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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.