Monday, April 23, 2012

The Truth About Breastfeeding- My Unfiltered Journey

I recently had an expectant mommy ask me about breastfeeding. She knew that I was passionate about it and a big supporter of it. She also knew that I had faced challenges with it and wanted to know "the scoop" on breastfeeding. This is my response to her and to all soon to be Mama's.

I had some heads up that breastfeeding would not be easy. I was aware of the drastic change it would make to my lifestyle and to my body. I was aware that it was not going to come like second nature. I was even prepared for rejection and condemnation from those who are uncomfortable with public breastfeeding. However, knowing all of this did not prepare me as much as I had hoped that it would.

Breastfeeding Is Not Easy

Super passionate breastfeeding advocates don't want you to know this. Maybe they think that if you know from the beginning that it can be difficult you wont do it. Maybe they fear that the already low number of breastfeeding mothers will drop even more if they are honest with us from the beginning. I seek honesty and the truth and so I am going to be honest. BREASTFEEDING IS HARD!

Yes, there is something instinctual about it which I think helps tremendously. There is a reason why Lactation Consultants exist and why they cost so much money. Breastfeeding is hard. It requires training of both you and the baby. It requires patience and more than a little finesse. Sometimes it requires equipment. We don't live in communities of extended families anymore where there are multiple generations of females living in the same house, who are there to provide council when you need it. As in my case, my grandmother is no longer living but even if she were she bottle fed all three of her children. My mother breastfed for the first couple of weeks but for many reasons didn't breastfeed longer than that. Formula feeding has been popular just long enough that we have lost knowledge of this art (yes, it is art). The thing I think lactation consultants give that is more important than any tips, tricks or equipment reviews, is confidence. Once you have the confidence you need to battle through the first couple of difficult months you are golden.

The first months are filled with trial and error. You have to face breastfeeding with a "can do attitude" and you have to be creative. This is where I think knowledge becomes power for the breastfeeding mother. The more you know about it, the more suggestions and tips you know, the easier it is going to be to try something new when you hit a bump in the road and things are not working. I can recall several times when my husband was on the computer Googling an issue and giving me feedback on what the web suggested to do to solve the problem. We used all the tools we had and I couldn't be afraid to try something new.

My son went on a Boobie Strike just a few days after we came home from the hospital. I don't blame him the bottle was a lot easier to eat from than my boob (which was bigger than his head at the time). He would scream bloody murder when I would try to put him in position to feed. He would push away from me and turn his head. I felt like I was wrestling with my newborn and it was breaking my heart. I felt rejected by him and I was afraid of damaging my relationship with him. This was a time when my husband was Googling and my son and I were crying. We even went to the doctor and explained the traumatic feeding ritual that we were going through. The doctor checked us both out and pronounced that my son was being stubborn and was a lazy eater! The doctor suggested pumping until my milk let down and then latching him on. He also suggested no perfume, body spray, smelly lotion, and even deodorant until the problem was resolved. Since smell is one of the ways babies identify their caregivers these artificial smells could be confusing him and keeping him from wanting to latch on. It turns out that we had read all these things online...

When my son was about two weeks old the sore nipples hit. I had two very dear friends of mine who encouraged me and told me that it would get better. I had to power through, sometimes I still have to power through. Being is pain is never fun but with the help of nipple creams and a great breast pump I had the tools I needed to see myself through the uncomfortable times. The nipple soreness does go away but sometimes a bad latch and/or a too hungry baby can be just the right combination and I am a little sore again. The best thing I can do for myself these days is care for my nipples and breasts. This includes a good nursing bra. I think good breast care will see you through a lot of challenges in breastfeeding. At around three months my milk supply evened out and I stopped becoming engorged. I also make sure that I pump before I go to bed so that I do not wake up with engorged boobies at some ungodly hour.

Your Breasts and How the World Sees Them

I have already written a blog about public perception and breastfeeding. My opinion still stands that many mama's give up on breastfeeding because not only is it difficult and time consuming, but also because the world is cruel to you about it. Even within families, where a new mama should be safe and encouraged, disagreements can bubble up over it.

The trouble is that we do not live in a world where we supply this type of confidence to our mothers. Girls are told from the beginning that their breasts are sexual, that they need to hide them and never let anyone touch them. Then when they become teenagers media encourages girls to "put them out there" and let the world see their assets. If yours happen to be small than you should get them enlarged so that more people will like you. When you become a mother their true purpose if finally revealed and you are again asked to hide them and never let anyone see you feeding your child with them. How confusing to be a girl.

