About Breastfeeding: Facts They Don't Mention in the Books
Now that my breastfeeding adventure is nearing the end of the weaning phase, I look back in amazement at the fact that I successfully breastfed for this long.
If you had asked me in the first few weeks postpartum how long I would nurse, the answer would have been, "I'm trying for three months." At three months, I would have solemnly sworn that I would never go a full year, much less fifteen months.
I thought I would celebrate this achievement by writing advice to first-time mom's planning to breastfeed, but a glance around the internet reminded me that there is already plenty of advice written on the technicalities and benefits of breastfeeding, including basic trouble-shooting guides. All of those sites seemed so interesting back in the day when all I could think about was imperfect latch and delayed infant weight gain.
In retrospect, all the information offered is rather repetitive, and though necessary and uplifting to those in need, it barely scratches the surface of what really happens when you breastfeed your baby. Therefore, I thought it might be more fun to do a little tongue-in-cheek tribute to all the mother's who have survived the not-so-text-book breastfeeding phase of child-rearing.
The Image Of the Nursing Mother
Picture it in your mind:
- The covers of handbooks on breastfeeding
- Scenes from movies
- Magazine ads
- Classical watercolor paintings...
All depicting glowing women (don't you love Photoshop?), dressed in a beautiful, flowing pastel gown with their shiny hair spilling down over their creamy shoulders.
A rosy pink infant is clasped in their well-manicured hands is either latched beautifully to the breast or hidden in such a way that you can only imagine he is latched perfectly, as the Most Beautiful and Serene Mother Ever smiles down at him.
Notice that the house around her is clean, that she has no dark circles under her eyes, and that even though she is sitting in a rocking chair while holding her bundle at chest height her arms show no sign of wearying.
Yep. That's what I imagined it would be like as well. From the minute she was born my daughter would be embraced by a serene, beautiful smiling mother in a flowy gown. After she was born I would no longer need to sleep and would gracefully float to her side in the night and hold her in my arms while she nursed.
That illusion disappeared so quickly it actually made a sound like a bag of flour hitting a concrete driveway. Poof. Beginning with the fact that pastel clothing is highly inadvisable for the next 18 years after baby is born, here is a look at the truths about breastfeeding.
1. Breastfeeding Feels Weird
You may read that it hurts at first, then gets better. They may say eventually you don't feel anything but "gentle tugging".
Keep in mind these are the same experts who still try to convince women that certain exams only feel "uncomfortable" and that labor feels like "pressure".
Regardless of whether it hurts or not, breastfeeding feels weird. It can be just a slight annoyance, or it can escalate to the point where you want to bribe the baby with a lollipop if he will just let go of you for a minute.
Just about the time you and baby become comfortable with the positions and methods of nursing, and you realize you can sleep while baby eats because that weird feeling is easily ignored, baby will sprout a few teeth. Just because they don't bite doesn't meant that it feels great.
Even with a good latch, there is going to be a certain amount of scraping until they learn how to eat around those pearly whites. The sensation is probably close to what it would feel like to have your toe licked by a cat for an several hours without a break.
Breastfeeding Survival Kit
What you will need to make life easier:
- Ice Packs
- Electric Pump
- Milk Storage Bags
- Nursing Pads (washable pads are best)
- Breast feeding pillow
- Support From Others
- Snacks and Water
- Sense of Humor
2. Breastfeeding Changes Your Body
Breastfeeding can do strange things to your body. It starts with the cramping it causes in the postpartum weeks and spreads out to wreak havoc with other parts shortly after.
It can make your legs tingle, your head ache, and your mouth to go dry. You might have only eaten for one and a half during pregnancy, but once baby learns how to nurse like a pro, you find you have the appetite of a sumo wrestler.
If you are lucky, all that extra food will go straight to production, and you will lose pounds in the process. That might not seem like such a great thing though, when your pre-pregnancy clothes no longer fit and your post-pregnancy budget doesn't include a new wardrobe.
Not only are you doomed to months of frumpy nursing bras and damp blouses, but now your pants fall off whenever you stand up. What's worse than that? You could be in a permanent state of hypoglycemia (low-blood sugar) if you can't eat enough to keep up with all the milk production.
3. To Pump or Not to Pump
There are many reasons why some mothers choose to pump. A few examples might be:
- To improve milk supply
- To provide breast milk for bottle feedings
- For health reasons
- To ease engorgement when facing a separation with baby
- For over-supply
When mentioned in breastfeeding books, "pumping" or "expressing" milk sounds very clean and easy. Simply a matter of a "whisper quiet machine" expressing milk into cute storage bottles. They hardly prepare you for the reality of pumping.
If you are a horror movie fan, the pump may remind of you of the film " The Mangler ". The combination of hissing and chugging doesn't do much to help you relax so your milk will letdown.
Make sure you read the manual first and adjust the dials accordingly. Otherwise you might find your entire body sucked in to the one of the tubes and you will be stuck there until someone thinks to come looking for you. Breastfeeding feels weird. Pumping feels downright wrong.
