Friday, July 26, 2013

A Lesson In Breastfeeding

I want to start out by thanking Jamie for sharing her breastfeeding story. Throughout my pregnancy, I have tried hard to educate myself, and to get 'real' stories, both good and bad, from other Moms about what to expect.  Jamie's story is real, and although I support every mother in their decisions about how best to handle breastfeeding and believe it is a subject that each person can and should handle for themselves, I thought Jamie's story was a great read and definitely worth sharing. Enjoy, ladies! 


Alternative title: Why I breastfeed, even if it totally sucks

Warning: This is a long one. And one that may even stir up some controversy or prompt some of you to wonder, "Who the hell does she think she is?" So let me preface this post by addressing a couple things:

First of all, I have absolutely no judgment over any mother's decision to breastfeed or formula feed. I completely acknowledge that everybody and every body is different, and all of us moms do what works best for us, our babies and our families. The decision to formula feed, breastfeed, pump or a combination of any of the above, and for however long, is a very big and personal one. The following post about my personal experience with breastfeeding, particularly my trials and triumphs, is just that: a summary of my own personal experience. So please take it as that and nothing else. It's not me trying to convince you to go one way or the other. And it's definitely not me talking down to anyone from a holier-than-thou high horse about why breastfeeding is so awesome (because I'm gonna be straight up, there are some not-so-awesome parts about it). In other words, no judgies here ... and I hope you do the same.

Secondly, if you're uncomfortable hearing/reading about breastfeeding and its intimate details, let me stop you right now and redirect you to another page that may make you slightly less uncomfortable. But only slightly: Click here.

Okay. Now that I got those disclaimers off my chest (ha! look at that—an unintentional funny), let me begin. *deep breath*...

It's been 11 months, 1 week, 6 days, 6 hours and 5 minutes since I gave birth to my son. Which means I've been breastfeeding for about 11 months, 1 week, 6 days, 6 hours and 4 and 1/2 minutes. Long before Lucas was born, I made a conscious decision to breastfeed, if possible, for at least one year. I took a breastfeeding class so I knew what to expect. I read books pamphlets. I browsed a dozen websites. I talked to other moms who were doing it. And while those all helped, it still didn't prepare me for the emotional and physical rollercoaster I went through for the next several months.

I remember the first couple days when my son wouldn't latch properly. You'll hear everybody and their mamas tell you that breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, but unless you've been doing it since you were 5 (hope not), that's not always the case. (Luckily, there are hundreds of resources out there that can get you through these initial struggles if you choose to continue.) But even after we mastered the latch, I had other issues. I went through periods of uncomfortable engorgement, suffered through painful nipples and clogged milk ducts, and struggled with major feelings of insecurity about my body. With the help of a lactation consultant and lots of advice from Dr. Google, I was able to get over those humps (ha! another one) and continue successfully.

Still, I began to harbor feelings of resentment toward breastfeeding. From where does that loathing stem? Here's a glimpse:

I've had a love-hate relationship with my breast pump for months now, especially ever since I returned to work. Raise your hand if you're over that damn wheezing sound your pump makes.

I've cried over spilled milk. I've also cried over milk that I took out of the fridge and forgot about until the next day so I had to throw out my precious liquid gold (true story). There goes an hour of pumping down the drain, literally.

I've cursed the breast pump parts that take up the entire kitchen counter, not to mention the endless amounts of dishwashing. God, will the dishwashing ever end?! And that stupid little white membrane piece that keeps falling down the drain so I have to buy a new pack for like ... $6.99, really? For that little POS?

I've become tired of deciding my wardrobe based on whether or not I could easily breastfeed in it. ("That's a really cute shirt, but shoot, that neckline isn't very stretchy. Guess I'll just rock the same tank top I've been wearing for three days straight.")

I've endured the awkward stares and not-so-supportive comments from everyone—friends, family, coworkers, strangers, male doctors—about how I shouldn't expect to make it past a few months, especially after I go back to work.

I've fallen into pits of depression on days my supply was low, which would begin a vicious cycle of being stressed, which led to a lower milk supply, which stressed me out even more, and ... well, you get the point.

I've used my precious weekends to nurse/pump around the clock so my supply could catch up to meet my son's growing appetite. Can you believe they call it a nursing vacation? Yeah, 'cuz when you're on vacation, there’s a machine attached to your boobs virtually 24 hours a day.

I've cringed every time I had to take those gigantic fenugreek pills (are those for horses or something?) or drink a disgusting cup of fenugreek tea that tasted like black licorice.
I've used it as an excuse to not do things I would normally jump at, like spend a day at the spa or travel for work. Because even though I would love nothing more than a day to myself, it also means I would have to plan my time around feedings, or schedule in a pumping session to make up for a missed feeding, which means I'd have to bring my pump and a cooler to store the milk and ... *sigh* ... forget it. In the end, it's always so much easier just to stay home and nurse my baby on demand.

I've often felt like I was gonna pass out from exhaustion. Since breastfed babies digest milk more quickly, they get hungry more often. And growth spurts? They're also known as your baby's way of saying, "Let's take those three hours of sleep you've been getting daily and cut that down in half, shall we?"

