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17 July 2011 @ 08:26 pm
[Earthling] Breastfeeding at Three Years. No, Really.  
(Now unlocked!)

  • You have to breastfeed.
  • You have to breastfeed until the baby is six months.
  • You have to breastfeed until he's seven months.
  • You have to breastfeed until he's one.
  • You have to breastfeed until he's two.
  • You should breastfeed until he's four.
  • You should wean at nine months.
  • You should wean at one year.
  • You have to wean by eighteen months.
  • Every baby should be weaned by two.
  • The baby will wean himself when he's ready.
  • Extended breastfeeding leads to secure attachment.
  • Extended breastfeeding leads to over-attachment.
  • Extended breastfeeding leads to improved behavior.
  • Extended breastfeeding causes behavior problems.
  • Extended breastfeeding makes your baby smarter.
  • Extended breastfeeding causes developmental delay.
  • You shouldn't breastfeed a baby with feeding problems, even if he can.
  • You're causing feeding problems by breastfeeding.
  • A baby with feeding problems needs to be breastfed more than the average baby.
All of these things were said to me at some point in the last four years by at least one healthcare professional. (I'm not even including all the crap I've heard from people who don't have relevant degrees, mostly because it would fill a book. Although I tell you what: it would be a funny book.) I've learned to largely ignore healthcare professionals when it comes to breastfeeding, yes, for obvious reasons, but also because of the one thing I've learned from being a mother and from talking to other parents, which is:

You have to feed the baby you have.

That is the only real rule about feeding that I know. You have to feed your baby. Not the fantasy baby you had in your head before yours was born. Not an ideal baby. Not the one the books talk about. Not your best friend's baby. Your personal, actual baby. Some women want to breastfeed and can't. Some women could, but their babies have no interest in it. Some babies are too sick to breastfeed. Some babies (mine included!) won't take a bottle under any circumstances. Some babies can't tolerate any formula you can afford. Some babies are absolutely done with breastfeeding at eight months, or at a year, and some are still very into it long after they are toddlers. Some babies self-wean. Some babies have to be pried off the boob. There is no hard and fast feeding rule. The only thing that is true for all babies is that they all have to be fed.

And no matter how you feed your baby, you will hear a lot of stupid crap about child-rearing and baby feeding from people who should know better. (If you find a way to circumvent that one - earplugs? duct tape? mayhem? - let me know, please.)

That said, here are a few things I've learned during my three years of breastfeeding that I didn't know going in.

Pumping Sucks

Recently, I went to a new eye doctor. He asked me how long it had been since my last eye exam, and I backdated via earthling: "Before I got pregnant, so, um, about four years?"

This led to - well, to a gentle reminder that it is really really important for someone with my family history of bizarre eye maladies to get an eye exam regularly, but also to a discussion of his six-month-old daughter. He showed me a picture, talked about her, and talked about his wife. It didn't take long before we worked around to a question that is on a lot of parents' minds when their kids are that age, although it's unusual for a father to ask it. "Did you breastfeed?" he asked, dropping his voice slightly like he was asking about something very personal, instead of something much of southern California has seen me do by this time.

"I'm still breastfeeding," I said, with the little laugh that became obligatory as the earthling closed in on three.

His reaction was not exactly the typical one. His jaw dropped, and he said, tripping over his words in his haste and shock, "Still? But - it's so hard. I can't imagine - how, how do you do it? My wife, it's so hard for her. She gets up at five to pump, and then she feeds the baby, and then she goes to work, and she's a teacher so she can only pump at lunch, and that's her lunch, and then after work she pumps and grades and feeds and pumps and she goes to bed so, so late. I get the baby at night because she's so tired she can't get up. And she cries a lot. She's so tired. It's so hard. How do you do it? What does your wife do that makes you able to do this?" He clearly thought we had a magic secret that I could share. (And, yes, he said wife. This is, I guess, what it means to own a small business - you listen very carefully to the nouns and pronouns your clients use, and reflect them back exactly as offered.)

I tell you what, I was sick with sympathy for his poor wife. And I did have a magic secret, but I knew it wouldn't help either one of them. "I don't work," I said. "I don't pump. It will get easier when your daughter is mostly eating solids, but - the real thing is, I didn't have to work, and so I didn't have to pump, and after a while I didn't anymore. Pumping is hard. Pumping is really, really hard."

And it is. I know this from when I had to do it after almost every feeding, when the earthling was very small and needed extra breastmilk that he didn't have to work for. I mean, it seems like it should be easy. You just plug your boobs into the pump, do your email or read a book or whatever for twenty minutes, and voila! Milk, and you can be apart from your baby and still be sure she's getting fed. All the ads make it clear that the pump is freedom.

It turns out, though, that actually the pump is a pain in the ass. (And in the boob, sometimes.) I mean, it never was freeing for me, because my kid wouldn't take a bottle. But even for people whose babies do deign to consume milk not directly from the boob, pumping is grueling. It's weep-inducing. Most of the women I know who do it, or did it, hated it. If you're pumping at home, it's time you aren't with your baby. If you're pumping at work, I'm guessing it's just a painful reminder that your baby isn't with you. And this particular type of freedom means having to remember an extra bag (a large extra bag) and all the little parts and then find a place to store your milk and carry it all home and wash it all. Oh, and you have to find time to pump, and a place to pump. And you have to do again and again and again. On a schedule. (You can also forget about having free hands to read or use the computer if you have large breasts. I tried every single method known to womankind to get my hands free while pumping. No dice.) This is not freedom as I define it. It is actually much more freeing to just take the baby with you wherever you go. (And as one who did exactly that for two years: that is not actually freeing.)

