The truth about breast feeding

IT ISN’T EASY!!!

And whoever said it was is full of beans!

Yet another WARNING!!
I’m about to write about breasts. Most specifically, my own. I will also be referring to them as anything from “boobs” or “Ta-Tas” or “the girls” or, as I have affectionately come to call them, “Righty and Lefty.” If that offends you, or if you don’t want to hear about my breasts, stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

I don’t know about you – but as a first time Mom, I did everything I could to learn about motherhood ahead of time. I reached out to Mommy communities (like The Bump and BabyCenter.com), I reached out to organizations specializing in becoming a Mom (like Le Leche League), and I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. And while I learned that there is A LOT to learn, I also heard one pretty consistent train of thought: Mommy = Breast feeding.

It is pretty common knowledge that, medically speaking, breast-feeding is the best thing you can do for your baby. The nutrients, vitamins, and immunity boosters in there are pretty top-notch. But that is a medical fact. I.E. NOT an opinion. So why there are so many opinions out there on breast-feeding confuses me. And pretty much every opinion out there is that if you don’t breast feed your baby, you are a bad Mom.

HUH?!?!?! I’m not even a Mommy yet, and someone is saying there is potential for me to be a bad at it? It almost scares you into thinking there is no other way. I’ve heard everything from “Moms who don’t care about their babies are the ones who don’t breast feed” to “There is no such thing as ‘can’t’ breast feed – that Mom isn’t trying hard enough.” WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? I mean, talk about pressure!

On the flip side, every positive opinion about breast-feeding is flowery and delicate and sort of sugar-coated. Some are of the opinion that breast-feeding is “the most beautiful thing on earth.” Breast feeding is “easy and carefree.” Breast feeding is “natural.” And oddly enough, these opinions put on pressure, too. They make it sound so easy and so great! But what if it isn’t easy? What if it isn’t great? Then not only am I a “bad mom,” I’m not “natural” either.

What I didn’t know until after Abby was born was that my fears about breast-feeding were as common as eating eggs for breakfast. I told Anthony during the whole pregnancy, “I’m going to breast feed!” Anthony had a better grip on reality (as he normally does). We talked it out and he made me think long and hard about it. He was so concerned that I was becoming too obsessed with breast-feeding and that it was going to have some serious postpartum repercussions if (for any reason) it didn’t work out. So we made an agreement. We were going to try our best to help me breast feed Abby, but if it didn’t work, then we would pick the best formula money could buy.

Oh no! I was only 4 months pregnant and I had uttered the “F” word. Formula was some sort of swear word in the baby/mommy communities. I had just agreed to possibly be that mom that “didn’t try hard enough.”… Are you getting it? Do you see the kind of downward spiral this idea puts on us? During a time when our emotions are just ridiculous and our brains fell out of our ear as soon as the word “pregnant” registered? It creates a worry and a stress that is just silly.

So, fast forward to June 3rd. I. WAS. TERRIFIED. She’s 24 weeks premature! There is no way my milk has come in! There is no way I can do this! I’ve failed before I even start! (And please note: Yes, failure. The pressure put on me from these communities really did make it seem like I had failed.)

Lois, the lactation consultant came in to chat. She brought the hospital pump and a book on feeding preemies. She told me that if my milk came in, I’d be pumping for quite some time because Abby isn’t ready to be put to the breast yet. She taught me how to use the pump and how to bag the milk. She told me to relax (because I was obviously freaking out) and just let it happen. She took a picture of Abby off the wall and brought it to me. She told me to focus on the picture. We set it up, turned the pump on, and waited.

10 minutes of pumping produced only a small puddle of this rust colored liquid out of Righty. Lefty produced only a few drops of yellow liquid. I freaked out. Why are they two different colors???? Why is one giving more than the other???? What is wrong with ME????? It turns out that both are very common. Righty had something called “Rusty Pipe Syndrome.” (No joke, she showed me the term in a medical textbook the next day.) Rusty Pipes is when a blood vessel bursts in your breast from the suction. Blood gets into the colostrum. To full term babies, it isn’t harmful, and most mom’s never know they had it – because their milk goes into a baby’s mouth and not into a clear plastic bottle. Hence why you’ve probably never heard of it. But for Abby, we needed clean stuff. The solution? Pump it out – I had to do what is called “Pump and Dump” for that whole first day. As for Lefty, Lois thought that the milk just wasn’t in yet. She told me to give it time.

