But not in the way that you probably think.
So this week is World Breastfeeding Week. I didn’t even know there was a breastfeeding week. In fact, August is also breastfeeding MONTH. Who knew an entire month was dedicated to boobs? And that my birthday shares the month dedicated to boobs?
My husband would be so excited.
So lets talk about boobs- doctors, the internet, TV ads – they all tell how breastfeeding is beneficial to both mom and baby. How it saves you money, reduces the risk of SIDS, decreases risks of cancer, and apparently makes babies smarter. Its natural, they say, to use mothers milk. It’s always available. It’s great bonding time. It’s healthier than formula. Some people go as far as to say that formula is bad. (On the other hand, I’ve also heard that breastfeeding is for poor people who can’t afford formula)
Here is what they don’t tell you:
Breastfeeding IS great bonding time. It’s rewarding. But it’s also complicated. It doesn’t always feel natural.
Breastfeeding is HARD.
I breastfeed the twins and other than a little bit of formula during the early days have for the entire 12 weeks they have been alive. I am proud of this and hope to continue until they are at least 6 months (maybe even a year). My experience hasn’t been nearly as difficult as some but I’m going to be honest when I say: I have a love/hate relationship with my boobs, and breastfeeding.
Once I figured out the crazy mechanics needed for a woman to get pregnant, sometimes I wondered how anyone gets pregnant at all (despite the fact that its so easy for some). The same goes for breastfeeding. Many things have to work correctly – at the same time – for it to be successful. You need an adequate supply. Baby needs to be able to latch. Baby needs a strong enough suck. Baby needs an adequate suck-swallow-breathe sequence. Baby’s oral anatomy needs to be adequate in order to be able to extract the milk.(i.e. no tongue/lip ties) The list goes on and on. The problem many moms face is a need to start with a bottle for one reason or another that results in a baby who then isn’t interested in the breast.
In the hospital the babies were brought to me about an hour after delivery to attempt breastfeeding. The latched, together, like champs. I thought to myself “dang,this breastfeeding thing is easy”. A couple days in, though, things started to go a little awry. Despite latching well, they were still crying after a feeding. And I’m not talking “hey, I think I’d like a little more milk, mom”. I’m saying “OH.MY.GOD.I.IHAVEN’T.EATEN.IN.YEARS!!!!” (years I tell you, years). It was heartbreaking – and the nurse suggested, only 2 days in, that we supplement with formula until my milk officially came in. I told myself AND others before they were born that I had no qualms about using or supplementing with formula if that what was needed – that I wasn’t going to allow myself to be upset if I needed to use it. But suddenly, sitting in the hospital listening to Abby scream, I felt like a failure because I wasn’t able to supply what she needed.
And so the emotional roller coaster began.
We did end up using a little formula for a few feedings. Then one morning I woke up and suddenly I had transformed from B for Barely There to D for Hello Dolly Parton. As a runner, I was not a fan of the drastic size increase (seriously, you should see how ridiculous my sports bras are). I was, however, excited that things were rolling the way they should be – and then my nipples started blistering and I couldn’t figure out why. I winced through a few tandem feedings before I realized that Miles’ latch sucked (this is no longer a problem – if you’ve seen a pic of him lately, you know he gets plenty). I fed separately and worked on this and after a few days and some nipple cream they were back to normal.
That’s when the spraying started. I sprayed everything – the couch, the bed, my clothes, the floor, the babies eyeballs. I got out of the shower and dripped on every surface in my bedroom. To this day I find some old milk stains in strange places (like my bed foot board) and still sometimes drip on various surfaces post shower. I still spray the babies in the eye. It takes a few weeks for your body to figure out how much milk to produce. Some don’t end up with enough. Others, like me, end up with too much. I was filling up so quickly I was uncomfortable in less time than they were ready to eat in, or they would finish and I would still feel uncomfortably full. Pumping some milk helped me build a stash and feel better temporarily. Then I started dealing with some mild engorgement because my body was supplying me with what it thought the babies were drinking when in fact they were drinking less and as the babies get older the demands change and I often find that it is a fine line for me between making enough and way too much. I saw a Lactation Consultant. I know many moms out there probably wish for an oversupply but believe me when I say it comes with its own set of problems.
Then there is the emotional side: in the course of the last 3 months I’ve found Ive developed an attachment. Iff I suspect for even a second that my supply is dwindling I worry that I am failing my babies. Before seeing the LC, I worried a little every day about whether Abby was getting enough simply because she was so tiny. At the same time, though, I have had days where I find breastfeeding to be very limiting. I can’t go anywhere for more than a few hours without my pump. Even on a “night off” when Bryan or family member takes the babies, I still set an alarm to get up and pump to make up for the lost feeding(s). I have scheduled “pump breaks” at work (though am VERY lucky to have a boss that has not given any of us moms trouble about this). It took me nearly 8 weeks to be able to say I started to enjoy it. There is always going to be an element of guilt because of my infertility history. I am not a shy person and care more about the ability to leave the house and take care of my babies than I do about what others think, but still find myself eyeing those around me as I nurse with a cover on, wondering if they are bothered. It’s ironic all the hype about how great breastfeeding is but feeding in public is often met with distain, even with state laws in 48 states saying I have the right to breastfeed in public.
With that said, I know my struggles have been minor compared to some. Women on Twitter write about working from exclusively bottle feeding to exclusively breastfeeding and pumping several times a day on top of nursing in order to produce enough milk. That level of dedication inspires me. Let me be clear when I say I know I am lucky in so many ways. If given the choice I would go through it all again, and plan to breastfeed as long as my body will let me (or until a year). I fully support the concept of breastfeeding month and advocate the use of mothers milk. But I also support moms who, whether by force or choice, use formula either exclusively or as a supplement. Plenty of babies thrive on formula. The feeding path each woman chooses can be a difficult one and no one should be judged for the one she takes.
Mama By The Bay, I love your “I Support You” campaign, and so I wrote this post not only to share but to say:
To moms who pump and bottle feed, moms who formula feed, moms who breastfeed, moms who supplement – doing what is best for your family and your baby(ies) is most important. It may be World Breastfeeding Month, but breastfeeding moms aren’t the only moms who need support. We all do.
I support all of you.
My Dolly Parton boobs do too.