Since writing the first Babies are Scary post, I’ve gotten a bunch of emails requesting more such posts. Some of them were requesting topics I can’t yet knowledgeably discuss (discipline), some were requesting topics I felt were too personal for the internet (body image- about which you’ll recall I later changed my mind), but almost all of the emails asked about one thing: breastfeeding.
I originally felt uncomfortable writing a post about it.
Not because it’s about boobies. You should know better.
Because I don’t feel like I can offer any advice, necessarily. I can’t really offer encouragement that ‘it’s not as scary as it seems,’ or that you can try this nifty bullet-pointed list of ideas to avoid the worst. Because, as it turns out, breastfeeding has little to do with any of that, and a lot to do with how your boobs work, how your baby works, and tons of other personal details that no one can necessarily predict or change.
But what I can do is tell you what happened for us and leave it at that. Deal? Deal.
The most interesting thing about breastfeeding is that I didn’t know it was supposed to be scary. That’s what surprised me about all of your emails. How did you know? I was bottle-fed, so I guess I wasn’t told the horror stories you guys all seem to know.
Our plan was breastfeeding from the get-go. Um, it’s free. It’s supposed to be magical and healthy. It’s going to make me ‘love my baby more’ and lose weight fast. DONE.
The first night in the hospital, Little Josh wouldn’t wake up long enough to eat. He was such a sleepy little guy. And holy poop, if you could’ve seen him all curled up with his eyes squished closed, YOU wouldn’t have wanted to wake him up, either. However, there are Nurses who are concerned about Weight Gain and things. So, they came in every two hours and brusquely woke me up, handed me a screaming (also freshly awoken) baby and stood with arms crossed, watching over my shoulder as I struggled to undo my hospital gown with bleary eyes and trembling hands. This baby would not eat. He would firmly plant his little gums on me, suck a bit, and then pass out. The nurse would jar him awake.
In Retrospect- I wish I would have asked the nurse to leave. I wonder if that’s allowed? I think both Little Josh and I were a little stage-frightened, and having an intimidating nurse hovering around wasn’t helping. We were getting used to each other, getting used to the whole feeding process (and for him, other weird things like “breathing air” and “laying down”) and having to do so in front of an impatient stranger made it even more uncomfortable.
The nurse insisted that he wasn’t latching and my ‘football hold’ wasn’t correct. She shoved my arm and jostled us into a different position. She moved Little Josh’s head and jaws. We have no luck whenever she’s present, but as soon as she leaves, Little Josh and I are able to snuggle in and get down to business. He doesn’t eat much before falling asleep, but he does eat.
In Retrospect- This may sound hippy-dippy, or it may sound like common sense- but I wish I would’ve listened to my instinct instead of trying to force ourselves into some rigid expectation. I knew when he was latching- there was a distinctly different feel. I knew where he was most comfortable- I could see it on his face. Similar instances of Real Life not fitting into the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” mold have happened since- mostly with feeding, actually. I wish in all of these instances- in trying to breastfeed, in setting a “feeding schedule,” in determining quantities of food, etc that I would have trusted my gut instead of worrying that I wasn’t doing what the book/my mom/my friends/the pediatrician said should happen.
The next time I see the nurse- a new one, this time- she tells me that they bottle-fed him during the night. She suggests that if I can’t make any progress, I should bottle-feed him, too. It was like being told that I had failed before I had even begun. Through frustrated tears, I only tried once or twice to feed him before giving up and taking out the formula.
In Retrospect- I wish I had been clear that he wasn’t to have any formula. After that night, Little Josh never latched again. I don’t know if ‘nipple confusion’ is a real thing, but it makes sense to me. After having tried a bottle nipple- which is much easier to use- babies refuse to latch to the breast. My experience confirms this for me.
We came home and I was determined. Numerous more failed attempts- many of them in the middle of the night, many of them with me crying as loudly as he- before I bought a breast pump. My thinking was that if nipple confusion is a THING, and he was confused about nipples, then I’d let him use whatever nipples he wanted as long as he was drinking my milk. So I pumped.
My days were completely consumed with feeding Josh. As an infant, he was expected to eat every two hours. This meant I would pump every non feeding hour. So, half hour of pumping, half hour break, half hour of feeding, half hour break. Does a half hour sound like a long time? It’s not. (imagine sleeping for 30 min intervals) And I can’t speak for the expensive pumps, but my cheapest-option-at-Target-pump would not stay ON my boobs. So there was no multitasking. I spent that half hour holding the suction cups on and trying to hear the TV over the whir-suck whir-suck of the pump.
Breast pumping doesn’t produce as much milk as regular ol’ feeding. And breastmilk works on supply and demand. So, the breastpump is doing a sorry-behind job of sucking out milk, and as a result, your boobs think your baby doesn’t need that much milk, so they produce less the next time around. It becomes cyclical to the point where you’re crying more tears than your boobs are pumping milk, and you give up and ask your husband to run to the store for a can of formula.
In Retrospect- Maybe meeting with a lactation consultant would have helped. I’m not sure. But, I wish that sick combination of mommy guilt and pride and stubborn Italian bullheadedness didn’t make me so committed to this obviously failing method that I had procured.
So we formula’ed. And I half-heartedly still tried to pump from time to time. But once you stop, your boobs stop, too. So, I think I was mostly trying for show or something- maybe I didn’t want Josh to think I was a lazy mom. Because that’s what I felt like. A lazy, selfish, uncommitted mom who put her own comfort before the health of her child.
No one really helps with this guilt, either.
My mom, the bottle-feeder, was nearly jubilant that my breastfeeding attempts hadn’t worked. She was supportive of “whatever you want to do, dear” but I sensed a certain feeling that by doing differently than she had done, I was rejecting the way she had raised me. Maybe it was just the post-baby hormones, but it was almost palpable.
Then, the lid of the can of formula says in big, block letters “ENFAMIL RECOGNIZES BREASTMILK AS BEST FOR THE NUTRITION OF BABIES.” Thanks, Enfamil, I get it.
Everyone asks if you’re breastfeeding. Everyone. Why do they care? Is that the most interesting part of a brand new baby? The fact that his mouth may or may not be on my boobs at several junctures during the day? Each time it was asked, it sounded more like an accusation. I found myself lying a few times, “Oh, yes, breastmilk only! I’m one of those good moms!”
In Retrospect- I’m really, really happy on formula. I think I’ll probably still try breastfeeding next time around, but I don’t think there’ll be as much emotion stocked into it. I’m able to have entire nights of sleep. Little Josh is a ravenous little pig of a child and I shudder to think of how I would’ve stood up to those ever-hungry jaws. Besides, I’d like another opportunity to answer those questioners. “No, no. No breastmilk here. I like to mix lard with sugar and spoon feed him. Maybe a dash of whiskey for those nights he can’t sleep.”
I don’t think my experience was awful- or that it should be read as a praise for one method over the other. I think perhaps the worst part of everything was my self-imposed pressure- maybe that’s the lesson here. I felt pressured by the nurses to do it exactly right the first time. I felt pressured by my timeline to fit in breastfeeding before I had to go back to work. I felt pressured by everyone and their mom to “do what’s best for baby” …but I don’t know that what’s best for one baby is best for all babies. Except for eating. That’s probably best for all babies- no matter how it needs to happen. I wish I had maintained THAT as my goal- ‘baby needs to eat’ instead of ‘mom needs to be perfect.’