To Breastfeed, or dar el Pecho
This is the third in a week-long series of essays titled Becoming Mami, a new generation of Latinas speak on childbirth, babies and acceptance. You can find links to the other stories in the introduction.
When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Come Easy
When I relocated to the U.S. from Ecuador and met my husband, we got married and a year later I got pregnant; what a blessing, we were so excited.
During a prenatal care visit, my awesome doctor asked me if I was going to breastfeed. I found the question a bit strange…don’t all women breastfeed? We all have…you know… pechos. I said yes and really didn’t give it much thought after that. Little did I know at the time that breastfeeding in the U.S. was a big deal. Literally!
Baby was born, we started breastfeeding and my worst fear came to life… baby cried all the time and never slept…ay Dios Mio!!!
One well intentioned nurse told me “You know.. if you give your baby a bit of formula in a syringe it will help her.” So there we were, the new desperate parents, trying to find a solution for the crying baby. So we did feed our baby some artificial baby milk in a syringe. I can’t tell you if it calmed her down or not as everything was a blur after 36 hours of labor, with little food and sleep deprivation.
I had a lot of problems during the first five months of breastfeeding. It started right after I left the hospital (sore nipples, worrying if the baby was getting enough milk, plugged ducts, mastitis, exhaustion, nursing strike, etc). Lucky for us, I received a few phone numbers at discharge to call in case I had breastfeeding questions. Some of them were great resources, others not so much.
The Benefits of Breastmilk
I came in contact with a wonderful breastfeeding counselor. She cheered me up for many months. I have to admit there were times when I didn’t believe what she was saying about breastfeeding. One of the things that I couldn’t comprehend was that babies could survive on breastmilk alone, that they didn’t need water or el té de manzanilla y anís for colic.
I didn’t know that breastmilk was more than just baby’s food. There were health benefits, and not just for baby, but for the mother as well. Not to mention that it’s environmentally friendly and families save dinerito because there isn’t any artificial baby milk to buy, which we all know is very pricey.
My counselor inspired me to become a lactation consultant. I was able to educate myself about the wonders of breastmilk and how magical women’s bodies, particularly breasts, are. I discovered that all the things she told me when I’d call her weren’t things she was saying just to make me feel better; they were backed up by scientific research and, by deepening my knowledge, everything made sense.
Along with learning the properties of human milk, how it’s made, etc I learned that the average age for weaning worldwide is anywhere between 3- and 7-years-old. That brought me to the term “self-weaning” and that’s how I knew that nature was giving me an opportunity to let everything come full circle. So I let my child tell me when she was ready to wean, which wasn’t at 1-year-old, or 2, nor 3.
It happened at exactly 3-years and 10-months. I was nursing her while putting her to sleep, when suddenly she looked at me and said “I don’t want the boobies anymore” and that was the end of it. This was one of the most shocking moments of my life as I never thought it would be that easy.
Breastmilk provides a child with huge immunologic properties, not just when they’re babies, but also during toddler years and there are studies stating that the concentration of immunologic properties are higher in “toddler’s milk” than baby’s milk. It made perfect sense to me. Toddlers are all over playgrounds, interact with many different people at daycare, nursery school, etc, which puts them in contact with many different streams of viruses, germs, bichos, bacterias, etc. Breastfeeding a toddler breastmilk boosts the child’s immune system to fight those germs and much more, not to mention the bonding and closeness that it provides.
To Become a Culture of Breastfeeding
There were many things that I should have done while pregnant that could have prevented most of the breastfeeding problems I experienced. I believe that what helped me was that I never thought I wasn’t going to be able to breastfeed as I’ve seen women in my family breastfed before, in addition to many other women in Ecuador, and it never looked difficult or complicated. Therefore, the importance of seeing other women breastfeeding is crucial for future generations to successfully breastfeed. In a way, not reading about the possible breastfeeding problems kept me from seeing the negative of it. Perhaps a naive approach, but it worked for me.
I recommend that women in our society read and prepare themselves about and for breastfeeding. The support system is still limited at this point and while the USA is trying its best to shift from an artificial baby milk feeder nation/culture to normalized breastfeeding, there is still too much to do. I strongly suggest attending breastfeeding mother groups, where you can see how women breastfeed their children, and get that image imprinted in your head…it’s priceless!!!
Saray is a mother of one living in Los Angeles, CA. She is a lactation consultant in private practice, owner of Mother’s Utopia Lactation Services. She is currently enrolled in the Postpartum Doula Certification Program through Dona International. She publishes the blog, Mother’s Utopia, and also contributes to Sixty Second Parent.