Friday, September 27, 2013

What IS it about breastfeeding? Moral support requested :)

When I got pregnant with my first child, my gynecologist had a longer list of questions for me than I had for him. Questions like, "What's your pediatrician's name?" Without a second's hesitation, I spouted the name of the pediatrician who'd been my doctor until I left home for college, and who lived and still practiced in a neighboring state.

I still think of the look Dr. White gave me as the "Oh-my-God-not-another-dumb-blonde look."

We established I'd have to get back to him on that.

Another question he asked was whether I planned to breastfeed. "Uh, no." I'd been a bottle baby, after all.

Then, I mentioned my decision to my mother-in-law. That innocent remark earned me an hour-long lecture on the benefits of breastfeeding. Namely, she'd had three kids, breast-fed two, and the one she couldn't breastfeed had horrendous, life-affecting allergies. Which ran in the family. But, the two she had breastfed had no allergies.

And, this kid who she hadn't breastfed, the middle child, was also a royal pain in the ass. to this day, I see her face when I hear Hotel California, and the line about "stab it with their steely knives but just can't kill the beast" part comes. I mention it because that alone might be why I decided to try breastfeeding. I did NOT want my kid to turn out like my sister-in-law, She-who-shall-go-unnamed. In any way.

Fast-forward seven and a half months. Here's baby! I'd been told breastfeeding my little man would be hard at first. I could do hard, I figured. What else would there be to do for six weeks? (Answer: Sleep! Bathe! Brush your hair! And teeth!)

But I digress.

From the minute MY mother learned of my decision, she began to undermine me. For that matter, so did the hospital, sending home a large can of powdered formula. You wanna know what that can looked like around three a.m. on Day Three, when my kid was screaming bloody murder because my milk hadn't come in and my nipples felt like someone had wrapped 'em with barbed wire? It looked like Dom Perignon, gold dust, and crushed diamonds.

That innocent can looked like the Holy friggin' Grail.

Oh, how I longed to give in. What could be the harm? Then, I remembered She-who-shall-not-be named. And I dumped the powder down the toilet. If my mother-in-law managed this, any fool could do it. We got through that crisis, much to my mother's disgust. I was starving him, she declared. She couldn't take it, time for her to pack and go home, since I clearly hadn't a shred of common sense.

The most painful moment came two weeks later, when I was shopping with my mother. Son got hungry, so I ducked into a dressing room and got him hooked up, flipped a blanket over his head and re-joined my mother--who rolled her eyes and started muttering about formula.

"Must you do this in public?" she demanded. I swear, the Original Iron Maiden was blushing.

"Where else would you suggest I do it?"

"Why didn't you stay in that dressing room?"

"Because I was bored? Because that narrow bench hurts my ass? Because it smells like dye and something in there was stinging my eyes? Take your pick. It's no problem, I can walk and nurse."

Until the store manager asked us--meaning me and my four-week old--to leave. My mother gave me the lecture from hell all the way home. She hit all the highlights, from "formula is scientifically designed to be better than breast milk", to how selfish I was being, since only I could feed the first grandchild, ending by vowing that by breastfeeding, I was making myself look poor and uneducated.

I managed six weeks. In that time, I was stared at, talked down to, treated like an idiot, all for the simple, natural, normal act of doing something my body was made to do, feed a child.

Why'd I stop? Because my dear son figured out that drinking from a bottle was easier and faster than drinking straight from the tap. Once he got the pumped breast milk after I returned to work, that was it. He was done getting milk the hard way. He refused to nurse. My milk dried up, despite hiding in the bathroom at work to pump and being told if I continued 'wasting time' this way, I stood to lose my job. (Before you cue the outrage, this was 1987 and South Carolina employers could, by law, fire any employee at any time, for any reason.)

Defeat, thy name is Enfamil.

Second time around, I had better results. My daughter nursed well from the beginning. My milk came in straight way, in copious quantities. I was self-employed, so no separation at six weeks.

But we had other issues. I got pneumonia when she was two weeks old. My gynecologist referred me to a pulmonary specialist. He prescribed an antibiotic.

Then, the fun began.

I'm positive that, while I had no ill effects from the medicine, it made my daughter's tummy hurt. As in, the drawn into knots, screaming until her entire body turned red kind of hurt. Once I had narrowed my suspicions about the cause to the pills, I called my gynecologist and explained the problem. He told me I was nuts. Medicine didn't enter my milk, he assured me, so the problem had to be something else. I next called the pulmonary specialist. His answer was very different. "Oh, yes, absolutely. The medicine IS in your milk. You'll have to stop breastfeeding until you've taken all the meds. Then, you can start back."

If you know the first thing about breastfeeding, you're either laughing hysterically, or staring in open-mouthed disbelief. At two weeks, one doesn't simply stop for two weeks and start back up. I don't know if it works that way for dairy cattle, but it damn sure doesn't work like that for humans. Demand is the trigger for supply.

Next, I called my pediatrician. Though I wasn't his patient, he said right away, "Of course. Let me call you in something else." I almost cried from relief. He went on to say he planned to have a chat with both of these physicians, since his colleagues were obviously laboring under a good deal of misinformation.

That incident was the only bump int he road. After that, smooth sailing until she was weaned.

Now, that same child has a child of her own. (Yes, I'm posting a photo, and thank you for asking!) :p
Alexandra Channing, two weeks

She made the decision to breastfeed. My mother would be proud--of her mother-in-law-type person (they aren't married, I have no idea what to call this woman). She's regurgitating every argument my mother ever used. She's made some comments my daughter finds very upsetting, like referring to my daughter as 'the milk machine' and other subtle digs that aren't going down well, given the highly hormonal state of a newly postpartum mother.

So, they go to the pediatrician. Baby Alex has lost a few ounces. The pediatrician asks about feeding and ultimately says, " You need to supplement with formula."

Here we go again. Like that won't lead to ceasing breastfeeding entirely? What I cannot wrap my head around is that twenty-five years have passed since I first tossed my hat into this arena, and doctors seem to be spouting the same misinformation. This time, I feel it's more sinister, since this bad advice is coming from a pediatrician, rather than a pulmonary specialist.

I'm proud of my kid. She stuck to her guns and sought a second opinion by going to a lactation specialist.

But..she could sure use some moral support. If you would, leave her YOUR stories about breastfeeding, since she's heard mine. How to stick with it, tricks for getting over the hurdles yet to come, stories of ...well, of anything on the topic, really. Misery does love company. As well as something to read at three a.m. when she's nursed and nursed and the baby is still latched on.

Feel free to digress into stories about how well breastfeed is or is not supported in your community or family. Stories of success, of failure, of what you did, of what you wish you'd done....all welcome.

Thanks! Have a great week :)


  1. Crap! My first comment disappeared so I will just sum it up. I don't have any children but I don't think anyone has the right to make the choice of whether or not to breastfeed for a mother other than herself. I do think that breastfeeding is great, it passes antibodies from the mother to the child. As for the babys grandmother disrespecting your daughter, her son (the father) should stick up for his family and tell his mother that he will not stand for the mother of his child being disrespected and that if she wants to be a part of the baby's life, she will respect the mother and her choices.
    Btw, Alexandra Channing is adorable!!!