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Really Gisele? A Breastfeeding Law?

Heather Sobieralski's picture
Breast feeding is NOT always so natural

When the supermodel Gisele made a statement this summer that it should be a law for all mothers to breastfeed their babies for six months, it got me thinking about my own experience with little ones at my breasts. I had very different feeding journeys with my two children. My second child latched on immediately. He made sweet suckling noises, stared into my eyes and paused his nursing only to smile at me. It was beautiful, natural and exactly how we are brainwashed that it should be. But it is amazing that I had tried a second time at all, as trying to feed my first child was at best, mechanical. I needed eight arms, 17 contraptions, tea bags for my nipples and a big box of tissues for my tears.

Bloody and defeated before I even left the hospital

I was firm in my decision to at least try to breastfeed. I had read (just like every other anxious and overly informed first-time mother) that breast is best. So if I was going to be the best mom I could possibly be, I was going to try my hardest -- despite infections, blood, puss, and completely losing my freedom, body and confidence, damn it!

I had a hell of a time right off the bat. My baby would suck my breasts like a high powered Hoover Vac for four seconds and pull off (nipple still attached in mouth) flailing, grunting and stretching me before releasing my injured nipple to let out the most unbearable scream as if to say,”YOUR MILK SUCKS, MOMMMMMMYYYY!!!” We tried this ritual every two hours on the dot for the next two days. I had nurses, lactation consultants and friends with “breasts made for feeding” come and try to help the situation. No luck.

My baby was so hungry in the hospital that all she did was cry -- literally, that is all she did for two days. But the “good mother” that I was, I refused to give her formula or a bottle because all of my “handy books” said that bottles would result in nipple confusion -- and we both seemed confused enough, thank you very much! The nurses talked me into taping a tiny tube to my breast down to my nipple which would run formula into my baby’s mouth, as she was “breast feeding”.  Um, no luck there either -- the only difference was that I got a belly button full of formula.

Before I left the hospital I was told I had “inverted nibbles, a slow let-down and a pre-mature baby who had poor sucking technique.”  Good god, what do my boobs do right? The lactation consultants gave me a hand pump to stimulate “let-down” before I had even attempted to nurse. I was to wear plastic, cone shaped “nipple shields” under my bra 24 hours a day to try to pull my nibbles to task, and I was to feed this baby formula through a syringe or that small tube because after all, she was STARVING!

Looking back, it is not surprising that I cried, or that my husband frequently left the room, or that I stiffened my body and wanted to refuse my baby every time she let me know it was time to eat. My nipples were cracked, bleeding and actually had puss coming out of them. For the first 10-15 seconds of each feeding I was in excrutiating pain. I was sent on my way to somehow feed this baby alone, at home (without the assistance of eight other hands and a team of professionals).

A natural, beautiful and bonding experience? Not for me! God knows I wanted it to be, but what I was living was far from how all of my “helpful mom books” described it!

Banned from nursing

We spent one night at home with our new baby before our pediatrician told us she would have to be admitted to the hospital for severe jaundice. One of the first things the nurses told me (which to this day I don’t understand, but I was too out of it to question) was that I could no longer breastfeed. I must feed with formula because it helped the bilirubin levels pass more quickly. From this point on, I pumped breast milk with tears streaming down my face because of the physical pain and perceived “failure” as a provider.

So the pair of us never did get the whole breastfeeding thing. Whenever we tried, it would usually go a bit like this: suck suck suck, pull off, scream, breast milk squirting in the face, bigger screams, arching back, scream, put baby down (mom crying now) and pump out the milk so breasts don’t continue to squirt like wild fire hoses across the room. Sadly, by now my postpartum depression had set in (a whole other post) and I felt like I was an awful, ill-equipped and unloveable mommy. In my dark and foggy haze, the only thing I felt that I could give my baby that nobody else could was breast milk. So I continued to struggle, to beat myself up, to pump pump pump pump for TEN MONTHS! I only gave it up because I had no more milk to give.

I was recently asked, “What is one thing you would have done differently as a new mom?” I replied, “I would not have breastfed.” I wish I would have spend my time holding and cuddling my baby with a big ol’ bottle of formula, instead of holding a breast pump, obsessing about how many ounces I had, leaking through my shirt at work and feeling guilty because I sucked at this very thing I was trying so desperately to provide.