I had to pump for 10 minutes every 3 hours. By the afternoon Righty was going to town! But it was still all rust colored. So Anthony and my Mom had to pour that down the drain. It was physically painful to watch them do it. I’d just worked so hard for that! And Lefty wasn’t much help. Not only was nothing really coming out, but that boob seemed to be growing before my eyes. By the end of the day, Lefty was swollen, red, and hard to the touch. And it HURT!!! I was getting very discouraged. I couldn’t get Lefty to work, and Righty was bleeding to death. Great.

I told the nurse, but there wasn’t much she could do – she wasn’t a lactation consultant. She was sweet though. She wandered over to the nursery to talk to the nurses there. One said that Lefty was probably blocked. Try a heating pad to see if that helps. So my nurse brought me a heating pad, which was a no-no because the temperature couldn’t be regulated, but we had to try something! So with the promise that I wouldn’t let myself over heat, I left the heating pad on Lefty for about an hour. The swelling and redness went down a bit. So we tried it again. And Hallelujah!!! The flood gates opened!! Lefty had a lot to get rid of (and on day 2 of motherhood, “A lot” was still less than half an ounce). And no blood! Lefty’s milk (which was really colostrum, still) was usable!

And it was fascinating to watch. When you pump, you’ve got these clear suction cups on you (they look like the horn portion of an air horn you’d bring to a sporting event), and those cups filter the milk into a bottle. When the pump is sucking out the milk, it literally sprays in every direction. I always thought it was like a bottle where there is one stream pouring out. Nope – there is a stream here and another there, and they are both streaming in different directions, and then there is broader spray coming from yet another source. It is like a leaky sprinkler system. Kind of odd. Pumping is just odd, in general. It seriously made me feel like a milking cow. To the point that I still say, “Mooooooo!” when Anthony is around for it. And for those who are of the opinion that breast-feeding is “beautiful” and “easy” and “natural,” well goody for you. But I’ve got a news flash. It’s awkward. And it hurts. For me, getting it started was harder than passing my 10th grade geometry final. And I’m sorry – but hooking yourself up to plastic suction cups is anything but “natural.”

I asked my Mom why no one ever told me this was going to be so hard? And why so many people had lied and said exactly the opposite? I remember talking to one friend about it and she HATED it. She only did it because it was what was best for her baby and she was able to do it. She was happy that she stopped producing enough to feed her baby, so formula was introduced. And My mom told me that both my sister and I were breast-fed for only a short time. We were both jaundice and formula was needed. My mom told me that I didn’t know about all of this because it was one of those things that isn’t talked about. It is a subject quite like sex was in the 50’s. We don’t discuss that. It just happens, so deal with it. And then, we have a lack of information about how to make informed decisions. Yea – cause that’s a great plan. Sheesh. Well, dang it, I’m talking about it! Soap Box, here I come!

There was a sense of relief to know that I could at least produce milk for Abby. I couldn’t believe I was able to make it happen. But I’m still not done with the fear and anxiety. You see, the brain mechanism for “suck-swallow-breathe” doesn’t kick in until the 34 week mark. Today, Abby is at 32 weeks gestation. All of this time I’m producing milk like a cow farm (literally half of our freezer is FULL of milk bags), and not once has she been put to the breast. Until today, that has been too risky so she gets fed through a tube. And she may not take to the breast. She might not latch on. In all honesty, I think the girls are too big for her to get into her mouth (a problem teeny-tiny-little-me never thought I’d have!). She also may not be strong enough to suck the milk out. So breast-feeding may still not work for us. Again, Anthony had to sit me down and help me realize that it didn’t mean I was a bad mom. It may not take, and that is ok. At least we know I can pump and we can feed her what she needs through a bottle.

Jen Confession #182: I cried when the Doctors told me she’d be 2 months old before I would be able to try to put her to the breast. And honestly, I cried for no other reason than I thought it meant I wouldn’t be able to bond with my baby. There is yet another school of thought floating around out there in pregnancy world: No breast-feeding = No bonding. The way the idea comes across, a first time mom can truly be made to feel that our bond will never be as strong as it could be because we can’t or don’t breast feed. I cried because I really did think that there was no other way for Abby and I to bond. I couldn’t hold her, I couldn’t comfort her, and now I couldn’t feed her. The words “Bad Mommy” kept flashing in my head.

ENOUGH!

This is dumb. This is so utterly stupid. I’ve got news for the world at large – “I’M NOT A BAD MOMMY! SO SHOVE IT!”