Pumping is also unrewarding. The more you pump, the less you get (unless you are also feeding the baby), because pumps just aren't as good as babies at getting the milk out. And with all the effort you put into pumping, wasting milk is excruciating. And there are other delightful wrinkles, too. (It can take forever for your milk to let down while you're pumping. Some people don't get milk when they pump. And you're never more aware of how much a baby eats when every single ounce has to be laboriously removed from your body.)

I mean, yes, I know women who preferred to pump. (Two of them. Both had chronic biters.) I know many women who were and are grateful to the pump. (I am one of them. It let me give the earthling what he needed.) I know women who needed their pumps. (Every mother who has ever had a baby in the NICU, for starters.) But the thing is - breastfeeding starts out hard, but it gets a lot easier as time goes on. Pumping starts out easy, or at least easier than breastfeeding, and gets harder and harder, emotionally speaking, as time goes on. (And it makes breastfeeding harder and less rewarding a lot of the time, too.) By a year, most of the mothers I know were counting down the minutes until they could stop pumping. If they'd even made it that far; lots of them gave up a lot earlier. And I did not blame them.

Because pumping sucks.

Most Mothers Have Some Feeding Guilt

As the still-breastfeeding mother of a three-year-old, I have somehow become, totally against my will, the repository of all breastfeeding confessions. I try to avoid mentioning that I'm still breastfeeding when I'm chatting with other mothers, because they make two assumptions:
  1. I am mommier than they are, because, hey, still breastfeeding.
  2. I am judging them for their feeding choices.
Neither one is remotely true. Breastfeeding is easier than not breastfeeding for me right now, so I do it. It is not a sacrifice. It does not put me way up on the pedestal of Perfect Mothers (I, uh, really do not belong there), nor does it garner me thousands of extra points good for one get-out-of-public-tantrum-free card. This is just what I do. Most people do something else. But I am who I am, and the earthling is who he is, so this is what is working for us. When it stops working for one of us, we'll do something else.

And so of course I am not judging those other mothers. I know they were and are doing what is right for their families. I mean, yes, I am sure there are mothers who don't want to feed their kids well - in fact, I know there are, and it makes me so, so sad - but I mostly don't seem to be meeting them. The mothers I talk to try to do what's right for their families.

But they all feel guilty. A tiny sample of the many things I've heard about feeding:

"I wanted to breastfeed so much, and I tried so hard, but she just wouldn't latch, and after seven months, I couldn't pump anymore."

"He was in the NICU for two weeks, and he just never entirely got the hang of it, so we tried, but - you know, it didn't work. I cried a lot."

"I had to go back on my meds. I didn't want to, that wasn't the plan, but after three months I couldn't get out of bed, and I just had to do something."

"I wanted to go to a year, but at nine months he was biting me all the time and kicking me and he didn't want to and after a while I just didn't want to force it anymore. I guess I should have tried harder, huh?"

Every single one of those things was said to me in quiet, telling-a-secret tones, accompanied by a pained expression of guilt and repentance intended to communicate, I guess, "Forgive me, Patron Saint of Breastfeeding, for I have sinned."

Dear lady telling me this: you haven't Done Wrong in the feeding department. I can always tell, because while we're having these talks, your healthy toddler is running around, trying to eat sand or climb on something high and unstable. You got that kid to this point. You win! If you wanted to breastfeed and it didn't work out, I'm sad for you, but in the end, the important thing is that you remember your baby's first year with as much joy and as little guilt as possible. This means letting the feeding thing go.

(And, hey, if you're curious, I too had my hideous bout of feeding guilt. When the earthling was five months old, a gastroenterologist told me that if only I had never breastfed, we would be able to do more to treat the earthling's reflux. It was awful. I was hurting my baby, and I couldn't even do anything to fix it, because by then he was president of the bottle-haters society. I cried and cried. And then I remembered that this was his choice, too - even in the hospital, he wouldn't take an artificial nipple for love or money - and that doctors are supposed to treat the patients they have, not the patients they wish they had. We got a new pediatric gastroenterologist, and eventually I stopped feeling guilty about feeding.)

Medical Professionals Really, Really, Really Hate Breastfeeding

I mean, I knew this. I did. But at least in the first year they kind of understood, in a hypothetical way, why I was doing it, even if they desperately wanted me to stop. Now, our conversations go like this:

Medical Professional: And I'm going to prescribe [medicine not suitable for breastfeeding women, and, yes, I do have to know this, because doctors don't].
Me: Um, I'm still breastfeeding, so I can't take that one.
MP, looking shocked: How old is that baby now?
Me: [Some number greater than 12] months.
MP, in tones of horror and wonder: And you're still breastfeeding?
Me: Yup.
MP (out loud): You know, the baby doesn't need the milk after a year. It's not really doing anything for him. [Female medical professionals will sometimes add that it's also a real pain to breastfeed and they could not WAIT to wean their own kids.]
MP (not out loud, but obvious all the same): Why? Why are you doing this to me? Is it personal? Are you doing this JUST TO MAKE ME CRAZY?

No, medical professionals! If I wanted to make your lives difficult, I could manage it without milk of any kind. I would just wait until you were almost out the door and then say, "Oh, wait, I had one other question -." If I did that two or three times in a row for a visit or two, you'd long to go back to the days when I just flagrantly and wrong-headedly breastfed.

These reactions are all deeply ironic, of course, because lactation professionals (although not my lactation consultant, who is notable in that she has never once suggested that she should have any input on anyone else's feeding choices; if you want to breastfeed, she'll make it happen, and if you don't or you're done trying, that's fine and she will not judge) are simultaneously saying that there is no reason at all not to breastfeed forever. I think these people need to start having meetings or maybe some therapy or something, because, wow, they are just not at all on the same page. It's like the Cold War, except the iron curtain is a nursing bra. (For those of us with large breasts, the similarities have already been noted.)

