Thursday, May 27, 2010

Things I Learned about Breastfeeding, Part 2: The Experience

Wow, what a fantastic reaction from the last post! I was touched. :-) (And yes, even by you, Mr. Deepseated-Issues on comment #3... you're a valuable example of the attitudes a breastfeeding mum has to deal with.) :-) My thanks to all the commenters, and the readers as well.

My lovely boy, modelling his breastfeeding pillow. Tyra would be proud!

Anyhoo, as promised, it's time to move on to the more personal level of my breastfeeding experience. Here is what I have learned so far:
  • Considering that it is a natural process/skill, breastfeeding sure didn't come to me very naturally! While I think myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, it took me a long while to figure out what I needed to do, and what did and did not work well. Patience with myself was invaluable during this time.
  • Having a list of available breastfeeding resources on-hand was a real lifesaver. As such, I advise expecting mothers to make a list of supports they can call upon, should they need help at some point. Excellent resources include doulas, La Leche groups, mother babe groups, and public health nurses. I continue to rely on nurses or doulas whenever I run into trouble, and it's made breastfeeding infinitely easier and more enjoyable.
  • Even with the aforementioned supports, the first two weeks of breastfeeding are AWFUL. For the first few days, baby has to suck miniscule amounts of colostrum from the breasts with the force of a vaccuum cleaner, and it took awhile for both Will and I to learn proper latching technique. During this time, I was frustrated, overwhelmed, and in a lot of pain. However, by week 3, everything clicked and has since gone amazingly well. So, to all you moms-to-be, it *really does* get better! :-)
  • While I was having nursing difficulties, Medela silicon nipple shield was the best $8 I've ever spent, since it disperses the suction over more of the breast and thereby makes nursing easier on one's tender nipples.
  • The first few days go smoother when you can liberally apply pure lanolin cream; having to ration out minuscule amounts of the hospital-issue sample packs was an extra inconvenience I did not need. Were I to do this all over again, I would pack a tube in my hospital bag.
  • Also, bring a (sports-style) nursing bra to the hospital. Those hospital gowns are scratchy. 'Nuff said.
  • It's never too soon to start building a nursing wardrobe. I recommend the Ripe brand crossover top, which has been a fashion staple of mine throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. The Bravado nursing tank is also an excellent choice, if you don't mind showing off cleavage.
  • Breastfeeding pillows are good for more than just breastfeeding; we use ours for tummy time, dad doing bottle feeding, and general cuddling or chilling out. Don't buy one, though, since they're really expensive to buy but easy to make.
  • Breastfeeding in public isn't as big a deal as I thought it would be. Granted, I've only done it a few dozen times, and I do pick my locations carefully, and I do keep a cape on-hand for emergencies. All told, though, I've not encountered any tut-tutting grannies or leering dudes, which I'd been bracing myself to face on all sides.
  • Then again, during breastfeeding, I don't really notice much, other than my lovely son. It's way more of a bonding experience than I'd anticipated, and I know I'll miss it when he's weaned. The fact that I enjoy that time is a huge surprise to me.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, the breastfeeding situation between a mother and her child is different for everyone. It is important to try to breastfeed, and to seek help and support when needed; however, if significant issues persist after all help and support has been exhausted, it's even more important to dismiss any guilt you may have and carry on with other options (like formula). What matters most is that you are feeding your baby, and if anyone has a problem with the way you're doing it, it's their own hangups manifesting. So regardless of what your feeding relationship is, keep your head held high, believe in your decision, and when necessary, feel free to tell tut-tutters to sod off. ;-)
Anyhow, I hope some of these observations are useful to some of you out there! Feel free to leave comments about your own experiences, should you wish to share.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Things I Learned about Breastfeeding, Part 1: The Context

Get ready for a long post; as it turns out, there's a lot to learn about breastfeeding! In fact, there is so much to say, I've split the topic into two posts. My next post will address my specific experience; but first, I will help frame this experience by elaborating on breastfeeding as a context.

I've discovered that the topic is highly political, so broach it with caution! As it happens, many people -- mothers, hospital staff, random people -- can suddenly become defensive, guilt-ridden, smug, or downright angry at the mere mention of breastfeeding. Worse still, these unprovoked blowups are not limited to one camp; the "formula's fine" crew and the "lactivists" can be equally volatile.

Paradoxically, though, breastfeeding NEEDS to be talked about! The fact is, there is a minority of women who are milky goddesses, able to easily feed their baby with no problems or help. There is also a minority of women who simply cannot (or should not*) make milk, regardless of how much help they get. The rest of us, and I'm guessing we're the vast majority, fall in the middle -- we're physically able to make milk, but we need help in figuring out this new and seemingly strange process. (It's not easy!)

Current (American) statistics indicate that the majority of mothers leave the hospital having initiated breastfeeding, but by 6 months, not even 14% are still exclusively breastfeeding. Such a dramatic decline is surely due to many factors, but it cannot be addressed, let alone solved, without first resolving the vitriol-fraught nature of the breastfeeding dialogue. Both sides need to let go of their baggage and resolve the following:
  • to agree that, thanks to modern scientific advances, formula is perfectly acceptable food for babies;
  • to acknowledge the numerous scientific findings proving the quantifiable nutritional superiority of breast milk;
  • to ensure that breastfeeding information and assistance exists for all new mothers;
  • to ensure that said assistance is ample, accessible, and that it is adequately promoted and supported by the medical and health communities;
  • to condemn public attitudes of breastfeeding being "gross" or obscene;
  • to support mothers, especially those experiencing difficulty with breastfeeding, in whatever solution is appropriate for their individual situation. This includes formula use.
  • to reinforce that while breastmilk is superior to formula, a breastfeeding mom is NOT superior to a formula-feeding mom!
If everyone were to shed their attitudes and find common ground, we could foster a culture that could give the support that moms need. We must trade in our judgement for compassion, our blame for solutions, our righteousness for humility, our silence for meaningful dialogue.

In sum, we must say "enough!" to the current "damned if you do, damned if you don't" paradox of breastfeeding; the job of raising a child is hard enough as it is.

And thus concludes Breastfeeding Politics 101! ;-) Now that you have a better idea of the current context, my personal/specific observations to come Part 2 may have more resonance. Until then!

(* due to taking medication, for example)