Mariann McKeever and Malachi (16 months)
My Breastfeeding Journey began with the birth of my eldest son almost 16 years ago. I, myself, was nursed for almost three years in an era in which women, especially non-white women, were encouraged to feed their children formula. This is probably why I always knew that I would breastfeed my own children. I didn’t really see any other feasible choice. So when my son was born, I eagerly put him to breast the moment that they handed him to me. When the lactation consultant came around to help us, he was already perfectly latched and nursing himself to sleep. She said that he was a natural! This was very fortunate, because my two younger boys were not so adept in the beginning, and I imagine that if I’d had one of them first, I may have been more challenged. My oldest son nursed for about 15 months. During this time, my family was very supportive of my nursing endeavors, however, my (then) husbands family was not. I don’t think that they had anything against it they just had no familiarity with breastfeeding, and didn’t understand how to facilitate the nursing relationship between myself and my son. Unlike my family in which all of the children had been breastfed, in his family he and his siblings had not been breastfed, his mother had not been breastfed and they didn’t even know of anyone who ever had breastfed for any length of time. Still, I managed to nurse him past my goal of one year. In retrospect, what I perceived then as his self-weaning was probably just a nursing strike, but I didn’t know that then. I was a bit sad when he weaned, but it was pretty mutual.
We can fast forward about 10 years and a second marriage to when my second son was born. My current husband was extremely supportive of my plans to breastfeed. He had been breastfed, as had his sisters and he was knowledgeable about the benefits as well! My middle son was impatient as a newborn. He didn’t bother to latch properly. He just slurped away. I learned to adjust his latch while he was eating, and eventually he got the hang of it. When he was one, we offered him cow’s milk, and he refused to drink it. We tried rice milk, almond milk and coconut milk. He didn’t want any parts of any of it. I was also concerned because he refused to eat red meat. So I continued to nurse him for the nutritional benefits. I felt that he needed to have at least that guaranteed source of nutrition. This was fortunate because he was hospitalized at about 20 months with croup, (exacerbated by a congenitally narrow trachea), and he was not allowed any food. I nursed him though, and it gave him comfort and sustenance until he was healthy again. That one absolutely loved to nurse. He once told me that it was “better than anything”. We weaned when he was almost 3. We discussed it and he was okay with it at that point.
Malachi is my third son. At this point, I am so secure with my body’s ability to sustain and nurture a baby, that I didn’t have any concerns. The worst moment of my breastfeeding journey occurred with him, though. I never suffered from serious nipple soreness with my other two boys, but when Malachi was about 5 weeks old, my nipples were severely cracked and damaged. The left side, (his favorite side), was the more painful of the two, and I was block feeding at that point, so I nursed him to sleep from the right breast and I left him in the care of his dad and his brothers and walked to the pharmacy in a blizzard to get a nipple shield because I couldn’t even imagine nursing him again from the left breast without trying something to mitigate the pain. I never thought of giving up, though. That was the only hurdle that we’ve had. Yes, I still have to wake up in the night to nurse my baby even though he’s 16 months old. Yes, I had to pump at work, and yes, those first few weeks were challenging each time, but for me and my babies, nursing has been our unequivocal choice.
Shortly after my third son was born, my husband was complimenting me on my parenting ability and he said that he was glad that he learned how to take care of babies from me, and how happy he was that our children were so content and secure. I asked him what it was that he found to be most helpful and he said “Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is huge. I wish more people would realize that.”