[This post has been written as part of Mothering's 1st Annual "Blog about Breastfeeding" Event to celebrate International Breastfeeding Week Aug 1st-7th.]
At my very first prenatal appointment, my OB/GyN asked me: "Do you plan to breast feed?".
Even with a planned pregnancy, the strip turning pink is a huge surprise - with nervous excitement, my husband and I had gone in for the appointment. We were awkward, not knowing what to expect. Visions of parenthood had only included huggable cherubs and all things cute and pastel. The doctor's apparently routine question threw me off-guard. There was so much I had not even thought about. I very hesitantly replied, "If I am able to I will, as a first preference."
I spent the next nine months reading anything and everything related to breastfeeding. I attended prenatal classes where they taught the various holds and even bought books with graphics! The more I researched, the more I dreaded the idea of breastfeeding. While the benefits were undeniable - Latching problems, flow problems, stigma of public feeding - there seemed to be a thousand and more deterrents to what seemed initially the most natural maternal instinct. (Actually this makes me realize that there are so few positive stories floating around - we mostly hear about horrors - all of which maybe genuine. But, we need more feel-good stories so that new mommies know that positive experiences are just as real and common).
big bang birth, the attending nurse asked me if I would breast-feed now. "Now? So soon? Am I ready?" With the most gentle smile ever, she placed my baby in my lap, helped me into a nursing position, and said, "The baby and you both are ready." With my heart booming thud thud, I brought Manya close to my chest and she did one of those miracles that only babies can do, she latched on and began sucking as if it was the most natural thing to do. All my worries and trepidation faded into oblivion, in seconds. I became a proud breast-feeding mommy. My daughter ensured that.
Our feisty little angel turns 9 months next week, and we are still going strong. Though M was a pro from the word go when it came to nursing, we haven't been without our share of struggle. My daughter took the meaning of on-demand feeding to a whole new level - she was a frequent nurser (still is) but in the initial months, she wanted to feed every 2 hours - day and night. To add to that she was a reflux baby, the nursing frequency went even higher on most days - then there was cluster feeding for weeks and months at stretch.
And boy, did my daughter know what she wanted. She refused to take expressed milk from the bottle - never ever giving me the chance to give her formula for even a single feed. We were literally stuck to each other for the first 6 months - till we started off on solids. I fed her in the car in parking lots, in doctors' waiting rooms, and even in trial/changing rooms! My husband used to joke that I am our daughter's 24-hour milk bar with anytime, anywhere access.
As if the "real" issues were not enough, there was no dearth of non-supporters, from quarters I had least expected. "Manya always looks hungry." "Do you think your milk is enough for her?" "She is so thin (hinting that maybe I should try supplementing)." "Is the reflux because of you feeding her?" "Why don't you force train her on the bottle - then you can get a break, and others can feed her." "What's the harm if a baby gets a tummy full of formula feed every once in a while?"
Thankfully, we have a doctor who is extremely supportive and advocated on-demand nursing all through. To be honest, there were times I'd fling my hands in the air in despair, order formula and bottles, and try feeding her - I'd cry in desperation when for hours together the only break I'd have would be a nature break and a glass of water. What pulled me through? My daughter. She'd not budge from my bosom when she was hungry and she refused any other form of milk - she made sure it was only mommy's milk she got - straight from the source. (Yes, this little girl had done her homework well :))
Whatever doubts and fears that would develop every now and then would melt away when I'd see my determined cherub sucking for dear life, only to take a break at regular intervals - to gaze at me -sometimes in wonder (wow, this woman always comes with the milkers), sometimes in delight (this is what I exactly needed right now), sometimes (though very rarely) in gratitude (only this can soothe me), sometimes (actually very often) in agitation (couldn't you have given this a few seconds earlier), sometimes breaking into a cheeky, gummy grin (guess what, I am not hungry, I just wanted some comfort and alone time with you), sometimes in frustration (this is not fast enough or too fast for me) - but mostly her gazes are peaceful - as she drifts into a calm slumber that only drunkenness from mommy's milk can cause!
The lesson I learnt: They are actually right when they say it's best to follow your baby cues - she knows best. I credit my breastfeeding ability to my daughter - she was forgiving with my clumsiness, she taught me, by example, patience (nursing a baby is no joke), skill, determination, how to enjoy nursing, and most importantly she taught me that absolute love is possible.