It took me a couple of days to get there, but I quickly learned that the idea that breast-feeding is the ONLY good option is a bunch of bull shit. THAT’S RIGHT! I said a swear word. Bull SHIT! And then, I got angry. I got angry that these “experts,” these other mom’s, and these crazy people were able to instill fear. And I know that these types have also hurt other moms feelings who aren’t as lucky as me. My Mommy friends shall remain nameless, but I know of more than one occasion where someone actually said TO THEIR FACES that they were unfit mothers because they weren’t breast-feeding their baby. Who the hell do you people think you are? Do you people know that one of the MOST COMMON reasons a Mother can’t breast feed is stress? Yup. Stress. Anxiety. It’s a combo of stress stopping production and stress deterring the baby! These emotions have an actual physical effect on people. And look at what they are doing! They are creating stress!!!

I’m one of the lucky ones. My body miraculously produced milk for Abby 4 months early. But there are so many moms – especially those in my kind of situation, where it never happens. There are hundreds of reasons for the inability to produce milk. 95% of them are medical and cannot be treated. So, that idea of “she didn’t try hard enough” can take a hike off a very high cliff. Common things like thyroid problems or diabetes can make it hard or even impossible for women to produce. Did you know that? And as for the dreaded F word – did you know that NICU’s across the country are partnered with Enfamil? Enfamil makes a special formula JUST FOR PREEMIES that mimics the same nutrients and antibodies that breast milk has? And they worked so hard to perfect this formula because many women in my situation are not able to produce. And we’ve got to feed them something!!!

And let’s not forget the Dads! Hello? Dad’s don’t breast feed. Ever. So how the heck do you think they bond with their baby? By holding them and touching them and talking to them and spending time with them. Anthony even asked me far before Abby was born if I would be willing to pump some milk so that he could feed her, too. I was so touched by the initiative he was taking and the proactive approach, that I simply had to say yes to that! So we’ve known far before we ever had to deal with the NICU that dear old Dad would get his chance to feed her, too.  What do you have to say to that, crazy “breast-feeding only” people? Huh? Huh? Yea – bet you didn’t think about that one, did ya?

And as for the question of bonding, I’d say some pretty choice words to anyone who questioned my bonding capabilities with my baby. Abby is 7 and a half weeks old. Weeks at a time have gone by when neither Anthony or I could hold her, and we’ve still managed to bond with her. She knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, who we are and when we are there. She responds to our touch, our voices, and our love. Literally – it is something tangible. She can feel our love. All the babies can. I have bonded with my baby girl. Past tense. Already happened. So has my husband. And today, at 32 weeks, is the first time she’ll get to try to latch on. While she is still too young to feed from my breasts, she is old enough to figure out how it works. It is called “Non-Nutritive breast-feeding” and it means that she’ll go through the motions without getting the nutrients. So I will pump today and empty out the Ta Tas before I head to the hospital. And we will give her the chance to try.

I’m not going to lie, I’m excited. But I’m more excited for the developmental implications this has for her than for the “mommy/baby” thing anymore. Sure – if she can do it, I’ll take it! I’m going to give it my best shot, because she deserves it. But I’m not going to push it. And while there will be some amount of disappointment if she can’t or doesn’t latch on, I can honestly say I’ll be fine. Because she is fine. And there are so many other ways to bond.

Normally, I would apologize to any of my readers who fall into the category of  the “breast feeding only” way of thinking, simply because I’m sure I’ve offended someone. But I’m not going to apologize. Because I’M offended. I’m offended that other women and even some prestigious organizations were able to make me feel like a failure. I’m offended that there are mothers out there who speak OPINIONS before knowing FACTS. I’m offended that there isn’t more information out there on exactly what breast-feeding entails and both the hardships and triumphs that are had by all. I’m offended that no one is talking about this. So no apologies. I’m a good mommy to my precious miracle baby, no matter how today goes. And I’m never going to let anyone tell me otherwise, again.

To all the mom’s out there – What is your story? I want to know. Good, bad, ugly, or indifferent, it is ALL important.

-Jen

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6 thoughts on “The truth about breast feeding

  1. mssjanelle says:

    It isn’t easy!!!!! Yes we don’t have our little girls physically with us crying in the middle of the night for food, but we STILL have to get up and pump. We still have to stop our day to pump. We have to schedule our lives AROUND pumping. Yes we know it’s for a good cause, but honestly it is hard!!!!! And I know its so good for Taryn, but I do have my moments of seriously considering stopping. (I say all this as I’m currently hooked up to the pump….moooo). Well, Ive drained myself, I’m off to Costco to buy a freezer specifically for milk!

