Monday, December 16, 2013

the tyranny of breast feeding

So, as it turns out, breastfeeding is really hard. *lightbulb goes on*

Also, the tyranny of breastfeeding! The sanctimony! The guilt! The UNRELENTING PRESSURE.

For the uninitiated – a group of which I was very much a member until very recently – you don’t actually appear, minutes post partum, full of breast milk and ready to feed. In fact, it can take up to about five days for your milk to “come in.” In the meantime, you’re blessed with thick, yellowing colostrum. It’s like baby gold. Full of antibodies and all the good stuff. But for babies, getting it out of your no-longer-your-own boobs, is like sucking jello through a straw.

The first day, I barely tried to feed at all. I felt like I was outside of my body looking in, Whose baby is this? Where did this stranger come from? What am I supposed to do with him? Oh, right, FEED HIM. KEEP HIM ALIVE. *Palm to forehead* (closely followed by OWW, STITCHES).

Thankfully, while I bumbled around for a few hours in my drive to win mother of the year award, Ezra was pretty chill – you know, trauma of coming through the birth canal, lungs plugged with mucus, and so forth. In fact, newborns are so pumped up with extra fluid that they could – but please, don’t try this at home – survive for 2-3 days with literally no other nutrition. Or so the kindly, avuncular pediatrician tells me.

By Tuesday morning (Monday middle of the night? Time is no longer something that concerns me, it just, well, passes), I started to try[1] to breastfeed. And it hurt. And I felt defeated. And he cried. And I cried. And he rooted around and around and around – all gums and smacking lips and nudging his head toward my boob and grabbing at my chest with his pointy little dagger nails. It was all very animalistic. I got a good latch on one side only to experience toe curling pain as he adjusted or as I accidentally touched the back of his head, sending a signal to pull back! pull back! And leaving him gumming every so tight and pinchy like around my nipple. And quickly, what seemed like the inevitable occurred – the beginning of the downward spiral. He latches, I cringe in pain, I detach him, I feel ENORMOUS GUILT HEAVIER THAN THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD, I try to reattach him, but sore nipples beget sore nipples and fussy babies make for bad latchers.

And so we went. And just when I felt we had achieved one much sought after positive feed, we were hit with the news that his billirubin was high, and jaundice, the bane of pale white babies born in winter the world over, had hit. The only cure? More cowbell! Baby blue light phototherapy. You know, baby’s first day at the spa. C even downloaded a rainforest sounds app to get him in the mood.
It was all very entertaining – except for the part where I began weeping uncontrollably because MAH BAY-BAY! and then the other part where, you know, we had to watch him cry and squirm and scream, naked under blue light for 24 hours. Feedings were regulated, structured and competed in importance with the blue light. ALWAYS MORE BLUE LIGHT.
Baby's first day at the spa.

Meanwhile, I attended a hospital sponsored breast feeding support group, begged the lactation consultant to basically move into our hospital room/adopt me – she politely declined – and experienced only mildly successful feeds interspersed with SO MANY TEARS (his and mine).

The first week is a race against the clock – a race to prevent him from falling more than 10% below his birth weight. Born at a whopping 7 lbs, 14 oz, we were hoping to keep him from sliding past 7 lbs, 1 oz. But my boobs could barely keep up and when a nurse suggested supplementing with formula, I nearly lost it/declared myself unfit to be a parent[2]

Finally, we came home. No more blue light, feedings on his schedule, in a comfortable chair, in a place where I didn’t have to wear shower shoes in the bathroom. To try to ease the transition, we had a post-partum doula come to the house and offer her wisdom. It was easily the best spent four hours of my week – except, you know, for like, giving birth. She helped us with breast feeding, she helped us with bathing, she helped us with sleeping and soothing and various forms of baby wearing. Mostly, she restored an ounce of confidence and helped us not just muscle through this – although let’s be honest, WE ARE DOING OUR DAMNDEST TO MUSCLE– but also to <novel thought> enjoy this squirming bundle of lungs.

And through it all, the feeding continues. But perhaps of equal importance, so do the conversations – with other moms who had similar challenges that are never discussed openly in public because, RED ALERT INADEQUATE MOTHER. The babies that couldn’t latch, the supplementing with formula, the breasts that, due to an earlier surgery, can’t produce enough milk. I have not met a single mom who didn’t struggle to establish breastfeeding. And somehow, that is just a little bit liberating.

SO. Onward we go, armed with MyBrestFriend[3], gobs of Lanolin cream, a naked baby and a Netflix subscription for prime feeding distraction. On Friday – and, I should say, without any of the aforementioned accoutrements – I achieved one of my lifelong goals when I <wait for it> breast fed while flat on my back, enduring (the most painful of my life) pelvic exam and stitches “check up.” I’m pretty sure I deserve some kind of ESTROGEN MEDAL OF FREEDOM AND BADASS MOTHERHOOD™ for that little number. No, seriously, I’ll wait at the podium.

