13 September 2013

8 Things They Don't Tell You About Breastfeeding

While I was pregnant, I read a lot of books about breastfeeding, and we went to the breastfeeding class offered by the public health unit. Although I'd been a little leery of breastfeeding prior to getting pregnant, I came around to the idea pretty quickly once I knew a baby was on the way. It would mean that we wouldn't have to buy formula, and there are all those health benefits to it. I read a lot of women's stories about the difficulties they experienced while breastfeeding, and mentally prepared accordingly. I told myself that if we needed to supplement, I wouldn't feel guilty about it, since the important thing is to make sure your child has food.

So far, the whole breastfeeding thing hasn't been too difficult, which is the opposite of what I'd anticipated. E.'s not gaining weight as quickly as I would like, but she is gaining, and she's going through what the books and handouts tell me is the appropriate amount of diapers, so I know she's getting enough. My milk supply is still sorting itself out, so if she sleeps for a few hours, my breasts get a bit engorged, but that hasn't been too bad. My milk took a few days to come in properly, and my nipples are still sore, but for the most part, it's going a lot more smoothly than I'd expected, given all the stories I'd heard about potential problems. At the same time, there are also feelings and experiences I hadn't expected.

1. They'll tell you in the books and in the classes that if the baby's latched on properly, breastfeeding shouldn't hurt. What they don't tell you is that, even with a proper latch, breastfeeding will hurt for the first minute or so and then that pain just turns into discomfort. I had this confirmed as normal when I went to talk to one of the nurses at the public health unit and she told me that E.'s latch was great, and the discomfort was expected. Notice that I was only told this after I'd started breastfeeding.

2. Posture's really important. I finished feeding E. a few nights ago and handed her over to J. so he could convince her to sleep and, instead of going to sleep myself, I found myself experiencing very painful spasms in my upper back. I had to take Tylenol and then hop in the shower for a while before curling up with a hot water bottle. It's harder to achieve good posture while breastfeeding when you're out and about--chairs without arms and the lack of available pillows mean that there is less support for holding the baby up, so it's easier to hunch over and not think about the consequences until later.

3. Lanolin cream is your friend. Really. They'll mention it in the classes, but it's a very good idea to use it frequently. It's soothing and it helps toughen the nipples up. Those first few days are especially painful, so it helps to have anything that makes your skin feel better. Wet tea bags are also helpful, because of the tannins, although E. didn't quite like the taste they left behind.

4. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which is supposed to make you feel good. You know what else it does? It causes the uterus to contract. This is fantastic for recovery after birth, but especially in the first couple of days, it's painful--just like menstrual cramps or mild labour pains. So not only are you extremely sore from giving birth, with very sore nipples, you're also getting contractions every time you feed your baby. These lighten up, but I'm still getting occasional twinges at nearly every feeding. I'm not really noticing the alleged happy effects of the oxytocin, and am starting to wonder if that's actually true.

5. Breastfeeding can be exhausting. You're tethered to a tiny human being who doesn't care about your needs at all and wants to eat all the time. When a growth spurts hit, your child will want to eat even more frequently, so it will feel like your entire life is about feeding the baby. And right now, yes, it is. You don't get privacy or time just for you--the baby needs to eat. For an introvert like me, this can be really difficult.

6. Breastfeeding is also boring. You can only stare at your child for so long before you get tired of watching them eat and start counting the number of blotches on their skin from baby acne. Yes, you can do stuff around the baby, but it takes practice to learn that. I can now type and knit around E., but it took me a while, and I still have to be careful because if she gets dislodged slightly, she ends up yanking on my nipple. Let's just say that I'm very happy that we have Netflix (even if Canadian Netflix has a lot of inexplicable gaps--they have filmed Supernatural not three blocks from here and I can't get it on Netflix or at the library).

7. You will be told that you need to eat a healthy, balanced diet to keep up your milk supply and to provide proper nourishment for your child. You will not be told how to achieve this when your partner goes back to work and your baby starts cluster-feeding, thereby anchoring you to the couch with no one to cook for you. I doubt that coffee and Goldfish crackers constitute a balanced diet, so I'm hoping that the vitamins I'm taking will help mitigate things a bit. This may get better when I can put her down between feedings without her waking up or screaming her head off. Yesterday, I cooked breakfast at about 10:30 in the morning, even though I'd been up since 4, and she cried through most of it, while I tried to tell her that I really, really needed to eat and that I'd be feeding her again in just a few minutes.

8. You're also encouraged to breastfeed because it helps with bonding. I assume that this is true, since it's hard not to bond somehow with a person that's connected to you physically for so many hours in the day, but it doesn't feel as wonderful and magical as so many lactivist blogs say it is. It probably is for some people, but not for me. That may change once E. is doing more than eating, sleeping, and pooping, but at this stage, I don't feel an overwhelming rush of joy when she starts eating. I'm glad she's eating, and I'm glad this is working, but I'm sure I'd be just as paranoid about whether or not she's still breathing if we were bottle-feeding. I doubt that I'm alone in this. My mother says that it seems like some people turn breastfeeding into a religion, and I am apparently not one of them. Maybe I'll feel differently once E. starts smiling deliberately.

If I didn't think that it was important to breastfeed, and if we had the money for formula, I might very well not be breastfeeding, or be doing mixed feeding. I don't particularly enjoy having someone so dependent on me 24/7 and I'm very much looking forward to when we can introduce solid food in late February. It's not really easy right now. The first day of cluster-feeding made me feel really helpless and isolated, and I started sobbing the moment J. got home from work, because she hadn't slept for more than a hour at a time all day and had eaten constantly, so I didn't get anything done and hadn't gotten any sleep. It's a relief to hand her off to him and watch him play with her, because right now, her automatic response to me is, "Mommy=food." Even if I've just fed her, if I'm holding her and she's awake, she starts rooting.

However, my frustration and ambivalence do not mean I'm going to stop breastfeeding. I'm determined to hit the 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding mark if it's at all possible, though I'm less excited about the idea of breastfeeding her past a year. That part we'll play by ear. Somehow, the thought of breastfeeding someone who can walk and talk doesn't appeal to me that much right now, but we'll see how we all feel once we get there. In the meantime, five months and one week to go before we can add in solid foods. And one week before I can start pumping and introduce occasional bottle-feeding.

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