steal my wording -- I had the Spanish checked by a few different people, and one thing I know about Spanish and translations and breastfeeding is -- if you want 5 different opinions regarding a translation, ask 5 different speakers! And Spanish is always longer than English :). But I live in an area where there are many Spanish speakers, and I want to be able to offer all families this information.
So find your state law, translate it if needed, and the next time you need to get your business cards printed up, add it to the back!
Did you know upper-lip ties are frequently present when there is a tongue tie? And either or both may make breastfeeding difficult? If you suspect a tongue-tie, flip the lip! The presence of a thick labial frenulum could indicate the need to check under the tongue.
-For real-life help, contact an IBCLC in your area who has experience with lip and tongue restrictions, for a thorough history and assessment.
-Want virtual support and help? Visit Tongue Tie Babies Support Group.
-To see how upper lip ties look, check out Dr. Kotlow's handy chart (scroll to page 22).
-Don't miss Dr. Ghaheri's excellent article explaining how upper lip ties can affect breastfeeding.
As part of the DONA-certification process, doulas write an essay and they all have the same title. This is from February, 2004. Other steps in the process include attendance at 3 births where you are evaluated by a professional who witnessed your interactions with the family and the family, essays on those births where you share how you helped and maybe what you learned, and these other steps (it has been a while!). I loved my doula training, and I became great friends with my trainer (still a mentor and now a great friend). I whole-heartedly endorse DONA if you are looking into becoming a birth or postpartum doula.
The Value & Purpose of Labor Support
A doula is a woman who provides professional labor support during birth to an expectant family. In today's western world, this idea is often thought of as new, but one birth study cited by Dr. John Klaus showed "in 126 of 127 cultures, laboring women had one or more experienced women with them continuously throughout labor" (Thinking Woman's Guide to Birth, Goer 181). It was not until our "modern" medical establishment shooed women out of their homes and into hospitals for birth that the presence of this caring, experienced support person disappeared in our culture.
Numerous studies have repeatedly shown the value of labor support to the mother and the family. These studies have been published in such places as the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Compiled in The Doula Book, by Klaus, Kennell, and Klaus, a doula's presence during birth can decrease a mother's cesarean section rate (86-88), reduce the length of her labor (80-83), reduce her need for labor augmentation (83), and reduce her need for pain medication and her request for epidural anesthetic (83-86). Studies also show mothers who have doula support during childbirth have higher breastfeeding rates, more confidence in their mothering abilities, their personal health, and the health of their babies (101-111). By no surprise, these women also have a decreased rate of post-partum depression (106).
Aside from what the data shows, doulas offer continuous care during labor and delivery; this care cannot be matched by any other on the birth team. Doulas do not have shift changes, clients laboring concurrently in another room, paperwork which must be attended to, or a practice beckoning with women in various stages of pregnancy needing attention. A doula takes care to cautiously place clients on her calendar within a safe space of time. This helps ensure she will be available to her contracted client. Of course unforeseeable things can happen, and a doula may request her back-up doula to either attend a birth or take over at a long birth, but these things are the exception and are likely discussed beforehand.
Although a doula's role can vary from birth to birth, her primary goal is to mother the mother by providing physical, informational, and emotional support. This can mean walking the halls with a woman and standing as a pillar to slowdance with her client during a contraction. This can mean cradling a scared mother in the arms of her confidence and compassion. This can mean exploring the stages of numbness while her fist juts just so in the back of a laboring woman. This can mean gently preparing a father for a cesarean birth, or calming a mother while her baby is being coaxed to breathe. A doula is flexible and can fit into the spaces left void by those on a woman's birth team. And while she does this, she also role-models to those present how to lovingly support this laboring mother.
After the birth, a doula can act as a balm to help heal emotional wounds which might have been acquired during birth. Doulas can be integral in helping mom and baby experience their first breastfeedings. Doulas can also help mom and partner process their labor and birth experience. Many doulas visit the family postpartum to help with the transitions of having a new baby. Often doulas remain on call or in contact for a certain space of time after the birth.
For a family contemplating having a doula at their birth there are resources available to them. DONA International is the world's premiere doula organization. They certify birth and postpartum doulas. By visiting DONA's website (www.dona.org), a couple can locate a doula in their area. Also available at this site are questions to ask a potential doula, the description of DONA's doula certification requirements, and other helpful articles, such as Dads and Birth Doulas, and Effects of a Birth Doula.