[1] Try being the operative word here.
[2] Which, let’s be clear, is not actually what I think. At all. But there’s this whole culture that feeds off maternal inadequacy; this idea that there are ideal ways to do things and that anything less is a reflection on one’s fitness to be a parent. That supplementing with formula – or using only formula – means your child will be a maladjusted delinquent hellcat, bent on world destruction and you, a parent in name only, barely capable of raising a house plant. Well let’s just knock down that trope right now, shall we? Pleaseandthankyou.
[3] I can barely type this name without gagging. I registered for a boppy because the name so offended me. But it turns out that for actually feeding – as opposed to for tummy time or other pursuits of which I am only becoming aware – the BrestFriend is brest (sorry, couldn’t help myself).


  1. All I can say is thank god women have started talking more openly about how challenging breast feeding can be!!

  2. First off, check out -- hands down the best online breastfeeding resource out there. I referenced it for various questions during our entire breastfeeding journey (17 months).

    Stella wasn't interested in eating the first 36 hrs either cuz of all the gunk in her tummy, and it was definitely a struggle those first few days when her biliruben was climbing and the docs were pressuring me to do formula. However, if you're getting (quality) help with the latch and different techniques to try, it WILL get easier. It's hard to remember in the heat of the moment when you're curling your toes and trying not to cry, but you will get to a point where it's comfortable and easy and awesome for BOTH of you. Hang in there!

    Also, have you tried feeding him right when he wakes UP instead of waiting for hunger cues? You might have better luck getting a quality latch if he's not rooting in hunger and antsy. That definitely helped us.

    Feel free to email me if you have any specific questions and I'll do what I can to help.

    1. Thanks so much, Josey. Kelly mom seems to be where it's at! That site was also recommended by the lactation consultant at the hospital and our doula. There's some great stuff on there - and it's really easy to search for your specific issue (or issues, as the case may be. ha).

      Right now I'm often waking him at the 2-2.5 hour mark (he's usually sleeping in my arms or in C's arms) and changing him and feeding him. But I'm up for experimentation...

  3. I love reading your stuff. (Specifically, this stuff. I would surely hate the legal writing.) You manage serio-larious so well. I'm sorry it's been such a difficult transition. I've read other blogs about how traumatic the first few weeks of breastfeeding can be, and I STILL don't think I actually think it will happen to me. Of course it will, and I'll write a similar (but less witty, 'cause I don't have that) post about tears and two babies and Lanolin. That is, as long as these babies are born close enough to term to even feed on me properly (please gods give us at least another 11 weeks). For what it's worth from a not-mom-yet, I also hear that for most it gets considerably better after the first few days-weeks.

    Also, for a laugh, look up look up the twin BrestFriend. Its outrageous. And it's sitting in our "nursery" as we speak.

    And finally, that is an incredibly cute picture of Ezra. In fact, it's the most peacefully cute picture I've even seen of a baby when there is also medical equipment involved. ;)

    1. Serio-larious is awesome. Trademark that. And yes, I totally agree with you - while I had heard horror stories of latching gone bad and so on, I still didn't quite digest that it would/could actually happen to me. Alas, my naiveté has paid off. Ha.
      Also, the twin BrestFriend is basically the rolls royce of nursing accessories. Can't wait to meet those two inmates in *fingers crossed* 11 weeks!

  4. Oh god. See, I wish I could give you the perfect combo of advice and wisdom to get you through this...but it is different for everyone in terms of how long the pain lasts for and what the magic remedy is, but really the only answer is time. But what I can say us TRUST ME it gets better and is oh so worth it. I am in the middle of a post about what worked for me (we'll see if it ever gets finished), but basically I set up feeding sessions around comfort and Netflix, got more forceful/less scared about latching him on, and waited it out. At five weeks it was miraculously better. Now I love it. No pain. Bonding time with baby. SO much easier than a bottle. This weekend I sat and fed my baby whilst hubby decorated the Xmas tree. It's really, really worth it. In the mean time, I am so so sorry!

    1. This is so refreshing to hear. Before Ezra arrived, I remember reading your early breastfeeding posts and basically crying alongside you, terrified of what my future held. Alas, here we are but it sounds like there is light at the end of the tunnel…
      So glad that you and Owen (and your boobs) are on much better terms! Looking forward to that post!

  5. You are right, most women have a hard time, and it will get better. Keep it up. You are doing a great job. Just don't worry about anything else, have your husband bring you water and food, and sit in a comfortable spot your baby. Netflix distraction is great. You can do this!

  6. Urgh, just wrote a big comment and the internet ate it. Cliff notes -
    I feel you! It was definitely hard for us, although that was compounded by our wee boy having a tongue tie. What worked for us - feeding on demand, as soon as there were any hunger cues, it had been more than 3 hours since the last feed, or he was unsettled (much easier to latch a calm baby); getting regular advice from an expert (our midwife and a lactation consultant); and panadol really helped me with the nipple pain during the initial latch.
    YMMV of course but by 4 weeks we had it under control and life was much easier. Now at 7 weeks I've got to the stage where I feel comfortable leaving the house (usually carefully timed to be just after a feed).
    Hang in there - nearly everyone I know has had trouble to begin with and for nearly everyone I know things got better :)

    1. First of all, I'm such a luddite and just had to look up "YMMV"
      Awesome to hear that things get better - 4 weeks can't come fast enough!

    2. Heh, I picked up YMMV from APW (also how I found you!)