the breastfeeding post I feel I have to write

In the depths of our long, polar-vortex dominated winter, a few days before Duncan was born and several after I had stopped working, a period of time spent in endless games of Scrabble with my mom and binge-watching Game of Thrones with my dad while Sam (his real name, I’m no longer striving for anonymity) and Evangeline (ditto) braved sub-zero weather for work and school, one night over dinner my mom told me the story of one of her friends who got so drunk on one of their “girl’s nights out” that she had to spend the night on my parents’ couch with a garbage can by her head. I think it’s safe to say this winter did a number on many of us, and on occasion my parents and their circle of friends handled it by having an extra cocktail or seven – this was just one of many similar stories my mom shared while we waited for Duncan to make his entrance into the world.

“It’s like you all are back in college or something,” I said to my parents one evening as we lingered over dinner. “You are certainly wilder than me and my friends. The craziest we get is if someone hosts brunch and and puts non-local, out of season strawberries in the champagne.”

My parents laughed. “I mean it. I can’t think of one friend – not one – who I would worry about drinking too much and spending the night on my couch. Within my group of friends, the most renegade thing I could do would be to serve grocery-store purchased chicken for dinner – the kind all full of antibiotics and hormones – or, you know, not breastfeed.”

“There’s an essay in that,” my dad said, draining his wine glass. “I mean it – you should write an essay about this.” My dad, who is an excellent writer with a terrible work ethic, thinks whenever my brother or I make him laugh there is invariably an essay to be written about whatever we said.

“I’m not sure about that,” I said. “I just occupy a certain middle-to-upper middle class demographic wherein the choice to serve non-organic meat or give my kid formula full-time would be, without a doubt, the wildest thing I could do.”

I’m sure my parents thought I was exaggerating for humor -something all of us in my family do on occasion – but in this case I really wasn’t. Out of numerous friends who come to mind, I can think of only three who didn’t breastfeed their children, and one of them really wanted to but couldn’t because her twins required a long NICU stay. We’ve received the message loud and clear: breast IS best and come hell or high water we will comply.

I breastfed my daughter and I’m breastfeeding Duncan, but I’m actually not as crazy as advocate for it as you might think. I do not nurse in public and have no interest in doing so, and my relationship with my pump is tenuous at best. With both my children, I began breastfeeding because I understood the immediate health benefits to be substantial – I continued because I saw how my children thrived. I have supplemented here or there with formula, and with both kids, they did fine with a little bit but any more than the occasional bottle caused a host of fussiness and reflux issues that breast milk never did and so, thus, I breastfeed. With my daughter, I had no burning desire to nurse for a specific period of time and her weaning was a gradual one that began as the ounces I was able to pump at work slowly diminished, followed by less and less interest on her part once she discovered solids. Evangeline found immense, tremendous pleasure in solid food and spurned breastfeeding, preferring to hold for avocado! bananas! perogies! She loved all the food. My intention is to follow the same path with Duncan, although I find myself protecting our breastfeeding relationship a little bit more closely than I did with Evangeline – because he is tall and chunky people seem to assume he should start solids earlier than recommended (um, no) and other people – my father and husband particularly – seem to think eventually it will be “weird” to breastfeed a larger baby (no, again).

There are a lot of complications with breastfeeding that drive me crazy. I know if I didn’t breastfeed I’d be able to workout, since Sam could handle giving Duncan a bottle first thing in the morning and I wouldn’t have to spend my lunch hour pumping (hello, workplace-sponsored power yoga!). Breastfeeding leaves me starving, but I’m don’t possess the type of body that’s going to get skinny from feeding my babe – no – my body clings to the extra fat for dear life, and if I even flirt with the idea of reducing my calorie count, my supply plummets. Regardless, I persevere. The smiles I receive from Duncan, the oxycontin that floods my body when I nurse, the small breaks in my day it allows me, not to mention the fact that feeding Duncan is the only excuse Evangeline allows me leave her room in the evenings, well – it all keeps me going.

