Thursday, January 27, 2011

milking cow

I eyed the pump with a mixture of distaste and resignation. It had sat in its box for the last couple of months, but taking it out again brought it all flooding back.

Elsie took almost a month to learn how to breastfeed. Before she was born, I had this vague notion that breastfeeding was a natural process that therefore came naturally. Ha. Ok, so I'd heard of cracked nipples and other monstrosities but assumed in my naivity that these minor discomforts would be brief, or not affect me at all. I'd put my baby to my breast and she'd feed. Right.

The caesarean got us off to a shaky start. As I was wheeled to the recovery room, the baby was handed to me and she lay on my chest as tears and the corridor's bright lights blinded me. Daddy was left holding the baby as I was examined and almost an hour passed before I could join my new little family.

The days in hospital, blurred by morphine and lack of sleep, were punctuated by midwives who encouraged us, squeezing and repositioning, giving tips on waking her when she dozed mid-feed and providing equipment designed to repair the bloody cracks, soothe sore sensitive skin, get milk from boob to babe.

Home, and we had check up visits from midwives as Elsie was losing weight. Hour after hour, I held on to brief moments where she latched on, sucked down sustenance and slept replete. But then a midwife arrived, weighed her and told me she'd lost more. There was no choice but to express my milk, try feeding and then give her the bottle, which she inevitable gulped down. I tried getting advice from others - most were kind but clear: Get rid of the bottles, she'll learn. If she has the choice between bottle and breast, the bottle is much easier. They're not stupid, babies. She'll get nipple confusion and never breastfeed. But we were under surveillance and this was not acceptable. You've tried. You can't spend all your time expressing, washing bottles, sterilising bottles, trying to breastfeed, bottle feeding. Why don't you just go to formula? Make your life more simple. It felt like defeat. I gave myself six weeks.

That day, in the fourth week, when suddenly the gulping usually reserved for the bottle was heard while Elsie was at my breast, I was stunned. She had learned. The midwife's words rang in my ears She'll learn. They always do. Another couple of weeks and she was a purely breastfed baby.

The weeks passed and you would never know now the problems we had before. She has been putting on weight steadily, her cheeks filling out and feet straining to escape through the end of sleepsuit legs. There have been hiccoughs - those infamous cracks leading to infection and fever - but stories of friends' troubles in this area opened my eyes to just how common these problems are. Perfect mummies recounted their stories of mastitis, milk drying out, blisters... the list went on. My eyes were opened.

Now Elsie is four months old we're thinking of starting some baby rice; see whether she's ready for more than just milk. It'll be mixed with breastmilk to start with. Hence the pump. This time though, things are very different. It's easier to express without desperation.