Friday, March 8, 2013

On Breastfeeding

Dislcaimer: This post is about breastfeeding. To remove any confusion, "exclusively breastfeeding" in my mind means only breast milk in any form of delivery (nursed or pumped). Also, it might be obvious, but please be aware that I'll be throwing out anatomical terms and the aim is not to provoke discomfort. Hopefully we can all laugh together.

Breastfeeding. For some lucky moms it's a joy... their never-sore nipples squirt out pure cream. Sweet, rosy-cheeked babes are always milk-drunk satisfied. You might catch her saying, "What's engorgement?" She also poops rainbows.

And then there's real life. 
Breastfeeding can be as tough as your nipples get after about 4 weeks of nursing. It's not for the faint of heart. From the moment that little person makes his grand entrance into the world, the feeding game is on. For first timers who are looking to exclusively breastfeed, you're looking at having a baby (or pump) on the boob every 1-3 hours, 24 hours per day in order to build that elusive and coveted milk supply. This is both painful and exhausting. Nipple shells, lanolin, and gel soothies will be your first line of defense against the toe-curling pain of latching a baby on and off almost 12 times in a day. For "normal" moms and babies who don't have issues with production or latch, it takes a couple of weeks for those nursing sessions to finally start feeling less tear-inducing. And even then, the occasional growth spurt or heavenforbid bite(!!!) can still cause you to cringe (or yelp!) in discomfort. A lactation consultant friend of mine likens this period of "toughening up" to learning how to play the guitar. Your fingers ache and bleed and blister, but then one day you've got calluses in the place where tender skin used to reside. All of a sudden, those bruised & bloody nipples are a distant memory as things begin to feel better. 

So maybe you grit your teeth and get through the initial pain of nursing. And then the exhaustion sets in. I can remember feeling like throwing in the towel around day 10. It seemed so much easier just to fix a bottle and be done with it. I could finally get some sleep. My nips would get a break. Ohmigosh--It's no wonder why some people choose to formula feed. I mean, shake up a bottle and be done with it!? Full nights' sleep while hubs does the bottle shake?! Of course it sounds glorious! People generally fail to mention that the time commitment in those early days is huge, sometimes spending a considerable amount of time coaxing your sweet infant to wake up long enough to eat even just a few mouthfuls of milk. I remember crying big fat tears while I placed a cold, wet washcloth on my son's back just to get him to wake up and eat... only to fall asleep moments later. Oh, the anguish! If that wasn't exhausting enough, there's the weight of being the sole provider of your child's nutrition. Without supplementing with formula, a breastfeeding mother is wholly responsible for baby's intake. And what if you're nursing in utter desperation only to come up short in the production department? What feelings of guilt and insufficiency must arise in our hearts. Overwhelming is an understatement. Why did I sign up for this?

Breastfeeding isn't as cheap as people like to preach it is. When you're talking about buying a pump, pump accessories, bottles, nipples, milk storage bags, several nursing bras, nursing pads, and for overproducers like myself, a deep freezer, then "free" breastfeeding seems laughable. In addition to that, I have never been hungrier in my life than I have been while breastfeeding, which means our grocery bill has taken a hike northward. I could eat all day long and still never get full. Maybe eating like a sumo wrestler is why I haven't yet lost all that weight people say you lose while nursing. But I didn't come all this way to let my supply diminish due to dieting, so bring on the food. 

I'm not going to go into the physiological changes that happen to the girls, but I may have compared someone's nipples to tootsie rolls at one point in time. Also, I am not looking forward to the post-nursing "deflated balloons" look either. And the ridiculous cultural stigma??? Don't even get me started. Why God, did you create breasts to be both sexual in nature AND the device with which women feed their offspring? Because people can't always see past the sexual part. And lets face it, breastfeeding   (especially pumping) is about as unsexual as it gets.

With all this, it's any wonder why people breastfeed at all. In an instant, the old adage "Breast is Best" becomes a thin, frazzled thread that barely holds your feeding journey together. 
But then(!!!!!)
.... those 2am nursing sessions become sweet times of quiet solitude. The extended feedings allow me to imprint upon my heart the perfect curve of his cheek and the deepness of his blue eyes. I know that face and those hands better than anyone else on the planet because I've been granted the time to study his handsome features. He becomes a captive audience and I am able to read him stories of Jesus while I stroke his fuzzysoft baby hair. I remember in those moments how strongly my heart beats for you. Like magic, a milk supply is established and those 45 minute blocks of time whittle down to 12 very efficient minutes.  Baby's thighs start to resemble rolls of biscuit dough and I rejoice in my ability to provide for my son. It's all so very wondrous: the milk-drunk grin. The way he clutches my finger with his hand while he eats. His dribbly face and drippy chin. Oh dear breastfeeding, maybe you aren't torture after all. Maybe you're actually fleeting moments of absolute joy.


Analisa said...

WOW!! I couldn't have said it better myself!! We struggled with nursing for TEN WEEKS!! (We had thrush THREE TIMES in those 10 weeks and, let me tell you, that was PAINFUL!! I didn't have an epidural during my son's labor and birth and nursing him was definitely more painful than that!!) Nursing a baby is hard!!

But, your last paragraph literally made me tear up. Once you and baby figure everything out, it really is the sweetest thing, :)

amber said...

Hey Hollie! It's Amber Rawlins (Johnson), I love you blog. Like the lady above stated, could not have summed up breastfeeding any better! I tried with my 1st but low supply, milk allergy and Colic played a role, I felt horrible. With my 2nd, it was soooooo much easier! He was 20lbs at 8 months all from me (i too was starving all the time)! He wheened himself at 8 months right before he cut his first tooth but I was able to pump and had a loaded freezer to supply him till he was one. Keep up the good work with the nursing and the blog! Amber

Kristina said...

I think breastfeeding causing you to lose weight is a
Myth. In my experience I didn't lose the last of the weight until Adoration was weaned. And now with Asa, I have 10 lbs tenaciously clinging on! I've finally cut out gluten and sugar to try to get it to budge...but a nursing girl has got to eat!

Casey B said...

eeekk! This definitely make me think twice about kiddos or breastfeeding! I hope that I will be able to breastfeed if and when that time comes...even though it sucks at times...

Lindsay said...

I couldn't have said it better!! I BF Hudson for 10 months (had to quit cold turkey b/c my doc wouldn't let me keep BFing since I was pregnant with Emma) and my goal this time is 1 year. It's hard but so worth it. Great post!

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