It's Okay to Need Help

What I thought it took to make a breastfed baby while I was pregnant:
  • A baby
  • Breasts
What it actually took to get us breastfeeding:
  • Two lactation consultants (in the hospital)
  • One lactation consultant (out of the hospital)
  • Six visits to the lactation clinic
  • Weekly (at least) weighing visits
  • Weekly (at least) check-ins with the lactation consultant
  • Dozens of SNS feeders
  • One hospital-grade breast pump (rented)
  • One extremely expensive near-hospital-grade breast pump (owned)
  • A nipple dome
  • Tons of hot packs and cold packs
  • Even more unguents of various kinds
Oh, and a baby. And breasts.

It was grueling. I did it, because I really wanted to breastfeed, but those first two months were hard. My lactation consultant said, after breastfeeding was properly established, "Maybe one percent of mothers could or would have done what you did." I was lucky that I had a partner at home and an otherwise easy baby, because if I hadn't, I don't know if I could have done it.

Somewhere in those first bleary first few months, I went to see my doctor for a reason unrelated to boobs, and I mentioned lactation consultants. My doctor laughed and rolled her eyes. "Lactation consultants," she said. "It's just breastfeeding!"

I felt like shit. It was, after all, just breastfeeding. I was clearly a terrible failure of a mother and a person for needing all that help. I judged myself very harshly.

Three years later, I've forgiven myself. Now, I judge the doctor harshly. (For that. She's actually a good doctor.) Sometimes people need help to do things. That doesn't mean they shouldn't do those things; it means they should get the help they need.

Because, seriously, if you think you need to be perfect at everything right out of the gate, parenthood is not for you. Once you have a kid, you will never be perfect again. Child-rearing is all about doing it a little better tomorrow. So, hey, if you need help with breastfeeding, consider it great practice for the rest of your life.

Everyone Lies (About Breastfeeding)

In our birth preparation class, we heard a lot about breastfeeding. And since we also attended the introduction to breastfeeding class, let's just say the last trimester of my pregnancy was extremely full of breastfeeding indoctrination. And it all sounded very much the same:

Breastfeeding is easy! Breastfeeding is cheap! Breastfeeding doesn't hurt unless you're doing something wrong! All babies can breastfeed!

Every single one of those things is bullshit, for the record.

Breastfeeding is easy. It totally is. When the baby is six months old. When you really need it to be easy - when you are exhausted and experiencing the biggest hormonal crash of your life and trying to learn how to be a parent and trying to recalibrate your family - it is very often not easy. About half the mothers I know who tried to breastfeed struggled in some way in the first weeks. Most of them didn't struggle as much as I did, but something went wrong.

Breastfeeding is cheap. Unless you need help. Or special equipment. All that shit costs money. They tell you in class that formula for a year costs two thousand dollars. They don't mention that once you add up the breast pump, the milk bags, the nursing bras, the nursing pajamas, the My Breast Friend, the glider, the lactation consultant, the lactation aids, and the books, breastfeeding can also cost about that much. And, sure, it doesn't have to. Sure, you can do it on the cheap. But some of that stuff you probably will need, and whatever you need you'll mostly be paying for in the first months, all together. And if you really need it, you can get government help to pay for formula. (Probably. In some locations.) Try getting the government to buy you a breast pump.

Breastfeeding doesn't hurt unless you're doing it wrong. Or, you know, unless you're unlucky. It's useful to hear that if it hurts you should call a lactation consultant. You absolutely should. Probably she can help. But sometimes she can't, or she can't right away. Breastfeeding does sometimes hurt. There you go. It's just the truth. (It's also, for the record, true that it does get better.)

All babies can breastfeed. Except for the ones who can't. I do think that most babies can, if you work at it, but even then, with some babies - or with some boobs - the amount of effort you will need to put in may prevent you from doing anything else at all with the baby.

Now, please note - I am in no way against breastfeeding. I put in a ton of effort to breastfeed. And I am very glad I did. I think it did make me closer to the earthling. I think it did, in the long run, make raising him much, much easier. I think it kept me saner and happier for the first year of his life, and him calmer and more cheerful. It was entirely worth it.

I just wish people didn't lie so much about breastfeeding. Women aren't stupid just because they're pregnant; they're capable of making good choices even if you give them all the relevant information. And, actually, all this lying, all this careful whitewashing - it probably leads a lot of women to give up. If it's so easy, you think as you stare at your wailing baby on your first night home from the hospital, in pain and so tired and so, so scared because she just won't latch and you can't remember what you're supposed to do, then why isn't it working? And since no one has told you that it isn't necessarily easy to start with, it makes a lot of sense to assume that something is seriously broken and give up right then.

And, also, if I had not been programmed to believe all that crap, maybe I would have listened a little more to other mothers right from the start. In our birth preparation class, there was a teenage girl whose birth partner was her mother. That mother was the only woman in the class besides the teacher who had actually had a baby, so one night the teacher asked her if she had anything to share, anything she wished she'd known.

"When I had my son two years ago," she said, "I wish I had started him on the bottle earlier. By the time I tried, he wouldn't take one. I had to go back to work when he was six weeks, and he had to go to daycare, and there was no way to feed him there, because he wouldn't ever take a bottle." These days, I am filled with sympathy for that woman. I had a bottle refuser, and it was hard, but at least I didn't have to go to work and think about him hungry, sobbing in daycare for boobs that didn't come.

