Breastfeeding Life Lessons


I was holding back tears as I tried unsuccessfully to get my newborn daughter to nurse. I was sitting on a futon with Nancy Albrecht and my husband. My angelic baby latched on eagerly, but after 20 minutes of “nursing”, she wasn’t gaining an ounce and my breast had not softened. This simply couldn’t be happening. I knew how to nurse; after all, this was not my first baby: she was my fourth!

Nancy looked at me reassuringly and stated matter-of-factly: “Every baby has something new to teach you.”

The magical combination of her tone, my husband by my side, and the innocent sweetness of my newborn nuzzled against me, had an immediate relaxing effect. Nancy’s words wafted past me like a warm, gentle breeze.

I was ready to look past my emotional state and tune into the methods we would need to correct the baby’s tongue-thrusting habit. This included tongue exercises, and lacing a tube through a nipple guard to squirt expressed breast milk into the baby’s mouth while she was latched on. The latter would ensure she received enough milk while she was still learning to nurse properly. I can’t say I wasn’t in tears over this awkward and unnatural set up, but the problem was corrected within two weeks. We soon became the relaxed nursing duo that I hoped, and knew, we would be.

Nancy’s words, however, stayed curiously and contemplatively in my mind. It was true: each of my nursing experiences had been different, yet with time, effort, and faith in my baby and myself, they had all been successful and enjoyable.

My first baby had been a natural, nursing before her umbilical cord was even cut. Her latch-on was perfect and she nursed contentedly. I was not prepared, however, for the colic that kept her screaming in distress for hours every evening. The only time she stopped was when she was nursing, which she did with great frequency. This, somewhat predictably, led to dry, cracked, sore, and bleeding nipples. I dubbed her the vampire baby and sheer determination drove me on. When the colic subsided within a couple of months, the two of us were left with breastfeeding times that were blissfully quiet and precious. She nursed for a total of 14 months.

My firstborn taught me that the true beauty of a rainbow can only be appreciated after a storm.

Nearly three years later, we welcomed a son and he, too, took to the breast easily and well. The nurse who came for the home visit after his birth weighed him before and after he nursed and was shocked to find that at two days old, he took in 7 ounces of milk in a single feeding! His eagerness to nurse came at a price. He had the delightful habit of reliably spitting up some milk after nursing. It didn’t cause him any distress but led to lots and lots of wet cloths, bibs, clothes, and sheets. Additionally, in his first month he nursed in bed with me from 10pm until 5am every hour on the hour for 20 minutes at a clip. In his second month he gave me a break by nursing every two hours. I was sleep-deprived beyond expectation. Fortunately, he was a content little boy and began sleeping through the night by four months. I had nothing to complain about.

He nursed for a year, which was half-way through my third pregnancy. I especially cherished those quiet evenings of nursing and singing to him before bedtime, feeling the closeness of the three of us, the youngest of whom we had yet to meet.

My second baby taught me that there may be hiccups (or spit-ups and wake-ups) along the way, but time is precious and you should soak up every relaxing moment you have.

When my third child arrived, he didn’t have colic or spit-up issues, and “only” nursed three times per night. Still, relaxing moments were far and few between with three kids born within four years. I wasn’t taking the time to air out my nipples after feedings, and the predictable outcome was an excruciating infection. Nursing that week literally brought me to tears. But again, we survived it. I had no fears that I would need to stop nursing entirely, I just desperately needed to get past this.

I couldn’t wait for this baby to be three-months-old. I knew that, at three months of age, nursing would be less around-the-clock, and he and I could settle into it. It would become a truly enjoyable series of breaks in the day. This baby also nursed for a year.

My third baby taught me to slow down, prioritize, and look forward to the future.

My fourth baby came along three years later. Within a week of her birth I was visiting Nancy with nursing issues that I never thought I’d have.

“Every baby has something new to teach you,” Nancy said.

Weeks and then months passed and I found those words continuing to settle comfortably and deeply in my heart. I doubt Nancy realized at the time the meaning I would
attribute to those words. It is true of every baby, every child, at every stage. It is a very freeing reminder to any parent to occasionally sit back and be the student.

So, what did my fourth baby teach me through breastfeeding?

She nursed for 2.5 years and she taught me that the more kids you have, the more you realize you don’t know as much as you thought.

Life can be unpredictable, uncontrollable, and ever-changing, but if you hang in there it can also be rewarding, edifying, and very, very sweet.

[In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, this is an abridged version of a 2012 article. Claire is a parenting & children’s writer. Visit her website at www.clairecaprioli.com]