My Breastfeeding Experiences
Excerpted from Apryl McLean’s book You Can Breastfeed Your Baby
I breastfed all four of my babies, and each child nursed for more than two years. I breastfed during a military move across the country, while going to school and working nights, and after having an appendectomy. I nursed my four-month-old before and after he had heart surgery. I am currently breastfeeding my last baby, who is two years and seven months old.
My first baby was born in 1997 when I was 21 years old. I had inverted nipples, so I used nipple shields. I used breast shells in my bra in the early weeks to keep the fabric of my bra off my sore nipples. I used nursing pads to collect leaked milk.
I had the support of lactation consultants in the hospital, my husband, and my mother-in-law. How did I succeed in breastfeeding for that first year without using formula? I told myself I had no other choice. I told myself I would breastfeed without formula for at least one year, and I did that. Any breastfeeding past that first year was a bonus! My first child nursed past her fourth birthday. She is intelligent and has been strong and healthy for her whole life.
I had my second baby in 2004. By the time I was pregnant with her I knew so much more than when I had my first baby. I had a birth plan. I held her before her umbilical cord was cut. During her first days, she would nurse for 30 to 45 minutes, fall asleep, and nurse again. I figured out I could give her the left breast, then the right, and then if she let go I would give her the left again, etc. Just because a baby lets go of the nipple does not mean she is full. I had less engorgement and my nipples did not get quite as sore. I weaned my second child when I became pregnant with my third child. She nursed for about two years.
My third child—another girl—was born in a military hospital. I labored at home for as long as I could (eight hours) because I had heard the hospital had a lot of rules that I didn’t have to face during my civilian hospital birth experiences.
My first two girls were comfort nursers. They would stay at the breast for as long as they could. My third daughter was not a comfort nurser. She would eat and then wiggle or move around or look around and fuss. She started sucking two of her fingers when she was one month old. She is now almost seven years old and still sucks on those fingers. She was my fussiest infant. She didn’t want to comfort nurse and sometimes didn’t want to be held, so when she found her fingers I was just happy she was happy. My third daughter is the only one who self-weaned. She weaned a little before her third birthday.
My last baby is my only son. When I had an ultrasound at 18 weeks, we found out he possibly had a hole in his heart. I had regular ultrasounds to monitor his growth. I went into labor on my own with my first three babies, and they were all full term. When I was pregnant with my son, my husband was changing jobs and moving to another state four days after my due date, so I was induced one day after my due date. My son was born after six hours of labor. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck twice.
My son was a sleepy baby. I had been part of an online breastfeeding community for eight years and I knew that some babies were sleepier than others. He did not wake to nurse, so I set the timer on my stove and woke up every couple hours to nurse him. At his one-month checkup, we saw the pediatrician on the military base for the first time. He said my son’s heart sounded fine but that my son was breathing too fast. He sent us to a cardiologist. My son had two holes in his heart. Two weeks later my children and I boarded a plane and moved to a new state where my husband had been working for two months. We found a pediatric cardiologist right away.
My son had open-heart surgery when he was four months old. I nursed him up until the night before his surgery. During his surgery and time in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, I pumped every two hours and froze my milk. Today my son is almost two and a half years old and still nursing. According to his pediatric cardiologist, his heart sounds like a normal heart.
Don’t forget that any amount of breast milk is better than none! You will never regret time spent giving your baby this gift. Before you know it, you will be like me, with a junior in high school who is looking at colleges nine hours away. You will be so thankful for the time you spent breastfeeding.
Apryl McLean, Roanoke, Virginia