Remember how I said earlier I’m not an overly vocal advocate of breastfeeding? I’m not. All that really matters is that you feed your kid and enjoy your baby. That said, nothing breaks my heart more than hearing from mommas, on-line and in real life, who want to breastfeed but claim they can’t because they can’t make enough milk. Supply issues are relatively rare, and more often than not these mommas are making this assumption based off of how often their babe wants to feed, not by their child’s weight gain or wet/dirty diapers. So I am about to share what I know about breastfeeding, and what has worked for me, with the hope that this post can help even one momma who wants to breastfeed but doesn’t think it’s working.

First, the legalese: I am not a doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant. I am not even a person who breastfed for a terribly long time. I am just a mom, who breastfed her daughter and is breastfeeding her son, for as long as it worked for us, and am able to feel happy with how it turned out. I offer no sound medical advice whatsoever except, don’t smoke. Yeah – no one can argue with me about that being bad advice.

Next, let’s search term the heck out this: breastfeedIcan’tbreastfeedhelpbreastfeedingsupplydroppingbabyhungryallthetimequitbreastfeedingIwanttobreastfeed

Okay, so. The first thing you need to know: when your baby first comes home, he or she may need to eat basically around the clock. Now, I’ve heard stories about sleepy babies who need to be woken up to eat, so I suppose they exist but I’ve never had one. My babies came out of the womb raring to eat and nursed around the clock for six weeks. With my daughter I was often convinced she couldn’t possibly be hungry because I had just finished feeding her and would try other distractions to get her to stop crying, from walking her around the house to climbing the stairs to rocking her. She was only happy if she was eating. When I took her to her one-month well-baby visit, her pediatrician explained that I needed to time her feedings based on the time she started eating…so, for instance, because she was jaundice, Evangeline needed to eat every 2 hours. She took anywhere from 40-60 minutes to nurse (both sides, she always ate from both sides) so if she started to eat at 1:00, and finished at 2:00, she often was hungry again within a half an hour. If it feels you are nursing all of the time, DON’T WORRY. IT’S NORMAL. Babies have itty-bitty stomachs and breast milk digests super fast.

If you are feeding around the clock, and your baby has a nice amount of wet and dirty diapers, your supply is fine. Your baby is hungry – feed him or her. Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, you will seethe as you get out of bed yet again while your partner zzz’s away (that is, of course, if you are in a male/female relationships…maybe this doesn’t happen with gay couples?), yes, you will think your baby has gas or colic or something terribly, horrifically wrong – just feed him. Your baby won’t eat if she isn’t hungry, and you’ll quickly learn the difference between your babe eating for hunger and eating for comfort – and keep in mind, there is nothing wrong at this age with eating for comfort!

Babies grow a LOT and traditionally hit some major growth spurts around 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 12 weeks and six months. During these periods it will seem like your baby is eating more than you ever thought possible – people, this is biology at work. Your baby is nursing frequently in order to establish your milk supply for the future. I’m not a biologist or a doctor but I’m honestly not sure these nursing marathons even nourish your child – but they are preparation to nourish your child a few days – and months – later. Honestly, during these time periods books and television are your best friend. Interact with your babe, too, of course, but it’s also okay to fall down the rabbit hole of some really good media.

Lactation consultants are your friends! Look, I know. You are home with your new babe. You haven’t slept since the previous year, or so it feels. Even if you are lucky enough to have help, the laundry is still piling up and the ring in your toilet, unexcusable. The last thing you want to do is get you and your babe dressed and out the door only to whip out your boobs in front of a stranger and have her evaluate how well you’re feeding your kid. But if breast feeding is important to you, one hour with a qualified lactation consultant can offer peace of mind and correct any issues you might be having.

Two final thoughts to keep in mind that helped me through rough patches with both kids: (1.) It gets better. Really, it does! Think about it – this time fifteen weeks ago Duncan wasn’t even BORN yet – and now he nurses every three hours or so and sleeps through the night (sleep is a different topic for a different day, or maybe not at all). Fifteen weeks ago he wasn’t even born and now he nurses every three hours! It gets better, so much more quickly than you can possibly imagine! And (2.)never quit on a bad day. If nursing is important to you, whether it’s for 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years, don’t quit when you are having a rough day – your milk supply isn’t something you can get back. Quit on a lovely day, when you can make the decision with a clear head and a happy heart. Again, ultimately I don’t care if you formula feed or breast feed – this is a judgement free zone! But if you do want to breastfeed, I hope this post helps make that goal just a little bit easier to manage.