Anne is a dear friend and superb doula. I taught the breastfeeding portion of her DONA-approved doula training a few years back, and since then, we have been friends and doula sisters. This sweet description of 'what doulas do' is a testament to doulas everywhere.
I Speak Birth
"Waer." Everybody else in the room has puzzled looks on their faces, but I automatically reach for the glass of water.
She suddenly sits up straighter with a slightly panicked look on her face; I reach for the puke bucket. Oh and when she first mentioned she felt nauseous, I had gotten a washcloth wet so that she could wipe her face if and when she ever did "use the bucket."
Her shoulders are rigid; I lightly touch them and they instantly relax. I do this countless times.
She has the shakes; I hold her shaking limbs so she can relax.
Her face has become slightly dewed with sweat; I again have one of those immensely helpful wet washrags on-the-ready, and a handheld fan.
Transition hits and I keep her distracted with position changes -- frequent position changes -- while giving her room to find the repetitive rhythm and ritual that works for her body and her labor...then making it possible for her to relax completely in between contractions.
Doula work is intense and focused. It is a dance. Doulas read minds and body language. I love what I do. I love this "other" language I know called "Birth".
Today is my birthday. It is also the day set aside for celebrating International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs). I know so many amazing, fantastic, breastfeeding-relationship-saving IBCLCs. I have seen how their kindness, compassion, and knowledge have shaped moms and babies. There is one IBCLC I have been thinking about lately, though, and I wanted to share about my mentor in the breastfeeding world, Debbie.
Debbie is an IBCLC who was also my mentor LLL Leader (or "mother" LLL Leader, as I have been calling her). She is the same age as my mom, and she has been helping babies breastfeed since before I was born. At every turn, Debbie offers me education -- by her example, her encouragement, or her expertise.
In 2001, I was a young mother new to Chico, and I sought out social interaction in the form of breastfeeding support groups. I met Debbie in this process. When she learned I had a desire to become a LLL Leader, she scooped me up and took me under her wing. She encouraged me to attend breastfeeding coalition meetings when I felt like "just a mom." Because she believed I had something to offer, I overcame my own feelings of inadequacy amongst more learned, older, professionals. The relationships I had in Debbie and other coalition members was the first time in my life when my friends were not in my peer-group -- and I loved the richness of spirit and wisdom (and passion!) they offered.
To me, Debbie is the Queen of Active Listening. She has a way of being truly present when she is helping moms (and me!). Debbie listens before she acts, knowing that moving in to "fix" a problem without hearing the full story may not give a full picture of the issues. She seems to know how to broach any subject or conversation, whether it's how to talk to your doctor to advocate for your child, how to talk to your child to advocate for yourself, or how to talk to yourself to advocate for something else! Not only have I learned techniques and ideas from her, I still turn to her when I am in a tough situation.
I have often joked that Debbie could do a full lactation consultation sitting on her hands. I believe this has shaped how I help moms, because of her example as my "mother" leader. When a lactation helper is too hands-on with a mom, it is like getting your hair cut and styled at the salon -- things look great, but once you get home, you aren't able to replicate the style. Moms need strategies that work, and this is best gained by being walked through the process, not having someone do it for you.
Being a young mom, I frequently experienced those feeling of being overwhelmed by daily life with little babies and little kids. I was always warmed by Debbie's stories of her life with kids, and the message that, it really does go fast, they won't always be so needy, they do grow up! It still helps me gain perspective on those harder days. I know it is my reality today, but soon enough tomorrow will bring a house empty of loud, rowdy, stinky boys...and I might just miss these days.
Something else Debbie has taught me is to think about things from someone else's perspective. In times of conflict or crisis, difficult people or situations, Debbie is always empathetic to me and I feel like she is on my side; the flip of that is, at the right moment, she is able to help me think about the other side (I don't always want to, but I know it is for my growth!). I know this is how we move forward through disagreements to get closer to understanding and hopefully resolution.
I truly could go on to give a list a mile long of all the things I have learned from Debbie or that I love about Debbie. She is like a second mom to me. What I ever did to deserve such an open, willing, altruistic mentor, I will never know. All I can do is try to offer others what Debbie offers to me, in my own small way -- that's all we can do! Happy IBCLC Day!
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)