Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Musings on Breastfeeding

So I've been wanting to share my thoughts on breastfeeding and I think the time has come.  Now I know what you're thinking,  "C, whyyy? This blog has gotten sort of TMI lately and breastfeeding is all you ever talk about anymore and who caaress?  Also, is Alyssa ever going to post anything again?  Her life seems like it might be a little bit more exciting than yours."  Well, calm down people, and get over it, because the fact of the matter is, as a new mom I happen to have a lot of opinions about this that I need to get out and obviously with all the uproar around that Time cover, I'm not the only one.  So let me just get this out and then I promise to give it a rest and maybe I'll even write something non-baby related for a change.

I'd like to share my experience, my "journey" if you will.  It's just one mom's journey and it's not over yet, but I need to get it out.  
Breastfeeding is hard.  
Maybe not for everyone, but for me it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do and it's not getting any easier. And the reason I talk about it all the time, is because it is ALL CONSUMING, basically a full time job that I am kind of sucking at.   When I first found out I was pregnant, I didn't really have strong feelings about breastfeeding one way or the other, and most of what I did know was rather, shall we say, "me centered."  Breastfeeding helps you lose massive amounts of baby weight: positive (and PS, not happening).  You can't drink while breastfeeding:  negative.  All I knew from my own mother's experience is what my dad was able to tell me.  She tried and it didn't work out so we were all formula fed.  My ignorance on the subject, of course, changed very quickly because as soon as you start dipping into pregnancy research, advice about breastfeeding becomes rampant.  The most basic of pregnancy literature will all tell you the same thing.  It's best for the baby, much much better than formula, with useful antibodies that your baby needs.  And it makes sense, breastmilk is made by your body specifically for your baby.  My doctor strongly advocated for breastfeeding.  Posters around the office encouraged it and Beth Israel, my hospital, was a "breastfeeding hospital" so all the nurses were trained in lactation consultation and were very prepared to help you (aka shove your nipple in the baby's mouth with a much greater force than a tentative new mom could ever adequately muster).  I know that people say that our country makes it so hard for new moms, and I do feel that way to an extent.  There are a whole new crop of challenges that have come up with my return to work.  Business trips are already in the books and pumping times need to be scheduled ahead.  But the biggest challenge for me has been my own body.  Why has it been so hard to fulfill this basic need of my baby that is supposed to be natural and instinctive?    I've never tried so hard at anything and with such moderate success (except maybe softball, but that's a whole different post, haha).  I knew it would be hard.  I was forewarned and it helped to know and mentally prepare ahead of time.  I figured I just needed to power through.  All the pain, all the feelings of inadequacy - I was prepared for them and knew I just needed to make it over the hump.  The only ones who will tell you you don't have to breastfeed are other mothers who have failed at breastfeeding and the pregnancy literature makes it very clear that you should ignore that kind of advice and just give breastfeeding "a few more weeks".  I knew the routine to not becoming one of those failed mothers.  Put the baby to your breast right away.  If you don't start feeding from the very second your baby is born, you are already off course.  Don't stop feeding.  Fight through the pain.  Pump if you have to.  But whatever you do, don't give up and succumb to evil formula.  Your baby will thank you for it.  After all, breastfeeding not only gives your baby useful antibodies, but it builds a bond and foundation of trust between you and your child that will last a lifetime, right?  I'm not so sure.  That is a lot of pressure for any new mom, who just gave birth and now is the only source of sustenance for this tiny little life in her hands.  In many ways breastfeeding has defined my experience as a mother, and when it's not going well, that's kind of hard.

