Ecological Breastfeeding: The Need for Support

The Need for Support by Heather Stein
   #7 in WBW series
I was fortunate to hear of Sheila Kippley’s book Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing before I was even married. Envisioning myself as a wife and mother, I enjoyed reading the book even though it would be a couple years before I could put the Seven Standards into practice. The concepts outlined in the book were so refreshing to hear and seemed so natural to me. From that point, I was committed to ecological breastfeeding…even though I hadn’t met my husband yet!

Soon after my husband Joel and I got married, we became pregnant. We were so excited. I read more about breastfeeding and attended a couple of La Leche League meetings. I was already anticipating the bonding with my child that I would experience through nursing.

I was induced early, at 36 weeks, due to complications. The labor and birth was not as I had imagined it (more complications), and the most difficult part was that our new baby, Lucia, had to be taken to the NICU right after birth. Exhausted from a long and difficult labor, groggy from medications, and feeling the pain of being away from my brand-new baby, I remember finally laying down in my postpartum room and wanting to do nothing but sleep. I saw the breast pump next to the bed and knew that I should start pumping as soon as possible so my preemie could begin receiving the benefits of my colostrum.

“Maybe I could just sleep a little,” I thought. No, I had no idea how long I’d be asleep, due to the exhaustion and the medications. I asked the nurse how soon I needed to begin pumping. She told me it was something like six or eight hours. I knew I needed to stay up and learn how to pump—I needed to do it for my little baby, who seemed so far away. The nurse helped me to pump and I think we managed to get a little colostrum. I was glad that I had stayed up, and soon fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning, Joel and I went to the NICU to visit Lucia. She was premature, but probably the biggest baby there (6 lb., 10 oz.). She just needed a little breathing assistance—for a few days, at most. I was told that I could try to nurse her. I did try, but it was so hard to attempt under the harsh hospital lights, the impossibility of modest nursing in my hospital gown, and no privacy whatsoever. But she did nurse a little.

While there in the NICU, we reiterated our desire for Lucia to receive no formula, that we only wanted her to be given my milk. I remember the head nurse asking us why we wanted to “starve our baby.” It was obvious from the start that our nursing journey was going to be a tough one.

We were given instructions that if I wanted to nurse Lucia, we would have to adhere to the hospital’s strict three-hour feeding schedule. If we were late, she would be given a bottle. So, throughout that day, my husband and I traveled to the NICU (on a different floor in a different wing of the hospital), attempt to feed Lucia (I was only allowed to nurse her within a 30-minute window), go back to the postpartum room (where I then pumped), set the alarm for about an hour and a half later, took a nap, woke up, and then did it all over again. Our commitment to breastfeeding was met by the hospital staff with mainly bewilderment or even hostility.

However, in the middle of the night, we had a surprise. We were getting ready to make our way back to the nursery for another difficult nursing session when Lucia’s NICU nurse came in with Lucia in her bassinet. She had seen how badly I wanted to nurse Lucia and had gotten another nurse to cover for her while she brought Lucia to us. I still remember nursing Lucia that night. She nursed while I was laying in bed, with barely any lights. She latched on right away and we snuggled for quite a while. I’ll always be so grateful for what that nurse did for us!

The next day, Joel and I continued our ritual, sleeping for only one or two hours at a time. We met the attending doctor in the NICU, who saw our commitment to breastfeeding. He agreed to release Lucia from the NICU if she continued to do well that day.

Lucia was released that afternoon, and she stayed with us in my hospital room until we all went home the following day. Before we left, I met with a lactation consultant who was very helpful to us. We had gotten off to a rocky start, but things steadily improved once mom, dad, and baby were all together.

When we got home, things improved dramatically. My milk came in, Lucia learned how to latch on better, and I was much more relaxed. Lucia became quite the avid nurser! She is almost two years old now, and has grown so happy and healthy on mommy’s milk.

I’m very thankful that I had information and support for breastfeeding before Lucia was born. Without my convictions about nursing, I would have given up or caved under the pressure of the hospital staff. What helped me to persevere the most was knowing that God has a special plan for mothers and babies: ecological breastfeeding. What a beautiful plan it is!

Tomorrow: Another great story!

Sheila Kippley
Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood
Natural Family Planning

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