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Dr. Booblove Or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love Nursing (in my own time)

Before I had K, even though I had decided to nurse, I wasn’t sure I bought into all the hype about the magic of breastfeeding. “It’s so much bonding,” they said. “Your baby will make eye contact with you and all will be right with the world,” they said. “The heavens will open up, angels will sing, and you will be forever grateful that you have this moment with your child,” they said. Okay, maybe they didn’t literally say all of that, but it was close enough and despite the fact that I witnessed the wonderful nursing bond between my friend and her child, I was not completely convinced that it was going to be that good.

And the first days – hell, the first weeks – proved me right. K had a decent latch and was an eager enough eater but this was. not. fun. And it certainly didn’t feel like bonding.  It felt like a breast attack that I was faciliating by carefully lining up mouth to nipple, “making a cheeseburger,” and helping my baby go at it. And for every battle won through successfully feeding my child, there was another melee on the cusp of commencement. I would get “a break” and what seemed like minutes later C would be saying, “I think she’s hungry.” And while I would like to believe that I always responded sweetly, “Of course, my darling, let me provide my precious child with the best nourishment I can,”  I may have sometimes said “are you sure?” or sighed or – on rare and stressed occasion – made a mooing sound as I trudged to the baby, prepared for whatever might come. And sometimes what came was simple and delightful but during the first weeks it was more often challenging and disheartening as the baby and I struggled to get it right.

“If you’re doing it right, it won’t hurt,” they said.  But even with a lactation consultant and doula approved latch, even with changing positions or putting my feet up or nursing more or less frequently, even though my baby was sleeping and gaining weight and clearly thriving, it hurt.  Sometimes (often) to the point of tears, through which I would gently talk to K, who might also be crying, and give us both a pep talk.  “We’re learning,” I said, “We’re both just learning. It’s okay.”  And I tried to make myself believe it.
And over time, it was okay.  Not great, just okay.  After the third or fourth week, the pain pretty much went away.  Not long after, K became more adept at finding my breast and I became much better at figuring out the positioning that worked for us both, recognizing a good latch, and responding more quickly to her needs.  Without the frantic pace of newborn feeding and the confusion about how to make it happen, I was able to experiment to see what worked best for us.  She gained weight like a champion, which made me feel good about my ability to provide.  And as I headed back to work after 12 weeks, I felt the loss of those daytime bonding moments, particularly as they were replaced with the cold sterility of the pump.
With the busyness of work and long days and long nights, I soon entered a period of ambivalence about nursing.  On one hand, I liked my connection to my child and the uniqueness of our relationship, particularly in a two-mom household in which we don’t naturally fall into socially defined neat and tidy special roles.  This was something for me and the baby.  On the other hand, I wished that C could partake once in a while, particularly at bedtime and in the middle of the night, particularly on nights where sleeping didn’t come so easily to her, particularly after nights when I was up several times and C rolled over in the morning and asked, “Did the baby wake up last night?”  The ambivalence only increased when we taught K the sign for milk and I felt more acutely both my strong and wonderful ability to provide for her and her desperate desire for something only I could provide.
“It was really hard for me to give up,” they said.  And while I had occasionally seen glimpses of how that could be, I mostly didn’t believe it would hold true for me in any significant way.  That is, until the past month or so.  Whether it’s because we are nursing less or because we are nursing better or because she is communicating more or because I miss her so when I’m at work or because it’s just so obvious how quickly her babyhood is flying past, something shifted and I find myself loving our time together.  I love the way she looks for me.  How she snuggles close to me.  How her little hands open and close enthusiastically when I say the word milk.  I love the way, in the middle of the night, she becomes a newborn again right before my eyes, her eyes closed as she finds her way to the breast, her body calm and still.  The way in this stage of head bumps and falls and those sharp silences before equally sharp cries, I can comfort her when nothing else will.  I love that my fiercely independent, determined baby is still, ultimately, my baby, and even as I celebrate her movement toward toddlerhood, I cling to the moments of pure baby, recognizing just how brief they are.
Is nursing still a pain sometimes?  Yes, now and then.  Do I sometimes want a break?  Occasionally, but not nearly as often.  Will I be happy to get to a place in nursing where we still have the bond without the need for the pump?  Definitely.
And were they right?  Not entirely, for many reasons, but close enough.  I am grateful for this time, I will miss it, and I will remember fondly the fleeting moments when my baby fit so snugly in arms… and then when she fit less – and more – all at the same time.


Christmas 2012:

The Plan: “I’ll be off work for ten full days.  Which means I can pump at least once each day, stashing the milk away like a squirrel storing for winter, so that when I go back to work I will be way less anxious about pumping because I will have all the milk.”