I've preached to my friends that nursing is literally a 24-hour job that needs your constant attention ('cuz it is). You have to be mindful of everything you put in your body, from medicine to caffeine to alcohol to foods to which your baby might have an adverse reaction.

I've lost count of how many times I've said "I'm over this. No really. For real this time."

So now that I've gone into a tirade about the hardships of breastfeeding in these last thousand words, you're probably thinking, "So shut up, no one's making you breastfeed. Why do it then?" Yes, it's been inconvenient. Yes, there were times I felt like my body was a slave to my pump and I was so ready to throw in the towel. Yes, it's exhausting on so many levels.  But, there are also reasons I've loved it too. Here's why:
  1. It's saved me a lot of money. And let's get real, I listed this one first because saving hundreds of dollars on formula is a BIG HONKING PLUS in my book. 
  2. It's saved me from emergencies. Let's say I was stranded out in the middle of nowhere with no access to food or water. Or, a more likely scenario, I bring his bottle of milk but forget to bring the dang nipple. That's okay, 'cuz I've got these two puppies right here (and I never leave home without 'em), and that's all I need to save my son from his hunger meltdown. 
  3. It's saved me from the flu. Strengthening his (and my) immune system got us through cold, allergy and flu season. And now that he's in daycare and sharing germs with other kiddos, I’m hoping it’ll continue to do him some good. I'm pretty sure it's the reason that *knock on wood* neither of us have gotten seriously sick this past year. And for the times either of us were less than 100%, those magical breast milk antibodies did their job quickly. Is that where the term "nursing him back to health" came from? Because that would totally make sense. 
  4. It's saved me from a picky eater. We've only recently begun to feed our son solids/table food, and so far *knock on wood again* he hasn't rejected or been allergic to anything. In fact, he loves all the food we’ve given to him. And while there are a lot of factors that come into play in whether or not children become picky eaters, I like to think that breastfeeding had something to do with it. Also, they say that the flavors of foods you eat can be passed on to your baby via breast milk, and I think that's pretty neat. Hey baby, enjoy that Chipotle burrito bowl, and that bowl of pho with extra sriaracha sauce, and this whole bag of chocolate-covered pretzels. 
  5. It's saved me from buying medicine, because it's the freaking cure for everything. When my son had chapped lips, you know what softened them right up? Breast milk. When my nipples were painfully chapped during the first few weeks of breastfeeding, you know what worked better than those ointments? Breast milk. When my poor baby got a cold at two weeks old that lasted for several days, you know what helped clear his congestion? You guessed it: a few drops of breast milk up his schnozzle. What can't this stuff do? I wouldn't be surprised if it cured cancer. Oh wait, it just might. Which leads me to my next big reason... 
  6. It's saved me from some worries and gave me reassurance that, on some level, I'm decreasing both our chances of getting cancer. As some of you know, I have a family history of cancer. In fact, it's taken away the lives of two amazing aunts. So if there's anything I can do to reduce my risk of getting ovarian or breast cancer (not to mention his chances of developing diabetes, SIDS, Crohns disease, asthma, obesity, and respiratory infections) ... any way I can improve our odds by even .0001% ... sure, I'll try it. 
  7. It's saved me from a lot of heartache and allowed me to bond with my son in ways I couldn't imagine. Remember those baby blues that hit me around the "fourth trimester?" And the 3am feedings that went along with them? The only thing that made those sleepless nights bearable was the feeling that, for a brief moment, it was just me and him. Connected in a way that nothing else could or ever would. And now that he's a little older and starting to show his independence (like pushing my hand away when I try to stroke his hair, little punk!), breastfeeding reassures me that he still really needs and depends on me. 
  8. It's saved me from feeling like an inadequate mother. Because, especially in that first month when the baby blues were hitting me pretty hard and I felt like I was never gonna be able to handle this new job as a full time mom, I was confident that I was doing a good job with at least one thing. To this day I am still amazed at what my body is capable of. 
  9. It's saved me from myself. When my world is spinning crazily out of control, breastfeeding has literally forced me to sit, shut up, and calm down. Sure I sometimes multi-task while I'm nursing: baby in one hand and my cell phone/keyboard/pen/remote control on the other. But for those brief 15-20 minutes, I'm also prevented from pacing up and down the room with thoughts like these running through my head: "I'm never gonna get through work this week, this pile of mail is stacking up like crazy, are we out of diapers already, didn't we just do the laundry, I really need a manicure..." In fact, when my mind is racing like this, sometimes my son will look up at me from the crook of my arm and put his hand to my chin or lips (I swear) as if to say, "Shhhhhhh. That's nice, Mama, but just shut up for a second and pay attention to me, 'cuz I'm more important than alla' that buuuuullshiiiit." ('Course, I hope he's not cussing that much in his mind at less than a year old. Maybe when he's 2.)
So as you can see, in many ways breastfeeding has been a major thorn in my side. But in other, more amazing, ways, it's also saved me. It's been incredibly good to me and my baby boy so far, and I'm really happy about my decision to do it. So much that if/when I have more kids, I'll probably make the same decision. Luckily I had a pretty wonderful experience with my first baby, and I can only hope I'll be just as fortunate the next time around.

