Breastfeeding: Sometimes it sucks

My husband and I went to a breastfeeding class at the hospital where nurses explained the biology of nursing: Amniotic fluid-smelling secretions, darkening areolas, milk let-down etc. We were awed by the biology. Breastfeeding seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of such a symbiotic system?

When Wilson was born, I got to see how the whole shebang worked — and it wasn’t as seamless as the Power Point presentation suggested.

Frankly, for me, nursing was was hard.

Not HARD hard. A friend recounted a story of her nipple repeatedly opening like a canyon and spewing blood. Another cut the front out of a sports bra so her chafed boobs could get some non-contact support. One actually said that labor was easy in comparison to enduring breastfeeding (she had a 2 day labor).

My difficulties came in the form of blistered nipples, plugged ducts, a low milk supply and getting a tiny baby to latch deeply (a deep latch is the holy grail of nursing).  I visited lactation meetings, drank fenugreek tea and read a lot of websites. Here is what I learned about breastfeeding.

It’s different for everyone
Some people are natural breastfeeders. One buxom friend had a blissful nursing experience, “I turned into a f*cking Earth mother. These things (motioning to her chest) had to be good for something.”

Others weren’t so lucky (see above).

After struggling a bit with latches and supply, I went to a weekly lactation group and the other mom there had what she called, “a gusher.” Her milk stream was like a fire hose down her kid’s throat. He got plenty of milk, which he’d promptly upchuck all over his bib.

It can always be worse.

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It can take a long time
My biggest shock was how many hours I would log nursing. After downloading a breastfeeding ap for my phone (who knew?!), I was shocked to see that those first few months I was spending up to 7 hours a day feeding Wilson.

The logistics of feeding never occurred to me pre-baby. Then Wilson was born and I learned that he should eat every 3 hours — which starts at the beginning of each feeding. So if he takes an hour to eat (which he usually did), he’d be ready to eat 2 hours later. Those 2 hours seemed like seconds when my nipples were on fire.

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Your rack is on display
My sister-in-law breastfed her firstborn for 3 years and I could never tell definitively whether or not she was nursing. I, however, am not that graceful. If you’re over during feeding time, you’re going to see my boobs.

In my normal life, friends and family aren’t privy to my naked bosom, but in the early days of nursing, my parents, my in-laws, and my friends have all seen my boobs.

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Pumped milk is like liquid gold

Pumped milk is freedom. If you have milk in the refrigerator, your husband can take over a midnight feeding, a grandparent can administer a bottle for a night out — anyone can feed that baby.

Sadly, I don’t make a lot of milk. The first month or so, it might take 4 or 5 pumping sessions (which are tedious when your sore nipples are feeding every 3 hours) to make enough milk for one feeding.

I keenly remember dropping Wilson off at my mom’s house with one of my precious bottles “just in case.” When I came back, I saw the nearly-cashed bottle on the table. “He almost ate the whole thing!” My mom beamed. I simultaneously sought to hold back tears while looking for ways to store/transport the last quarter of an ounce at the bottom of the bottle.

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Lactation consultants can be hands-y
One expects a certain amount of man-handling during lactation consults. Some however, seemed more hands-on than others.

“You really should continually compress the breast as you feed,” said one while grabbing a hold of my boob and milking. After about 5 minutes of massaging and squeezing she continued, “You might even want to do areola compressions…” which is just as appalling as it sounds. After this particularly violating session, I came home and Googled “lactation molestation” (nothing came up).

***

That said, A lactation group can be really helpful
Trained experts can often see what the problem is after a second of watching you feed and offer boob-saving tips (Thank you Ramona at St. Joe’s!). Talking to other nursing moms makes you realize that everyone (or at least many) have issues with breastfeeding. And it’s just nice to get out of the house and not worry about messing with your baby-feeding schedule.

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It doesn't always work
You don't make enough milk, your baby is ravenous beyond your supply, your baby isn't learning to latch, for all these reasons (and then some), you might not be able to nurse, even if you desperately want to. 

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Everyone has an opinion
Not everyone in my life was supportive about my breastfeeding (you know who you are!). I had people in my life trying to push formula on me with the verve of a crack dealer.

“My coworker breastfed for a long time and her boobs turned into 2 empty wallets,” offered one formula pushing person. At every cry, another would insist she heard the “nuh” sound indicating he was hungry. “You should just give him some formula.”

While there are huge upsides to formula (you know how much the baby is getting, it’s fast, anyone can feed him), the more formula you feed him, the less milk you make (it’s a part of that whole amazing system).

I have nothing against formula. In fact, I supplemented Wilson with formula while I was nursing. As a person with auto-immune issues, I really thought it was important to give nursing my best shot.

It’s a decision everyone has to make with their own body, mental state and lifestyle in mind.

You're pregnant! Now what?

You’re probably getting tons of advice from friends, family and strangers on the street on how you should proceed from here on out. Here’s a little bit more…

Drink enough water

I didn’t drink enough and had to be on bed rest for a week with low amniotic fluid. Drink up!