The Reality: “It’s the day of our Christmas party, I shouldn’t have to pump.  It’s Christmas Eve / Day New Years Eve / Day, I shouldn’t have to pump.  The baby kept us up half the night and also woke up during my usual pumping time, I shouldn’t have to pump.  We have a sudden baby sitter and we can go out alone, no worries, I have not been pumping but I do have a freezer stash.  We have planned baby sitter to go out to the movies, here’s some more from the freezer stash which I will (and did) replace.”

Needless to say, the boobs weren’t ready for the post-Christmas demand, the freezer stash is dwindling, and I pumped a heckuva lot today for not too much output and plan to do the same tomorrow.  It would help if K could back to her old schedule and my morning supply could go back to its normal robustness.  Kthanks.

On Nursing (Part 2)

So it’s been 5 1/2 weeks of nursing the baby.

Since the random third week return of pain (and going to support group and taking the advice there), things have gotten much better.  We have worked on latching and K has generally gotten much better about taking in more of my areola, though she does at times revert to just taking the nipple (and munching down – I hope to break her of it before she is teething!)  While I generally still use two hands to get her latched (and while she often nurses better if I continue to hold my breast throughout the feeding), I am more frequently able to successfully hold with one hand and do something else (drink water, check my e-mail, pet the dog) with the other.  I typically use the cross-cradle hold, at least at first, and rarely use the football hold, which I find pretty uncomfortable.  During the bewitching hours, when I’m most tired, I’ve had some success side-lying, but she does not stay latched as well and it sometimes ends up being more work.

I can’t say that I totally love nursing yet (at least not all of the time) and I honestly at times get a bit annoyed when I’m in the middle of something and the baby suddenly needs me and only me (at other times I’m quite pleased with the situation).  But I do like that I am able to provide this for her and, as she has become more interactive, I look forward to some of our nursing sessions, especially the first couple in the morning when she is most sunny and engaged.  I like having dedicated time to studying her face and I like the faces that I primarily get to see (my favorite is when she pulls off and she has her eyes closed and her eyebrows (which you can’t really see because they are so blonde) raised – I wish I could get a picture of it but have not had luck so far).  I like reading her body signals and knowing more and more when she’s just done or when she’s waiting for some help burping so she can get back to business.  I also like the convenience of nursing, even when it involves nursing publicly (which is getting easier for us though is still awkward for me at times – thank goodness for C by my side saying “you’re doing such a great job!” and “you look like you’re just holding her”)

My next (and quickly upcoming) hurdle is pumping and introducing bottles so that K is prepared for my return to work (which is a whole other sad post of sadness).  C, I know, is pretty excited about this step since it will give her opportunities to bond with the baby through feeding, and I’m guessing my mother feels the same way though she has not said it.  C is also already encouraging me that when we first get bottles going and use them when I am home but still on leave that I can and should take an extended period of time away (as in more than fifteen minutes, which I could do now but haven’t, and without any concern that the baby won’t be able to eat if I’m not there).  Despite the fact that I say I don’t always like being the only person the baby needs in a given moment, my feelings about being able to give someone a bottle and take a step away are bittersweet at best.  I think it’s partly because the bottom line is that overall I do get quite a bit out of feeding her and partly because for me pumping and bottles are signals of my impending return to work and separation that is much more significant than a couple hours to myself.


On Nursing

So, despite my realism about pretty much everything else, I may have been a little too optimistic about the wonder that is nursing.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly fortunate in so many ways in my nursing relationship with my daughter.  For one thing, we got her latched and eating within an hour of her birth (at least on the left side).  Although she was a bit sleepy during her first several days and although her latch was a bit rough at first (ie painful, not impossible) and is still a bit rough now, she did latch, did eat, and made impressive weight gains (1 1/2 pounds in the ten days between our first and second pediatrician appointment).

I have little physically to complain about, I know; I am grateful for K’s ability to nurse successfully fairly easily.  And I am ridiculously impressed by every woman out there who has even slightly more difficulties (not to mention much bigger difficulties) and continues working for that relationship.

Because, while it is finally getting better, I spent much time in these first few weeks kind of absolutely disliking nursing.

Don’t get me wrong, we had our good moments.  Cuddly snuggles, milk drunk smiles, the pride of a good feeding.  The first morning feed when K is alert but cozy in her sleep gown.  The feeling that I am providing for my child.

