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October 25, 2016

The joys of breastfeeding: How my son gave me one of the greatest gifts of motherhood

Women's Health Breastfeeding
katie gagnon Breastfeeding Ryan Gagnon/For PhillyVoice

At just over 3 weeks old, Katie's baby has become a pro at nursing, which Katie calls of the greatest joys of motherhood.

Dating back to a decade ago, when I was in my mid-20s and children seemed a long way off, I looked forward to breastfeeding.

Nursing was one of the aspects of motherhood that excited me on a deep, innate, visceral level. While I was pregnant with my son, one of the questions I received most frequently was whether I was planning to breastfeed. My answer was always the same: I hoped to!

To increase my chances of realizing my breastfeeding desire, before my son was born I signed up for a lactation course and read Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding. This helped to prepare me, but I was a little nervous about how it would go when my baby actually arrived.

I planned to nurse my son in the delivery room, as soon as he was born. The hospital where I delivered encouraged this for many reasons. After he was quickly checked by the doctors and nurses, my son was placed in my arms, skin-to-skin on my chest.

After 30 hours of labor and delivery, I did not remember all I had been taught about breastfeeding; I was too exhausted and ecstatically overwhelmed at meeting my baby boy. But my son knew exactly what to do.

Within a few minutes, he was rooting and latched onto me. I could hardly believe that breastfeeding was happening so easily! I was in awe of my baby boy, of his instincts and the miracle of life. Nursing my son was, and continues to be, an incredible and indescribable joy.

Even though my son was feeding well within the first couple days of his life, I meet with two lactation consultants at my hospital. I wanted them to witness our nursing to ensure I was doing everything right and also had a question for them that stemmed from a disagreement between the hospital nurses and my son’s pediatrician.

Soon after Killian and I were moved to the maternity ward (after he had already successfully nursed for the first time), I was told that he was “tongue-tied” and warned that breastfeeding would be difficult for him.

The nurses were referring to his lingual frenulum being too close to the tip of his tongue, which can cause latching problems. Concerned, I asked our pediatrician about it.

The doctor actually laughed out loud, saying many of the maternity ward nurses misdiagnose babies as tongue-tied. Upon looking at my son’s mouth and asking a series of questions about our first experiences with breastfeeding, the pediatrician told us that Killian’s tongue was fine.

After meeting with the lactation consultants, my takeaway was that if nursing was going well, we should not worry. Killian was breastfeeding so well that two days after our discharge he weighed nearly one pound heavier than when we left the hospital!

Nursing has continued to be easy for Killian and me. I take no credit in this; it was my baby boy who taught me.

There are many benefits to breastfeeding both for baby and Mommy.

For baby, the benefits include tailor-made nutrition and protection from illnesses and health problems like asthma, SIDS, Type 2 diabetes, lower respiratory infections and more. For Mommy, one of the greatest benefits is that nursing releases oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, which stimulates contractions and shrinks a post-partum uterus back to normal. Breastfeeding also enhances the bond between mother and child, is cost-free and convenient, and can reduce the risk of some health problems in women like ovarian cancer.

There are a number of challenges a new mother can face when learning how to breastfeed. If you have a desire to nurse your baby or are struggling with breastfeeding, there are many resources available to help.

Ask your obstetrician about breastfeeding classes and check with your insurance provider to see if they cover in-home lactation consultations. I also recommend talking to other mothers who have nursed; reading well-respected and educational books like Ina May’s; finding your local La Leche League group; and calling the National Women’s Health Information Center Breastfeeding Helpline at 800-994-9662.

There are also many reasons why mothers and babies cannot nurse. For some families, supplementation or complete formula feeding becomes necessary to provide the baby with adequate nutrition.

It is paramount that every baby is nourished properly and whether or not that is through breastmilk or formula, only you and your pediatrician can make the decision that is best for your child.

I am planning to nurse my son for the first year of his life. That seems like a long time, but I know it will pass quickly. Everyone says time flies when you have a child, so I am savoring every minute, knowing that these precious moments with my baby at my breast will always be one of my greatest joys of motherhood.

Did you breastfeed your baby and if so, for how long? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments section, below, or Tweet me @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.

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