Saturday, February 14, 2009

Breastfeeding is not for wimps.

So, what have I been doing with myself since my last post two and a half weeks ago?

See the title to this post.

Seriously, if I wanted to blog, I would have had to have given up sleep or typed it with one hand while nursing. Seriously. I have a child who wants to nurse all the time, and only sleeps in snatches. I have been actively trying to write something since Wednesday of this week and have not had more than five minutes. Thomas is a good sleeper at night though, at the moment, so I am not really complaining.

Ok, onto the subject of the post, since that is my life right now:

Breastfeeding is a rewarding activity. You can feed your child, bond with him, and lessen your risk for all sorts of diseases, all at the same time. And it is a miracle, that a mother's body provides everything that a baby needs, from the moment of conception, through at least the first six months of life (and longer for some babies who aren't really interested in solids for much of the first year.)

For some women, breastfeeding comes easily. Their milk comes in quickly and without much discomfort; the baby latches correctly and without much pain; neither mother or child is susceptible to yeast or is intolerant of certain foods; the mother has no pressure to return to work and so is spared the need to pump on command. But even in these "best of circumstances", breastfeeding is demanding. There are very few babies, who are exclusively breastfed, who are on any sort of schedule in the first few months. That means that the mother and baby are together all the time. And the second the baby can be diverted away from the breast, the mother needs to do everything that she can, so that when the baby wants more food, she can attend to his needs.

I think that the mothers described above who are the most satisfied with that situation are those that have accepted that their child will be just as attached to them in the nine months following the birth as the prior nine months. These mothers find work-arounds for the inconveniences and embrace their choice.

But these moms are the ones for which things are going well.

For many other mothers, breastfeeding is challenging. Perhaps they have low milk supply (which was/is a difficulty I know a little something about). Perhaps they have over supply (which presents equal and opposite difficulties). Perhaps the baby has a poor latch, or the child is allergic or intolerant of many of the mother's favorite foods. Of perhaps the baby doesn't nurse well for any number of reasons. Perhaps the mother is extremely uncomfortable nursing in public and has a baby who wants to eat often and therefore she feels house-bound. Perhaps there is an illness or a sudden hospitalization. There are any number of reasons for a challenging breastfeeding situation.

Most of these can be remedied in one way or the other, and depending on the mother's (and father's - let's not forget the dads because most women need that support to continue to breastfeed) persistence and desire to breastfeed, those remedies can result in a good breastfeeding relationship with the child.

Breastfeeding is very important. I can't believe that it is even a question these days, whether an infant should receive his nourishment directly from his mother. I can't believe than anyone bought the lie that science trumped nature and that a factory could create a substance better able to nourish a child than the mother. But for a couple generations, women bought that. At the same time, our culture shifted a bit in several different ways. And the result was that it became normal to see breasts in a skimpy bikini at the pool and abnormal to see a woman feeding her child from her breasts. That 'controversy' is enough for a whole other post. The reason that I mention it is that it is part of the problem. We have lost the "institutional memory" of women. The WWII generation of women may have worked in factories, but they didn't breastfeed. So when their daughters were born, they were unable to pass along the knowledge of how to do it. And when their granddaughters were born, there was even less knowledge.

Yet now there is much more science to "prove" that breastfeeding one's child is nearly the best possible thing that one can do to prepare one's child for life. And therefore now women are told to breastfeed, although the wisdom now has to be gleaned in bits, from books, and the internet, and friends, and support groups, and a new line of professionals called lactation consultants.

At any rate, there are plenty of women, myself included, who go to great lengths to breastfeed. And not a little expense. A hospital grade double electric breast pump (which you need if you are trying to build up a flagging supply) is about $75.00 a month; supplements (galactagogues, vitamins, other "helpers") are several dollars a day (I am taking at least eight different pills each morning, noon and night). But the lengths are more than money. A baby can drink a bottle of formula (or expressed milk) in minutes. Most breastfeeding sessions take at least a half hour. Ten or twelve times a day. Several of which take place in the middle of the night. We can all do the math.

Don't get me wrong. Breastfeeding is great. And I am doing my part to give my child the best start to his life. But it is work. And don't let anyone tell you that we are doing the easy thing, or not working. Breastfeeding moms are not lazy, even though they may be sitting down on the job. Parenthood, is, as they say, the toughest job you'll ever love. (I could throw in a couple more cliches, but I will quit while I am ahead.)

Anyway, that is what I have been doing. And I have been reading my favorite blogs, and Twittering (which one can do with one hand), and trying to update my Facebook status with something that doesn't have to do with my baby (which is hard). If you are wondering where I am, give me a call or an email, I will be sitting here, with maybe one hand free.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a great synopsis of what it is like to breastfeed. Thanks for putting it out there!