But we’ve had lots of rough moments.  The second night in the hospital when I thought she was hungry but she wouldn’t latch and she just kept crying (turns out she was over tired – weren’t we all?!).  The several days after I got home when the nipple pain was so severe that I would cry as she latched (and occasionally well afterward).  The cluster feeds every forty-five minutes or so, with C announcing yet again that “somebody’s hungry” as K desperately roots around on her chest.   The internal conflict I sometimes have when it comes to public breastfeeding (including the public nature of my own living room with certain visitors). And more recently, the sense that K can be soothed by C much more easily than I can, unless I pull out a boob, even when it is clear that she is not hungry.

A few times, I’ve even mentioned  formula, though I mentioned it the same way I mentioned pain relief while I was laboring at home – I want to assert my option, not necessarily make a new choice.  Many times I have cried while she nursed or after she nursed or after she finally went to sleep.  And I have felt like a failure – not so much in my ability to feed her (though during some of the painful times, absolutely) – but more in my sometimes utter lack of interest and desire  to nurse.

It has been miserable at times, even for someone like me who has it pretty easy overall.  But I will say that it is getting easier.  And so if it’s miserable for you, too, I can (with my parenting expertise of three whole weeks and no guarantee that nursing will stay easier) give some advice on what has greatly helped me:

  • A supportive partner.  Hands down the number one reason that I have not given up, even when I have really REALLY not liked nursing.  In the hospital, C was right next to the lactation consultant, listening and learning (and getting hands on to help out).  At home, she has reminded me of techniques we learned, brought me water and pillows, checked in to make sure I am comfortable.  She has given me praise and encouragement.  She has kept the rest of the house running both while I’m nursing and in between nursing — cleaning up, vacuuming, making meals, caring for Wonderdog. And she is a true co-parent, taking turns with me to perform every task that she can (which is pretty much everything outside of nursing) and performing a bigger share of them because of the time I spend nursing.
  • Supportive friends.  Folks who have been there before, who can listen and give advice.  I’m fortunate that one of my friends has studied to be a lactation consultant and has some great tips, but I also have benefited from hearing about her own difficulties and knowing that, in the end, she had a great nursing relationship with her daughter.
  • Support group.  We’ve attended two different support groups in the past two days (one specifically related to breastfeeding, one for moms in general) and I will say that, outside of practical advice that is offered, it is super refreshing to be in a room full of nursing mamas, especially in terms of getting comfortable with nursing publicly.
  • Patience.  A no-brainer, but I found it very helpful to say to K during the first couple days “It IS hard, but we are both learning.” And to keep reminding both of us of that, because it is easy to forget.
  • Lactation consultants.  In the hospital, I had one-on-one support from two different consultants. Their styles were night and day and I would highly recommend talking to more than one LC if the first one you talk to doesn’t seem helpful to you (we all have different learning styles and you may need something different).
  • The internet.  For every single nursing question imaginable.

It also helped me a LOT to focus on each nursing session on it’s own, rather than to think ahead to all the nursing sessions that would come in the future (yes, I would think “how will I do this for a whole year?” or “How will this work when I go back to work” in the middle of disheartening sessions and no it was not helpful at all).



Breast is Best?

Prior to the birth of my friend’s baby, I had never really thought too much about breastfeeding, except that it kind of squicked me out a little bit (for no good reason).

Afterward, much like the majority of America getting on board the environmental train, I realized that, aside from the obvious of the health benefits, there was money to be saved here! And time! My friend didn’t get up in the middle of the night to warm a bottle… she just grabbed the baby and nursed in bed! She didn’t pay for food, she made it!  The diaper bag was full of diapers, not diapers and bottles and ice packs and containers. It was MAGICAL (and magically easy). On top of that, she has a pretty good nursing relationship with her child and while I wouldn’t say it was easy, she did not have prolonged struggles like some women do.

On the other hand, as C pointed out, breastfeeding, especially initially, did not allow for others to get in on the feeding game, including my friend’s husband. The underlying message was less about our friends and more about us — if I carry our child, C would like to be able to feed her from time to time (okay, daily). And while we are aware that she could be stimulated (and possibly given hormones) to be able to breastfeed, that’s not really what she means (or wants). We have lots of options that would allow this, none of which dictate breast or formula. And we’re not pregnant nor trying yet, so we’re not entirely worried about which way we will go (and honestly, the baby and post-natal hormones will also dictate some of that!)

Meanwhile, I just finished the book Unbuttoned, which is a collection of short essays about the experiences of women who breastfed (or didn’t) their babies. Although the women were predominantly married and exclusively straight (not to mention an apparent lack of overall diversity), the experiences were varied and interesting and provided insight into the joys and trials of breastfeeding. It’s not a breast feeding manual nor is it a pros and cons list exactly, but I do recommend it if you’re interested in getting a view of the wide experiences of others.