Free Press guest columnist Amanda Koch Gregory is a 30-year-old metro Detroit high school teacher of language arts. She and her husband, Jason, have an active and inquisitive toddler, Rocco Boone. They are navigating this crazy life as a family of three who enjoy late brunches on the weekends, Michigan road trips, and dancing in their living room.
Growing up, my mom talked about her own natural childbirths and breast-feeding us kids, so I considered breast-feeding the norm. She described the benefits of her own experiences and it must have had a great impact on me because when I did become pregnant, I found a midwife and birth center in a hospital that supported natural childbirth.
My husband and I also took one-on-one classes through Embracing Birth Childbirth and Postpartum Services in Ferndale. We learned valuable, and surprising, information about breast-feeding. I had no idea how tiny a baby’s stomach is during those first few days of life. And that colostrum is enough to fill them up. We learned about good latches and cluster feeding, and we were encouraged to not give our baby a bottle until he reached at least 1 month of age.
The day our son Rocco Boone was born was a whirlwind.
■Guide:A guide to pregnancy, labor, childbirth and beyond
A quick labor took us to the birth center. When my water broke naturally we discovered he had flipped and was presenting himself footling breech. Our little man couldn’t wait, and even though hospital policy was to perform an emergency C-section, he was born naturally before I could get any meds.
The second we got into the recovery room, the nurse plopped RB on my bare chest. There was no conversation, no hesitation, everything just fell into place. He sucked briefly but enjoyed just sleeping on me much more. Looking back, what I think was so important about our postpartum experience was the confidence we developed in those few short days following RB’s birth. No one told us how to do it. No one said what we were doing was wrong. They gave us a warm room and a comfy bed and delivered food and meds and care, but we got to parent from the very beginning. I actually figured out breast-feeding by doing it.
My husband and I were very lucky.
RB breast-fed like a champ, slept beautifully, and was just a content little guy. But even with our seemingly easy beginning, there were difficult times. Those first few months RB ate every two hours. I could time it perfectly. But my body was still figuring out supply and demand and my breasts would become rock hard if he took an especially long nap or we had to drive somewhere.
Engorgement is painful and those breast pads filled up quickly. The milk would eventually leak through to my clothes enough so that I remember hand expressing (when I couldn’t pump) into a burp cloth or spare bottle. An early lesson for me was that breast milk stains! The nutrient- and fat-dense milk has left oil stains on way too many outfits.
I can still remember my first breast-feeding breakdown. RB had reached the two-hour mark and started to cry. Well-intentioned family members bounced him and cooed at him and even said, “You’re not hungry” while my breast grew more and more full. I’m sure they thought they were soothing my fussy baby, but I knew in my heart he was hungry. As his cries got louder and more agitated, my emotions swelled right along with my breasts. I left the room and pumped alone in his nursery, sobbing.
I’m not sure why I didn’t just grab RB and feed him, but looking back I think I wasn’t strong enough yet. I knew his routine; I knew what he needed. And somehow, I let someone unfamiliar with breast-feeding make me feel embarrassed of this process. It’s true: breast-fed babies are different from formula-fed babies. Their schedules are different. Babies adapt to these processes. I learned in that moment, when my baby is hungry and my breasts are full, it doesn’t matter who is there or where we are, I will feed him.
Dealing with visitors
RB was only a few days old when we had visitors coming over on a regular basis. I had mastered the art of using a muslin blanket tucked into my bra strap when we had guests who I wanted to cover up in front of. I felt comfortable feeding this way in front of anyone, but we still had some family and friends who preferred to leave the room. I’m sure in their minds they were being respectful, but it only made me feel uncomfortable. My husband would even tell people that we don’t feel uncomfortable with you being in here and you shouldn’t either, but that doesn’t necessarily help people relax.
I noticed the uncomfortableness seemed worse when we’re with family and friends who simply aren’t familiar with breast-feeding. But we had many visitors who seemed unfazed by my baby eating at my breast. The men I respected most were the ones who didn’t look away but were actually able to hold eye contact with me during a conversation. I loved feeling like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
Some bumps in the road occurred around two weeks. I noticed him getting uncomfortable after feedings. I started to research baby gas and question my diet, my milk, everything. The guilt of a breast-feeding mom can be awful when you have an unhappy baby. I wanted to fix it so bad. I didn’t want to see my baby sad and uncomfortable. So I utilized the Kellymom and Leaky Boob websites, started block feeding, using probiotics and colic calm and within a few weeks, things were good again.
Problems crop up
When RB was 14 weeks old, it was time for me to return to work, and I started to worry. What if he won’t take a bottle from my husband? What if we run out of frozen milk? What if my supply drops? The worries about bottles were unnecessary because RB and J did so well together while I was teaching during the day. But only four weeks went by before the freezer looked bare, and RB was fussy during night feedings. Going back to work and pumping made my supply drop. I couldn’t keep up. The baby became uncomfortable after feedings, didn’t sleep as well and cried a lot. In fact it seemed like he just wanted to stay attached to me all night long. I was discouraged and confused.
When I realized I couldn’t keep up, I reached out to a friend whose son would not take a bottle. I asked whether she had any breast milk she was willing to give me and she gave me more than I could even imagine. Editor’s note: While medical professionals encourage breast-feeding, they do not recommend milk sharing outside of a licensed milk bank.
I learned then that every woman has her own unique issues. I couldn’t pump enough for my son, while my friend couldn’t get her son to take her pumped milk. Thankfully, I also asked for help and my midwives’ office encouraged me to see a wonderful lactation consultant. There I learned some tips for dealing with low supply and about our son’s tongue and lip tie (something the hospital’s lactation consultant had missed).
Things improved greatly after I began taking supplements, and working on his latch. I used donated milk, and was accepting of more frequent night feedings. Seeing improvement was a relief but it took constant work to keep up our breast-feeding relationship.
All the good things
More than a year after starting our breast-feeding journey, RB has been rescued by my breasts countless times. They can feed, comfort, put to sleep, treat infections and illness, soothe a bump on the head. And the list goes on. We both got the flu a couple of months ago and all RB would ingest was breast milk. The flu sucked, but even with puking and diarrhea, he stayed hydrated and happy the whole week.
So here’s what I’ve learned about breast-feeding. No, actually, here’s what I’ve learned about parenting. Just when I’m questioning myself and wondering how much I’ve screwed up my 14-month-old little one, he grows a little more. Time and growth have fixed every problem we’ve had. Rethinking difficult issues, reaching out for help and keeping a positive outlook has helped immensely.
Our breast-feeding journey represents life so perfectly. There are amazing times, and there are times that make me question everything. But one thing that I have never questioned is why I breast-feed. For our family, breast-feeding my son has made the beginning of his life an even more amazing journey.
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