But back then, all of us stared at her in horror. We had all taken the classes and read the books, and we knew that didn't happen, and we also knew starting the bottle earlier was evil and wrong! She was clearly insane and possibly warped and very likely a secret Nestle board member.

She was none of those things. She was giving us information that she learned the hard way. And there was no reason for all the other sources of information to keep that from us. If I had known that bottle refusal was a real possibility (my informal guess is that this happens with 5% of babies who are exclusively breastfed in the early weeks of life, which is not the same as never), I would still have breastfed. I would still have waited to try the earthling on a bottle. But I wouldn't have been so miserable and frustrated and scared when the earthling didn't take it, wouldn't take it, refused all possible bottles. If I had known, I would have been prepared.

So, yes, everyone lies about breastfeeding. But they shouldn't. It is actually easier and better with complete information. It's time we trusted the people who are raising these children to make the right choices (for them) about feeding.

And that is why I am not a feeding absolutist: I trust other parents. And I know that we can make different decisions and both be right, because we have different kids and different families. And we're different people, all just trying to feed the children we have.

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comments.
 
 
 
The sanest lunatic you've ever met: farscape: Rygel says - Word yosdwolfpup on July 18th, 2011 04:16 am (UTC)
I have a lot of feelings about this subject and you've summed most of them up quite nicely for me!

You have to feed the baby you have

I really like the overall "you have to PARENT the baby you have," statement I've seen, too.

I am so, so lucky with Puplet - he is one of those babies who has always been really good at breastfeeding and I had excellent supply, and yet I still couldn't have done it without my doula coming over multiple times the first week to help me out and AHH's and my mother's hour-by-hour support in all other areas for two solid weeks.

It is a shame that breastfeeding is held up as "look how easy it is, WHY CAN'T YOU DO IT?!" without being able to provide the support that a mother - especially a new mom! - needs to work through it during one of the most difficult times of her life. Some babies apparently start sleeping right away but I can assure you MINE DID NOT. I was hallucinating voices after the first week because Puplet had to eat every two hours or less. I would've given up in a second without my cheer squad. And it upsets me that moms are judged for that. Parenting is frigging hard; why do we feel the need to be so judgmental of others who are going through the same or even more difficult situations? We should be in this together! Who else knows what we're going through but other parents?

See? FEELINGS.
tried to eat the safe banana: Earthling black and whitethefourthvine on July 18th, 2011 07:06 am (UTC)
I, too, have ALL THE FEELINGS.

I really like the overall "you have to PARENT the baby you have," statement I've seen, too.

YES. You do. And no one knows what the kid you have is like except you, and your coparent(s), and maybe a few close friends or relatives. THAT'S IT. The stranger in the doctor's waiting room? DOES NOT KNOW YOUR KID.

Although I did enjoy, during the first year, how random old ladies would come up to me and tell me I was doing a great job. That is the kind of input I want from a stranger, and I hope to be one of those old ladies some day.

It is a shame that breastfeeding is held up as "look how easy it is, WHY CAN'T YOU DO IT?!" without being able to provide the support that a mother - especially a new mom! - needs to work through it during one of the most difficult times of her life.

SERIOUSLY. We have built up a whole culture in which a) the mother must be perfect b) she must achieve this perfection without inconveniencing anyone else and c) she must achieve this perfection in isolation. Unsurprisingly, this does not work so well.

FEELINGS. YES.
Lorraine: btvs: mom by paigegaillunabee34 on July 18th, 2011 04:18 am (UTC)
Thank you for this post.

*hugs*

I think that every woman should do what is right for her child(ren). There is so much shaming regarding childrearing and it is horrible and awful to deal with.

I was very sick when I was pregnant. I was so nauseated that I lost weight. I didn't regain my pre-pregnancy weight until I was 6 months pregnant. I only gained 18 pounds the entire time. I had pre-eclampsia and was on bed rest and my baby was a premie born born five weeks early. She was four pounds nine ounces when we left the hospital.

I tried so hard to breastfeed. She wouldn't latch on, and at DDD, my boobs were bigger than her whole body. LOL I got a pump, and I pumped for five weeks at which point my milk dried up and I was done. I had severe post-partum depression and also because I spent every day I was pregnant throwing up multiple times a day (including the multiple times I threw up on the delivery table), I forgot how fun eating is. I was sustained through most of my pregnancy on Coke, lemons, and radishes. Which is not ideal. LOL

After I had Emma, I didn't realize I wasn't eating because I associated eating with vomiting. And eventually, my body just couldn't sustain breastfeeding.

But, I have an 8 1/2 year old who is reading on a ninth grade level and scoring at the 99th percentile on her state tests, so. :)

Again, thank you for this post. So many women are too quick to judge other women who make decisions that differ from their own without ever considering the circumstances. Parenthood is so hard anyway. Why do so many of us make it even more difficult?
tried to eat the safe banana: earthling churchillthefourthvine on July 18th, 2011 07:18 am (UTC)
I was very sick when I was pregnant. I was so nauseated that I lost weight. I didn't regain my pre-pregnancy weight until I was 6 months pregnant. I only gained 18 pounds the entire time. I had pre-eclampsia and was on bed rest and my baby was a premie born born five weeks early. She was four pounds nine ounces when we left the hospital.

THAT SOUNDS LIKE HELL. Oh, god, seriously. HELL.

So many women are too quick to judge other women who make decisions that differ from their own without ever considering the circumstances. Parenthood is so hard anyway. Why do so many of us make it even more difficult?

