Alternate title: Why new moms really shouldn't have to work.
I waited and waited to write about nursing because there's kind of a lot to say and also nothing to say. It's just ... a thing we do, you know? But, for better or for worse "choosing" to breastfeed is a hot topic in our culture, so here's my take.
There was never an question that I'd breastfeed, and people when I was pregnant were quick to use "if you're able" in their wording to me, which I suppose is fair. But, I wasn't really considering not being able to breastfeed as an option. Here's my thing on that, prepare yourselves. I think that some people have issues giving birth and breastfeeding. I think that mostly your body is going to build a baby that can come out of your body and mostly your boobs will make milk in the right time frame and quantity to feed said baby. I know it's really easy to say "well, right, but you had easy births and breastfeeding experiences!" and that's true, but I still believe it. I think with the proper education and support people can give birth to their own children and feed them from their bodies. I also think there are about 8,287 ways to birth and raise and feed a child, and formula is not poison or evil or any of those things.
So, being that that was the lens I approached this whole mess with, I just was going to breastfeed. And I did/do. And mostly it's fine, sometimes it's wonderful, and there were definitely some moments where I wanted to cut my boobs off, punt my baby out the window, and just feed her apple juice forever. But I didn't, because that would be frowned upon.
When Beck was born, we nursed pretty quickly after she was born, maybe within the hour or so. She wasn't keen on latching, but did eventually, and after demonstrating two more times to the midwives that we could probably make it work, we were released home to practice. And practice we did. One of the best pieces of advice I got from my birth teacher was to nurse constantly, and view anything else as a break from nursing, not nursing as a break from everything else. It's true - practice makes perfect, and waiting until your kid is starving to "give it a go" is not the best path to success. So there we were, just two girls in our diapers, working on our skillz. It hurt, a lot. For about 10 days, I'd say. By the end of Beck's first day of life I was cringing every time we tried to latch, and I only nursed every 4-5 hours for about 2 days. Beck was only getting colostrum and didn't seem to mind, and any more than that might have sent me off the deep end. My milk came in after 3 days, and then I had to get my act together and, you know, feed my kid. The pain while my nipples toughened was wretched - bleeding, cracking, burning, all the worst parts of the bible, really. But then kind of magically it went away, the old girls toughened up (cue Silence of the Lambs reference), and we were able to start to nurse effectively and regularly. I remember at the beginning pressing my breast so hard in to Beck's mouth to get my nipple away from her gums. It looked really barbaric but was the only way to teacher to latch correctly all the time and get my nipple out of the line of fire. I also remember just dreading her being hungry again, hoping she could make it more than 3 hours just once so I could rest and heal.
Our pediatrician's office building is connected to a group of lactation consultants, and you see them before you even see the pediatrician. They were lifesavers. I only went to that first visit, memorized everything they said, and we were fine, but I've had friends who went twice weekly for months to work on latch or supply issues. If you're in Greenville, Parkside Pediatrics + Greenville Breastfeeding Center are where you need to be without question. Having a pediatrician who puts nursing above baby weight gain (within reason, clearly) was huge for us to just take some time to get it and not have to weigh Beck every day. She lost a little for the first few days like babies do, and then once milk came in she started gaining quickly. The pediatricians, lactation consultants, AND midwives that helped us in those first few weeks, though, were more concerned with how we were doing, and let the numbers come in second.
I read a lot about pacis and bottles before I had Beck and the fear that they can sometimes wreck a breastfeeding relationship, and I was all set to hold off on pacis and bottles for 4-6 weeks, but then I gave Beck a paci on THE FIRST NIGHT SHE WAS HOME because she was super fussy and my boobs just couldn't take anymore. My mom nursed all of us to about a year and gave us pacis from day one - back then the belief was that if babies did pacis they might not do thumbs, and it's easier to take away a paci than a thumb. She had no problems nursing but also I sucked my thumb until I was 6, so suffice it to say that no one knows anything about anything. I started pumping at 4 weeks to practice with bottles, and Beck took a bottle right away. She still acts confused and weird when I'm the one trying to give her a bottle (rarely, only if there's some milk leftover after I've been working that I don't want to waste), but she takes them fine from other people. She likes pacis a medium amount, and can still sleep pretty well without one, which I appreciate.