I want to state, for the record, that I'm truly, truly grateful I am able to breastfeed in the first place, and for as long as I have. I'm also extremely lucky that my job supports this decision by affording me such luxuries as a lactation room in our office and the opportunity to pump during work hours. God knows there are a ton of barriers to breastfeeding: physical, social, medical, occupational, etc. I know there are women out there who want to breastfeed and absolutely would if they could, but can't for whatever reason. So even though I've complained to hell and back about the inconveniences of breastfeeding, when it comes down to it I am really thankful that I can.

Also, I know I complain about breast pumping a lot in this post. In fact, most of my gripes about breastfeeding are actually about the pumping part. But even though I'll probably have a party once I'm ready to give up this dang machine (you're all invited—I'm designing embossed invitations right now), I'm really thankful that I can continue to give my son the benefits of breast milk while I'm away from him. I recognize how much easier we have it than our moms and grandmothers and great-grandmothers, many of whom had no concept of a pump, much less an electronic pump, much less an electronic double pump. What, you don't have to manually pump anymore? What, a machine does all the work for you? What, a pumping bra? Does that mean you can sit there and actually produce milk while writing an email or blow drying your hair or knitting or playing the piano? (Note: I've never done the last three, but the point is: I could if I wanted to.) Yup, our generation has it reeeal good, and we are spoiled brats up here in the 21st century.

I'll tell you right now, that no one else will ever understand the planning, preparation, science and emotion behind breastfeeding unless they have a pair of those suckers themselves. I think I heard the term "supply and demand" while I was pregnant more times than I have in my Economics 101 class, but I never really understood the concept until I started breastfeeding.

They will never understand why you prefer to feed your baby instead of give him a bottle when you're around. Because pumping is not as efficient as the baby's suck (ask any lactation consultant), and you need to do everything you can to maintain your milk supply. And because feeding him a bottle also means you would have to pump later on to make up for a missed nursing session. Who wants to pump for 40 minutes, all for a few precious drops of milk, when you could just feed your kid for 15 minutes and be reassured that he's had enough—no ounces to count?

They'll never understand that when they say things like, "I don't think he's getting enough milk," they might as well punch you in the face. Or boobs (it hurts more). 'Cuz even though the research shows that most women only think their supply is low when it's really not, the self-doubt that already exists if you're a first-time breastfeeder is increased tenfold when you hear things like this from other people.

No one will understand how much effort and work it takes to keep up your milk supply. Some lucky mothers are blessed with more than enough goods. But for others, like me, I have to keep at it. And breastfeeding is like dying your hair: Once you start, you can't really take a break from it and then go back when it's convenient for you. Nope, that hair's gonna keep growing, the roots are gonna show, and someday the ombré look won't be so popular. Hehhhhhh? I don't get it. Rewind: Breastfeeding is like dying your hair—It's a long-term commitment.

No one will ever truly understand how time-consuming, emotionally and physically draining (no pun intended) it is to exclusively breastfeed/pump, unless they've gone through it themselves. Not your husband, not your best girl friend who doesn't have kids, and not your son's male pediatrician.

And lastly, no one will ever understand but you, and only you, that when you're ready to stop breastfeeding, you're ready. And they can't convince you otherwise. Just like your decision to start in the first place, only you can decide when you're totally ready to end your nursing career and transition to a new phase. Your aunt, your lactation consultant, or even the AAP might try to change your mind, but no one can make that decision except you. And as long as it's your own decision, rest assured it's the right one. Breast assured.

Thanks for reading.


Fancy more reading material on breastfeeding (as if you haven't read enough at this point)? Check out a few of my favorite links on this topic:


Jessica said...

Phenomenal post! From an almost 10 month BFing mom :)

Sarah | Nurse Loves Farmer said...

Awesome post!

I think you have done a phenomenal job at breastfeeding your song you've gone above and beyond, and in my circle of friends and people I know, most would throw in the towel and just give formula. And that's totally fine too, but I commend you and take my hat off to you for going those extra miles. Both of my sons have only ever had my milk and that's something I'm extremely proud of. There's been many times where I wish I could go out with my formula-feeding sister in law...but I don't have any (or enough) pumped milk to go out, so I just stay at home with my baby. It's only a short time that we exclusively breastfeed them, so it's worth the "sacrifice" of my free time.

Caitlin said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this and being so honest! I have been breastfeeding for almost 11 months (8 of which I have been back at work), and I found myself nodding my head to every, single thing you said in this post... I'm so, so glad to know that my experience is, in fact, similar to someone else's!!

Eve said...

I've only just begun my BF journey with my 4 week old lil man, but can already totally relate to this. Fantastic post!!

Susannah said...

This is so great. My hubby and I are going to start trying for kids soon and I'm really trying to be as educated as I can be before we have them. What great info!

Amy said...

One of the most honest and totally real breastfeeding posts I have read. This is my second time around bfing and I totally agree with almost everything said. It's a tough journey but wouldn't trade it for the world.