So, apparently August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Which, I agree with Pregnant Chicken, is totally a weird name – surely, everyone is aware of breastfeeding. But I get the point, that it’s to promote knowledge about the benefits of and not-obscene-ness of breastfeeding, which is good. But I think it’s also good to just celebrate people who are feeding their kids, period, no matter how they’re doing it. Of course I have quite a few friends who chose to breastfeed (and had varying degrees of success doing it). I have friends who chose not to breastfeed because their jobs made it far too difficult. I have friends who could not breastfeed, either physically or because of other life circumstances. I have friends who tried to breastfeed but had to supplement with formula. And I support ALL of their choices. They are all wonderful, amazing mothers, regardless of how they fed their kids. The important thing is that they sacrificed their money, their time, their sleep, their bodies to feed their babies in whatever way made the most sense for their families and their kids are all thriving. Yay for having the resources and the love to feed your kids!
Still, the fact that I fully support my formula moms doesn’t mean that I don’t get pissed off every single damn time I hear about a breastfeeding mother who was told to cover up their feeding baby or to go feed their kid on a toilet somewhere. So for my part in Feed Your Baby Month, all I can do is share my own experiences feeding my baby. If you are squeamish about baby-feeding, I suggest you skip this post. I will talk about breasts and nipples, fair warning.
Breastfeeding is a weird thing. It’s simultaneously a pain in the ass and amazing and the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. (Also, I’m just going to say BFing from now on because it’s a lot shorter.) One benefit of BFing for the parents is that it is a LOT cheaper than formula feeding. My organic bamboo washable nursing pads, special nursing bras and shirts and dresses, nipple cream, breast pump, breast pump accouterments, milk storage bags, special bottles meant to closely emulate the breast, nursing pillow – all of this crap adds up to WAY less than a year’s supply of formula. In addition, lots of BFing proponents say it’s just so much easier that giving formula, and I…disagree. Sure, if everything is going well and there are no problems and you’re actually physically with your child, it’s not that difficult to put babe to breast and feed. No muss, no fuss. Nothing to clean up, nothing to prepare, you just do it. There is the matter of middle-of-the-night feedings, which are only harder for BFing moms because they can’t pass it on to the other parent, but neither can single moms regardless of how they’re feeding their baby. But if everything is not just super-duper perfect? BFing, while it’s really, really wonderful, can also be really, really hard.
First, there’s the physical pain. The books and instructors are fond of telling you, before you ever try to BF, that it doesn’t hurt if you’re doing it right. HA! Hahahahahahahahaha! I think that’s a lie they tell women so that they’re not scared off of trying. In the beginning, it hurt because my nipples were too sensitive. It takes a little time for them to toughen up. Even if your baby has the most perfect latch in the world and you’re rubbing all of the nipple cream that exists into your breasts, it will still hurt. Sometimes enough to bring tears to your eyes. For me, the pain usually only lasted a bit at the beginning of a BFing session – maybe 30 seconds to a minute – and then it would dull and things would be OK again. After a few weeks, my breasts toughened up and it was easier. But it never went away for keeps. Periodically, even now after doing it for almost 10 months, the pain will come back. It’s not as intense as it was at first and I’ve learned how to distract myself and/or breathe through it and I’ve learned to use ALL THE NIPPLE CREAMS until it goes away again, but there is still pain. Then you introduce teeth…oy. The bottom teeth haven’t been tooooooooo bad, but her top teeth are going to pop through any day now and I know I will get bitten. Probably more than once. And that it will hurt like hell every time it happens. And I got off easy, pain-wise, because I have never had to deal with cracked, bleeding nipples or blocked milk ducts or mastitis (that would be infected/inflamed breast tissue caused by blocked ducts) like many moms do – I don’t know if I could have kept going through that level of pain because I’m a wuss, but man, kudos to the many moms who do! So yes, it hurts.
Also physically, there’s the logistics. I gather that figuring out positioning and such is not easy for any mom, regardless of the size and shape of their breasts, but I can speak from personal experience on having really large breasts. First, let’s dispel what I think of as the pr*n myth (misspelling that word on purpose to trick the gross spambots, FYI). Very large breasts are not usually perky. It’s a gravity thing – they’re heavy, and so gravity pulls them down. Any woman you’ve ever seen a photo of with enormous, perky boobs? Psst: they’re not real. They’re likely Photoshopped or plastic surgery-engineered, and quite possibly both. For we regular well-endowed women, our breasts kind of…hang low. Every time I read an article about a mom BFing while wearing her baby in the Moby wrap or Ergo carrier, I both laughed and cried a little on the inside. It is seriously not possible for me. There is no physical way to wear M. and have my nipple reach her mouth. It cannot be done. Likewise, most of the positions they show you in BFing books and classes, I could not do. It was either extremely uncomfortable for me or again, just not physically possible. We had to figure out our own way of doing it. And even now, at nearly 10 months old and pretty strong, I have to hold my breast for my kid, because it’s too heavy for her to hold and keep in her mouth and there is no natural way for her to sit or lay where it just falls into her mouth. That causes cramps and problems in my wrist and arm. And now that she’s all aware of her body and a crazy super wiggle worm, the logistics are even more complicated – it’s almost impossible to both hold one breast AND keep her from taking a header off the couch. My early BFing days were filled with multitasking, when she just laid there like a lump – I could use one hand to hold my breast and the other to type on my computer or phone or read a book. Those days are gone – now it takes all of my efforts to keep her both eating and not hurting herself while doing so! As for those ladies who can discreetly feed their kid without a cover in public: I am so envious. My child will have NONE of a cover now – if I try to use it, she pushes it off her head. And who can blame her – I don’t want to eat under a blanket either! But there is nothing discreet about me BFing. Oh sure, I try to show the only the tiniest bit of skin, but my shirt will soon ride up my massive breast. Because somehow I’m still modest and shy around strangers, this means I will do EVERYTHING IN MY POWER to plan activities around being able to BF my kid at home (or at least at a family member or friend’s home, or in the car) before being out in the world. I mean really, if it comes down to it and there is no way around it, I will absolutely feed her in public, spectacle be damned, because my kid needs to eat and that trumps everything. But I cannot do it discreetly. The best I can do is face a wall or a corner while she eats.
