When my first child was born, I was not even concerned about breastfeeding. I was planning a natural birth and I assumed that if I did everything "right" it would just come easily. Certainly, a natural birth makes breastfeeding easier and more likely to be successful, but it doesn't guarantee that it will be smooth sailing. What I found was that it required a lot of patience, tears and dedication. Sticking to nursing my newborn was one of the most difficult and heart-wrenching experiences I have had but I think I learned so much about being a mother from that experience that I wouldn't trade it in.
-What I learned-
I actually stayed an extra day in the hospital because the wanted to help me with nursing (more about how hospital's and their routine practices hinder breastfeeding later) because he just didn't seem interested. I had had a long labor and second stage and we were both pretty exhausted. The binding bright lights in the delivery room at the time of birth made him shriek in agony at birth rather than snuggle and nurse. Later when he was brought to me from the nursery he was asleep and would not nurse. For me this just felt terrible. Mothers who struggle with nursing often feel dejected by the baby. Here you are offering a little human your body for food and sometimes, they refuse it. This is hard, especially in the emotionally fragile state just after birth when hormones are adjusting and changing. Sometimes it just seems easier for everybody involved (shrieking baby and weeping mother) if someone just feeds it a bottle.
I remember talking to a friend who was on the fence about breastfeeding and trying to tell her how wonderful it was. She had watched her mother fail at breastfeeding with 7 children and she just was not really confident that she could do it or that it was necessary. Now- there are literally hundreds of reasons to breastfeed that can be scientifically proven. There are hundreds of ingredients found in breast milk that simply can not be duplicated and put into formula. There are scores of childhood and adult diseases avoided and prevented and reduced by breastfeeding. This info is out there and it is valid and real. But when mothers see so many women bottle feeding apparently healthy babies, when they have no support, and when they are taught from birth that their bodies don't work right, it is hard to stay committed to nursing.
Back to my friend- she had some initial trouble with nursing but worked through it and had a very successful nursing relationship with her child. A few months after he was born we were talking about it and she understood why breastfeeding was so important. It wasn't just because of all those ingredients and diseases- there is something much much deeper taught by this special bond. She knew what I meant after she had the experience for herself, but I couldn't describe it to her before. Nursing a baby is an amazing bond. It teaches mother and baby about one another in ways that almost nothing else can. The entire production is perfectly suited to strengthen the mother child bond and teach them to love each other.
I had a difficult time nursing my first. He was not interested. He would not wake up. He didn't have a real strong suck. Getting a proper latch was difficult. We spent a lot off nights crying together. I felt so inadequate as a mother and a woman. Why would I encourage anybody else to do this!? For one, it was worth it. It was not easy, but I learned to serve my baby. I learned to read his signs, to put him first, to sacrifice for him. I learned to love and serve someone who showed no signs of returning the favor. This was a really hard thing for me but it is the first step towards successful motherhood. Mothers must give to their children without hope of getting back. Newborns are amazing in their pure dependence on their mother. I wonder if it is not an accident that they don't necessarily smile or laugh or talk when first born. The most you will get is a gaze at your face. They do not tell you they love you. "Thanks mom" is not a phrase you will hear for YEARS. But we are required to give to them, every few hours, sometimes more often. Even if we are tired and feeling chubby, they need us and NOW.
I think many people hear this and think- that is why breastfeeding is such a pain in the butt- just let daddy give them a bottle, take a break, rest, go out with your friends. But the newborn needs you all the time for a few months. This constant need seems like a burden, but it is a short and precious time with your infant where you are intimately interconnected with each other. It is hard but it is worth taking the few months to spend all your time with this precious person.
I honestly feel like I needed this experience to really love my baby and serve him. My second was an easy and quick nurser from birth. She weaned earlier and really was not as dependent on me. I am glad that my first was more needy and wanted constant holding, loving and nursing. Selfless service teaches love. Charity is love- and charity never fails. This is a time to learn pure charity and love for another human being. Think about the other relationships in your life. Do you expect things from those people in return for your love? Probably. We expect our husbands to remember our birthdays and perform whatever their duties are. We get mad if they fall short. Your best friend- is it OK if she blows you off and acts like you don't exist. Of course not, we have expectations of others. This is not so with our children, and the lesson is first taught when we teach them to nurse. Two people, learning together to need each other. And one mother learning to give and give and not even caring if she gets anything in return.
I am passionate about breastfeeding for many reasons, including the numerous health benefits. But I love breastfeeding because it taught me how to be a mother. I am a selfish, impatient, easily riled up person normally. My son taught me to be a little better so that I could better mother him and I will always be grateful for that experience. The fact that it was difficult is what made it worth while. If it had been easy for me, I would not have learned as much. Anything worth while in life requires sacrifice, change and pain, and this experience is no different.
If it was easy for you- awesome, it should be easier for every woman. But if it was hard for you, that is OK too- and you probably learned a lot from it, not just love, but perseverance and joy in sacrifice.
Be sure to check out my web links for breastfeeding resources. There are lots of wonderful resources out there. La Leche League is a fantastic and free resources available for women around the world. If you are pregnant, attend a meeting before you give birth so that you have a network of supportive women to help you out if you need it.