Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Breastfeeding - What No One Tells You

What could be more loving and nurturing than the image of a breastfeeding mama? Not much.

What did everyone forget to tell you? That about 60-75% of the time breastfeeding will NOT be that lovely, soft focused image of mother gently gazing at baby while he contentedly and gently suckles at his mother's breast!

Don't get me wrong, I love breastfeeding my son. It's often warm and loving and fills me with pride, joy, and wonderment at the fact that I can feed, nurture, and comfort my child in such a unique and intimate way. We are bonded! But so much of our journey has been up and down. I am one of the lucky ones who has enough (too much at times) milk and a babe that has nursed like a champ from day one. While our journey has been relatively easy, it's still been gruelingly hard at times.

My milk didn't come in till day 5 and at that point he had lost more than 10% and was jaundiced, so the doctors prescribed formula. I bawled my eyes out! Thankfully I had a nurse who was extremely experienced with nursing and setup a makeshift supplemental nursing system with a syringe and a long, thin tube so my son could get formula while continuing to nurse. My milk came in 4-5 hours after returning home the next day, but not before another sob fest.

Breastfeeding is also physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting and draining. "What? You want to nurse again? It's only been 15 minutes." "It's 3 am! Why oh why can't you just go to sleep?!?!" I remember many a night crying from sheer exhaustion and vowing that I was going to quit. Beyond stubbornness, a cheap streak, an inability for my son to digest dairy protein without wailing, nursing, sleeping, and repeating every two hours or less, and god knows what, I'm not sure what kept me going. But I stayed the course and do not see an end in our near future.

Which brings me to the next point; allergy and other intolerance! Apparently many babies have trouble digesting milk proteins at first. Guess what? Yup, mine was one of them! This was not a problem with lactose, but with the proteins! If it was my baby would have been unable to digest my milk as human milk also contains lactose. Let me repeat, this is a problem with the PROTEINS in milk and NOT the lactose. Thus began my journey into dairy free eating. What a nightmare!!! Do you know that milk is EVERYWHERE? Yes, it is. I've been a label reader for a long time, but this was a whole new level!!! Eating out was fraught with terror and danger since trying to get straight, knowledgeable answers was near impossible. I scoured the web for chains that disclosed their ingredients and mainly ate out at a handful of places. It became worse when he started reacting to soy (I was grateful as my intestines were none too pleased with the so called wonder bean either) and began bleeding. Not much is scarier than a bloody diaper. Thankfully as he grew, he became better able to handle dairy in my diet and can eat some now. Not too much, though and certain things are worse than others.

Remember how I mentioned having a lot of milk? Yeah...that causes problems too. The obvious ones like leaking, engorged breasts, and becoming soaked every time baby feeds since he can't handle the flow and either letting the milk dribble or popping off and letting the milk spray. The not so obvious ones like plugged ducts (OUCH!) and so much foremilk that baby is even gassier and spits up more.

Now that he's older, I get to deal with what some refer to as gym-nurse-tics. As the name implies, it means that baby decides that he wants to nurse in any position imaginable (and some that could never be fathomed without having witnessed them)! Downward dog, sitting, sitting bent over, standing, upside down, side ways, backwards, in the shower or tub, off and on and off and on again, up and down and up again, etc.  Plus, since this is gym-nurse-tics, the frequent changing of positions is mandatory! I secretly think this is the bigger reason most women don't nurse their older babies and toddlers in public. It's just too damn hard to keep from flashing everyone your nip (because once most babies have control of their arms, they will NOT accept having a blanket or cover over their heads) and it's frustrating wrestling your increasingly bigger and bigger baby!

This list doesn't even cover ALL of the issues a mother may have with breastfeeding, but just the bumps I've encountered. There are bleeding nipples, mastitis, and thrush. There are women who no matter what they do, can't make enough milk. There are women who are survivors of abuse and can't tolerate this level of intimacy. There are breast cancer survivors who lost their breasts. There are also babies who are tongue tied or have facial deformities. There are babies who bite a lot. There are so many reasons breastfeeding may be difficult for someone, but no one ever seems to discuss them.

I often wonder if some of my friends who had trouble had known some of these things may have had a longer breastfeeding relationship. I wonder if they got bad advice from ill informed doctors. I wonder if it's just that they didn't have the support in place to work through the tough spots and continue on. I don't know. I would be happy if this post helped just one mom reach her breastfeeding goals or help just one mom realize that she is a wonderful mom even if she had difficulty breastfeeding and had to feed her baby another way.

Please let me know your experiences with this. Let me know something you wish someone had shared with you before you had your baby.