Is Breastfeeding REALLY natural?

 My son spent days 4-11 on what amounts to a solar panel to help lessen his jaundice from lack of eating.

My son spent days 4-11 on what amounts to a solar panel to help lessen his jaundice from lack of eating.

Before you get all up in arms, the answer is yes.  Breastfeeding is natural.  Its nature's way of making sure our species thrives, through actual nutrition and all of the other antibody, live cells and bacterial benefits that breastmilk provides.

But walking is natural too.  Its natures way of making sure we can get to food and we can run from danger.  And learning how to do it takes for*freaking*ever.  So is growing food.  Its nature's way of making sure there is enough to eat.  And I'm terrible at it, so are lots of other people.  

Nursing may be natural, but it's not always easy.

When I had my first son, I was sure I wanted to breastfeed.  No formula for that kiddo... he was going to be all mom-milk all the way.  Until he was born, that is, and slept through that first "golden hour", and had a bad latch that the lactation consultants kept telling me was fine.  He was angry all the time (because he was so hungry), he wasn't gaining weight well at all, and I felt like every professional I spoke with looked at me like I had three heads.  After 5 days, my nipples were angry and bleeding, and he had jaundice so bad that we had to keep him on a light pad at home for a week straight.

 Seriously guys, he cried ALL THE TIME.  I mean, I don't blame him... I'm grumpy when I'm hungry too.

Seriously guys, he cried ALL THE TIME.  I mean, I don't blame him... I'm grumpy when I'm hungry too.

There are a lot of things I learned from that first two weeks with my son.  I learned to trust my instincts when it came to how things felt.  I learned how to be assertive with what I knew to be best for my baby, and when it really WAS time to listen to the people I had chosen to help care for my son.  I learned how important that first hour of life is, and how important it is to let the baby feed when he is hungry (which in newborns is often all the time!).  I have regrets, things I wish I had done differently, and things I DID do differently the 2nd and 3rd times around (and even then it was never as simple as I had hoped it would be), but I won't ever regret starting my son on formula.

Now, he's five years old and smart as a whip.  He's going to be a lawyer someday soon-- he's got the energy and the drive and the quick wit, and clearly is a well-fed child.  Could I have "tried harder"?  Probably.  Were there other options out there for him, besides formula?  Absolutely, even if I didn't know it at the time.  And I certainly learned a lot from that experience with him that led to longer breastfeeding relationships with my other two boys (knowledge I am happy to share with my doula clients)!  But it was the right choice for us and will remain that way, no matter what I learn or what resources I garner for my clients.  Nursing is natural, but it isn't always easy.

My two major take-aways from my nursing relationship with my first born are:

  1. Nursing isn't always easy.  (I hope it is for you, but if its not, I feel you sister, and I'm here to empathize and help!)
  2. There is NO GUILT to be found in feeding your baby.  Feeding your baby is ALWAYS the right choice, whether its breastmilk from a breast or formula from a bottle, a little of both or something else all together, the urge to feed our babies is strong for a reason.  Don't ignore it, and listen to your own voice.  That is what is natural.  That is what is right.
 One day soon you're going to wake up and he's going to look like this because his other parent fed him spaghetti for breakfast while you were catching up on all of your sleeping you'd been missing worrying about nursing.

One day soon you're going to wake up and he's going to look like this because his other parent fed him spaghetti for breakfast while you were catching up on all of your sleeping you'd been missing worrying about nursing.

Victoria McCollum

Victoria McCollum is a birth and postpartum doula and owner of Doulas of Fredericksburg, in Fredericksburg, Virgina. She resides there with her husband and three precocious sons.