The debate: breast vs. bottle

The debate continues. This topic certainly has two very passionate schools of thought. Personally, I don’t care if you breastfeed exclusively, formula feed, suppress your milk to bottle feed, whip out your breast to feed your baby while having a conversation with my husband, or have a team of nursemaids to feed your child. I just want moms to be happy. I hope women make their feeding decisions based on what is best for them and what feels comfortable. Happy women make the best moms, so do what makes you happy! (Visit this site for more neutral information about what type of feeding is best for you and your lifestyle.)

What about you? What was your experience with breastfeeding or choosing not to? Do or did you feel this pressure to breastfeed because of societal expectations or your own need to provide the “golden serum”? What do you think of Gisele's proposed breast feeding law?

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Comments

Leslie Kaneb's picture

Please!! Let's not even go

Please!! Let's not even go into calling it Gisele's breastfeeding law! Long before Gisele was even capable of conceiving women were aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and there were actual "legal" discussions by UN committees about women and breastfeeding, especially in the Third World. Here in Canada, hospitals are declared "baby-friendly" if they follow a list of rules established by said UN deliberations that promote breastfeeding first. Breastfeeding is hard and it often hurts and mothers should be there to help their daughters learn about it. Fortunately there is a whole generation of mothers who will be grandmothers soon who did breastfeed and will pass along their own wisdom and support. I am one of them. I am also a social worker who has worked in an obstetrical unit at a local hospital and has seen how hard mothers try to breastfeed and the agony involved with the whole learning process.

Heather's Sister's picture

Cixous

I'm not a mom, but this post is really eye opening!

I know about Nestle and formula and their Third World escapades and all that stuff, because I live in Berkeley (well, Oakland) so everyone is very (hyper) politically and globally aware. But I had no idea there was so much pressure and judgment on moms around this issue.

But more broadly: If Helene Cixous is the theory, Heather is the practice. (That's high praise.) I am going to give you a copy of "The Laugh of the Medusa" for a Solstice gift so you can see how loudly your roar rattles through our history, dig your heels deep into the earth, and claim your talent and lineage as the UTTERLY AMAAAAZING writer you are!

[ You might like this site I made many years ago:
http://www.pelefire.com/feminist_aesthetics_crit/pages/the_french.htm ]

I am sorry for those early years of insisting that you color inside the lines and that elephants were gray, not purple with pink polka dots. You were right, I was wrong.

xoxoxo

Heather Sobieralski's picture

So nice to see your here-again!

Sister,
Thank you so much for having an open mind to this. I know all of your values and theories and correct, but in real life, sometimes they don't always work. Perhaps cloth diapers will be a next post. Yup, I agree, we should all use them for the enviorment, but not so great for our mental health!

No worries about the comformity lessons. Where the hell did that come form anyway? You cetainly don't color in the lines now!!!!
Love you,
xoxoxoxo

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Julia's picture

breastfeeing with strangers

Heather,
After the c-section, we spent 5 days in the hospital trying to breastfeed. When my son was put on the breast right after he was extricated from my body, he suckled forever. I thought I was in the clear! But, then, he was losing weight and I was freaking out because, on day 2, the nurses told me my milk hadn't come in. So they wanted to start formula and I said, "fine"... which made me feel like a failure. When I asked for the lactation consultant to come see me, I was told she was making her rounds. A DAY LATER she still hadn't shown up and I was delirious with desperation to breastfeed my hungry baby. After a call to 'patient care', complete with breathless wailing (me), two lactation consultants showed up. With a pump attached to me with super-sized fallanges for a day, the milk came in and my babe gained 2 oz in one sitting (the morning we were sent home). Thank God. Again, I thought I was in the clear.
At home, I cried and cried in pain when he would latch on. My toes would curl. The anxiety and guilt I felt when that baby started to 'call' for me sent me to a special kind of hell. I also felt a humiliating kind of nakedness by having my useless breasts out at all hours of the day and night.
But the clouds parted and the breastfeeding angels sang when I went to the Breastfeeding Center to sit in a tiny room with 8-12 other breastfeeding moms with tiny infants. It was like there were enough hormones in that room to help my son breastfeed. It took all those strangers to make it happen, and I was blissful. Those strangers got me through the first year of motherhood and I cannot thank them enough. Ever.

Heather Sobieralski's picture

Very emotional

Julia,
Your writing is so raw, like it happened just yesterday. My I ask how old your son is? Thank you for sharing this heartfelt story. This is another beautiful example of women coming together to support each other. We are really amazing creatures-aren't we?

