Before Benji was born, Ian and I went to some baby classes at Evergreen. One was specifically on breastfeeding, as that is something Evergreen puts special emphasis on. In these classes, we learned about the manifold benefits, to both mother and baby, of breastfeeding over formula. I had just kind of assumed we would breastfeed, so this just solidified my decision.
The classes laid out how to hold the baby, positions for the mother, lots about how beneficial it was, how it worked biologically, a bit about getting baby latched (“stroke his lower lip with your nipple until he opens his mouth wide”), and more in that vein. A couple moms attested to how great breastfeeding was. Mostly it sounded really easy and natural: Baby is born, baby instinctively knows how to breastfeed. It’s like magic, and the magic continues as long as you nurse (which should, by the way, be a year at least).
Sadly, the classes left me with a woefully inaccurate image of nursing. They somehow left out the possibility that mom and baby might not take to this like ducks to water.
In fact, they mentioned nothing about the fact that nursing could make your life as a brand-new parent absolute living hell for weeks or longer as you struggle to help/coax/beg baby to eat. Nothing about your baby refusing to open up, refusing to latch, refusing to suck. Nothing about hours in tears when the baby refuses to eat, or hours on the phone talking with lactation experts and numerous visits going in to see them and being told to try increasingly arduous methods to induce nursing.
Now, I realize that probably sounds rather bitter about these classes failing us, so I apologize. That is not my intent. What I want to emphasize is that we went into nursing woefully naive, expecting this to be natural and easy, and it’s turned out about as intuitive as flying a 787.
In short, nursing is HARD. I had no idea our baby might refuse to eat, or that we’d spend innumerable anxious hours worrying about his refusal. We did everything the experts told us to do, to mo avail. Nothing can force a baby to breastfeed if he doesn’t want to. We started worrying that something was wrong with us or him, because nobody else had trouble nursing.
…Except, when I started talking to other new moms, they all had varying degrees of difficulty, too. Apparently we were in good company; for many people, breastfeeding turned out to be less magical and more a long, hard slog. Hence the existence of the Breastfeeding Center at Evergreen; enough moms have trouble to support permanent extra expert help. Which is what I would like to have covered in those classes: Enumerate the joys and benefits, by all means, but also give fair warning that it could also be excruciatingly difficult so new parents get a realistic sense of what they could be signing up for.
For the record, Benji has not yet adopted nursing. We bottle-feed him breast milk that I pump, supplementing with formula as necessary. It’s inefficient, expensive, and creates endless dishes, but he’s healthy and feeding time is calm, so we’ll take it. At some point we may try going back to nursing, but I suspect that and breastfeeding will only ever supplement bottle-feeding.
Here is Benji’s seal of approval.