  2. I guess my story would be in the “bad”category. Sorry. We tried a few times to get Anthony to latch on. It never went well. Every time they would take him out of the isolette to try water went up his nose from the nasal therm and he would freak out and the last thing he wanted was a big ol’ boob in his face! Then i had 3 people (2 nurses and Larry) telling me what I was doing wrong (with a kid screaming). I think larry pissed me off the most cause ummm hello! He’s a guy! What the heck would he know about breast feeding!!! I was in tears that night. It just was not the typical setting I wanted for breast feeding. I wanted Anthony at home! In his nursery! I wanted it to just be the two of us enjoying that experience. But no, we were in the NICU and I had nurses hovering over me and equipment and wires all over my kid. I was scared to death and stressed. Ended up after awhile my breast milk was giving anthony tons of gas and that gas was giving him apnea spells so we got him on a special formula and he was much better. And I was too afraid to ever introduce my breast milk back to him.

    For Ashley, Again, I thought I would at least pump and supplement. I got Ash home and I pumped and it seemed to be going well. But then again! she started having horrible gas and diarrhea. Stopped giving her breast milk and put her on formula and it went away. She also went through a horrible bout of colic and the only thing that made it stop was putting rice in her bottles. (we had to do the same with anthony).

    I guess my “advice” to you is your kid is YOUR kid! And you will know what is best for them! No book can ever tell you. No statistic can tell you. Your gut tells you! If breast feeding works out for you, that is great! But if it doesn’t, that is fine too! There is a reason there are so many formula options out there. Just enjoy your little girl and how well she is doing. People will always have opinions on how to raise children. But they don’t know your child like you do!! Mommy always knows best!

  3. No need to apologize, Kim!! Thanks for sharing! I am sure that must have been so hard to deal with. I know my feelings would have been hurt to know that it was my milk making my baby uncomfortable. I’m proud of you for doing whatever it took to make it work for your kids. Look at them now!

    Janelle – let me know how the mini freezer works out. We are thinking about it, too.

  4. Kathy says:

    Oh wow, Jen, I could write a book on my experiences. You asked why no one ever talked about the negative experiences….I always got the feeling that women did not want to hear about your boobs and the nursing issues you have/had.
    When I had Melissa, my “girls” always felt like they weren’t producing enough milk. I didn’t have any of the problems I had heard other mom’s talk about, i.e. the baby wouldn’t latch on, the baby didn’t know what to do….and I felt lucky there. (as you said, I felt like I would be a failure as a mom if I didn’t do this right) But you can feel your milk coming in and just when I would start to feel it, I swear Melissa smelled it and cried to eat. She would eat about every 4 hrs. She was gaining weight but I felt like I was always empty. Now this did not make me feel very “womanly” either, I went from nice perky ones to flat old lady hanging ones…..when you’re 21, it’s not attractive! 🙂 By the time she was 3 months old, I was so frustrated that I stopped breast feeding her and put her on formula. I felt like such a failure at that point.
    Fast forward a few years later and Adam was born. With him I felt and looked like I could feed triplets!!! However, by the time he was a month old, we discovered that the breast milk was giving him gas. The Dr. said he’s probably having trouble digesting the cow’s milk I have in me. So I had to stop breast feeding him and put him on a soy formula. Again, I’m a failure as a mom.
    I’m so glad you shared your feelings here. As Kim said, Abby is YOUR child and you do what YOU and Ant feel is best for her. You two know her the best. You have learned the first and most important lesson of being a parent….go with YOUR gut feelings and follow that. As for comments from others, you will always hear unsolicited advice from those you know as well as complete strangers, I think you know what to do with that advice. 🙂

  5. Jean says:

    Jen, You are so eloquent. Motherhood starts at conception and never ends for the duration of your lives. You’re right; your bond with Abby is felt through the isolette walls. It’s more than feeding her. If she nurses well, you’ll wonder why you ever worried about it. If she doesn’t, it won’t change your love for her.

  6. Dawn says:

    You’re a wonderful writer, Jen, and I 100% agree that people put so much PRESSURE on new moms! It comes from every direction and there is no way to win other than to make the decision that works best for you and your family! 🙂 It sounds like you are doing exactly that, which is so commendable! I have my own breastfeeding nightmare stories but would not change a thing because I had the support of my husband and family, who all told me to do whatever I felt was right, not what some book said. Thank you for sharing your experiences (I must say I giggled at the description of pumping, you are so right on, and no one ever warns you about it!!).

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