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Breastfeeding: the goood, the bad and the sucky

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Breastfeeding: the goood, the bad and the sucky

I'm an unapologetic fan of breastfeeding but sometimes I hate it... Have I got your attention?
Have I got your attention now?

In my opinion boobs were made for babies. I'm very pro breastfeeding. To go that one step further I'm pro breastfeeding on demand. I breastfeed in public if I have to. I will feed my baby when my baby wants to be fed, regardless of who's around thinking it's 'disgusting' or inappropriate. Something is wrong with society when people are OK with young girls and old biddies walking around in bikinis and they're all for women's boobs bursting out the top of dresses but people think its wrong to show a little bit of skin to feed an infant. Boobs were made to feed babies and anyone who has a problem with that can get bent. I sometimes isolate myself to feed but only if I'm going to a comfier chair or a quieter room so my baby can have some time out from the hustle and bustle or with a new baby when we're still working out attachment and I need to concentrate. To me, breastfeeding is a normal part of life. It didn't always feel natural though.

Obviously there are people who can't breastfeed and I have nothing against people who bottle feed. There's nothing wrong with formula feeding if you have to, for example if breastfeeding interferes with mother's health (including adding too much stress) or baby's health. It's not necessary nor appropriate to put down mothers who choose not to breastfeed, whatever their reasons may be.

What I am passionate about though is mothers being given all the information and support they need to give breastfeeding a fair go. I have friends who desperately wanted to breastfeed and before bub was born were very excited about the idea but quickly switched to bottles when they were faced with the reality of a newborn baby. Some had a medical reason, some had physical reasons, and for some it was too time consuming and draining for them (and that's ok).

If you are due to have a baby soon and you want to breastfeed do everything in your power to make it work. If you have a loved one who is wanting to breastfeed or who is breastfeeding a young baby then I want to encourage you to be supportive. Breastfeeding a newborn is incredibly draining at times, both physically and emotionally. New mums need support from family and friends so they have the best chance to make it through the first few weeks. 

The last thing a new mum needs is a hubby who complains about being tired or having a headache or not being able to have sex or the dishes not being done (tell him to take care of it himself). New mums don't need visitors popping in "for a few minutes" and plonking their butt on the couch where she usually sits and staying for hours. They need food, drink, sleep and gentle hugs. It's pretty simple. They need lots of food, lots of water and more than 3 hours of broken sleep. 

Only mothers who have breastfed can truly understand how draining it is. The best nutrients from what they eat go to bub, they don't sleep properly, they are recovering from labour and they are trying to understand their new baby who sometimes looks like an alien (we nicknamed William 'Yoda'). Then there is the hormonal factor. The hormones that cause milk production also cause moodiness, hunger, thirst and fatigue. If mums don't take care of themselves they will burn out.

So many pregnant women expect breastfeeding will come easy and feel natural but the truth is for most mums it doesn't. It is a skill that needs to be learned. As a newborn Alexis fed often and she took a long time to feed. One of my nipples cracked and blistered. It was painful. A lactation consultant showed me a better way to attach Alexis to the breast and it helped but it was painful until it healed. When I finally felt I was getting the hang of things she had a growth spurt.

Growth spurts are hellish times where mothers supply of milk does not meet the demands of the growing baby, so baby grazes almost constantly. It is tempting in those times to give baby a bottle of formula but unfortunately baby fussing on drained breasts is necessary to increase milk production.

Lactation works on a supply and demand principle, the more baby feeds the more milk the breasts make. Rather than feeding baby formula to give the mum a break it is more advantageous to take all other responsibilties off the mum to allow her the time and energy to focus on feeding the baby. Yes its important to have time out, but don't pressure her. If somebody else changes, burps, swaddles and baths bub that will be a big help.

Growth spurts only last a few days. Those few days can feel like a month though. There were days (and nights) when I would only be able to get Alexis off the breast when I was desperate for the loo or I was starving, and even then she would cry. William is less intense in his booby addiction but I have had a few days and nights with him doing the same recently. It's not as emotionally draining this time because I know what is happening and I know it will soon pass.

There were numerous times with my firstborn, Alexis, that I was tempted to give up on breastfeeding. I had family and friends telling me to make the switch. If I wasn't so stubborn and cheap I probably would have. If my husband wasn't so supportive I probably would not have had a choice.

In those first few weeks after Alexis was born Corey (and our families) did everything possible to support me, including
  • cooking
  • cleaning
  • washing 
  • shopping 
  • nappy changes 
  • burping baby
  • bringing me glasses of water while I was feeding 
  • rubbing my shoulders when I was in so much pain from holding Alexis in the feed position all day and night 
  • taking me to a lactation consultant 
  • draping a blanket over my shoulders or bringing cushions
  • giving me the opportunity to have long showers so I felt human again 
  • sometimes he would simply sit with me making sure I didn't fall asleep and drop her 
  •  a few times I was really exhausted and couldn't get out of bed so he brought her into bed for feeds.