And it wasn't going well, not at all, right from the start.  Every two hours Charlie and I struggled and cried together to try to make it work, to get that latch that we both so desperately wanted.  Erik would entertain our guests as the baby and I struggled through feedings together in the nursery every hour.  My nipples bled and stung and I knew from my books that we weren't getting it because it's not supposed to hurt, but all I could do was keep trying. A week in I went to a lactation group where I saw my own desperation staring back at me on the faces of five other tearful new moms, all with the war wounds to prove it.  Still, we must not give up urged the lactation consultant as she held her rather large child to her chest to show us how it was done.  If, worst case scenario, we had already screwed up our milk supply beyond repair, we should look online for black market breast milk to feed our babies.  All modesty was long lost as we in turn demonstrated our lack of breastfeeding talent for the group.  Why wasn't it easier?  Charlie seemed as lost as I was but also STARVING, crying and frantically rooting around for my breast but once faced with it as clueless as his mama as to how to really get the milk flowing.  The first two weeks were a constant struggle and I just wanted to enjoy having this cute little baby and be able to look at something besides his ear as we switched from a Boppy to a MY BREAST FRIEND and struggled to perfect reverse cradle and football holds.  Could the benefit of breastfeeding really outweigh this misery my baby and I were suffering through together?  Several times the mister put down his foot.  "That's it, he said.  We had formula and we were fine.  This isn't worth it." But "what if?" I thought, "what if we could have been better, smarter if we had only been breastfed?  We don't know!"  I cried on the phone to my dad, a rarity these days, and he recalled the similar struggles my own mother had faced with me, as I hungrily wailed and fussed until they were finally able to fill my belly with formula.

Still, I persevered because I had known it would be like this and two weeks in I finally felt we were making progress.  Until we went to charlie's doctor appointment and found out he had gained, um, NO weight.  "He seems hungry," she observed.  So we started supplementing with evil formula, but I stubbornly refused to give up, even while the sharp pains persisted with each feeding, even as Charlie got better with one breast and not the other (not a good look, girls, not a good look, if you know what I mean.)   Even with some formula, I figured, the antibodies, he still needed these superhuman antibodies that only my body could produce.  The next week Charlie came down with a horrible cold and cough.  Babies that young aren't supposed to get colds and he was BREASTFED FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.  How could he be sick??

Yes, at some point it got easier, and I did feel like we made it over some sort of hump.  The pain went away and sure, it is a nice nurturing thing we can do together (if you like just being a pair of breasts to someone, which isn't for everyone, granted.)  I did start feeling kind of special. I had the goods, the one thing that could make Charlie happy.  Except when he wasn't eating, he seemed kind of discontent, borderline angry, and dare I say it, hungry, and I was still plagued by the new mom questions.  Is he getting enough to eat?  Is there something in my milk that is making his stomach hurt?  Does he really need to eat this often or should we try to space out feedings?

And now, since Charlie started daycare, feedings have been a struggle all over again.  At first, not being able to feed him gave me such a physical reaction, it felt like a part of me was missing.  I (literally) felt so detached and I wondered if Charlie felt the same (it definitely seemed like no, honestly).  It can't be right to feel that way. Is that all I am as a mother?  If I'm not feeding my baby from my breast, am I worth nothing?  I know logically this is not true, but I question the influences of the past year that have taken me to this emotional place.  And now we start to face the true challenges of keeping this up as the months progress.  They've been feeding Charlie way more per feeding at daycare than we would at home and there is now way I can match that supply in pumping (though I desperately try twice a day locked away in a conference room praying nobody interrupts.)  Has he been starving these past three months?  Who even knows?  Just this past weekend, Charlie has actually begun shunning the breast in favor of his precious bottles.

I know breastfeeding should be natural and it makes so much sense.  But I question if we've evolved to somewhere else because it did not come naturally to me or my baby or many, many other mothers i know.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed EXCLUSIVELY for the first year.  Do you know how hard that is?   Especially in a society that was mostly raised on formula, and frankly, isn't all that supportive to begin with.  And do you know how much it SUCKS  as a new mom to not be able to follow this basic guideline that has been implemented solely for the health of your child because your own body is so resistant to it?  I know everyone's experience hasn't been this way but I know a lot of other mothers for whom it has.  To me, it seems like some babies really take to breastfeeding and others just don't, biology be damned. My books tell me that I should keep going at all costs, for at least a year, that I should not schedule any trips and come home at lunch if I have to (are you KIDDING me?) and frankly, that hurts.  I am not in a position to be a stay at home mom and while I know some people are able to make it work, sometimes it's just not possible and I wish I didn't have to feel horrible about that.

So as a belated mother's day gift to myself, I'm going to stop feeling horrible about it, or at least try.  Everyone knows stress decreases your milk production anyway, so really what is the point?  I'm not ready to give up yet, but I'm starting to realized that if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out, and I'll just have to start skipping over those breastfeeding chapters in my books and start figuring it out on my own.


PS Just had a thought.  Maybe if I had been breastfed, I in turn, would be better at breastfeeding and/or better equipped to deal with the emotional challenges of breastfeeding.  Something to ponder, cuties. ;)

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