Monday, August 29, 2011

If I had only known then what I know now......

How many of us have found ourselves saying that at one time or another? I think this statement is especially true when it comes to our children and striving to do what is best for them.

My name is Beth Joramo, wife, mamma to 4, and former WIC breastfeeding peer counselor. (You can read more about us here)

When I started my job as a peer counselor I thought I was pretty knowledgeable when it came to breastfeeding. After all I had successfully nursed 3 babies, that counts for something right? Boy did I realize there was SO much more out there than I ever knew! It also made me realize how little education I received from my doctor, nurses, and the hospital. As part of my training I had to complete a course on breastfeeding, tips, techniques, physiological components of it, and most importantly how to effectively share my knowledge with others.

Let me tell you a little about each of my blessings and my experience breastfeeding them. The most important thing to remember is that each and every child is different and each breastfeeding experience is different. If you had a terrible experience nursing your first child, don’t give up! Educate yourself on what happened, how you could do things differently, and try again! If you had a picture perfect experience with your first, good for you! Remember however, that doesn’t guarantee ease the next time. Every baby is different and it is still important to be educated.

I was almost 21 when I had my first daughter. I had given no thought to breastfeeding as almost none of my family members (that I was aware of) had done it. No one had talked to me about it and I didn’t even think people still did that. It’s important to note that I grew up on a beef farm and knew the importance of those baby calves getting up to suck in the first hour, and the importance of colostrum, but somehow that didn’t translate in my mind to our babies. So I started my prenatal visits, and my doctor didn’t make any mention of breastfeeding. I’m so thankful however for my best friend who told me, “You need to breastfeed. It’s the perfect food for baby, it will keep her healthy, and you don’t have to get up and mix bottles in the middle of the night!” At one point further on in my pregnancy my doctor did ask me what my feeding plan was and I said I was going to breastfeed. He said that his wife had breastfed all their children and it was a good thing to do. And that was it. No more discussion, advice, or tips. Bear in mind, I didn’t realize I needed any advice either, so I didn’t ask any questions. My new thinking was this is what God made us to do, so great! I’ll breastfeed my baby, and things will be utopia. *ignorance is NOT bliss*

My daughter was born on her due date, a beautiful 8lb 3oz bundle with a full head of hair. I had checked into the hospital around midnight in a fierce thunderstorm after laboring at home for a day and a half. She was born around 5am and I was EXHAUSTED. I thought nothing of the nurses ‘doing their job’ and whisking my baby away for a bit while I slept. I don’t remember exactly what time they brought her back and we started to work on latching, but several hours had passed. I remember feeling so embarrassed as the nurse grabbed my breast and said “do it this way”. She also kept trying to cover me up and told me I couldn’t pull my gown down so far. I felt silly having to have help with something that was “just supposed to happen – right?” Eventually she latched on well and went to town. So all was well and it was smooth sailing from there on out. The end.
Hardly. I returned to work when she was a couple of months old with the help of a Medela pump I had borrowed from my friend. Here is a prime example of why you should buy, or rent your own pump, or borrow one from your WIC office. I had the equipment and didn’t have to pay for it. Yay! However I had no help with the ins and outs of pumping and returning to work. No one told me about supply and demand. No one told me I should pump as often as my baby was eating or I wouldn’t have enough milk for her. No one told me it was going to be work. Had I purchased my own pump from an authorized retailer, such as Elegant Mommy, I would have gotten some of that advice and been better prepared for the road ahead. With all those factors in play my milk supply did indeed dry up and I had to start supplementing my baby with formula at 5 months. I was disappointed but thought it was ok because formula was just as good as breastmilk, and I could get it free from WIC. (More on that later) *If I had only known then what I know now*

