What Breastfeeding Feels Like: Myths, Facts and the Honest Truth
The Wild Wild World of Breastfeeding a Baby
I like to know what I'm in for, so before I started breastfeeding, I read the books. You know the ones I'm talking about. Books with titles like The Trillion Benefits of Breastfeeding (98th Edition)...The Nipple is Your Paintbrush, the Baby Your Canvas...Breastfeeding in a Thousand Easy Steps...the you-can-do-it, how-to, self-help books about breastfeeding that make you feel it's all under control.
But in the end, breastfeeding my baby blew the books' covers off their spines. My baby and I followed no book; we followed our guts.
Being an older mom, being a breastfeeding mom-- being, let's face it, an anxious, older, unconventional, take-it-to-extremes breastfeeding mom--makes for tumultuous breastfeeding.
What you're about to see is a glimpse into the world of my breastfeeding baby and me. It's not a pretty world. It's not a sanitary world. It's not a sentimental world. It's a world of agonizing pain and transformed identity, of mental blackness and regurgitant whiteness, of sacrifice, love and the need for a good chiropractor.
So here's how the breastfeeding thing went down for me.
Got Breast Milk?
If you think breast milk always ends up in babies, let me expand your thinking.
Breast milk gets on everything. Shirts and carpets and tabletops and shiny appliances. In the eye. On the pets. In both its fresh and semi-digested form, breast milk quickly soaks everybody's clothing. Windows and mirrors get splattered. Bags of breast milk clutter the freezer, burst and overflow inside the fridge.
The breast is a hose, the house its garden. The stuff that comes out is stickier than jelly and messier than barbecued ribs.
No feng shui sanctuary, ours.
Pregnancy Ain't Over Till It's Over
Hey, here's a flash! I'm still pregnant! I think it's called the fourth trimester of pregnancy, or extended pregnancy, or something like that, that means “you aren't out of the zone yet, sister.” Because during breastfeeding, a woman's normal hormonal state (whatever mythical beast that is) never actually resumes; one remains in a sort of twilight zone of extended pregnancy. Hormonal fluctuations are now the rule, and the new mom must obey.
Regrettably, it does tend to catch him unawares.
HIM: "Hey, babe, how about a stir-fry for dinner?"
ME: "Stir fry? Stir fry? I can't believe you'd suggest I'm fat now."
HIM: "Ah. When was your last period again?"
ME: "What? Why are you asking? What are you implying?"
HIM: "Yeah, maybe pizza, then."
ME: "Because FYI I'm in an even better mood than yesterday. Where are you going? I'm talking to you..."
The Many Faces of Latch
All those breastfeeding advice books and how-to-nurse-your-baby websites and lactation consultants are absolutely necessary for modern breastfeeding moms. We need them, since our own mothers aren't able to teach us how to breastfeed. The experts, remarkably, all say the same thing. There's a right way and a wrong way for a baby to fasten his mouth to the breast.
Ri-ight. Maybe the experts don't lie. Maybe my baby's just a latch outlaw. Or maybe his latching habits reflect his budding seven-way-split personality.
Latch the First: "I'm ravenous! I shall devour you now."
Latch the Second: "I'm feeling too mellow to stop the nipple slipping out every few seconds, so live with it, woman."
Latch the Third: "Now I sip the very tip like the finest champagne and drive you insane."
Latch the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh: "I want this one. Now I want this one. Now I want to look at Daddy. Now I want it again. No, the other one. But I'm really not hungry after all. No, wait, maybe I am. Now I heard some noise in the other room....Hey, where are you going? I want to practice Latch the Third."
Motherhood Amnesia Has Pregnancy Amnesia Beat
She may have breastfed me, but her memory's blocked that period away in a secured file, and she's lost the password. Fairly soon after I started breastfeeding, I learned not to ask my mother for advice; the only thing it accomplished was to make her feel insecure. (You are aware, aren't you, that insecurity in a mother can rebound dangerously on the offspring?)
"Mom, remember when we were babies?"
"Of course, sweetheart. You were such a quiet baby. You slept through your whole first year."
"Did you breastfeed my brother?"
"You know, I don't remember."
"Did you stop breastfeeding me when you found out you were pregnant with my brother?"
"You know, I don't recall."
"Did you ever get mastitis?"
"You know, I'm not sure."
"Honey, you slept through your first year. You didn't cry at all."
"You keep saying that! But how did I learn to crawl if I slept through my first year, huh? Tell me that."
"I don't remember. But it's true. You slept that whole year."
"I slept? Or you slept?"
Poll: How Does Breastfeeding Feel for You?
Do you (or did you) like breastfeeding? Which answer best describes your feelings about it?
There Is Romance After Breastfeeding
I'm not being immodest, really I'm not. It's just that it's so much easier to plop down with baby and offer him a breast than it is to plop down with baby, wedge the girl out of layers of confinement, and re-build the whole dollhouse afterward.
So I've gotten into the habit of walking around without a shirt. And as long as I'm sans top, I see little point to bottoms. I mean, I'm not going anywhere for a while. I'm in nursing seclusion or something. At least it feels like it.
