Breastfeeding, nursing and human lactation.
Even as we approach the year 2012, American parents are still highly dependent on formula feeding their babies. Some babies need this alternative, and I understand it in those specific circumstances. This post is not about my hatred for Enfamil. This post is about breastfeeding.
Many mothers want to breastfeed desperately. Many end up not learning how to properly nurse, are not getting the right kind of support, pushed to alternative feeding methods and looked down upon during the whole process. They find it a negative experience entirely. Instead of empowering women and telling them “your body CAN do this”, you hear “oh, your baby isn’t getting XX number of ounces of pumped breastmilk, YOU NEED TO SUPPLIMENT!” and to me, the whole system is built to fail.
Hospitals send Similac sample bottles home with new parents, lactation consultants tell moms to “supplement” if baby is still hungry, WIC offers coupons to get formula for free. Mothers are required to go back to work 6-8 short weeks after birth. Pumping breaks at work are tricky and other coworkers can become resentful of this “special” treatment. For some moms, pumping is not even an option at all— even if (in some states) it’s your LEGAL right to pump at work.
Breastfeeding is NOT normalized like it should be in the US. Quite frankly, it is quite taboo and not talked about openly. I feel like breastfeeding NEEDS to be more of a public health issue then a parenting preference. Mothers need more support and resources for us to really see breastfeeding normalized. In this post I’d like to talk about my experience with breastfeeding, what I think you need/don’t need and what to do when you have issues. I hope you find it useful and informative.
Crap that you might consider buying:
The real beauty of nursing is… you don’t need to BUY anything. Just a supportive bra and a good water bottle are the only MUST HAVES I think. You need lots of water while nursing, always drink to thirst. You could pick those two items up pretty much anywhere and not pay very much. Here are some things I thought were useful. It’s not much, I’ve taken a minimalist stance since figuring out you just don’t need all that crap, as my favorite AP mom blogger put it, Code Name: Mama.
Engorgement is weird and happens all at once. A great bra for this is by Majamas. The material is soft and silky, which is great for those sensitive boobies. It’s not the most supportive bra but soooo comfortable. I also like La Leche League’s bras. I DO NOT like Targets’ Merona brand or Motherhood Maternity. These were so badly constructed, they gave me a uniboob look or deep gashes around my waist from super tight elastic. Not flattering. Not comfortable.
Nursing tanks or covers:
The tanks are AWESOME. The covers? Not. If you have the most observant baby on the planet like mine, they will notice the cover and promptly fuss about until it’s removed. Some babies don’t care. I’ve never met one that didn’t. Public nursing was hard for me, the cover makes it harder because it draws exactly the public attention you don’t want. My advice is getting a tank and wearing your normal tops over. Then nothing shows when you lift your top shirt, your tank folds down just like a nursing bra. Genius! I don’t favor any brand over then next, any nursing tank is good!
Can you fucking believe you need to wear a PAD there too? Yep. It really blows! I liked the disposable kind because I already had enough to wash with a newborn! But I’d rather have used something reusable and the next go-around, I’ll check out more options.
A quick trick I learned from the book, “breastfeeding sucks” is, if you’ve sprung a leak you can gently but firmly place the heel of your hand into your nip and it usually does the trick. Leaking tends to taper off by month 11 or 12, or whenever your body regulates supply. But you’ll need ‘em when you go out. A baby cries and you could start leaking. Very sad. But true!
Unless you plan to go back to work you really don’t *need* this expensive torturing device. Don’t borrow one from your sister like I did, you could introduce nasties by using a used breastpump. Luckily, nothing happened but I used the thing like crazy to up my supply in the early weeks, I probably didn’t need to do this, but it didn’t hurt anyhow. I ended up working a bit when my daughter was around 11 months old. If you are already on the WIC program, ask them about borrowing medical-grade pumps (these don’t count as used pumps, they have separate parts where the nasties can’t get in!). These medical grade pumps, well, they just work BETTER and this is the FREE option. One of the main reasons I wanted to breastfeed: It’s FREE yo!
