Sunday, June 27, 2010

Feeding Cedar

Cedar hasn’t been taking the bottle lately. This is troubling if I ever want to get away for more than a few hours at a time. He took it easily at first when he was around six weeks old and he quickly gulped down five ounces of my breast milk. But then we must have waited too long between tries, and the next time my husband offered it to him, he refused. Ever since then, it’s been a struggle. He might be coaxed to take a couple ounces over a couple hours, but mostly he’ll just play with the nipple, then spit it out—and that’s if he’s in a good mood. If he’s tired or hungry, he’ll howl and scream and finally, my mom or Matthew will call me to come home, whereupon I’ll rush to offer him my breast, poor baby, so hungry and upset he won’t even take it at first.

And then, he’s fine. It hasn’t been that long, so he’s not starving, and he’s not a baby to stay upset once his needs have been met. So he’ll go from crying and screaming to smiling and laughing within minutes.

I know it’s hard for my husband when Cedar won’t take the bottle from him, and when he sees how easy it is for me to placate him by offering him my breast. We don’t want him to learn that if he refuses the bottle, he’ll eventually (and in not too long) get the breast, so it’s best that I stay away during our attempts now, because it’s too hard for me to sit there and listen to him wail when we both know that I have what he wants. By that same token, I am not the ideal candidate to offer Cedar the bottle, because I would never last the hours it might take before he finally breaks down and takes it; I don’t know if I could even last for twenty minutes. It’s too hard when I’ve spent the first three months of my life doing everything in my ability to keep him from crying, to suddenly play tough love. Enforcing discipline has always been my weakness.

I don’t blame my baby for preferring and loving my breast. He came out of the womb with a natural instinct to root and suck, it was the very first thing that was offered to him after he was born, and ever since, he’s spent a great amount of each day at its side. Even though I’d taken a class in breastfeeding, I still was not prepared for how glued I’d be to that chair and boppy, how huge and full my breasts would become with milk, and how much a newborn baby needs to nurse. Cedar would often nurse for over an hour, and when he’d finish he’d be back on it within another hour or sooner. At night, I’d lie on my side and nurse Cedar in bed, but his latch was not always great, sometimes I’d finally get up and go sit in the living room after half an hour of him slipping and sliding off my breast, with me propped on my side, squeezing my breast with my hand to make a “nipple sandwich,” teasing his mouth open wide, and guiding his face in the right direction, all while trying to aim a flashlight at his mouth to aid the process, yet not shine it in his face so he’d wake up too much.

In the beginning, you had to feed your baby every two or three hours to ensure that they were gaining enough weight. Now, most nights I put him down around eight p.m., and he doesn’t wake until three a.m. for a quick snack in the dark. We no longer need the aid of a flashlight. Instead, all I do is wave my nipple in the area around his mouth and he will open wide and clamp on like a champ. Then he’ll wake again around seven for a longer feeding. During the day, though, Cedar still feeds every two hours, and sometimes more. I think I have an oversupply of milk, so he fills up fast on the “foremilk” which is less nutritious and sustaining, and doesn’t get as much of the “hindmilk” which would keep him going longer. But I also suspect that this boy just loves to nurse. It’s comforting to him, it’s how he feels safe and secure, and it’s what my breasts were made for. And after surviving the first month when it seemed I was nursing more often than I wasn’t, when his latch would sometimes hurt, I was getting clogged ducts, and when I was, frankly, sick of sitting in that chair, unable to do much else but surf Facebook—after surviving that first stage where nursing was more of a duty than a pleasure, I can now say that I enjoy nursing, that I love this special bond that I have with my baby, and that I already know it will be hard for me, and for him, the day we need to start giving this up.

What do I love about nursing? I love the fact that every nutrient Cedar needs to grow healthy and strong is stored inside my body; I love this symbiotic relationship, I love that we can go anywhere and I have what I need to provide for him. I love how easy it’s now become to rest his head in the crook of my arm, pull out my breast and nurse him, how we are no longer dependent on special nursing props, how his latch is now perfect no matter what, how we are old pros at this routine. And I love it when he stares in my eyes as he sucks, and sometimes pauses to break into a smile. I love the soft tickle of his mouth on my nipple. And how his mouth still moves in rhythmic sucking motions as he sleeps.

I also love how no one else but me can fill this role for him. I admit I felt a slight tinge of sadness the first time he took the bottle so quickly, sad to know that I could be so easily replaced. But mostly I was grateful, knowing that my future sanity would rest on his ability to take a bottle. Matthew was happy too, of course, that he could finally take part in this feeding routine, and be able to offer his son such an essential part of his life. I want Cedar to also associate my husband with nurturing and an ability to be fed. And I certainly don’t want it to be a struggle each time, and for Matthew to feel demoralized and rejected. So we need to keep working on the bottle, giving it to Cedar more frequently and deliberately, choosing a time of day when he is least tired and thus likely to refuse. Yet still I admit I am happy that Cedar will always prefer the breast, and that he will always associate mama with her unsurpassed ability to soothe and provide.

This might sound naïve, but I didn’t realize what a huge part of our life nursing would become. Matthew agrees, saying how breastfeeding is about so much more than just food, but more like medicine, for Cedar-- and for me. “You should write about how the umbilical cord never goes away,” he said when I told him I was writing this post. “Yes, it’s true. The phantom umbilical cord,” I nodded.

Nursing is the most intimate way of expressing the bond that exists between Cedar and I. At times, it can still feel like a tiring duty, yet now that we’re out of the exhausting, all night feedings, sore nipples, raw and ravaged stage, breastfeeding has become so much more of a welcome pleasure. A gentle, comforting ritual where the two bodies of mother and child, can, once again, join together as one.

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