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Leslee Horner's picture

Extended Nursing...

I struggled a great deal getting my first daughter to breastfeed. I had inverted nipples and she had a bad latch. The first 6 weeks I would put her to the breast as she scratched, screamed and arched her back between latches. Then after 20 or so minutes of that I would pump a bottle, feed her, and get about 30 minutes of "rest" before the whole process started again. At around 6 weeks something finally clicked and we got it. That is when our breastfeeding relationship began and she never wanted to end it. I was lucky to find friends who were all moms who nursed their babies past the age of one. We'd meet for playgroups and our toddlers would "play" with one another and occasionally pop over to us for "snacks." I was glad I had this network of moms because most other people in my life thought I was crazy for breastfeeding a toddler. I weened my daughter 3 months before her 3rd birthday. I had to initiate the process or she would still be nursing now (at 6). Her little sister was a little easier. She latched on perfectly from the beginning and turned into a big butterball. She weened pretty easily at 18 months.

I agree that everyone should do what is best for them in the long run. I only feel sad when I hear really superficial reasons for not breastfeeding.

Love and Light,

Leslee

Learn more about the series, THE PAST LIVES OF LOLA RAY, at www.lesleehorner.com

Heather Sobieralski's picture

It sounds like you really hung in there

Leslee,
Your persistance really paid off for you and your daughter. I have a close friend who nursed her children until they were toddlers as well. She is one of the friends I write about in the post. She would come and try to shove my breast into my screaming child's mouth while milk was squirting all over her. Now that's love (thanks Kim)!
It is a different experience for each mum, and sometimes with different children. I just wish people would all losen up about it and support moms for whatever choice works for them. It is hard enough having a baby/toddler, let alone feeling unsupported in your choice-whatever it may be!
Thanks for your story Leslee

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Anonymous's picture

breast feeding/ Gisele's comment

It really bothered me when I heard Gisele's comment about a breast feeding law. So here goes the long comment! Gisele's absurd comment/attitude is just the kind that causes the insecurities and awkwardness between mom's who breast feed and mom's who don't. Isn't the main goal to feed the baby? Who cares how it's done!!! If I had my babies when my mother had me I'd be considered out of the norm because I breast fed my kids. Now, I'm considered wonderful by some because I was able to, supported by some, and ridiculed by others. Ridiculous. No one knows what each mom has to go through as they make the decision( or have it made for them) to breast feed or not to breast feed.

When it was my time to become a new mom I actually had no intention to breast feed. I remember silly conversations with my sisters about it. I had in my mind that I'd have a boat load of kids, all boys but one, and I'd bottle feed them all. Next thing you know, I ended up with two girls that I breast fed until they were two! Was it easy? Hail no! It actually all happened as I tried to survive each day for the first month of my first child's life. We nursed okay in the hospital, I was in pain but on pretty good drugs from my c-section. I also had woman that came in and took my breast and shoved it in my daughters mouth to have her latch correctly. (Which was really awkward and I really wished she would have used a breath mint when she was getting so close to me) All of a sudden my body just became a feeding machine. However, I felt good about it.

Then, all hell broke loose when we came home from the hospital. I went from a C cup to a G in 9 months! My breasts were so big they practically covered my whole child. How in the world was she supposed to get a latch! Forget about a correct one! Natural? It certainly didn't look or feel natural. It was so very painful. I bled. I got infected. It grossed me out every time my daughter swallowed blood because I was told to nurse through it. Every time my little girl would looked at me to nurse I'd cry. I'd pull her off telling my husband to "get her off!" I was so upset and just didn't know what to do. She had to be fed. I didn't have formula at home because we seemed to be doing pretty well in the hospital. I didn't have a choice. Every time I'd ask my husband to go get formula I would have already fed her and couldn't figure out what to do. I'd go through all the emotions of guilt and failure because I actually tried something I had know intention of doing and it was working for us in the hospital. I finally broke down and said we need to try formula. I actually could breathe again knowing I'd have some relief from the pain. When it was time to give my daughter the bottle, she couldn't do it. She either couldn't or wouldn't for the next two to three weeks after countless tries. It was physical hell for me. I felt terrible that I'd go from looking at my little one being so in love to "please get her off of me." To make a very long story short, my child's pediatrician put me in touch with a non- judgmental lactation specialist and somehow by some blessing we were able to find ways to feed my daughter on one side while we treated the other, got the latch down, etc. etc. and it worked!