As for breastfeeding in public, I have a few simple rules. First, this is how mammals are fed. Second, I do not cover my head when I eat, and neither will my child. Third, I do not eat in bathrooms, and neither will my child. We nurse everywhere, on demand, and it generally works well. I've only had a few weird looks, all from older people, and it kind of makes me laugh because if you're staring then it kind of becomes your problem, right? A 60+ year old man staring because he's uncomfortable is wayyyyy more uncomfortable for me, trust me. Turn your damn head. I've had mostly zero response (as it should be) to feeding my child, and a few compliments on how comfortable we seem. Occasionally we get questions from friends just out of curiosity, which I'm all too happy to answer. I feel really strongly about being able to feed your child in exactly the way you see fit, and I do hate it for people that don't feel comfortable nursing in public, if it's something they want to do. I've had a few people say things like "good for you, I'm just a little more modest than that," and honestly that kind of hurts my feelings, because the implication is that nursing (and me) isn't modest. Guys, I'm not prancing around in fishnets and heels with my boobs out. Occasionally if you look HARD you can see my nipple for about 2 seconds before Beck gets in there, and I really don't think that being outspoken about nursing in public makes me demonstrative, but I guess there's a difference of opinion there. Frankly, I'm not thrilled that I need to be outspoken about FEEDING MY CHILD, but for some people (the patriarchy, as my friend Emily says) breasts are only for sexytime and nothing else and so it's slutty to whip them out in public. I assure you, this is not a slutty act.
I've had plugged ducts erring on the side of mastitis about 4 times (not full-on mastitis yet I think, but a few times where I've gotten shivery and so tired and feverish), and that is the absolute worst. Awful pain that was really shocking the first time it happened, but nursing through it is the cure to everything, so when I feel any little knots or clogs coming on I keep Beck on one side and let her go to town to work it out. It's gross-sounding and hurts like a mofo, but it works. My friend Amanda also advised me to take a long hot shower and "milk yourself," and while I'm not sure if it actually helps speed up the dissolving of a clot, every time my boobs hurt I'm all "here's the kid, I need to do this for my health, see ya in 30 minutes, don't mind this glass of wine I'm taking with meeeeee!!!" So, finding a silver lining and all that.
Pumping at work is the most massive pain in the ass in the world, so good thing my boss decided my services are no longer needed (more on that next week, but I'm job hunting). There are so many parts, and people knocking on your door, and that's the one aspect of breastfeeding that I really don't enjoy, see the first line of this essay. Pumping luckily works ok for me (as in, I mostly get a good amount of milk out), but I still never pump as much at work as Beck eats, so I have to add pumping in the middle of the night or when I'm with her, which sometimes makes her fussy because she's not eating quite as much as she would like to. And then the damn pumping parts, and bags, and bottles, and just holy cow. I don't find that it hurts or anything like that, it's just one more thing to think about. Something that I love about breastfeeding is how convenient it is, but pumping obviously takes a lot of that away.
The best part, of course, about breastfeeding is the forced extra time with Beck that no one else gets. Jay used to say all the time how jealous he was that I could feed her and he can't. That's changed now because Beck takes bottles when Jay is alone with her and she'll be starting solids sooner than I like to think about, but it is definitely the best thing ever to have the ultimate comfort source at my finger (nipple) tips. It is a very sweet thing to have her look up at me while she's eating, or pull away to smile, or fall asleep in my arms. I definitely spend a lot of time staring at my phone while Beck eats, but I make an attempt every time she eats to look at her first. All the pain and "maybe it won't work," and discomfort, and "I'm more modest than that" SURELY have to be negated by the extra snuggles and bonding afforded rather effortlessly by nursing.
My friend Gina said in my first few days postpartum that "yep, it's awful, but once you get through that part it's just plain fun." She was right, and it's just plain fun.
It's also a great excuse to buy. more. stuff. I have a separate list of my fav nursing stuff working for you. Coming up next!
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