I know, I know, you're waiting for the birthday recap. It's coming, I promise. I need another day to get the pictures processed. There are some incredibly cute ones (I know, try to contain your surprise). In the meantime, I read a blog post a couple of days ago that I wanted to talk about. For those who don't want to bother with the link, the post is titled Dumb Mom's Guide to Nursing and is about how, despite what La Leche League and some other breastfeeding advocate groups would have you believe, nursing a newborn is not all sunshine and roses. It's actually more like stormclouds and thistles.
The subject has actually come up a few times recently, among other moms at playgroup and with a few others in my general social circle. Every mom I've talked to about this has had the same thing to say: "Breastfeeding my first baby was a horribly unpleasant experience...at first."
Wha? What about all the amazing wonderful bonding time, the magical bliss of a sleepy, suckling infant, gazing up at you with adoration? Oh, there's plenty of that, but it comes later. And since I was not the only mom surprised to discover this, I think not enough women are talking about it. Certainly not the ones who write the books that all of us expecting moms eagerly read while we waited to give birth to our first kids. The refrain of those books is this: "If it hurts, something is wrong. You have a bad latch, or there's something wrong with the baby's position. If you're doing it right, it shouldn't hurt."
I guess they don't want to scare women away from attempting to breastfeed. Numerous studies have found that there really is no true substitute for human breastmilk. Formulas can come pretty close, but they can't pass along the antibodies and other specific compounds that babies get from Mom. So the authors of these breastfeeding books try to paint a rosy picture in order to encourage women to not give in to the lure of an "easy" way out with bottle feeding. ("Easy" in quotes, because I personally think formula feeding would be much more of a hassle in most cases, but I'll get to that later.)
Maybe these books were written by women several months or years after they first started breastfeeding, when selective memory had set in. But I haven't yet met a women for whom breastfeeding was anything close to a pleasant experience at the start. And, like me, they all fretted that they weren't doing it right, or else why would it hurt so much? It's a really discouraging feeling, to not only be in pain but to feel like you're only in pain because of some failure on your part. The fact of the matter is, you're taking a very sensitive part of your body and subjecting it to treatment unlike anything it's previously experienced. There really isn't anything that can compare to 30 or 40 minutes of sustained, strong suction every couple of hours. (I've heard the old wives' take about rubbing your nipples with a Brillo pad in preparation for nursing, but I really don't see how that would be adequate. Just seems like unnecessary additional torture to me.)
Yes, it's true that a poor latch can make things even worse. And I think if you're given the opportunity to meet with a lactation consultant you should jump at it; there's nothing to be gained by thinking you can teach yourself how to breastfeed without any guidance. You don't win any medals for making things harder on yourself than they already have to be. But the thing no one will say is that even if you're doing everything right, it's still gonna hurt. A lot. For a while. The first two months I nursed Soren were damn near excruciating. It's not a good feeling to be dreading your baby's "I'm hungry" cry, and who wants to be woken repeatedly in the middle of the night only to be subjected to that kind of discomfort? Even after it stopped hurting so badly, I remember thinking there was no way I'd ever find nursing to be relaxing. I just couldn't imagine it.
My goal here isn't to frighten anyone away from breastfeeding. I'll stand right up there with the Leche Leaguers to tout its benefits and proclaim it one of my most rewarding experiences, ultimately. Instead, I want to offer a counter to the "If you're doing it right, it shouldn't hurt" rhetoric with the following: "I know it's horrible right now, but you're not alone, and if you can stick it out, it's so, so worth it in the end. If you can't, it doesn't make you a bad person, but I can pretty much promise you it won't be this bad forever."
There are endless published lists of breastfeeding's benefits, so I won't go into all of them. But here are a few of the ones that have stuck out for me, personally:
1. Whip it out, pretty much anytime, anywhere.
Yes, I was shy about it at first. I know there are lots of people who get all squicked out about a woman nursing her kid in public. My attitude is, fuckem. Plain and simple. If you're offended by me feeding my child, then don't look. And even in situations where I felt more modest, it wasn't hard to come up with some sort of barrier or shield or cover or what-have-you. But there have been so many times when I was incredibly glad I didn't have to worry about needing to leave some place early because I hadn't brought enough formula, or being stuck somewhere without the means to warm a bottle. Have mammaries, will travel.
2. Formula is frickin expensive.
Breastmilk is (monetarily) free. You pay your debt with calories. Yeah, that's a damned shame.
3. The nursing diet is awesome.
Eat. Eat a lot. And still lose weight. Who can argue with that?
4. Instant comfort.
For me, nothing beats the magical power of the breast to make my kid feel better. Whether it's after getting vaccinated at a doctor's appointment or getting an accidental bonk on the head from an overzealous older brother, nothing quite soothes and settles like nursing. It's a little selfish, but I love being the one person who can (in most situations) calm my upset child down the fastest.
5. There really is all that lovey-dovey blissful bonding stuff after all.
Once you get past the initial hurdle of unpleasantness, it really is relaxing and downright awesome to snuggle up with a sleepy little bundle of warm softness, even at 3 in the morning, and drift back off to sleep afterward. It's a free pass to sit still for a few minutes and say, "Not right now, I'm feeding the baby."
6. It is so, so much easier the second time around.
Remember I said the first two months of nursing Soren were well nigh miserable? With Eleri it was 4 days. That's it. My body knew what it was in for and adjusted a whole lot faster.
So there you have it. Just something I wanted to put out there. I promise I'll return you to your regularly scheduled cute kiddo pictures in short order. :)