I have to admit that I really hate covering up when I am in public and trying to feed my son. I do it, not because I think it is the right thing to do, but because I want to avoid nastiness from others about it. I am simply avoiding conflict. Getting into a yelling match with a stranger in pubic is not the values I want to teach my son and honestly it wouldn't solve anything. I have flashed a few people by accident, but I am also dealing with a squirming little boy who is hungry. My son thinks my breasts are great, they feed him, they comfort him, and they are a great place to take a nap. He holds them, pets them, and even rubs his face in them in public, often while I am talking to someone. He will even randomly pull my shirt down on his own now when he is wanting a snack. He doesn't know that the rest of the world has a problem with seeing them and would deny him these natural needs and comforts if they could.

All of My Son's Problems are Solved at My Breast

This statement really says it all. If my son is tired, hungry, scared, hurting from a vaccine or bump on the head, uncertain, over stimulated, crying or unhappy for any reason my breasts solve it all for him. All I have to do is latch him on and there is instant calm. They give him much more than food they give him peace. How I wish there was somewhere I could go and have instant peace. When my son gets his vaccines I latch him on as soon as I can. If I can't comfort him any other way, I latch him on. If he is tired and fighting sleep, I latch him on. All I have to do in put him in the right position and show him my nipple and he begins to quite. It is amazing. It is wonderful and I believe exactly has God intended it.

When I took my son to our first Mommy and Me Yoga class it was overwhelming. There were 16 moms and 17 babies in the tiny room. It was noisy. It was hot. It was chaos. Nothing I did would get my son to quiet for very long. After about 30 minutes we were both struggling. I stopped rocking him and trying to distract him with toys and I just sat right down on my mat and nursed him. We both calmed down almost immediately. He drifted off to sleep and I took my first deep breath.

I don't know how I would be able to provide that kind of comfort to my son if I didn't nurse him. I don't know how that works if you bottle feed. I am sure that there is a way and that mama's figure it out. I just praise God that I am able to provide this to my son. It is moments like the one in our yoga class that make all the other struggles worth it. It makes sore nipples and engorgement a lot less of a trial.

Pumping It's Not Just For Cows and Plumbers

One of the best things I did when my son was born was start pumping right away. I started pumping within 12 hours of his birth. I didn't just nurse him, I pumped for 10 minutes after he was done (5 mins for each side). I continued to do this until my supply came in. Since my son was little and a lazy eater pumping allowed me to build a supply that still supports his eating needs and even gives me extra milk for storage. At four months pumped twice a day (in the morning after he eats breakfast and at night before I go to bed). At seven months I pumped once a day (before I went to bed) unless I know I am going to be away from him and then I pump before I leave. Occasionally,  I feel like I need to pump. There are several books that will tell you that you don't need to pump until you are going back to work and some books will say you don't need to pump at all. I say start pumping right away to help build your supply and establish a store of milk. It also helps relieve engorgement. I have written a blog on the pump that I use if you want to know my opinion on that.

Breastfeeding Is Time Consuming

Yes, breastfeeding is a time suck! No pun intended... The first two months of my sons life were the most challenging. We lucked out with my son because he wanted to eat every 2.5 to 3 hours. When he growth spurted he would eat closer together. By the time he was a month old he would sleep 6 hours at a stretch during the night. The first two months though, I felt like all I did was feed my son and pump. It was hard to go places. By the time I finished feeding him, got myself ready and both of us in the car...it was almost time to feed him again. When he was about three months old things began to even out and he could go a little longer between feedings. By four months he was sleeping 7-8 hours at night and could usually go 4-5 hours unless he was going through a growth spurt. Between feeding and pumping I was not able to get much done. I still have to keep in mind my sons feeding schedule and I have to stay aware of how long I am away from him.

There is an App that I downloaded for my phone that helps you record how much time you spend nursing and pumping. It was about 8-9.5 hours of my time. Breastfeeding is a full time job. I can understand why employers are so upset about lactating mothers returning to work. By law a lactating mother has to be given the accommodations to to pump. She has to also be given the time to pump without penalty. Considering that pumping can be time consuming. I also understand why mother's stop breastfeeding when they return to work. Working and breastfeeding would be an incredibly hard balance.