So one day we're expecting guests. In a festive spirit, I dig deep to find underwear, slacks, and a top. My husband, catching sight of me fully clad, stops and stares--and then his hands are all over me, and when I gasp, "What's the occasion?" he utters throatily, "Baby, you're dressed."
And I all of a sudden feel awfully sexy...
But Is the Baby Really Hungry?
Cooking with a baby around is a treat and a torment—a treat because it means I'll finally get to eat something, a torment because that won't happen without multiple setbacks. I'm in the middle of cooking dinner at the broiler.
I say, "Are you hungry?" and try to translate his response. The parenting advice books all reassured me that I'd come to know my baby's cries with a familiarity that borders on invasion of privacy. Yet, as I've learned, this child's vocal and wiggle responses can mean anything from "Feed me now, and I do mean NOW" to "I dunno, I could eat, but I'd just as soon play with that rattle under the table" to "Au contraire, I'm thinking of spitting up the last meal."
So I offer. And he refuses. Repeat five minutes later. And five minutes after that. It's hard for a woman to keep her dignity with this kind of thing.
I offer again, expecting rejection. Only this time, while dinner burns merrily, he drinks gustily.
Feeding a baby by breast is more like a dance than anything else. A square dance. And the baby calls it.
Lullaby and Badnight
I had a choice. No constitutional law or Dr. Phil prohibited my stashing the infant in another room for the night. And I'd have done it, too, if I were willing to go mad with exhaustion. But the circus of back and forth, back and forth, cry and run and feed and rock, cry and run and feed and rock, proved too chaotic for me.
Of course, moving the baby to the marriage bed meant one or two small sacrifices. Rethinking the linens. Rethinking the sex life. Rethinking, as the baby rolled off the bed, the bed frame.
Now he hollers, I roll over, he gulps, and we're both back asleep in a flash.
I'll give up my blankets, my bed, and, for a temporary period not to exceed X amount of time, the Deed. I won't give up peace-of-mind, convenience, comfort, and sleep—for what it's worth.
It Feels Good for the First Five Minutes
One word. Chiropractor.
Wait, three more words. Carpal tunnel syndrome.
See, it's simple. If one starts a breastfeeding adventure with a bad back and a hefty bosom, one should expect to finish with a worse back and carpal tunnel syndrome. Those painstakingly drawn nursing position diagrams don't change the basic fact that nursing a baby is not like nursing a cocktail. Babies weigh more, and so, if you're me, do breasts.
Be the Breast
I don't feel like a cow. No, I feel like a pair of boobs with legs. Really, I've developed an entirely new relationship with these suckers. They're the subject of conversation at breakfast. I think nothing of lifting my shirt to squeeze an areola to see what my supply is like. I cup 'em while I'm cooking to feel how full they are, squeeze and massage 'em at the dinner table to juice 'em up for Junior.
"You must feel very female," says a girlfriend who opted out of breastfeeding.
"No, the word that comes to mind, actually, is mammal..."
The stuff's darn tasty. The day I found out I'm a virtually endless supply of vanilla milkshake was the day I almost robbed my child to feed myself. See, I'd heard of one lady who made ice cream from pumped breast milk and ate it herself. I'm so, so tempted, but what if it gives me mad cow disease or something?
Breastfeeding and Sore Nipples--The Untold Story
It was one of those freak accidents so implausible that a sensible person wouldn't even try to convince someone else it really happened.
So, okay, here's what happened. I'd just nursed and the nipple kind of stuck out. Not that I was paying attention--until I went to load the laundry into the dryer and briskly slammed the dryer door shut on my nipple.
I stifled my scream, went back to bed, and then when the baby woke up, fed him in silent agony.
Okay, here's my real problem. There's a lot of advice to be found for injuries sustained due to baby's bad latch or mom's lack of experience, but nothing--I mean a total dearth of concrete recommendations--about attacks by your laundry appliances and how long it takes resultant milk blisters to heal. Hint: salve is divinely soothing. Lansinoh
But it's not like this is an injury I can bring up with my lactation consultant, not without knowing full well she'll be serving it as an anecdote at the dinner table. "For privacy reasons, I can't tell you who this happened to, but one of my patients went to do her laundry after breastfeeding..."
I Spit (Up) In Your Soup
Spit-ups are, quite simply, a personal affront.
What? It wasn't done to your liking? You're sending it back? I suppose I don't get a tip, either. Hey! It's okay. There, there. You want more, sir? Of course. Rare, medium, or well...?
It's Not All Madonna With Child
You know the scene. Misty-eyed mother smiling down into baby's eyes as baby beams back at her. Oh, it happens. At first. But it's like marriage. Once you get over the first glow, you stop spending all that time gazing tenderly into each other's peepers.
Now I gaze into space, wondering if I have enough celery seed left for coleslaw. The babe reaches out his hand to flick my lower lip over and over and chuckles each time it goes plub-plub. I find my glasses yanked off, my ring pried past the knuckle, and my still-tender-from-birth abdomen frenetically kicked--all of which is the baby's version of reading the newspaper at the table.
Then I happen to glance at him and he happens to glance at me and--well, you know the scene.
There Is One Thing About Breastfeeding...
I look at my child. I see he's grown big and tall on breast milk. I'm proud as anything. I say, "I did that!"
And you know, I did.