Archive for 13 May 2009

Ben’s story: The best breastfeeding advice, from the least likely source

Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! The May 2009 Carnival of Breastfeeding is about personal breastfeeding stories–read mine, then click through to read those of the other contributors!

This is the story of the best breastfeeding advice I ever got. It wasn’t from my midwife, though she was invaluable in helping us get started latching, and it wasn’t from the lactation consultants who talked to me on the phone and made a home visit when my baby was four days old. No, the best piece of breastfeeding advice I ever got was from my husband’s childhood best friend—let’s call him Ben—and it wasn’t even directed at me at all, but rather at my husband.

Ben and my husband have been best friends since they were eleven years old. As adults, in addition to being the best men in each other’s weddings (Ben was late to ours), they’ve played and worked together. When he’s with Ben, my normally reliable husband does things like drive to Mexico for five days without telling anyone. Ben and I have arrived at a truce by this point, but at various times over the sixteen years I’ve known my husband, it has been open war between Ben and me.

Ben and his wife had twin girls thirteen months before my husband and I had our baby. This drastic initiation into fatherhood may or may not have changed him—I’m not sure—but it did lead to one particular interesting moment. Ben was visiting us (you know, leaving his wife and eight-month-old daughters alone for a couple days 300 miles away—what was that about change?) when I was pregnant, and sitting around the dining room table late at night, he nodded at my abdomen.

“Are you going to breastfeed?” he asked.

I told him I was. I prepared myself for a battle of some sort, though I didn’t know what was coming.

He ignored me and turned to my husband. (“Typical!” I thought, in a huff.)

“Bobby, all I have to say to you, is never, ever, make any suggestions about breastfeeding. Just say nothing. Never engage the subject. Whatever she wants to do about it is absolutely right.”

At the time, four months pregnant, I wasn’t sure what to make of this statement.

When my baby was born, though, he had trouble latching at first, so with the guidance of our midwife and lactation consultant I started both pumping throughout the night to build up my supply and nursing using a silicone nipple shield (awkward and messy, and almost impossible for me to maneuver in public places, which was discouraging to say the least). I never supplemented with formula—I personally was adamant that I did not want to—and my husband silently supported me through it all. I have to figure that he did, after all, take his friend’s advice to heart: he would put his hand on my back, hug me when I cried in frustration, tell me vaguely that I was “doing a great job,” and run to get a clean saucer for me to put the nipple shield down, but he never made any suggestions that I stop or use formula.

Two weeks after birth, however, my baby spontaneously weaned himself from the nipple shield, and my husband must have breathed a sigh of relief as breastfeeding got immeasurably easier for us.

Now, though, almost nine months later, we’re reaching another critical test of Ben’s advice. All of a sudden people are asking when I’m going to wean my baby, as though the same behavior which was admirable a few months ago is now about to cross a line and verge on the inappropriate. Watching our long-legged son crawl up to me, grunt at my breast, and then sprawl to nurse, my husband did say, once last week, that he wondered when I was going to stop breastfeeding. “When Marcus wants to!” I snapped. “But what if. . .” my husband began. “Honey,” I said, “remember that thing Ben said about supporting me in whatever my decisions are about nursing?” My husband was quiet, and just put an arm around Marcus and me as the baby kept chugging along.

For now, at least, Ben’s advice is getting us through.


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13 May 2009 at 1:52 pm 8 comments

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