I HAVE MANY THEORIES ON THIS TOPIC. Which I will save for another day. Just, I wish it were not so, and while I cannot fix it, I can do my part by refraining from judging as much as possible. norah and I call this I Statement Parenting. ("I did X, because of Y," instead of "You should X.") IT IS WORTH PRACTICING, although it is hard to do, because in our culture, judgment is the default.
(no subject) - lunabee34 on July 18th, 2011 07:11 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Minim Calibreminim_calibre on July 18th, 2011 04:27 am (UTC)
I love you.

If I had it to do over, I wouldn't have pumped. It was horrible. Awful. Difficult. Depressing.

And I only had to do it for 5 months, as I went back to an office job when she was 8 months old. She never did like the bottle, but maybe if it had held something more novel than reheated boob juice, she'd have been better about taking it.

Also, she was 8 months! Eating solids! Already ingesting all sorts of stuff, so why not formula milk? Why did my Mother Guilt not let me see that until years later!?!

I nursed until a month before she turned 4, when it became clear that she was never, ever going to self-wean and her lazy latch was turning my nipples to ground meat. We discussed weaning with her and had a special celebration to mark the end of it. Cupcakes and a stuffed animal that she chose. She STILL views my tits as her own.
tried to eat the safe banana: Earthling forkthefourthvine on July 18th, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC)
Also, she was 8 months! Eating solids! Already ingesting all sorts of stuff, so why not formula milk? Why did my Mother Guilt not let me see that until years later!?!

There's a lot of cultural craziness that first year. (I still loathe the phase "the best gift you can give to your baby." BB and I used to snap, basically in unison, "So breastmilk is BETTER THAN LOVE?" every time we saw that.)

I nursed until a month before she turned 4, when it became clear that she was never, ever going to self-wean and her lazy latch was turning my nipples to ground meat. We discussed weaning with her and had a special celebration to mark the end of it. Cupcakes and a stuffed animal that she chose. She STILL views my tits as her own.

Perhaps you can relate to my excitement that the earthling is down to only one feeding per day, then! (Without protests, even! He was READY!)

He still likes to check to be sure my boobs are there, just in case. We are STILL working on the concept of "the whole world does not need to see my boobs."
(no subject) - minim_calibre on July 19th, 2011 02:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - emma_in_oz on July 29th, 2011 06:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Mandygeneticallydead on July 18th, 2011 04:37 am (UTC)
God. Yes.

Pumping: I hated punping. I started in the hospital because the Tiny Human just. wouldn't. latch. I mean, I remember sitting there holding the baby while my partner tried to prise the baby's mouth open, but after ONE successful breastfeed it had gotten progressively harder, and he didn't want to even open his mouth. We were so lucky, in that a clued-in midwife thought it possible he had tongue-tie and called a lactation consultant, who basically said 'we can leave this, and it may go away by itself when he's a toddler, or we can cut this, and it may help with breastfeeding. Or it may not. We have no way of knowing if this is what's stopping his latch, but this is something we can try, and while he's so young it won't hurt much and is easy to do.' So we did the cut, and bam, he latched within minutes.

Despite that, the doctors seemed convinced that somehow he wasn't getting enough milk, or I needed to supplement, or... god, I don't even know. So I went home and we bought a pump, because that's what I'd been told to do, and ultimately the Tiny Human WAS getting enough milk through feeding, thankyouverymuch. So the pump became something I could use to alternate feed with, because TH was nursing every two hours, but I just HATEDHATEDHATED that I was nursing every two hours for 45 minutes, and then would spend another hour pumping, just so I could skip one breastfeed. So I stopped. Actually, I stopped after I came home one day, having left my MIL with a bottle of expressed milk which I'd explained was JUST IN CASE, and she'd warmed it up a whole hour before he was even due for a feed, and then decided he didn't need it after all, so didn't even offer it, and I just cried and cried because she'd wasted that milk that was so hard to get.

I'm still breastfeeding, but recent events have highlighted for me just how individual babies can influence the whole feeding issue: despite having decided I would breastfeed until about 18 months if I could manage, the Tiny Human is self-weaning. He doesn't want breastmilk, or formula, he wants solids. So even though I'm willing and able, he's making the decisions here, not me. I have no control over this.

Babies. They're not always going to do what the books say.
tried to eat the safe banana: Earthling playsetthefourthvine on July 18th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
I just cried and cried because she'd wasted that milk that was so hard to get.

OH GOD. That just - ouch.

he's making the decisions here, not me. I have no control over this.

Someone told me that breastfeeding ends when one of the people involved is ready. Sometimes it's the mother. Sometimes it's the baby. Not one of the books mentioned that, that the baby will have a major say in this. HA.

Babies. They're not always going to do what the books say.

SING IT.
kassidy62kassidy62 on July 18th, 2011 04:47 am (UTC)
I had a real breakdown over the refusal to latch. Like you said: hormones crashing and yeah, the baby just hoovers its way on and all will work out, yes? NO. I thought I was defective.

We got it straightened out- it was filling syringes with breast milk for awhile until she latched, pumping at work for a year after that (yes - there's nothing you can DO while pumping, except read a page at a time and awkwardly, awkwardly try to turn each page with what, your elbow? Not worth it). Also: jokers at work - so so funny.
tried to eat the safe banana: Earthling playsetthefourthvine on July 18th, 2011 11:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, man. Those nursing breakdowns. One of Best Beloved's employees had a baby a year after we did, and BB told her, "You'll cry in those first few months. You just do." I wish someone had mentioned the nursing-related crying to us in the preparation classes. They talked about this rich, nurturing, bonding experience, and made it clear that it was basically a non-stop orgasm. NO MENTION OF CRYING.

