Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Breastfeeding (and I will be discussing nipples, graphically)

Me, on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland, informing Bracken that this is not the best time to take a picture of all the girls.

Since I am due to have a baby in about 3 weeks, many things are on my mind. One of my random google searches was for preparing my nipples (and we're off) for breastfeeding. Since this is my fourth child, I have, of course, nursed before, but I was curious if there was any new information out there. The answer is no, but once again, I was completely angered at the misinformation most of the breastfeeding advocates put out there.

Don't get me wrong--I am pro-breastfeeding. I have spent three full years of my life nursing 3 different children and plan to spend another year at least doing the same for this new one. I support the right of women to nurse their babies whenever and wherever they see fit, though I also advocate being considerate of those around you (and I'm mainly talking about teenage boys here, though I have been oogled by a 7 year old). I tend to nurse covered myself unless I am only around other mothers and children. I also find that once my babies are old enough to start moving around a lot on their own, it's not really effective to try to nurse in a public place. It's just too distracting for them.

And here I'll confess something. I get the stigma about public breastfeeding. Despite all the time I've spent with a baby at my breast, when I am not lactating, I have often found breastfeeding creepy. I have caught myself looking at a 9 month old and thinking, "That baby is way too old to still be nursing," when I have nursed all my babies far longer than that. Hypocritical and prudish, I know. What I don't know is where that knee jerk reaction comes from.

I also try not to judge those who don't breastfeed. It's a very personal choice, and there are a lot of factors in why a woman will or will not breastfeed. I personally have had a very easy time of it, and I recognize that. I'm a stay at home mom, my milk comes in on time, I make enough but not extra, I have very rarely been engorged and I've never had an infection. I'm not going to go into all the scientific reasons why breast is best because even though I know it's been proven to be the healthiest choice, I also don't feel that giving your baby formula is equal to filling their bottles with soda. I also know I've saved a lot of money with all the formula and bottles I haven't had to buy. That said, I had two babies who completely refused the bottle, so I really had no other choice. The one child who would take a bottle weaned herself the earliest.

But here's where I have my real issue with the nursing nazis. As I visited half a dozen different breastfeeding sites, I found they all told the same lie. "Nursing will not hurt if you are doing it correctly." That is a steaming pile of poop. Sure, after a month or so, once you're used to it and your milk supply has regulated, nursing shouldn't hurt. But no matter how good your latch is, no matter how many times you switch positions, no matter that you follow every rule in the book, THE FIRST TWO WEEKS WILL HURT LIKE HELL.

Yeah, I said it. Your poor nipples have never been though abuse like this, unless it was the last time you nursed, and since then the callouses have worn off. It will start out fine, and the baby will latch on in the hospital, and maybe you'll have the lactation consultant come in and help you out a little and you'll feel like you've got it all under control, and they will send you home.

And that's when it really starts. Your nipples will start to feel uncomfortable, and then they'll get a little blistered looking. Then they will scab, scabs that will be loosened or pulled off with every feeding session. Every time your baby latches on your feet will lift from the floor as you attempt to silence the screams building up inside. If your husband tries to talk to you while your baby latches on, you will have to control the urge to punch him in the throat. And your baby will be latching on constantly, because they seriously do nothing but eat and sleep and poop, and often all three at the same time. But in about two weeks, your nipples will have become leathery, the scabs will have fallen off, and with great surprise you will realize that the tear trickling from your eye as you feed your baby is from love and not because your breast feels like it is on fire.

I seriously wonder how many moms give up too early on breastfeeding because they think they are doing it wrong, because they have been told it will not hurt at all. I'm sure it takes longer than two weeks for some people, and maybe there are some miraculous people out there who can escape that two week window of hell. For the majority of women, though, I know it's going to be a rocky start. I promise you, in most cases, it will get better. So much better. And you will look down at your sweet little baby, milk drunk and grinning in her sleep, and realize these are some of the best moments you will have with her.