Even though breastfeeding is time consuming I remind myself that this is one on one time with my son. One day soon he is going to be a big boy and he won't want to cuddle with mama. One day all too soon he will be a teenager who won't want to hug me or be seen with me anymore. There will one day come a day when he has a problem I can't fix. Before I know it he will be an adult and going off to college and moving away from home. I will do my best to cherish our nursing time, this time that I get him all to myself. This time when I am able to solve all the troubles he faces in his world and I will be thankful for this time.

Responses From Others About Breastfeeding Abilities

I have found myself having conversations with women who either have children and did not breastfeed or women who have not had children yet about breastfeeding. What I have discovered is that there are many women who will make "excuses" (I am not intending to be condescending) for why they didn't breastfeed or why they don't think they will. I have heard such things as "I am not expecting to be able to breastfeed because my mother couldn't.", "My sister didn't make enough milk so I don't think I will be able to either", or "I didn't think my baby was getting enough to eat."  My personal favorite has been "My breasts aren't big enough." 

Women are made to feel that they must give some justification as to why they are not breastfeeding. What I hear when women tell me these their reasons for not breastfeeding or why they think they can't breastfeed is a lack of confidence. It also seems to me that women are told by society that they are not good enough and so when it comes to breastfeeding it is easy for us to believe that we are not good enough to do this as well; that our bodies have failed us in meeting the expected standard yet again. I know that some women have medical reasons why they cannot breastfeed and I completely understand. This is not intended for you. What I think mama's really need is confidence, resources, and a commitment to give it your best shot! 

There are many things you can do for low milk production. From increased water consumption and teas to prescription medication. There are pumps to encourage things a long, there are special devices to put on your nipples if they are inverted or flat, there are nurses that will come to your home and coach you. In some areas there are even nursing mothers support groups. If you really want to nurse you just have to want to do it and be willing to try everything to make it work. If you have to give your baby formula so that they get all the nutrition the need that's okay, but you can still give them what milk your body does produce, even if it is not much.

We live in a world that makes everything easy for us. In the hospital they gave my son formula and it broke my heart. When the nurses weren't around I nursed him and when they were around insisting that he be given formula my husband gave him the bottle and I pumped. They even sent us several days worth of formula home. Some how I ended up on a mailing list and was mailed several canisters of free formula. It would have been very easy to simply make a bottle. I would have gotten more sleep. Our first month would have been a little less stressful but I personally could not give up. I was determined to nurse my son.

I believe in my heart, medical conditions aside, that if you really want to nurse your child you can. However, if you don't really want to nurse that's okay too but own that. Don't make excuses, no one expects you too. It's okay if nursing isn't your thing but be honest with yourself about your reasons.

So Why Do I Breastfeed...?

I recently read a blog by a woman who had nursed all three of her children. She was not writing to encourage mothers to breastfeed. She was writing to tell them that they had been lied to by health care professionals and that all the studies they had done to prove that breast-milk was better than formula was flawed. She stated that she believed breast-milk wasn't really all that better than formula. She went on to state that women who consider breastfeeding free don't value their time, that it causes inequality in marriages,  in sets women back in the workplace, and that it keeps women from doing any work of real worth. I could state lots of reasons why women should breastfeed. I could throw study after study at you to prove my point, one way or the other, but there isn't a single study that represents why I breastfeed.

I breastfeed because I am a mother. My opinion of becoming a mother is that it is the greatest act of humility and submission. I must humble myself enough to put myself last and my child first. I must submit to the needs of my child and my family. This often means putting my own wishes and desires aside for the greater good of my child. Speaking about women in terms of submission and humility are inflammatory for most feminists. However, as a Christian woman I strive to be humble and to fully submit to the will of God. I still fall short of these characteristics. My son, however, has taught me a tremendous amount about what humility and submission really mean. I do not worry about my career or about money because these things are not really important. I do not worry about inequality in my marriage because my husband and I both have strengths and we both have weaknesses. Together through Christ we are made whole. Being whole is more important to me than being equal. Breastfeeding my son connects me to something greater than myself. It connects me to all of my female ancestors. It connects me to God in a special way because I truly understand what it means to grow and nurture a very delicate and precious child. It connects me to my creator and reminds me that He is a better planner than I am.

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