And, oh, we did the syringes, too, even though latching was not the earthling's problem.

yes - there's nothing you can DO while pumping, except read a page at a time and awkwardly, awkwardly try to turn each page with what, your elbow? Not worth it

I got pretty good at hitting the space bar with my elbow! But, wow, I sort of had this fantasy that other women were experiencing FREEDOM and EASE OF USE, and I was the weird one. Apparently not.
Jay Linden: Aliens hold handslinden_jay on July 18th, 2011 05:09 am (UTC)
I love your brain, and I kind of also love the mindset you've got--which I totally subscribe to--where 'just because I chose to do it doesn't mean it's the only way for everyone'.

But just... yes. So much yes, all of this. And everyone--everyone--lies. No one has a common opinion, and yet from the (incredibly varying) opinions that you hear, if you don't subscribe to the opinion that whoever is speaking has, you are a poor excuse for a woman/mother/human.

I wanted to breastfeed so badly. I went to the classes, I practiced with the stupid doll, I bought the pump in advance of even having the aliens. And I talked to the nurses and the doctor and the lactation consultants, and they all kept telling me that it'd be fine, natural, easy, blah blah blah. Ye-eah. Not so much.

There's so much guilt. Even though I know I have to let it go--and I really have let it go--I wish I'd followed my instincts more in those initial days in the hospital in particular. My twins were 4 weeks prem, under five pounds at birth, and they started dropping weight rapidly.

This was a math issue--babies too small/boobs too big--and they couldn't do it. And the nurses and lactation consultants kept urging me to keep trying, even though they couldn't even latch, let alone find the energy to suck once they did. Two days in, their blood sugar dropped too low, and the pediatrician ordered first my Frog, then my Monkey (twelve hours later) to be tube fed. My milk wasn't in, even though I was pumping every 2-3 hours, and I don't live in a city with the option for donor milk. I didn't have a choice besides formula.

But I kept trying to get them to nurse, even with the NG tubes, even with their inability to latch. Even though the doctor was cautioning that they were using up all their energy trying to nurse, even with the tube feeds, I still wanted to make it happen.

It took an epically bad attempt to get the Monkey to latch before I finally fired up and said enough was enough. There were two nurses and a lactation consultant and me, all trying to get her latched. She was howling her head off, I was being manhandled from all directions, and finally she gagged on the nipple shield, and threw up the entire tube feed all over me. And I just... that was it. Done. No more trying to force something on my babies that was mathematically impossible at that point in their development.

I approved starting bottle feeds at the next feeding session, and I refused to back down, regardless of the looks I got from the nurses and lactation consultants. The babies started putting on weight (finally), and we were eventually able to get them to bottle feed properly so we could lose the NG tubes, and go home.

The only part of that I feel guilty about was not listening to the doctor and starting sooner. Breastfeeding my twins was not biologically and mathematically possible. And what I don't understand is why none of the nurses, none of the lactation consultants, were willing to give up on their entrenched position and see that unfortunately, I was one of the small percentage who it didn't work for.

I pumped for five months. That's a whole 'nother rant that I could go on about, and I've already babbled plenty, but it was not easy, it was not fun, and I really, really didn't like it. I also am not sorry that I did it, for as long as I could, because at least they were able to get the benefit of the small bit of milk I could get them. But if I'd known that I'd never be able to get them to nurse primarily... I don't know. I might have made different choices from the start. I think the bonding I missed out on while tethered to a pump for forty minutes every 3 hours was not necessarily worth it, in the cost-benefit analysis. So I'm not sorry, but I'm also not sure it was the right choice.

Which basically brings things to the sum-it-up point. Breastfeeding (also just feeding in general): Whichever method you pick? There will be some kind of guilt. So to crib from you? Feed the baby(ies) you have.
tried to eat the safe banana: Earthling pointsthefourthvine on July 18th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
Holy fuck, that sounds like hell. All the stress of having babies in the NICU and people pressuring you to breastfeed? I am very impressed you didn't snap and hit someone over the head with a used diaper.

I can't imagine having twins. And pumping and having twins - seriously, oh my god, that sounds like hell. I do think about all the bonding we miss when we're attached to our pumps; BB was holding the earthling, I was getting my boobs sucked by a whirring machine. I know they say breastmilk is absolutely the Best Gift You Can Give Your Child, but love and attention seems like a better one to me.

Anyway, all this is just to say that you have my sympathies. I wish people were less pressuring, and that they let people make the choices they need to. And, hey! You have two gorgeous kids, so it looks like what you did worked.
Diana: Anything Interesting Going On? -- Anniebutterfly on July 18th, 2011 08:44 am (UTC)
*hugs*

When I was down to visit my brother and sister-in-law and my six-month-old nephew, it was kinda amazing for me to hear the random unsolicited parenting advice that they would get. Baby J is happy, healthy, and totally not yours, random people. Step off his parents.
tried to eat the safe banana: Earthling solemn greenthefourthvine on July 18th, 2011 11:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, the random parenting advice. I GOT A LOT OF IT. But I would also like to salute the old ladies who would randomly approach me and tell me what a great job I was doing. THAT IS THE KIND OF ADVICE I HOPE TO HAND OUT WHEN I'M OLDER. Not, "Doesn't he need a hat?" (NO) or "I've heard those carriers aren't safe" (they are) or "You can't let them get what they want when they cry" (he's four months old, lady, and he's crying for food). I want to be saying, "Wow, what a wonderful job you're doing."
(no subject) - stasia on July 19th, 2011 04:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
diceadicea on July 18th, 2011 08:49 am (UTC)
Thank you for this piece. I read it because you wrote it and because I figured that if anybody could you would write about this topic in a way that was not intended to tell me how to feel about it.

And yeah... I feel a lot better about the topic and a little more angry about anybody who has ever told me how I should feel about it.