Nip cremes, guards and shells:
All pretty useless, you could just rub olive oil or expressed breastmilk on those sore/cracked nips and you’d be fine. I bought the stupid cremes, they didn’t work very well. I also bought breastshells to keep my shirt from rubbing my poor, sad, red and irritate nips. They were SUCH a pain, I chucked them. They may have been super useful before baby to help my inverted/flat nipples but I was pretty clueless on this while preggo. Maybe because I knew not even ONE mama who breastfed before my sister, and she never had this lovely issue.
Let’s talk about a nipple gaurd. Yes, it did helped me. Very temporarily. My nipples hurt so badly, I needed the reprieve. Only problem is, I didn’t want my baby to get to used to the stupid thing, I wanted her to nurse on ME not some dumb silicone thingie. So, I used it in the first two weeks and gradually weaned from it. I read more about using them and heard horrid things about nipple confusion or nipple preference. It was seriously the LAST thing I needed. It only took 6 months for my nips to “toughen up”. Yes, you read that right. 6 goddamn months. You probably wont have this issue and it goes to show that if I can do it, you can too!
Holy crap, you have a newborn!
Oui vey. I will never forget how hard it was. You think you have all your ducks in a row? WRONG. I had so many issues and because of them, really never thought I’d make it to 6 months. The original plan. But omigod, was I determined! My sister did it, who was younger and had way less support then I did. She was my mentor in all this and something to aspire to. Support is really important. Make sure the main man/woman in your life is 100%. You’ll have 9 months to work on that…
Firstly, I had the bebe at a hospital that is breast-friendly. Or secondly, have your baby at home or in a birthing center. Once discharged, I was told to breastfeed on demand. This means when the baby wants it. This means: ALL THE TIME. I was also instructed to call my hospitals’ “baby line” if I had questions.
UM YEAH. I had questions. I was scared shitless. It was day 3 and my milk hadn’t came in and would my colostrum be enough? I got her to latch in the hospital, it tore my nip right off the bat, but she latched! I *think* she was swallowing but really, I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t feel anything special. I was just exhausted. After a day of being settled at home, I realized I was clueless. I called the baby line and made an appointment for a consultation. Mind you, this was on CHRISTMAS EVE. I was very fortunate they had a consult for me that day. Oh the memories!
How will you know your milk is *in*?
Good question! I am not the best at relaxing. I have an amazing, patient husband who was VERY HAPPY to let me take a few minutes to take a shower. This was day 3. The day before my consultation. I was relaxed enough for it to come in. It felt strange, I wont ever forget it. But I was also very happy to feel it. My bebe was getting hungrier and hungrier. I knew that. She would latch on and fall asleep, I thought she was getting enough. Nope.
The first feedings
Found out at my consult that she wasn’t swallowing a full feeding because the silly ass kept falling asleep! Of course. Just to make life easier right? Once I figured out the tricks to waking her up, she nursed great. But oh, my. nips. HURT. This is where the nipple guard came in. I could use it and it didn’t hurt! It was worth it to me.
The lactation consultant then tells me to pump because my supply isn’t great and sends me home with a sample bottle of formula. What?!?! That’s exactly what she should not have done. This was a method to derail me and my breastfeeding adventures.
Formula supplementing means you have to pump everytime you give a bottle and right away tells your body you need to make LESS milk. Pumping doesn’t have the same effect on the body as your babies mouth does. The more the mouth is on your boob, the more your body says “make some milk noooowwww!”. It’s the simple law of supply and demand. If you want to know more, please go to this amazing website.
In the consultation, they had me do compressions. This is where you massage the breast and squeeze the boob just about the areola. You can hear more swallowing if you do it just right, it’s very useful to get milk into a newborn before they fall asleep on you! Plus the more you empty the boob, the better. Bebe immediately went into a food coma during my first hardcore feeding. It felt AMAZING. I was so happy to see her swallowing I almost died right there. I knew from then on, I was going to do this, I was going to be successful at it.
How do you know the bebe is getting enough?
Ounces of breastmilk can’t *really* be measured like formula in bottles. Don’t panic, your body makes just as much as your baby needs. Feed on demand and often. It doesn’t matter how many ounces you pump. I know that is SO hard to grasp with modern society and our obsession with measurement. Trust yourself, you are able to feed a baby.