And while you’re chugging down all that water, try adding a few prenatal vitamins. My sister-in-law is a naturopathic doctor and recommended Rainbow Light Prenatal Petite tablets, available at Whole Foods.

Get a few pregnancy staples

A giant body pillow
I initially resisted the giant body pillow. "Why do I need a special pillow?" I thought. Wouldn't it be just as easy to put regular pillows between my knees, behind my back, etc.?  But starting month 6 or so, I'd wake up in the night with throbbing hips. "You should put a pillow between your knees," suggested…everyone. Finally someone recommended the body pillow, which seemed like a more reasonable suggestion than a $250 pillow top. I slept well throughout my pregnancy and months after.

Stretch Mark Oil/Cream
A friend gave me her leftover oil, swearing that it left her stretch mark-free. Who am I to argue? I used that oil I can now boast no stretch marks and my (old) skin has pretty much returned to pre-pregnancy elasticity. (Friend tip: Don't forget to use it on your boobs!)

Maternity Jeggings/skinny jeans
I lived in these for the duration of my winter pregnancy -- and then for awhile post-birth. I paired the stretchy denim with t-shirts, swingy sweaters and some strappy boots.

For summertime pregnancy, however, stretchy maxi-dresses seem to be a popular choice.

Some other cool maternity shops:

And then a lot of baby stuff

My husband and I really didn’t want having a baby to become a huge consumer affair — until it did. Once our son was born, we were fielding daily deliveries from Amazon with things we needed (?). The baby is spitting up constantly — we need burp cloths! Uh oh, he keeps breaking out of his swaddle — let’s try sleep sacks!

There are a zillion things to buy for your new baby. Here are a few things you’ll definitely need:

If you're driving, a car seat
You can’t leave the hospital without one. My husband and I really liked the base that had a snap-in carrier. If the baby was sleeping, we didn’t have to pull him out of the seat — and we had a built-in place to put the baby where ever we went.

Diapers
Have an array to try. Like any pair of pants, different brands fit all babies differently. I know people who swore by Huggies. For us, Huggies equalled blow-outs. Seventh Generation was our best choice for newborn diapers. My friend loved Pampers Swaddlers' color strip that lets you know the diaper is wet. Once my son got older, we used Honest products for just about everything: Diapers, wipes, soap/shampoo, baby oil, stick sunscreen. Honest wasn't around when Wilson was an infant, so I can't vouch for the newborn diapers, but they have been amazing since he was about 9 months old — plus they are super cute. 

For diaper cream, we started with organic products: California Love and Burt's Butt Cream, but the stuff that really seemed to help his bum and make his diaper rash better, was good old-fashioned Desitin.

A place to sleep
Whether you are co-sleeping or planning on using in a crib, you’ll need somewhere for baby to get some rest. We had a pack-and-play with a built in bassinet we kept at the foot of our bed for the first four months, then transferred him to a crib.

A place to sit
Our baby came home with no place to sit. Sure we had a pack-and-play for sleeping, and a swing for napping, but when he’s not sleeping, then what? A nice reclined seat that’s portable. Something you can have next to you while you eat dinner or set up by the shower for when you want to be clean. Once he gets a little older, you can also add this.

Some other things to think about:

A nursing tank
If you’re going to breast feed (check out my post), consider a nursing tank. I wore a nursing tank under everything: T-shirts, kimono tops, cardigans. It covers your stomach yet provides easy access. I had a million.

Boppy
 While I was figuring out nursing and he was so small, the Boppy really helped get him in position. Later I used it to prop him up when he was learning to sit. A friend felt the My Breast Friend nursing pillow was more stable for nursing -- and what's not to like about that name?

An iPhone app
For me, it was seriously helpful. I used one for the whole year I breastfed. It tells you when you should feed, and how long you fed, which side you need to start with. 

Take a look at The Happiest Baby on the Block
If you have time, take a look at The Happiest Baby on the Block. My husband and I checked it out from the library (you only have to see it once). It gives some suggestions for dealing with a crying baby. While I’m not sure they all work, at least it provides a jumping off point.

Read Bringing Up Bebe
Reading about how Parisian women deal with child-bearing will make you both jealous and inspired. We might not have subsidized day care that serves our kids braised leeks, but we can glean a tip or two about raising unfussy eaters.

Since you’re buying all this stuff, you might want to think about signing up for Amazon Family. You get 20% off the stuff on your registry.

You’ll need clothes

My son wore newborn clothes for probably 6 months, but I had a friend whose baby skipped newborn entirely and started life wearing 3-6 month wear. Have an array of season-appropriate options in varying sizes.

Here are a few places with super cute and good quality clothes:

But also check out second-hand shops and hand-me-downs. Some of my favorite clothes came from my friend’s baby clothes swap.

Here's my Amazon store with many of the items I bought.