No shirt, no shoes, full service. It was one in the afternoon and I was still in the bed, just like I had been for the past four days. I hadn’t cooked or cleaned all week, but I had finally accomplished the one thing I’d set out to do – breastfeed my baby.
Hance Joseph is my second child. Born via scheduled C-section on a sunny July morning, he saw his first breast when he wasn’t even an hour old. His sister, who had entered the world through a hectic crash surgery five years earlier, hadn’t nursed until she was a week old and the NICU nurses removed her nasogastric tube. Hungry for the first time in her life, she’d nursed with increasing energy and determination, bringing in my milk within a few days. She became a champion nurser, staying latched through every imaginable distraction. Breastfeeding baby number two, I was sure, was going to be old hat.
In the recovery room, I brought my wrinkly, worried-looking newborn to my breast, where he nuzzled, smacked lazily, and firmly refused to latch. No worries, I was told; he’ll get the hang of it. It’s early. The anesthesia is still wearing off. We’ll try again later.
And we did try again later. We tried, and we tried, and we tried. The nurses had me pump since my “lazy feeder” wouldn’t suckle. Foolishly, I had told my mother and husband to go home and rest, so every two hours, after failing yet again to feed my baby, I pumped alone in my hospital bed. I hobbled to the sink to wash out the pump parts. It seemed I had barely lain down before my baby was back in the room, ready to not latch once more.
I saw a lactation consultant. It wasn’t tongue tie, it wasn’t palate trouble; it didn’t seem to be any one thing in particular. My baby lost 13 ounces, and we were discharged with a hospital grade pump. I saw a lactation consultant twice more, but stopped going when I realized insurance wasn’t covering the visits. I had a lip tie clipped at steep cost, hoping that would solve my problem. It may have helped, but it wasn’t a magic solution. My baby’s weight gain stalled, and we had to switch to bottles, although I still brought him regularly, if futilely, to my breast.
I read, and I read, and I read about what to do. How could I feed my first baby so successfully and fail my second one? That’s what it felt like – a failure. A huge, fat, I-can’t-even-provide-basic-nourishment failure.
So my baby and I took a vacation. A nursing vacation.
I’d read about the nursing vacation on a few websites, including KellyMom and La Leche League. It didn’t cost any money, just time. As a new mama, I had a lot of that. That’s why, when my son was six weeks old, I took him to bed with me and didn’t get up for five days. (Okay, okay, I got up to eat and take care of other necessities, but I truly did hunker down with my little one in just about every other way possible. My husband took care of our four-year-old daughter, who was in full-day preschool, and he probably ordered a lot of takeout. I can’t really remember.)
The goal of a nursing vacation is to give your baby all the time he needs to learn how to breastfeed. There are no distractions. It’s just you, your baby, and your breasts. I tucked my baby into the bed next to me and kept my breasts at the ready, offering them to my baby whenever he showed the slightest interest. Sometimes he couldn’t quite latch, sometimes I had to pump to keep my supply up, and sometimes he got a bottle. It was more than a little mind-numbing, but dadgum if it didn’t work.
I’m not going to tell you that I arose like a phoenix on day five with a fat, exclusively breastfed infant. It’s more like I creaked out of bed like Swamp Thing, my fussy bantamweight baby adhered to my side, and went to the pediatrician for our umpteenth weight check. I still had to supplement with formula, but my days of pumping and feeding had (mostly) ended. My baby might not win any breastfeeding awards, but he can do it. He can nurse, and that was my goal.
Today, he’s seven months old. He still breastfeeds several times a day, in addition to taking a top-up bottle and an assortment of baby foods. You probably won’t see me feed him in public, although I have zero shame about doing so. That’s because he is very particular about how he breastfeeds. In the bed, with his mama, just the two of us. Exactly the way he was taught.