Thursday, February 11, 2010

It Was the Breast of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

This week has been a bit bittersweet for me. Because of medications I'm on for my rheumatoid arthritis, my doctors suggested that I only breastfeed Ryan for three months. Apparently my medication is passed on through breast milk and builds up in his system. So at three months, we've reached the point where the risks of his taking in small amounts of my meds outweigh the benefits of continuing to breastfeed. Which means that it's time to transfer completely to bottlefeeding.

I'm fortunate in some ways because we've already been combining bottlefeeding with nursing. The first few days of Ryan's life neither one of us could really figure out what we were doing when it came to breastfeeding, and there were plenty of tears on both our parts. I remember several occasions during that first week when I spent a late night feeding sitting in the rocking chair with a screaming baby on my lap, frantically nuzzling at my breast but unable to latch, while I sobbed uncontrollably. We were both frustrated and miserable, and poor Ryan was literally starving. Finally we started supplementing with a bottle, and with some continued practice, we eventually both got a handle on the whole breastfeeding thing. But given his voracious appetite, we still needed to supplement. At first I felt guilty that I must be doing something wrong that my milk supply wasn't enough for him. But then I read articles saying that for the first month a baby will take about 2 oz. of formula at a feeding and will feed about every three to four hours. Apparently Ryan hadn't read that article, because he was taking 4 oz. or more at every feeding and feeding every two to three hours. He would often nurse for a full hour and then take a 4 or even a 6 oz. bottle. I wondered if he was even getting anything from me, but although when I pumped right after he nursed I didn't get much, if I pumped after I skipped a fedding because Daddy was giving him a bottle, I could get 2-4 oz. So obviously he was getting something - and as his weight started to skyrocket, it became more and more obvious that he was just a big baby who needed lots of calories!
So at least neither of us had to go through any kind of trauma in transitioning to bottles. Ryan has never suffered from "nipple confusion"; if it gives milk, he'll suck on it, no questions asked. I'm not comfortable breastfeeding in public, so any time we're out somewhere for the day, he gets a bottle all day and has no problem with it. If we're about to get in the car and he's hungry, I can prop a bottle in his car seat and keep him contented so I'm not driving distracted by a screaming baby in the back seat. And best of all, Daddy can take a feeding any time Mommy needs a little extra sleep or Daddy needs some father-son bonding time.

But even though I can snuggle him close when I feed him with a bottle, it's not quite the same as nursing him. The feeling of that warm little cheek against my chest, the little dribble of milk from his pursed rosebud lips running onto my skin, that incredible sense of closeness from seeing my child get nourishment from my own body...these things can't quite be replicated by giving a bottle, and I know I'll miss them terribly over the next few weeks. But I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to bond with my son by breastfeeding him for as long as I have. I'm glad that I fought through that incredibly difficult and traumatic first week. And I'm glad that I live in a day and age where formula and vaccines and excellent medical care all keep my baby strong, healthy, and well-nourished even when I can't breastfeed any more.

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