I was lucky! Was I lucky because I was able to feed my baby because she wouldn't take a bottle or was I lucky to be able to breast feed? At first I considered myself lucky because I was able to feed my child. She never ended up taking the bottle. As time went on I felt blessed I was able to breast feed and not cry and wince when it was time to feed. If it came down to bottle feeding my baby,comforting and bonding with my child, and breast feeding in pain with all the negativity surrounding it, I'd choose to bottle feed. It was also more convenient for me because I would be the one that forgot the formula if we'd go on an outing. I'm quite confident I would do it a number of times if I used formula. I never had that situation because I was the food. And oh, there would be times that formula looked very good to me when I wanted that wine my friends were enjoying!! It certainly crossed my mind. Did I think to myself "Hmm they should have breast fed their kids." Not really my thought was just "Oh boy that wine looks good."

After a year or so of breast feeding, I'd get the thumbs up from the bottle police. Most of the people surrounding me were supportive. I'd also get the awkward looks and negative comments from people who did not breast feed especially as I passed the 9 month mark. The topic of conversation on many occasions was when and how I was going to stop. I actually had a woman tell me that I was giving my child reflux because I breast fed. Both woman who feed their children formula and woman who feed their children breast milk need support. Having and raising children is hard enough without the opinions and judgments made from other woman. I'd like to know Gisele's experience with breast feeding. I'm wondering if it was accompanied by pain, suffering, guilt, and tears? My advice to her is to re-evaluate her judgmental comments and pray that she keeps her non-breast feeding friends around because she'll need them. She'll have a day when she comes home from toilet training accidents in public, toddler meltdowns, and dirty looks from others. She'll not want to be judged on how she handles herself in those situations.. Or, maybe she'll come up with a law for those as well.

Feeding your baby is your responsibility. How to feed your baby is your choice on what's best for you and your daughter/son. The true blessing is both mom and baby feeling happy during feedings whether it be by breast or bottle. I have a friend who has five children. Three of them were formula fed. She thought she'd give it a try on the fourth and fifth. She tried it. She liked it and continued to do so. Does she regret either decision or talk about it? NO. Is she the same wonderful mother to ALL her children breast fed or not? YES!

Anonymous's picture

Thanks Heather, and a little

Thanks Heather, and a little milk on my shirt was nothing. Your friendship and happiness was all that mattered to me whatever the outcome. I was there to help because you wanted to go for the breast feeding and I knew how hard it was when it was so difficult. I hope you felt supported either way:)

Heather Sobieralski's picture

I think your post should be front and center!

Amen! Well said-every point, every description of your experience and your open mind and arms to all moms feeding THEIR children! You are a strong woman! Thank you so much for your words and encouragement to all moms who are struggling with this issue right now,

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Anonymous's picture

Thanks Heather, and a little

Thanks Heather, and a little milk on my shirt was nothing. Your friendship and happiness was all that mattered to me whatever the outcome. I was there to help because you wanted to go for the breast feeding and I knew how hard it was when it was so difficult. I hope you felt supported either way:)

Kasey's picture

Thank you for this!

Not all moms can breastfeed. It's that simple. My run was somewhat like yours, though we ended up going formula only very early on. I desperately wanted to breast feed. But between the bleeding nipples, the possible latch issue, and the little-to-no supply problem, we were fated for another course. $200/visit lactation consultants didn't help. Hospital-grade pumps didn't help, though they did provide some beautiful black and blue rings around my already fairly damaged breasts. Nothing worked.

What I wish is that the formula backlash (which is understandable) was done in some degree of moderation and with a deep compassion for moms who can't breatfeed. What I really needed was for someone to hold my hand and say, "It's okay. It happens. You will have a beautiful, healthy baby who love you anyway."

Instead, I kept getting, "Have you called La Leche League? Maybe you need to pump more often. Have you tried these herbs (at $40 a bottle)? Maybe if you watched me do it, you would get the hang of it." All the while my little guy was screaming with hunger.

I went the formula route pretty quickly because he was hungry and I couldn't bear him being hungry because I had a particular idea about how things should be. But, it was an incredibly hard choice. I, too, suffered postpartum depression and the last thing I needed was added guilt about depriving my son of this one opportunity. I tried to bond with him other ways (he slept on me for 4 1/2 months straight). I made sure he was well fed. I did what mothers are supposed to do. I would have been institutionalized if I had to go plead my case before some judge because it was a law.

