Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Milk. It Does a Baby Good

Breastfeeding is not easy.

Anyone who tells you that it is will also tell you that natural, drug-free childbirth doesn't hurt that bad. That she loves watching Sesame Street and Dinosaur Train over Glee and Law and Order. That you can't even see her stretch marks anymore.

She lies.

See, because breastfeeding isn't easy. Not at all. Sure, it starts great. While in the hospital, with lactation consultants and nurses nearby, the baby feeds great. She sucks mightily, and then falls asleep lying against you like a little angel.

You think you're the luckiest mother in the world, with the easiest baby.

Then you get home.

And those nurses are nowhere to be found. Your husband is completely supportive of nursing, but doesn't really know what to do now that you're leaking and dripping milk on the bathroom floor after your warm shower. He jokingly calls you her 'Udder Mother', but you can't help but think - as your baby eats again - that it's not really a funny joke. Or a joke at all. That is what you are.

You resign yourself to a month of sitting on the couch while she does nothing but nurse every hour and a half. You sigh and tell yourself that it is worth it to avoid paying for formula give your baby the best antibodies you have.

What you don't realize is that this is only the beginning. Because in the two days since you left your hospital, your little baby has decided that she is too tired and too lazy to suck mightily. She begins to chew instead of suck, and since you are in the early, uncomfortable days of engorgement, she is still able to get milk this way. This teaches her that it's ok to eat this way, and leads to sore, cracked, bleeding nipples that have bits of skin hanging off. Just because she doesn't have teeth doesn't mean those gums aren't sharp.

If you're lucky enough to avoid this lazy sucking routine, you still have to endure three weeks of soreness and pain. For those sharp little vampire gums are sucking on a very sensitive part of your body. If you can grin and bear it for a few weeks, you are golden. All feeling in that area will soon be long gone. Which is good, because not only does she nurse on your chest, she also squirms - throwing punches and elbows like she's cagefighting on the WEC circuit. Bruises begin to decorate the stretch marks you already have.

If you happen to know a lactation consultant (or a friend who has breastfed), you will learn that there are mini sombreros that can help you while you are in the gnawing/chewing/get this kid off me phase in the beginning. Called 'breast shields' they are flimsy hats that protect your nipple. Crazy as they look, as annoying as they are to use, and as weird as they make your husband feel when he finds them lying around the house, use them. Totally worth it.

Once you get past this stage, you think you are in the clear. But then this is the time when the baby - maybe, just maybe, please please please - begins sleeping longer and longer. Maybe even possibly through the night. Then engorgement hits.

You thought you knew about engorgement from when you left the hospital. After all, you were swollen and tender and full. But that was when your baby was nursing every hour.

Now she eats every 3-4 hours and only as much as she wants. No longer does she eat until she falls asleep at your breast or until you decide that 60 minutes of eating is long enough for any baby to gain enough nutritional milk. She eats for 10 minutes on only one side. If you decide to make her eat a little more in order to ease your pain, she delicately burps and out comes a gallon of warm milk on your shoulder and down your back where it drips on the new couch you probably shouldn't have bought just a few months before she was born.

But if you let her eat only on one side like she wants, and figure she will get to the other side on her next feeding, well, on the next feeding, you feel a hard lump on your breast. And it's tender and swollen and hurts with a stabbing pain when she nurses. Uh oh. You now have a clogged duct.

You read up on clogged ducts. (What did people do before google, wikipedia and webmd?) You follow all the directions to rid yourself of it - feeding on that side first, massaging the lump, feeding more often even if that means waking her up. Only none of that works and you wake up two days later thinking you have the flu. You are achy and tired, with a horrible headache. In the mirror, you see red, angry streaks all over your breast and groan, knowing that it is not the flu after all.

Now you have mastitis. When not taken care of, it can lead to a breast abscess, not to mention that it hurts something awful, so you know you have to rid yourself of it now. Again, you thank Al Gore for inventing the Internet so you can find out how to treat it, only to find that treating it homeopathically can take up to 5 days to work. You decide to take the easy way out, call your Doc and ask for the antibiotics that can heal you in 24 hours. On the instructions for the meds, it tells you to call your doctor before use if you are nursing.

Which is what everything says. Even medications your OB prescribes because of nursing.

You thought that now that you were no longer pregnant, you could have sushi again. And beer. And soft cheeses and Pei Wei spicy noodles. You thought that you could finally enjoy all the foods that had been denied to you for the last 40 weeks.

Nope. Sorry. You still have to watch what you eat. For you, it's not 'You are what you eat'. It's 'Your milk is what you eat'. You have to remember that broccoli gives you gas, so it will probably give your baby gas. Gas in babies translates into crying. Lots and lots of crying. No broccoli, then. Your beer is in your milk, so you have to limit yourself to only one, and time it in such a way that it will be diluted in a very small amount - if at all - in the milk.

Then one day your baby starts screaming and crying uncontrollably all day, every day. After a week of this, you call the Pediatrician, who recommends that you - the mom, the cow, the 'Udder Mother' - cut out all spicy foods, caffeine, nuts and dairy products. It seems that your baby may have an immature digestive system and acid reflux, so she can't handle these foods. You stare longingly at the packet of string cheese and yogurt you just bought. After another night of waking every three hours to feed, you decide that you didn't hear the Doc tell you the part about caffeine and pour yourself another cup of coffee. There is only so much you can take.
Add to all of this the annoyance of finding a shirt that allows you to feed in public without flashing either your belly or your boobs, because although you have a nursing cover, your baby hates it and kicks and flails until she is able to move it out of the way and expose her - and you - to whomever is nearby. And the irritation of pumping if your baby sleeps too long, or you leave her at just the wrong time and you have to pump elsewhere while she eats formula, or already pumped milk.  And then having to dump the milk, as there is no way to keep it cool until you get home to a fridge, but you put all this damn effort into pumping, and you are just so ticked that you are wasting this liquid gold breast milk.

Then your baby turns a year old, and you decide to wean her from nursing. She does just fine, switching from breast to cow's milk with no problem.

It's you that has the problem.

You find that while you were caring for your swollen breasts and worrying about who was seeing your boobs in public, you were actually doing much more.

You were getting quality time. You were getting cuddles before, during and after nursing. She was seeing you all day, every day, even when all you wanted just a few hours by yourself. She was needing you, and right along with that, you were needing her, too. And now you miss that. Now she wants to do everything herself. Now she can hold a sippy cup all by herself, and doesn't need you  - and only you - when she drinks milk.

Which gives you more time for the laundry and shopping and cooking that you never had time for before.

And all you want is to have no time again. No time for anything but that nursing quality time.