Friday, April 20, 2012

Breastfeeding...Be Warned

OK...because I know that there are very ignorant narrow-minded easily offended people out there that may not wish to see a picture of a nursing baby, I will take this opportunity to state that if you are offended by that sight, then do not read the rest of this post!  You have been warned.  Do not go to the comment section and complain about the pictures when you've been told in advance to not look if you're offended by it!  So let's get to it....

A shocking surprising topic for a genealogy post?  Not so in my opinion.  We all know that at some point in our ancestry everyone had an ancestor that was breastfed.  Sure, just as today when breastfeeding fails, there is formula.  Perhaps when it failed in our ancestors' past it was goat's milk or cow's milk, but it didn't fail for all of your ancestors.  Someone breastfed.

Why create a blog post about breastfeeding?  Well, it's been a subject of some news articles recently to include Facebook removing pictures of breastfeeding mothers.  While I won't really get into the debate here, it made me want to relay my story.  My breastfeeding family history.  To those that have nursed, it is important in a way that can be hard to describe.

Why did I breastfeed my children?  I didn't really think about it.  I just was going to.  It was never a discussion my husband and I had either.  I was going to breastfeed and he fully supported that.  Is that shocking?  No, but my husband did not come from a breastfeeding family.  His mother did not nurse him or his sisters and our nephews and niece were not nursed.  Is there anything wrong with that?  No.  I was delighted and impressed that not only my husband, but his family supported me.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm blessed with my family.  The one I was born into and the one I married into!

So why was the decision to breastfeed not a choice at all?  Not even a decision I had to make?  Simple.  I was lucky enough to have a mom that gave my sisters and I another sister when we were much older than most kids would be.  I was 17 when my baby sister was born.  My older sister was 20!  I got my diaper changing experience as a teenager (I'm sure my sister is cringing at the thought!)

My mom nursed my sister.  She worked a couple miles away from the house and would come home when the babysitter would call her to nurse.  I don't recall ever feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed when I watched my mother feed my sister.  I thought it was the cutest thing in the world and I loved it.  So when I got pregnant there was no thought process to it.  During a conversation with my mother on the phone she brought it up and asked if I was planning on breastfeeding.  My response was along the lines of DUH (in a completely respectful way).  I'm sure she was relieved.

It then brought up the conversation as to why she breastfed.  Was it just the norm at the time?  Did her mother encourage her to breastfeed us?  Nope.  My mom's story was short, sweet, and rather amusing.  Yes, her mother breastfed my mom and her siblings, but apparently grandma had commented that my mom wouldn't be able to nurse because she thought her breasts were too small.  Maybe grandma needed glasses a lesson in the human body.  Mom did fine.

Since I was living in Hawaii and was lucky enough to have my aunt and uncle out there.  My aunt being a nurse/midwife I always assumed that she breastfed because, being a nurse/midwife, she knew that it was best.  Of course, I sometimes forget that my aunt had a life before midwifery.  A life when she first had her children.  Yes, I can be silly and forget things like that.  So when I asked about why she decided to breastfeed she told me that she never decided to.  That my mother told her that she would breastfeed so she did.  That got a good chuckle out of me, but it shows the loving relationship between them.

Was breastfeeding easy?  No.  For something so natural it can be frustrating and painful (to both momma and baby).  There were times that I thought my kids were going to suck my nipple right off I was going to scream it hurt so much.  Thank God for lactation consultants and family.  One visit to a lactation consultant taught me a proper latch for my oldest son and we did great.  There were some drawbacks.

I got sick over Mother's Day weekend the year my son was born.  My husband was in Australia so he wasn't there.  I had a fever of 104 degrees and was terrified (panicky mom syndrome) that I would pass out or die in the apartment and then who would help my baby.  By this time I had another uncle and his wife that moved out to Hawaii.  I called them for help.  They lived right next to the military hospital.  While they were great and I value their help, I should have been smarter and called my aunt the nurse.  Why?  Well, I couldn't have known then, but when we went to the hospital the doctor, despite my informing him that I was a nursing mother and wanted medicine that I could take and safely nurse my baby, gave me medicine that I couldn't nurse my child while taking.  I had to pump and dump and my baby had to go to formula for the next week.  If I had been smart and brought my other aunt, I'm sure she would have known more about what they could do for me.

This threw my milk production way off and I was no longer producing enough to feed him on demand and pump while at work so that he would have milk in daycare.  As hard as I tried, I couldn't get my milk to increase and I certainly couldn't tell the Army that I needed a week or so at home for lactation reasons....oh would if I could!  So from that point on, we were supplementing with formula.  I was not a happy mama about it.  I was even less happy when 9/11 happened.  It was my first time in the field since having my baby.  I even brought a pump so I could keep my milk up...and then Osama bin Jackass happened.  At that, I just put the pump away.  There was no way I was going to be able to take time away from duty to pump. I had my own reasons for wanting to hunt down bin Laden.  For what he did to America and for what he did to my breastfeeding!