You never know another person's battle. It would be nice if people would be more thoughtful and compassionate generally, but particularly about this issue.

Thanks so much for sharing your story!

Heather Sobieralski's picture

I just want to hug you!

Kasey,
Your story really hits home. As I was reading it tears were welting up in my eyes as it is all too a familiar story told by "breast feeding" drop outs. We are told, "if it doesn't work, try harder, buy a new gadget, call another specialist, bla bla bla". Sometimes it just doen't F---ing work!!!! I am so sorry you didn't have anyone to hold your hand and tell you that it was ok to formula feed- that YOU and your baby were going to be just fine. I will hold your hand now, and tell you...You are an amazing, compasionate, warm and loving mother who provided your baby with exactly what he needed-well done mum!
Huge hugs to you Kasey!!!

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Nicole S's picture

Wow! I had a similar start to

Wow! I had a similar start to breastfeeding my son who was born almost 4 weeks premature. He refused to latch on while in the hospital. At least three lactation nurses tried to help. One said I had "flat" nipples and told me that I would be unable to breastfeed. By day two, he hadn't eaten anything and my husband wanted to bottle-feed formula. I refused because I wanted to be a "good" mommy. At home my son would latch on after about 20 minutes of trying. Then he would take about 45 minutes to nurse with all of the falling back asleep that he did. And, of course, I'd have to get right back at it less than an hour after I finished. I was a wreck!

At five days old, my son had to be admitted to the hospital for severe jaundice as well. We were told that his liver must process liquid to help lower the bilirubin level. The doctors had to be sure he was getting enough, so he had to bottle-feed. I reluctantly pumped and gave him the bottle. Luckily, my son did not suffer nipple confusion. He gradually took to the breast again, and my bonus was that I learned I could get help from my husband through bottle-feeding as well.

I nursed my son for 15 months. By the end, it took a quick ten minutes and we both loved it. The nurses were wrong!

Heather Sobieralski's picture

I think we are soul sisters!

Nicole,
We do have so many similarities! I love how you put "good mommy" in quotes. We are so pressured. It is so sad that if we don't breast feed, we are considered "bad mommy" by some-or more importantly the negative view of ourselves. Glad to hear your happy ending and thanks for sharing your story.

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Dana Theus's picture

I hear you

Heather
My experience wasn't quite as traumatic, but equally sad. We had a decent time - my son and I - getting connected, but he cried for the first two weeks of his life. At our two week visit he'd lost weight and that's when they told me I wasn't producing enough milk and the poor little kid was starving:( So the lactation consultants and breast pumps were called in and mom (who was a laleche leaguer way back in the day) did their best, but nothing helped and I ended up putting him on a bottle. Hearing his happy little burps that meant a full tummy helped me get over the pain of feeling like a failed mom right out of the gate.

I know that the pro-breast feeding people are battling a history of food companies telling us science overcomes our biology... but I agree that maybe the pendulum has swung too far and now moms are made to feel horrible if they can't breast feed. It is my biggest regret from early motherhood that I couldn't nurture my children in this natural and holistic way, but now they are tall, strong, good people and I know that my mothering skills, not my breastmilk, made that possible.

n/a
Heather Sobieralski's picture

I feel like I should stand up and clap!

Dana, Everytime you write something I feel empowered! Your have such healing words, a real gift. You hear that mamas...." It is our mothering skills, not our breastmilk that makes our children tall, strong and good people!!! Rooooaaaarrrrr!!!!
Thank you-dear wise one!

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Dana Theus's picture

:)

Roaring mama!

n/a
Heather Sobieralski's picture

That is determination!

Denise,
Wow, that is committment! Having a preemie brings a whole host of unexpected and stressful turn of events. I can related from the time away from baby to pump, but you are right, you can't deny the health benifits. I am delighted to hear your 2 year old is thriving today. Thank you for sharing your story.

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Denise's picture

I was determined that my 32

I was determined that my 32 week preemie was going to get breastmilk, but after 33 days in the NICU, she would only take a bottle, so I pumped exclusively for 14 months. My only regret is the time that it took me away from my baby. The tradeoff is the beautiful healthy 2 year old I have today.

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