But now I have the words to respond, if only in my own head, to those jerks and hopefully to accept and support those going through these challenges.

Thank you.
tried to eat the safe banana: earthling squeethefourthvine on July 19th, 2011 01:33 am (UTC)
I'm glad I could help you feel better about this. And I'm sorry so many people have tried to tell you how to feel. (I hate that shit. I mean, about anything - other people can't tell me how to FEEL about something. I remember wanting to punch the people who told me "Don't be sad" at my father's funeral. Uh, yeah, I'M SAD, okay? Telling me not to be just makes me angry in addition to sad!)

*hugs*
Helen W.wneleh on July 18th, 2011 09:04 am (UTC)
Great post! I was lucky wrt medical pros, but the rest - yeah, btdt. Our complication was that DD1 was tongue-tied - nursing HURTHURTHURT for weeks. And I nursed on demand even while my older was in daycare, so BF cost me thousands in wages, as I'd drop everything and dash up the hill 2-3x/day or more. Still, I loved breastfeeding.

- - - - -

The thing about judgement related to breastfeeding - I DON'T WANT TO BE DOING IT! Srsly, I don't care (am curious, but don't CARE) about anything else in at all the same way.

But if I see a baby getting a bottle, I start to freak. I don't like freaking! The baby will be fine! There are a zillion reasons for the baby getting a bottle, number one of which is SCRATCH THAT NONE OF MY BUSINESS!

I go through this every time I see a bottle since having DD1 13 years ago, though it got really bad once she was a toddler; and about four years in I realized that the best thing I could do was to really work to keep this MY problem.

I've decided it had to be physiological - pre-recent-times, a non-nursing baby would have been the responsibility (if they so chose) of lactating women who had some capacity to spare. So a baby not getting breastmilk could potentially be a major calorie/time commitment for me. My body does not want to do this; so a non-nursing baby freaks it.

Still, my hands are shaking writing this - it's been several years since I nursed, more since I was producing a lot of milk - but I kinda think that it wouldn't take much to get back to it.

- - - - -

Anyway, welcome to the world of nursing three-yeard-olds! The neat thing about this world, I found, is that I stopped getting strangers wanting me to validate their early feeding experiences (which, yk, since the telling would get my heart racing and hands shaking, all the while I'm trying to look calm and supportive) and instead got stories of remembered tandem nursing when they were five, or relief that they aren't alone in nursing a bigger kid - happy stories, stories they'd not been able to share before.
tried to eat the safe banana: earthling tiny humanthefourthvine on July 19th, 2011 04:28 am (UTC)
But if I see a baby getting a bottle, I start to freak. I don't like freaking! The baby will be fine! There are a zillion reasons for the baby getting a bottle, number one of which is SCRATCH THAT NONE OF MY BUSINESS!

I think this is, yeah, mediated by instinct or hormones or something, because I did this, too, and I know other women who breastfed who do. I stomped on it pretty hard, and it is mostly gone, but let me say that I TOTALLY understand how people who have breastfed and are not necessarily analytical about their kneejerk reactions can get crazy into EVERYONE MUST BREASTFEED. It's making them anxious! Therefore bottles must be BAD.

And from what you've said, I'm wondering if this is a reaction that gets more pronounced the longer you breastfeed. For me, it really started to kick in around the first year, which is also when a lot of the other hormone stuff from breastfeeding got noticeable. (Keep in mind, the earthling was still getting 95% of his daily calories from my milk at one year. So my body had a fairly intense breastfeeding experience.)

Of course, I still look at babies happily taking bottles in public. These days, my primary emotion is wonder. Look! It can actually WORK! There are in fact babies who will drink from a bottle! I know that's true, but our bottle experience was so awful that it's still surprising to me to SEE THE EVIDENCE.

Anyway, welcome to the world of nursing three-yeard-olds! The neat thing about this world, I found, is that I stopped getting strangers wanting me to validate their early feeding experiences (which, yk, since the telling would get my heart racing and hands shaking, all the while I'm trying to look calm and supportive) and instead got stories of remembered tandem nursing when they were five, or relief that they aren't alone in nursing a bigger kid - happy stories, stories they'd not been able to share before.

I would welcome this! I have started to be very, very quiet about breastfeeding - if someone asks, like my eye doctor did, I will happily tell, but I'm not bringing it up - and now I sort of regret that. I would love to hear some happy breastfeeding stories. And it is always nice to hear that I am not the only person who has breastfed a three year old. The way the team at the earthling's three year old evaluation reacted, I am the only mother in the WHOLE WORLD to have done such a freakish thing.
(no subject) - wneleh on July 19th, 2011 11:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
Books - wneleh on July 19th, 2011 11:34 am (UTC) (Expand)
One more thing... - wneleh on July 19th, 2011 11:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
Maramarag on July 18th, 2011 11:22 am (UTC)
Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes yes.

Did I mention yes?

This needs to be distributed widely. Published. Given out at labor and delivery. Tucked into those bags they give you at the hospital. Whatever.