And then there’s the fun of pumping. Whee. If you’re planning to BF, and you have the possibility of being a stay at home mom but you’re on the fence about it, let me tell you that pumping is enough of a pain all by itself to push you over the fence. And I, again, have it easy with pumping. I work with mostly women – many of them other mothers – and I have an office with a door I can shut. I work regular office hours. And still, it’s a giant pain. I’d far rather just feed my baby than pump. M. can eat a full meal in 10-15 minutes, depending on how distracted she is. Pumping takes at least 30 minutes. I have to get set up, pump longer than she usually eats to get a decent amount in a bottle, and then break down and clean everything up. Under the very best conditions, it’s still a gigantic pain in the ass. Then you add the fact that I travel for work, and pumping while traveling could take an entire logistics team to figure out: timing your feeding/pumping before you leave for the airport so that you can pump again at the right time on your layover; timing your layover so that you have enough time to find a place to pump and you have time to pump; finding somewhere to do it (usually a family bathroom because unless you want to do it out in the open, which leaves me feeling like I have no choice and less choice); figuring out how to adequately clean all of your pump parts (in a public bathroom ICK); etc. God forbid a flight is delayed somewhere, throwing off your entire carefully planned schedule. And then you get where you’re going and have work to do…do you know how weird and embarrassing it is to tell your Board of Directors that you need to take a break from your meeting to pump breast milk for your baby? Or to disappear several times during the day in the middle of a busy conference you’re at least partially responsible for running? I do. Even when your Board or co-workers or conference attendees are supportive and understanding, it’s still uncomfortable. And then there’s what to do with the milk AFTER you pump, because you may not be able to keep it cold on the trip home, or store it cold while you’re at your destination, and the local milk bank won’t take it unless you don’t take any medications at all, even vitamins, and also have a blood test first, and you just cannot bring yourself to dump that hard work down the drain… And finally, what does your baby eat while you’re gone?! I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to pump enough extra milk to freeze for her to eat while I was on my last 2 trips, but I have serious doubts that there will be enough to last her through my upcoming 7-day business trip next month, much less the 3 days I’ll be gone for a wedding the weekend after that. So she’ll have formula, and it will be fine, but it’s still stressful to think about. All of that PLUS you miss your kid terribly while you’re gone and feel guilty for being away from her (and, dare I say it, guilty for enjoying a little time away, even if it is for work).
Finally, there’s the emotional strain. You are physically tied to that kid. You cannot get a break. Especially at the beginning, because newborns eat all the damn time. You fluctuate back and forth between feeling those warm, gooey, lovey bonding feelings with the sweet baby at your breast and feeling ready to pull your hair out because you meant to sleep when the baby slept as all of those sage people told you, but you really needed to do the dishes and then answer an email or two and now it’s time to feed the baby again and you feel kind of trapped because you’re the only one who can do this and OH MY GOD YOU JUST WANT A NAP. And THAT feeling leads to guilt, because so many women want to have children who can’t and you did, and so many moms want to BF but can’t and you are, and your baby is amazing and how could you not want to care for her for even a second; what’s wrong with you, aren’t you supposed to feel this mama lion I’ll-do-anything-for-my-kid feeling? Then there’s the worry, being unsure that your baby is eating enough because you can’t tell how much milk they’re drinking when it’s coming straight out of your breast and not out of a bottle, and this is compounded when your kid loses just a teensy bit too much weight after birth and you’re told you don’t need to supplement with formula “yet” with the implication that maybe you will because your body is not feeding your kid enough, and so you feel inadequate and panicky at the same time (ask me how I know). And eventually, that leads back around to pride and amazement: pride that you are doing this hard thing, despite the exhaustion and the emotional roller coaster and the pain and the inconvenience and the worry, and amazement that your body just…does this, it makes food for your baby that is all your baby needs, with no instructions or anything, and how friggin’ cool is that?! And you can feel ALL of these emotions in the span of about 10 minutes. Multiply the intensity of those feelings by about a billionty times if you had the baby 6 or fewer weeks ago, or if you’re suffering from any kind of postpartum depression. It is draining. It does get easier with time, certainly, but some of that sticks around all the way through your BFing time.
Of course, with all of that, there is the amazing feeling of gazing into your baby’s eyes while she eats what your body has made. There is playing silly games with her while she eats, making her laugh and watching milk dribble out of the side of her mouth. Knowing that when she is scared or crying, your body can literally comfort her. Knowing she is so very dependent on you right now, and knowing that won’t last. Being so thankful that you have this opportunity to contribute very personally to her health and well-being, and knowing that as much as you get frustrated with it all now, it will not be long before you miss it so very much.
I am a breastfeeding mother. It is not easy. But for me, it is worth it.