The Real Talk: Breastfeeding
“Breast is best!”
The phrase that haunts every new mom, young and old; the slogan echoed across pediatric healthcare and labor & delivery staff at the mere sight of a newborn.
One of the most unexpected, frequent questions I’ve received since having Izzy is:
”Are you breastfeeding?”
I don’t care if people know I’m breastfeeding. I just didn’t expect people to care. On top of that, I would’ve only expected other moms to care (with questionable agendas and motives). But so far besides other moms, I’ve had multiple grandparents, a couple women without children, a speech therapist, a JC Penny retail associate, and two fathers ask as well.
Y’all, breastfeeding sucks.
That’s right, I said it. Breastfeeding sucks.
Oh, I’m sorry, you didn’t understand what I said?
It makes you tired. It makes you sore. It makes you hungry. It lowers your sex drive. It gives you hot flashes and mood swings. Your breasts leak milk constantly. It makes you thirsty. It makes you sleepy. It makes your back and shoulders hurt. You lose bone mass. It makes your boobs lumpy and saggy. Overall, you just start to feel like a piece of rundown equipment.
As I’m writing this, every lactation consultant, pediatrician, exclusively breastfeeding mom, and booby juice lovin’ baby probably just cringed with horror and disgust.
But here’s the thing. I’m tired of the romanticized idea of breastfeeding; the idea that because it’s natural means it should come naturally. For mother. For baby. There should be an instant connection. It should always be done if physically possible.
That’s a lot of shoulds.
Going into the hospital for labor and delivery, the last thing on my mind was breastfeeding. Preparing for breastfeeding before the baby got here seemed like getting ready to go to a party before you were even invited.
I was a little nervous. I was still being cleaned and stitched up when Izabella asked for her first meal on the outside.
I had no idea what I was doing. I felt silly for asking my nurse to show me how to get Izzy to the breast. Izzy latched and sucked fine initially, but it hurt.
Hey, is it normal for this to hurt?
”You should feel pulling and tugging, but it shouldn’t hurt. Here, try this.”
I attempted to hold my breast and position it the way she showed me, but it didn’t seem to help. I kept quiet. I was too happy to have my baby in my arms to care if it hurt or not.
We’ll figure it out later.
My next project was feeding myself. You can’t feed baby if you don’t feed you (sometimes I need this reminder now). I ordered some chicken strips and corn from room service, and scarfed it down hastily.
What a glamorous first meal as a mom.
Eventually we were moved to a recovery room, where our families came to meet Izabella for the first time. We visited for a few minutes, then Izzy woke up again to eat.
So we breastfed again. It still hurt.
I had a new set of nurses in my recovery room. And with them came completely different advice.
”No, honey, don’t hold it like that. Your fingers will distract the baby from eating,” she said as she moved my hand away from helping Izzy take my breast. She then recommended I use my finger to open Izzy’s mouth a little more.
A different nurse came in later and noticed Izzy pulling off a lot.
”It looks like you’re having trouble with that position. You should try the football hold.”
What the heck is football hold?
The nurse explains. I position Izzy the way she described.
I think she wants me to grow a third hand.
”No, not like that. You need to turn her body more this way.”
Maybe you should just feed my baby since apparently I don’t know how.
You are also instructed to wake the baby up every three hours to eat, day or night. Most newborns are so sleepy in the first few weeks of life you have to wake them and continue to keep them awake throughout the feeding so they don’t lose too much weight.
So every three hours, Izzy and I were at it again. Trying different things, hoping it would get better.
The next morning, a lactation consultant came in to see how we were doing with breastfeeding. I explained how I was hurting some on one side when I breastfed the baby, but I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.
The LC examined Izzy’s latch and how I was holding her:
”Everything looks good. Just keep making sure she’s taking a deep latch every time. Use lots of lanolin.”
What’s wrong with me?
“Do you have a pump? You really should get a pump just in case you can’t breastfeed.”
Can’t breastfeed? Why wouldn’t I be able to nurse my baby? I don’t want a pump. That’s for quitters. We’re doing fine, and I can order one through my insurance anytime if I need it.
My husband insisted we take one home, so reluctantly I did. I turned my head away as tears welled up in my eyes. I managed to mumble a thank you as she walked out the door.
Eventually we left the hospital, came home. Now I was left to figure out this whole breastfeeding thing on my own. No nurses, no LCs, just me, Izzy, and a (highly supportive but) non-breastfeeding educated husband.
The first week at home was hard. The day we brought Izzy home, I was scabbed up, bruised, and feeling defeated by my battle with breastfeeding. I dreaded it, cried through almost every feeding from pain, and found myself feeling very sad and confused.
This is supposed to be magical and wonderful, but right now it just sucks.
My husband suggested pumping and I adamantly refused. That’s giving up. This is the only thing I can give her. It’s what I’m supposed to give her as her mother.
Because I was stubborn and our latch still wasn’t right, I ended up having to pump against my will to get rid of a plugged duct, which is when the milk has no way out (because of scabbing or blisters) and it builds up, creating a lump, pain, and/or redness and firmness in the breast.
So magical, right?
There I was. Sad. Frustrated. Angry. Sitting for hours pumping, massaging, crying.
I pumped for the entire first month of Izabella’s life; giving her bottles at night, working on breastfeeding throughout the day. Too prideful to call another lactation consultant, I poured hours of research in, tried new things, and continued to hope and pray for the best on my own. And thankfully, it got better.
But the reality is this; for some it never does.
For one reason or another, millions of women will never be able to breastfeed their babies, or are forced to wean before they want to.
Some women have had surgeries that prevent their bodies from producing milk. Some women just never do produce milk, or not enough. Some women have their babies premature and can’t pump enough to breastfeed while baby is in NICU. And some babies just never learn how to latch on.
And you know what?
Advancements in science and nutrition have made formula to be so much better for baby than ever before. Believe it or not, babies actually gain weight faster on formula. Skin to skin contact while bottle feeding gives baby all of the love he or she needs. It’s not the same, but it’s still great!
And even if mom is producing, baby is latching, and physically there’s no reason not to breastfeed, there could be other issues. Breastfeeding is mentally and emotionally difficult.
I think the “breast is best” slogan needs to die. While breast may be best for baby in some ways, it’s not always best for mom.
That being said, for the second month of Izzy’s life she was exclusively breastfed (mostly because momma was tired of washing the parts and never getting to sleep).
I am so happy I have been on this breastfeeding journey with Izzy. But I also realize that every family’s needs are different than mine. And choosing to do otherwise isn’t “quitting,” or “giving up.” For some moms, the best thing they could be doing for their babies is pumping or bottle feeding.
And that’s okay.
Many people will make it their business to suggest how, why, and when you should breastfeed. Many people will share what they think about your method of choice in feeding your baby. Many people will tell you that your baby is crying because he/she is hungry and you better go feed them (like seriously, this happened to me and what the heck?).
If you choose to feed your baby formula, feed them expressed milk, or breastfeed, expect people to be offended. If you are one of those fearless gangster moms who boldly breastfeeds your baby in public, expect people to be offended. And if you choose not to disclose your method of feeding, expect people to be offended.
But no matter what, just remind yourself that you’re a great mom.
“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears you never knew existed.” -Linda Weeten