My daughter recently weaned off breastfeeding at 18 months old.
It’s an accomplishment that I’m very proud of because there was a time that I didn’t think I would make it 18 days breastfeeding, let alone 18 months.
Breastfeeding began with many struggles and for the first three months after my daughter was born I was tempted to give up every single day.
The Journey Begins
My daughter Seraphina was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to be treated for low blood sugar and jaundice after she was born. She was small at birth, weighing exactly 5 pounds, and like most babies do, lost some weight after coming earth-side.
Our goal was to get her growing, and to do that she needed to feed.
But Seraphina would promptly fall asleep at the breast every single time I tried to feed her, slumbering peacefully, while I sat frustrated and worried that I wasn’t meeting her nutritional needs.
In desperate need to nourish our baby, my husband and I decided to use a breast pump so we could feed Seraphina from a bottle.
Every few hours I would strap a hospital-grade breast pump to my chest to extract the liquid gold. It was a relentless process: pump, store, feed, pump, store, feed.
When we were finally discharged from the hospital and sent home eight days later, I continued to pump but also tried to breastfeed again.
To my shock, Seraphina screamed bloody murder when I attempted to get her to latch.
In the time that we had introduced the bottle to Seraphina, she had completely lost all interest in trying to breastfeed.
I felt defeated and disappointed.
At this important juncture I was very tempted to stop trying. My husband was supportive, but also worried about my own well-being. He encouraged me to exclusively pump and bottle feed Seraphina.
Realizing I needed professional support, I visited a breastfeeding clinic in my city.
It was not lost on me what a luxury it was to have access to so many resources and support systems around healthy breastfeeding.
Why Breastmilk? Why not.
Breast milk is free and universally available in places where resources are lacking. Yet, only 38 per cent of babies globally are exclusively breastfed.
Increased breastfeeding would help save the lives of 820,000 children annually, 87 per cent of which are infants under six months old. In fact, in developing countries non-breastfed babies are at 10-times greater risk of dying from diarrhea and 15-times greater risk of dying from pneumonia, than exclusively breastfed babies.
So why don’t more moms breastfeed? My guess is that like me, they need support, resources, education and advice, but don’t always have it.
That is why at World Vision, we’re focused on increasing support for breastfeeding women through our 1000 Day Journey project.
In partnership with the Canadian government, we will work with communities in five countries to ensure optimal nutrition for children’s first 1000 days. Those 1000 days are one of the most important windows in a child’s life in terms of growth and development. In fact, 45% of child mortality under the age of five is from nutrition-related causes.
In Bangladesh, Kenya, Myanmar, Pakistan and Tanzania, our team will focus on encouraging early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding for babies six months and under, and appropriate feeding practices for infants and young children. We’ll do that through gender equality advocacy, training of community health workers, and establishing baby-friendly hospitals.
Success, at last!
After my appointment with a lactation expert, I started breastfeeding Seraphina using a silicone nipple shield. It would mimic the feeling of a bottle nipple and “trick” her into latching to my breast.
Then, to prevent her from having a hunger meltdown while waiting for my milk to let-down (the let-down of breastmilk occurs when the baby suckling at your breast causes your brain to release the hormone oxytocin which in turn tells your breast milk to leave the milk ducts), I would fill a syringe with pumped milk and slowly dispense it through a skinny tube into the side of Seraphina’s mouth while she was latched.
I did this for every feed – which meant I did it every 3 hours, 24 hours a day for roughly three months.
It was as crazy as it sounds (imagine doing this with a ravenous, squirmy newborn at 3 am – yep, that).
But it worked.
Without the support of the lactation experts at that clinic I am confident that my breastfeeding journey would have ended right there in the hospital after Seraphina’s birth.
This World Breastfeeding Week, remember that if you are facing challenges, the best thing you can do is to ask for help. New moms need help and support no matter where in the world they live.
Thankfully, in Canada, help exists in so many forms, for me it was the breastfeeding clinic, my husband and family and an amazing group of mommies I found in a breastfeeding support group on Facebook.
And remember, while #breastisbest for some babies, #fedisbest for all babies. So go easy on yourself and remember that your well-being is vital, because a healthy baby first and foremost requires a healthy mom.