What goes IN must come OUT. Make sure you hit the correct number of wet diapers for your babies age, and you’re good. If your infant is screaming like they are STAAAARVING, well, they are, pretty much all the time. That doesn’t mean you don’t make enough milk, that means you need to MAKE MORE and if you put the baby to your boob, you’re good. Again, please read more here at this most excellent website.
I never had issues with low supply or ever got plugged ducts or mastitis, luckily. I advocate that new moms get support/rest in those early weeks. If you can, try and not go back to work for AT LEAST 6 months to stay home with baby. If the WHO and the American Academy of Pediatrics say to exclusively breastfeed (this means no water, no nothing!) for 6 months, staying home will make that possible. I found it helpful to not be away from baby no more then two or three hours and this wasn’t until 5 months. To me, this is a time to rest and regroup. To bask in the glory of wearing sweatpants, all day. To start a blog about nothing, to kiss every finger and toe and hold that sweet little baby. They really do grow so fast.
Learning to breastfeed is an art. It takes time. The baby does have some instincts on how to nurse right off the bat. But, remember that the baby doesn’t know all. The baby isn’t omnipresent. He/she needs to learn too. Practice on both parts is required. Whenever a little birdy whispered in my ear that I should “practice” nursing, I did. It was easy really, in that way. Seeing my tiny infant- with her doe eyes- stare up at me while gulping was so cool. I wanted to see it over and over!
Nursing the older baby and *gasp* toddler
You’ve just got the hang of things and now comes distractibility. Daughter of mine is the most “aware” person I have ever met, and still is. Figures. So is her dad. She would latch off and on and off and on. And this drove me insane. Using a nursing cover was useless, so I nursed in the car, a lot. I was too embarrassed to nurse in public because she would squirm and latch on/off so much it was just uncomfortable. I’m not one of those ballsy ladies who can whip it out anywhere. I do more now that I have a toddler, because I just don’t care anymore. But surprisingly, the little miss is way less distractible and wont move around so much anymore. She gets right to business.
Roaming hands… do they pinch and scratch and slap? Yeah, I know what that’s like. I think her self-soothing (a word I hate, but no other word for it) is to pinch mama. It’s so satisfying for her! What have I done to stop the assault? Try a little stuffed animal you can squish in between you, where they can grab and pinch. Just simply DO NOT allow it by unlatching and putting down the baby. This one is not so pleasant and I just didn’t do it. Or, you could just remove the hand that’s causing trouble, gently but consistently.
Biting is also a big problem for the older nursling. It usually goes right along with teething. My baby wasn’t into teether at all. She’d rather nurse. So I let her. I also used an amber teething necklace, but waited to buy one once she hit 12 months. Why? They are choking hazards and she really didn’t start to get teeth until 12 months. I don’t see how she could ever possible choke but I get the precaution. I really think they work and are very pretty. I just stumbled upon this blog about them and I rather love it.
Nursing in public. You’ve read about my love of nursing tanks. I’d also recommend getting tinted windows if you live in a hot climate, they help with privacy as well. I’ve nursed everywhere and you know what? You can do it in front of a mirror and have your husband look out for you, it still sucks. Until breastfeeding becomes normalized, this is just the way it is. I live in a pretty progressive state, California, and still get stared at. I’ve never been bothered though. That’s the most important part. Ask about nursing rooms or mothers rooms, they might exist in places you never knew. I went into a hotel who gave me a room for a few hours for nursing. AWESOME. Also- dressing rooms are GREAT places to nurse.
Tantrums, illness, teething. Most of these things are solved simply and effectively by nursing. If you decide to nurse past a year, these are 3 damn good reasons why. Nothing calms a bebe faster.
Weaning. I am not at this stage yet and hope it’ll happen naturally. After a year I’ve read that kiddos start the self-weaning process. I’ve noticed since her first birthday this appears to be true. I can go over 5 hours without nursing and probably longer if I had to. She really only wants to nurse in the morning, nap times and at night. This is the natural progression of things and I decided to let it be. It is each women’s decision to wean and should never be pushed either way.
Enjoy your baby. Enjoy the amazement of your body feeding a baby. It’s pretty darn cool.