You Can Make Breastmilk Butter!
Yes you can! It is as easy as pie too. Just dump a bottle of breastmilk into a jar and shake until butter forms. What a neat idea for a baby starting solid foods. Their very own butter! What they don't say is that it takes at least three days of vigorous non-stop shaking to create a thin coat of butter on the side of the jar.
4. What Happens If You Produce Too Much Milk?
You might be asking, "What could possibly be wrong with having too much milk?"
My heart goes out to women struggling with low supply, because it is a serious issue. That is why I won't laugh at them. I will laugh however at those of us on the other side of the spectrum.
An over-supply of breastmilk makes for some unusual issues. It can be very uncomfortable to carry around those extra gallons, the weight of which no nursing bra was designed to handle.
If you pump to save milk for whatever reason, those two cute little bottles included in the pump kit probably won't do the trick. Luckily the 12 oz standard size bottles screw onto the kit, but don't even think you will look glamorous while pumping quarts of milk into a bottles covered with dancing elephants.
Storage is an issue too. If you have gone through all the hassle to fill up 5 or 6 bags a day, you probably want to freeze them for future use. It doesn't take long for those bags to add up and take over the freezer.
Six freezers later, you might be wondering why you are hanging on to all that extra milk. Are you kidding? What if there is an emergency...such as a national milk shortage because all the dairy cows went on strike? You are prepared!
5. Sympathy Milk Can Be Embarrassing
Babies might show a preference for Mom's breasts, but Mom's breasts might not be so choosy. You might discover that any crying baby will trigger a letdown at the most inconvenient time.
Usually in the middle of the grocery store. It might not even take a real baby. Some women can respond to babies on television, thoughts about babies, or even baby animals.
Sometimes this begins before your baby is even born. Suddenly, the world is full of crying babies that you never noticed before. Luckily, this usually goes away after your baby is born and he or she becomes an established nurser.
However, if you have to be separated from your baby for a long period of time, ( to your baby and your body that is about thirty minutes), you may discover that thoughts about your child will trigger that sympathy milk just the same.
This can be very awkward if you are shopping. Or at work. Or in class...
- Never wear dangling earrings unless you want to know pain.
- Use baby Orajel to soothe nipple pain
- Go to the bathroom before you start nursing
- Nurse in the bathtub
- Don't feel guilty if you supplement or switch to formula
6. Babies Have No Shame
To be perfectly honest, babies can be perverts. Once they are old enough to know where the milk is stored you might find that they feel you up every so often just to see if things are still where they are supposed to be.
They may or may not be satisfied with a grope. Some like to take a quick peek. Even if this is in front of a hundred other people.
Most babies will be happy enough to keep their hands on Mom, but a few won't mind checking out the competition, peeping or pinching anyone who holds them to see what they might be hiding under their shirts. Including Dad and Grampa! Good news! This is when covetous relatives and friends stop asking to hold the baby quite so often.
Its not just your baby, either. You may notice other breastfed babies giving you the eye when you walk by, or reaching for you at family gatherings. They might prefer mom, but if she's busy her baby might be looking for a snack bar.
7. Breastmilk Grosses Some People Out
Sure, we know that breast milk is the preferable food for infants. We, like all mammals, produce it specifically for feeding our babies. Yet it is surprising how many humans actually get grossed about by the actual milk.
Maybe that is a good thing in this age of strange diseases. Or maybe sad. After all, people will kiss someone they met only minutes ago, and sleep with an acquaintance they met yesterday, but recoil in horror at the sight of a bottle of breastmilk in the fridge.
When babies eat at Mom's Diner and then regurgitate, it can cause a panic attack among friends and relatives.
"Quick! Get something!" they yell. From thirty feet away.
8. Pets Are Attracted to Breastmilk
Think babies have no shame? Wait until you get around dogs and cats! The smell of that warm milk will suddenly make your chest a focal point for pets. This can be rather embarrassing if they aren't your own pets.
If you think it is difficult expressing milk when you are relaxed, trying doing so under the watchful stare of a cat. They swish their tail, lick their lips, and make you wonder whether or not they are going to attack if you look away for a moment.
Final Thoughts on Breastfeeding
Yes. Those are but a few of the seldom told truths about breastfeeding. Here are a few more:
- Your body will no longer be your own
- Your baby will kick you in the throat and almost kill you at least once
- You will smell like sour butter
- You will accidentally taste breast milk
- You will spend the majority of the day with your breasts exposed
- You will soon be able to break down, clean, and reassemble your pump with the same proficiency a marine uses on a gun.
- Learning to breastfeed is easier than weaning.
Still, at the end of it all, you will realize you wouldn't have traded those experiences for anything in the world.
If you are like me, you will plan to do it again, because we have graduated from newbies to experienced mothers. Even though all babies are different, there is no problem that we can't tackle and solve. Right?
So to all the breast feeders and breast feeders to be,
Happy Nursing. It really can get better.