Was it easier with my second child?  I'd love to say that it was and I'd love to say that something so instinctual and natural was a breeze, but it wasn't.  It was perhaps even more frustrating with my second son and I felt more like a failure when it wasn't working.  He was feeding, but he was hurting me more than his brother ever did and he never seemed to latch properly.  My older sister was my angel during this.  She came down to stay with me about 2 weeks after he was born so that she could help out and that was when I was a complete breastfeeding wreck.

My sister didn't nurse her daughter.  Her milk never came in and after several days of a frustrated mom and baby, she went to formula.  I can't say I blame her for that either.  I can't imagine what she went through, but she knew how much this meant to me, and my milk was in we just weren't having a great time and there were times that I was just a complete mess and a blubbering ball crying.  I'd gone to the lactation consultant and she was less than helpful.  I wasn't planning on going back because of how useless she had been and I had been starting to wonder if my baby was a little "tongue tied".  But my sister wouldn't hear of me not going back.  She took me to the hospital and right into the lactation consultant's office and told her that she needed to do something to help me.  It was very cool seeing my sister so forceful in demanding assistance for my nursing dilemma...and it worked.

We talked with the lactation consultant awhile and I let her know about my concerns that he was tongue tied.  We got in to see an Ear Nose and Throat doctor and wouldn't you know....mama was right.  A little snip under the tongue and several pairs of Soothies from the lactation consultant and it was smooth sailing. With my second child I managed to nurse just 2 weeks shy of a year.  I'm sure being out of the military and now being a stay at home mom made this a bit easier.

Did I ever run into that awful person that chastised me about breastfeeding in public?  Nope.  I did have a very good friend and neighbor that told me her husband would most likely be completely embarrassed if he saw me nurse, so I made sure not to nurse in front of him.  There's a difference when someone politely mentions their spouse's embarrassment and doesn't demand that you go away!

I will admit that I did breastfeed once intentionally to make someone feel uncomfortable.  One of the guys in my husband's unit really turned his nose down on women.  He was married and all, but a complete pig.  He would make comments about women in the military and how they would unfairly get promoted over men like him (it had nothing to do with the fact that a woman might be more qualified...heaven forbid!) and he would say these things in front of me.  So the next time he had a get together at his house and my baby needed to eat, I just threw a receiving blanket over my shoulder and popped the kid on.  Even though he couldn't see anything he was so offended he walked away.  I know...I'm mean.

I have boys, so I can't encourage them to breastfeed their children.  I can encourage them to encourage their wives, but it's not quite the same and most likely has less of an effect.  Breastfeeding is becoming more common now than it was when my mom and aunt had children.  It's even more common now since my first was born.  Hopefully the taboo that far too many people feel about a woman feeding her child will go away completely someday.  It certainly is the cheapest method to feed your baby!

It does make me wonder how many of my ancestors nursed.  My recent ancestors that is.  Breastfeeding.  Who would have known it was a part of family history.


  1. GREAT ARTICLE CHERYL....loved reading it. I was born in 195l and was sort of in the middle of breastfeeding relatives and those who were choosing to bottle feed. I got to see both in action in my family...but I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed and did to the best of my ability....but as you indicated it wasn't easy.So many unforeseen ocurences can be distracting to one's goals to accomplish something as natural as breastfeeding.

    Thanks so much for writing this post because I'm sure there are many of us out here who understand and appreciate your feelings and views on breastfeeding.

  2. I think this is a great article to encourage mothers in this day and age to breastfeed their children. Mothers need to know how important the milk from your body can be for the children. I am so glad that I breastfed both my sons and would do it again in a hearbeat! Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Great post, Cheryl!!! Do not have kids so never breast-fed, but still have thoughts on the subject. I am pretty sure (thanks for reminding me to ask) that I was bottle fed; born in the the late 50s, the era of new conveniences!

    I love how you treated the "pig" - and not mean at all. He deserved that. Some people (like him) forget that they are here because of long line of struggling people, including women, after all!

    I think the US is the only country where people get bent out of shape about this topic. Elsewhere, breastfeeding is the norm. For all the US obsession about sexuality with junk like 24-hour porn stations (not that I am equating the two in the least), do something beautiful and natural like breastfeed and they act insulted. Bizarre society.

    Keep up the great posts, love your blog!

    1. Thanks, Jenny. I'm actually on a Facebook page about breastfeeding that has people from all over. Sometimes they are a bit "over the top" with some of the pictures that get posted, but they've really opened my eyes about the way the world (and Americans) view breastfeeding. For the most part Americans like to act like they aren't uptight and prudish about sex and the human body, but then you see something like a woman breastfeeding and you see how bent out of shape people get and you realize that we aren't as progressive as the rest of the world in regards to something as simple as breastfeeding.

      Too many Americans see it as a sexual thing because they cannot separate what a partner does with a woman's breasts and what a baby does. They seem to think that women who breastfeed are somehow turned on by the experience so they see it as dirty. I think the more people that are seen doing it and the more it is out there, the more that things will change and people will accept it. Such a shame that people do get treated badly for doing it. I think that if anyone ever treated me that way I would have made quite an awful scene :)