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Challenges of Nursing

The Challenges of Nursing

By Jennifer Sprague

When I was 2 days shy of 22 years old, I gave birth to my first child. I was basically a frightened child myself. I had only recently been married and now I had to care for this infant. You can’t imagine how scared I was. I knew that breast feeding would be best for my baby, so I tried. The nurses and lactation consultant's in the hospital were little to no help. I remember the Lactation Consultant coming in to my room, and calling me by some number they assigned to me, instead of using my name. She then asked how things were going. I told her I was having a hard time getting the baby to latch on without experiencing pain. She asked me to "try" so I did, while she watched. You know what she told me?! And I quote, "Keep at it, you'll get it, you’re coming along!" Then she walked out. Nothing else, she left and I felt even more alone, with no one at all to help me.

Back then I did not know about the La Leche League I did not know about others who made themselves available for the purpose of providing guidance to me, "Learn" to nurse? I thought that it either worked or it didn’t. No questions asked; no learning necessary. I mean the baby has a mouth, and needs to eat...and I had a breast with milk over flowing to feed her.  Yet, something was missing.

Things aren’t always simple. After struggling for over a week, I ended up buying a breast pump and pumping breast milk to feed my daughter, to ensure she was getting the best food. Having to pump made me feel so sad. Not only was I not able to bond with my daughter the way I wanted to, I had a tremendous amount of cleaning and extra work to do. Pumping is like doing 3 times the amount of work that a "normal" breast feeding mother does. Mothers who do this for their children have my complete respect.


Don't get me wrong, I wanted to nurse my daughter. I only "gave up" when I was staying awake EVERY night crying to my husband at the time that I did not want my daughter to wake up because I was scared to nurse her. It hurt, it was uncomfortable, I was young and the only person I had ever had at my breast was my then husband. I was not at all prepared for this little being sucking on me. It scared me and seemed unnatural somehow. (Though I am not sure how a pump felt more natural.)

So I pumped for her, I pumped for a full 8 months. I pumped round the clock for the first 5 months every 3 hours. I wanted to be certain my supply was established before I cut down. At the time I was getting 8 OZ of milk per side at every pumping. It was insane. I finally decided that I had more milk than we could ever use, so I tapered off and only pumped 3 times a day.

Aubrey, my daughter, was bottle fed breast milk until she was 13 months old. I then shipped well over 50 pounds of frozen breast milk to the milk bank in Texas, where it could be used for research or for other babies who can’t accept any other kind of milk. It was the least I could do!

Fast Forward 4 years...

I was 26 when my son was born. I knew a lot more, and was determined to nurse him. I learned all about La Leche League, and even went to a meeting even before I had my son. I took a breast feeding class through the hospital. I was adamant and knew that we, as a team (it is after all a team effort) could and would make it work.

I started out with a small goal. I promised myself and my unborn baby that I would nurse him for at least the first 6 weeks, then, we would re-evaluate. I figured that 6 weeks was a good start.

When Zachary was born, nursing was difficult. Since I had pumped so much with my daughter, my body was quite aware of its responsibility. So my milk came in fast, and there was an extremely large amount of it! I was engorged, I suffered from over active let down (which basically means that my milk "let down" very fast) which in turn made nursing hard. I had to hand express before latching on Zachary, in order to make my "flow" slower so he could drink it. I also leaked quite a bit. I would wet though a breast pad in 2 hours or less. As I said, it was difficult.

Nursing wasn’t fun. It was a lot of work. This time though I did so many things differently. First and foremost, I did not give up. Second, I called my local Le Leche League. I talked to one of the leaders for hours on the phone, and then she came over to my house and sat with me for a full day helping me with every feeding, making sure that the latch was correct. She taught me "tricks" to help my "over fullness." (One being to nurse on only one side per feeding.) She was great! Thirdly, I nursed. It sounds simple, but really it’s vital. Every time Zachary cried I nursed him. Every time I felt the need, I nursed him. I even walked around the house with Zachary in a baby carrier, with my top off, so that he was "camped out" right where he needed to be, to not only create a loving bond, but also so that nursing was available, and he knew it.

So I reached my goal of 6 weeks and we reevaluated. I decided that we were just getting into nursing; we were finally starting to really enjoy it. It was starting to become natural. I still went to La Leche Meetings; they are really a great source of support and I highly recommend meetings to anyone! There I saw women nursing 3 year old toddlers. (I knew I would never nurse that long, but I wasn’t ready to stop just yet.) I also knew that the first 6 months are vital to a baby’s growth. So our new goal was 6 months.

During the time between 6 weeks and 6 months, nursing became a great source of comfort for both Zachary and me. It made me stop, relax, drink water, and enjoy my baby. With a 5 year old and a new baby, you’re always running. Nursing made me stop, and remember that he was only going to be a baby for a short time. The bonding we experienced was amazing.

At 6 months, we were still going strong. At that point it was evident that Zachary and I would know when it was time to stop. I believe I know Zachary's cues and needs. Breast feeding has created a bond that reaches beyond knowing when he’s hungry. I know when our time comes to wean, Zachary will make it clear to me.

Today Zachary is 2, (actually 2 years and 9 days) and he still nurses several times a day. We mutually enjoy it. I now look back at thinking I would "never" be nursing my 3 year old and laugh. I just might BE that woman! And frankly, I’d be totally happy being that woman!

Our nursing is one of the best things about our relationship. I love every minute I am nursing my son, though we don’t always have time to sit and relax. So, we nurse in a Mei Tai or Pouch baby carrier and can still be on the go.

I will honestly tell you, nursing is hard. Probably one of the hardest things you can or will do as a mother. There can and probably will be problems. Even if everything else goes right, getting a correct latch, and having that latch be "comfortable" will take time, especially if it’s new to you. But it is my personal belief that, if you don’t give up, if you take your time, and work at it, it will be one of the best things you ever do. Your memories of those times will hopefully be ones that you treasure forever. I hope you cherish the feeling you experience when you know your baby is growing because of the milk you produce for him. When you lovingly look at a toddler who just fell, and is now nursing with that lone tear streaming down his little face while he nurses, no longer crying in your arms, you’ll realize that every bad or hard moment of breast feeding was 100% worth it!!!
Now, this is not to say that there are not mothers out there that have tried everything possible, and just can not nurse. There are! Just recently I met a mom at my La Leche League group who was so very distraught about not being able to nurse. She just plain did not have enough milk, and though she pumped, drank “Mothers Milk Tea”, took Fenugreek, and seemingly did all the “right” things to help herself make more. It was not enough for her baby. (Even the Leaders of the group did not know what else to tell her to do.) This does unfortunately happen. There are times it really is impossible to nurse. Take heart, there are ways you can “nurse” your formula (or bottle feed)  baby. Nursing is not only about the breast milk, but also about the comfort, the closeness, the you given to your baby. So came the term “bottle-nurse”. Bottle nursing is the concept of “nursing” your baby with a bottle. Read more about bottle nursing and all its benefits.


Jennifer Sprague, co-owner of Attachment Parenting Products - High Top Baby Designs.  Jennifer has several years of teaching experience, working with infants through adults and has a passion for helping children live happy, healthy and secure lives. Jennifer has been a nanny, day care provider, teacher, and is currently studying to become a Doula and a Lactation Consultant. She enjoys spending time with her two wonderful children, Aubrey and Zachary. Jennifer is also an advocate for peaceful parenting everywhere she goes.© 2005 High Top Baby Designs. All rights reserved.

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