One of the lactation consultants on the Lactnet list has asked the question: “How did you learn to breastfeed if your child is over 28 years old now?” Many women have written their heartwarming stories about how we managed to become nursing mothers in the days before cell phones, internet and vhs players.
My daughter, Gen, was born at home in 1976. I had no instruction on breast feeding prior to getting started with her. I’m not sure if that is because there was no info available or if I was just so obsessed with how I was going to get her out of my vagina that I couldn’t think past that point. I was pretty confident that I could breastfeed because my (British) mother had nursed all 6 of her children until we were 3 months old.
After the home birth, the baby got right onto the nipple and nursed enthusiastically as I gazed into her eyes (this is a hint of things to come because, if I was gazing into her eyes, it means I was breastfeeding in a bottle feeding position. When a baby is latched on to the breast, he/she should be having a meaningful gaze into the mother’s armpit). Within the first day, my poor nipples looked like hamburger. The baby wanted to be on the breast all day long and it was excrutiating for me. By the third day of this, I was asking my husband to go to the store and buy formula and bottles. Lucky for me, he was very determined that his daughter would have the very best and she would be breastfed. He urged me to continue and I did. . . eventually my nipples toughened and we were a breastfeeding couple for the next four years. Right from the start, I knew that lying down and nursing were imperative for mental health. I would often drift off to sleep with her in my embrace. If we were on the couch, I’d wake up with the arm that held her completely stiff while the rest of my body had been fast asleep. La Leche League meetings were available in my community but I didn’t know what they were like and thought it was like a church ladies auxilliary or something. I remember calling a LLL leader when Gen was about 6 months old to get advice “My baby is 6 months old and she has never slept through the night?” The leader said “Who ever told you she would?” My reply “Everyone.” Her reassurance that breastfed babies don’t sleep through the night and that is normal helped me to accept my daughter’s nocturnal nursing.
When Gen was 4 1/2 years old, I gave birth to Joanna. Even though I had breastfed for 4 years and had been studying midwifery through that time, I still didn’t have a clue about good positioning at the breast. I did know that breast feeding is the lazy woman’s way to raise a child, though. When Joanna was about 18 months old, I attended a LaLeche League meeting where they did a presentation on positioning and I took my very large toddler home from that meeting to give it a try. I put a couple of pillows on my lap, turned my (big) baby so that she was tummy to tummy with me, and latched her on. Quelle difference! I could not believe how much better that felt. I realized that there are some very good tips on breastfeeding that can make a real impact on comfort.
Modern women are so fortunate to have all the resources available to make breastfeeding successful but, even when you have very little in the way of information, a determined mother and baby can do it.