Corey went back to work at about the same time Alexis had her first growth spurt, so he helped by making me sandwiches in the morning before he left. That way when I was hungry I just had to get one out of the fridge. Most importantly he reassured me that I was doing the right thing for our baby and that we were both in it together.

Corey and I were both determined our kids would be breastfed because we studied immunology at uni. We knew that breastmilk passes maternal antibodies to baby and so breasted babies are less likely to get sick and usually recover faster when they do. I did a little bit of biochemistry too. I sucked at it but I did remember that breasts produce milk custom made for baby's nutritional need at that particular time. Also we could not fit formula and bottles into our budget. Breastmilk is free.

More incentives to persevere included the following: breastfeeding is convenient (once established) because wherever I go my boobs go too; breastmilk is easily digested so breastfeed babies don't get constipated; breastfed babies poo doesn't smell anywhere near as bad as formula fed bubs poo; breastfeeding is a good bonding opportunity; women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer; breastfed babies are reported to be less fussy with food when they are toddlers; the very act of breastfeeding calms a fussy infant whether they are actually hungry or not.

I chose to breastfeed because I believe it is best for my family situation. I had a choice. I didn't want to buy formula and I wanted to do the best thing for my kids' immune systems. Breastfeeding Alexis was hard at first but after a few weeks it became so easy we stuck with it for about 14 months. I would have kept going longer if my milk hadn't spontaneously dried up when I was pregnant with William.
This is what I need to keep reminding myself while I'm up several times a night feeding my son William. This is my choice. I don't want to introduce him to formula or even expressed breastmilk at this stage. No bottles at all just yet. This is what I chose because this is what I feel is best for me and him in the long run. In the short term it is tedious and tiring but it will be worth it.

When I am feeding for long periods of time during the day and I worry I might be neglecting my toddler I need to remind myself that Alexis had her turn last year and William deserves his turn. It is good for Alexis to learn to amuse herself anyway. Hey, if nothing else at least it gives me the opportunity to sit down, right?  
When I see the mess piling up around the house and I feel like I should do better I remind myself that I'm not a housewife I am a stay at home mum. My kids come first. I do what I can around the house but I don't feel guilty for what I don't get finished. Corey doesn't do as much housework as he did last time because he is busy helping in other ways (ie caring for Alexis) but between us we do the necessities.

When I'm feeding when the rest of the family is eating a meal or when I don't want to go somewhere because I know there is nowhere comfortable to feed or when my boobs/back/shoulders/neck/head hurt so bad I think it's so unfair I need to remember that it won't last forever. I should be thankful for the opportunity to share this special bond with my son and enjoy it while it lasts. All too soon he be walking and talking and will not want to stay still long enough to feed.

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At October 30, 2011 at 2:13 PM , Blogger mummysundeservedblessings said...

Breastfeeding is great. I struggled with it with both kids for the first month but once I got the hang of it I would not have it any other way. Glad to hear you have so much support.

At October 30, 2011 at 4:40 PM , Blogger Kristy said...

Haha.... I sucked at Biochemistry too!!!

Great post!! (Another one I could have written myself.. my views are pretty much exactly the same!)

At October 31, 2011 at 12:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thid is great! All I have to say is thankyou for taking the time and making the effort to post this! Its a fantastic write up and we can only hope that more mums endeavor to feel this way in relation to breast feeding. Good for you :) A

At November 1, 2011 at 4:14 AM , Blogger The Mother Experiment said...

Thanks everyone. Anon, I sincerely hope more people do too. It almost breaks my heart to hear of so many who give up because of lack of information or support, because it really is so easy and lovely and convenient once we get the hang of it.

At November 4, 2011 at 9:13 AM , Blogger Toru said...

Ahhhh BOOOOBS! Yes, I'm third time breastfeeding for me now. Essentially its such a simple issue, but there is so much to say and so many opinions and feelings. SOmetimes I hate that I have these things, but I also love that I can nourish my children in such a close and inexpensive way !
Feeding in public is an odd one. It shouldnt be, but it is. Your so right about peoples distaste for public breastfeeding, yet it seems ok for teens to walk around with their butt cheeks hanging out of their super short shorts.

At November 4, 2011 at 10:06 PM , Blogger robyn said...

I find all your posts very interesting right now because I'm going to be where you are soon (in 7 weeks!). You sound like you are doing a fantastic job- I think it's important not to be too hard on yourself. I'm just telling myself 'just get through those first three months' because for me that was the hellish time. Breastfeeding was awful in the beginning thanks to nipple thrush, and Georgie had reflux, but we got there... so I'm just aiming for survival in the beginning! :) I know I haven't commented often, it's hard to find the time- but keep going- you're doing well!


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