16 months later God blessed us with another daughter. This one came 6 weeks early due to congestive heart failure. Needless to say, it was not an ideal situation. I had an emergency C-section and saw my purple baby briefly before she was whisked away to the NICU. She spent the next 32 days there clinging to life. She had congestive heart failure, respiratory failure, and renal failure. She spent the first 4 hours of her life more dead than alive. Miraculously, she survived and is a testament to the power of prayer and some amazing God fearing doctors. I pumped for her during that first month and while she was only taking a few cc of milk at a time, I was producing several ounces and the thought of latching her was not even on my radar. I also endured mastitis during this time because I did not know that I needed to pump often to avoid engorgement. I was pumping some while at the hospital and I am so thankful for the nurse in the NICU who asked how it was going. I told her I thought it was fine, but my breast was getting red and sore. She told me to call my doctor ASAP because I probably had a breast infection. I am so glad I listened!
By the time she was 3 weeks old, things were looking up and they started talking about her being able to go home. The lactation consultant started working with me on latching her. We spent about an hour working with her and she took to it famously. After 3 weeks of bottling and dealing with IV’s and machines she latched perfectly and nursed until she was a year old. Why stop at a year? Because that’s what you do, right? *If I had only known then what I know now*

Three years later I gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. I was a little more educated on breastfeeding at this point and knew that I didn’t have to stop at a year old, that people DO breastfeed longer. After a short labor and 2 hours in the hospital he made his debut. I still didn’t know that I could delay his cleaning and cares to have skin to skin contact and start breastfeeding. So after he was all cleaned up and in a nice bundled package, we started latching. He took to it like a champ! He did have some jaundice issues and had to have the lights for a short time. I wish someone would have told me that by breastfeeding frequently he would get over the jaundice quicker. He breastfed until he was 13 months old at which time I thought he was self-weaning. In retrospect I believe he was on a nursing strike. *If I had only known then what I know now*

Three years after our son came another daughter. At this point I was working as a peer counselor and knew I wanted to do so many things differently. I now knew the importance of latching within the first hour after delivery. (Remember those baby calves? Same thing!) When we got to the hospital I told my nurse I wanted her right away and wanted to delay the cleaning, weighing, etc. They were respectful of my wishes and when she was born they put her on my tummy. She immediately started rooting around and pulling herself toward the breast. It was so exciting to see her trying to do what babies are meant to do! I went ahead and positioned her to latch. She struggled a bit at first, and my doctor commented that “sometimes we expect too much to want these babies to breastfeed right away”. Right after that comment she latched and took off with an incredible and very audible suck/swallow. Yay baby! With all the knowledge I had acquired since the other kids this has been my best breastfeeding experience yet. I had the onset of mastitis again when she was about 4 months old, but this time I knew all the “tricks” to break up that plugged duct and head it off. She is now 16 months old and still breastfeeding. *So thankful I knew more now than I did then*

Does that mean that my other experiences were bad? No, they were all precious experiences that I will treasure of that special time with each of my kids. I just felt I was the most prepared and equipped for breastfeeding my last baby. Do I know everything? Absolutely not! I am still learning new tips, techniques, and ways to troubleshoot various problems. We should never stop learning. Even if it’s not for ourselves, for our friends, family, co-workers, anyone we may come across that needs help. What my experiences did teach me was the huge need for peer counselors and supportive friends. Whether they are La Leche League counselors, WIC counselors, or experienced friends or family, please find someone to talk to if you have questions. Educate yourself. Ask questions, read books, or dig into a great blog. Every baby is different and you never know what experiences the next baby will bring.

I had mentioned earlier about my thought that WIC was a program for free formula. I think this is a very pervasive mindset. The South Dakota Department of Health is aware of this and they have been working for several years to change that. They have implemented WIC peer counselors in nine different counties and launched a media campaign to raise awareness regarding breastfeeding. You can visit the website outlining their new breastfeeding initiative here.

If you are not sure if you would be eligible for WIC so you could access to their peer counselors you can find and contact your local office (in SD) here.
If you are from Iowa you can click here.

By Beth Joramo

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