Oh, and I had a bottle refuser too. Yael eventually took one, but Barak went from boob to straw cup :D
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(no subject) - marag on July 18th, 2011 02:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - thefourthvine on July 19th, 2011 04:37 am (UTC) (Expand)
obacht! hier passiert noch was!y_ctrl on July 18th, 2011 11:26 am (UTC)
great post! thanks.
tried to eat the safe banana: earthling hey babythefourthvine on July 19th, 2011 04:52 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Nimnodnimnod on July 18th, 2011 12:28 pm (UTC)
I agree about giving all the information. I also notice a culture - here, not sure about elsewhere, but I see it on the Internet - of the mommier than thou thing, where women who work are somehow lesser mothers, and women who breastfed for a shorter period or not at all are also lesser mothers. And the thing is, it just isn't true. I know someone who didn't breastfeed at all and is a fantastic mother, and someone who breastfed for much longer than me whose mothering style borders on neglect and abuse. Breastfeeding has nothing to do with how well or badly someone mothers. It was so easy for me with my first child (although we had the bottle refusal there for the delayed introduction reason), and so terribly difficult with my youngest who couldn't latch because of a minor tongue tie and howled in anguished hunger while medical professionals told us to make him keep trying until the little string under his tongue stretched (what a wonderful solution for the baby). (Actually that's the opposite experience to yours - medical professionals seemed to think that breastfeeding was the measure of my mothering ability too, and didn't seem to think that the fact that i had twins and one of them wouldn't latch should be taken into account. None of them advised me to try formula, when it was very clear I wasn't coping breastfeeding, and oh God, if only they had - I felt so guilty about the not-coping and not having enough milk for 2 infants, and if just one of them had said you know, you're doing your best, child 2 will drink from a bottle just but can't latch on th breast and needs feeding and it would solve your supply-for-2 problem - it would have been so helpful if some doctor had been willing to tell me it was ok NOT to breastfeed, but none of them really did). I just wish that breastfeeding wasn't this - Big Thing. Eating lunch or having a drink isn't a Big Thing for an adult - how did we get to this point where breastfeeding is punted as being the measure of motherhood, where it became something other than what it's supposed to be, ie a way to nourish one's child? I did it, and I have great respect for everyone who does, but I get so angry when I see mothers on forums either being smug about how easy it was for them or judging people who decide not to.

Edited at 2011-07-18 12:36 pm (UTC)
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(no subject) - thefourthvine on July 19th, 2011 05:03 am (UTC) (Expand)
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tried to eat the safe banana: Earthling pointsthefourthvine on July 19th, 2011 05:08 am (UTC)
It makes me so happy to hear that other people have breastfed three year olds. From the reaction at the earthling's three year old evaluation, I was the only mother the team had ever even HEARD OF who breastfed so long. They were shocked. SHOCKED, I tell you.

It is far more important to hold and hug and play with your child than it is to breastfeed.

SING IT.


"Feed the child you have" is some of the best advice I've ever read, and I've been reading about this since 1996. Please make this post public!


Thank you! It is now unlocked; I think 24 hours is enough time for it to fall off of people's friends lists and circles.
I was raised the old-fashioned way: babysitting || paddiessasha_davidovna on July 18th, 2011 01:17 pm (UTC)
Man, word to this entire post. I was absolutely determined to make it to six weeks, but for most of those six weeks, my plan was to quit then and there. My daughter took to breastfeeding basically immediately, but I developed some sort of injury on both nipples within the first two days, so it was agonizing for me. I'd be sitting there with tears dripping down my face and the baby nursing and my husband - who's in medicine himself - would be like, are you sure you want to do this? On the less painful but annoying side, I spent most of the first six weeks walking around in a camisole covered in dried and drying milk because I leaked so much but had to keep my nipples dry in between nursings to let them heal.

The lactation consultant was worse than useless - my daughter was 9 pounds at birth and lost a lot of that immediately, then was really slow to gain it back, and the lc kept calling and making me sound like some sort of horrible mother because my kid hadn't regained birth weight by two weeks old. Thank God for my own mother, who had equally big babies and went through the same thing (minus the horrible lactation consultant) with all three of us, so was able to immunize me slightly against fears that I was unknowingly starving my kid. We briefly tried pumping to get a gauge on how much she was actually eating, but I loathed pumping and my daughter loathed bottles, so that was the end of that.

Somewhere right around six weeks everything suddenly came together for us and it became so pleasant and easy that I ended up breastfeeding for 21 months, but man, it was a near thing for awhile there. We did have to start solids earlier than recommended, because my period thoughtfully came back right around six weeks, milk supply crashes when you have your period, and bottles/formula were the equivalent of torture devices as far as my daughter was concerned, but that was a fairly minor wrinkle.

Heh, sorry for the novel. This post brought back a lot of memories!
tried to eat the safe banana: Earthling solemn greenthefourthvine on July 19th, 2011 05:16 am (UTC)
Oh god, I remember the crying-because-it-hurts-so-much phase! For me, that was at two months, when I got a nipple tear. FUN. And I also remember the wandering around topless and being covered in milk phase. I had to use a nipple dome, which is designed to keep the nipple open so that it doesn't keep tearing again and again every time the baby latches on, but that means you leak. A LOT. And the dome does not exactly hold the milk in the way the package claims.

And I see you had another bottle refuser. Kind of shocking that this happens so much, given that they promised that it NEVER EVER did. Hmmmm.
Giddy: even robots want love and world peacegiddygeek on July 18th, 2011 01:25 pm (UTC)
TFV, I am saving this post for the distant hypothetical day when I might even consider having a baby. Breastfeeding! It's all of the complicated, and raises all of the ~feelings, and no one has the right answer on when or how it's right for you except you and your baby! I feel like that shouldn't be the kind of statement you print on a card and hand out everywhere you go and repeat to yourself in hard times, and yet.
tried to eat the safe banana: earthling squeethefourthvine on July 19th, 2011 05:20 am (UTC)
Let me just say that your distant hypothetical baby is the AWESOMEST. You would have a superlatively amazing child, if superlative amazingness is genetic!

I feel like that shouldn't be the kind of statement you print on a card and hand out everywhere you go and repeat to yourself in hard times, and yet.

Indeed. *hollow laugh*