So I encourage you novices to endure, and I thought I'd share a few of the products that have helped me the most.
  • Lanolin cream-- I have always used Lansinoh brand, but as long as you get something thick and protective, I'm sure it will work. I will usually start applying it to my nipples about a month in advance, just so I feel like I'm doing something, but where it really comes in handy is once baby arrives. It's safe for baby's consumption, so apply it to your nipples after every feeding and it will aid them in healing, protect them and keep those fresh scabs from sticking to the inside of your bra. And don't even think about stepping in the shower without putting a thick layer on. Trust me.
  • Post Partum support belt-- I bought my first one of these before I had Maggie. Amazing. Not only was I wearing normal pants a couple days after childbirth, and didn't look like I was still pregnant, but it kept all my jiggly bits contained every time I had to lift my shirt to feed her again. And even better, when I was wearing it, I didn't feel a single after pain. If you don't know, after pains are bonus contractions you have for a few days after the baby is born as your uterus tries to shrink back down. You probably won't feel them with your first, but if it's your second or later, it's like a punch to the gut every time your baby nurses. I have this support belt, but there are other, cheaper options out there I haven't tried. Mine did run large--in clothing I usually wear a large, and the medium belt was the only size I needed.
  • Breast pads-- I'll confess, I'm not much of a leaker so I don't usually end up with those nice wet spots on the front of my shirt that many new moms have. But for the times when I am full, I do love these Lily Padz. They are not absorbent, but they compress your nipples so they don't get a chance to leak. Be warned, though, if you are a big milk producer I've heard they don't work so well. Where I really love them, though, is on days when I'm wearing a thinner bra and a snugger shirt and I don't want to look like I'm smuggling grapes (because nursing nipples definitely are beyond the scope of raisin smuggling), these discreetly smooth you right out.
  • Nursing shirts-- I just bought some of these half-tee's to wear with maxi dresses and other shirts that are easier to access from the top. Obviously, I haven't actually used them for nursing yet, but I'm thinking they'll be great for those times when I don't actually want to lift my entire shirt up.
  • Neck pillow-- There will be a lot of nights, and days, when you just want to sleep through feedings. A supportive pillow for your head helps a lot.
  • Baby support pillow-- A Boppy, or a Breast friend (If you can say it without laughing) is very handy for supporting baby, especially post caesarian. I've only had a Boppy, and it continues to come in handy for tummy time, and practicing sitting and stuff.
  • A sleep bra-- Nothing is worse than waking up from your precious moments of sleep because your very full and unsupported breasts are throbbing in pain and leaking all over your sheets.
  • Special K lips-- My first lactation consultant told me this--that my baby's lips should look like the Special K "K" when she latches on. This advice has never done me wrong.
  • A good place to sit.
  • A spouse who will get up and change the baby and bring her to you in bed. And maybe change her again after the feeding.
And now I'll get off my soapbox. I just needed to get that off my chest before my chest is consumed with more pressing matters. Breast of luck! Anyone else have any good ideas to share?

(None of these brands know me, I'm just sharing what has worked.)


Lindsay said...

I'm with you on that...It shouldn't hurt--ha! With Owen, I was so cracked, I was bleeding and there were chunks of skin everywhere. Of course it probably didn't help much that he was a 9pound little babe--who apparently was starving and really knew how to suck. With each baby the pain has gotten a little less and the adjustment shorter, but there is definitely pain for a few weeks! THe only thing that gets me through those first few weeks of nursing is that nursing the baby (with my feet put up in a soft chair) is much easier than dealing with the other kid's commands. So I would much rather be nursing (even in pain) then be in Matt's shoes and have to do dinner, bathe the older kids or whatever else needs to be done during all those feeding times :) ha...I sound like such a great wife, don't I?? but those newborn times are really quite relaxing for me. I would hate to go to formula and have matt take over all the feeding responsibilities, leaving me with all the demands of the others.

FrancesMarie said...

I read somewhere that if after feeding, you wipe the baby's saliva off then coat your nipples with breast milk and let dry then your nipples will heal faster. It worked for me. It didn't take away all the pain but I felt like it worked better than the lanolin.

southpawprincess said...

I really appreciate this post; I agree with everything you said! I nursed Afton for 13 months, even WITH engorgement and infections, etc. It was miserable! I started getting that with Chase and recently weaned him at 6 months. I'm kind of sad about it, but that's what works for us now, and he's happy that he's actually getting enough to eat, the little chunk! I just wish I had realized how expensive it would be to formula-feed exclusively. Holy cow!

Annie Patterson said...

Ruth - I hadn't visited your blog in such a long time and then I read this post. Thank You! I'm pregnant with our second and everything you said was so true and helpful. Good luck!

Katie said...

OH Ruth. I think that I could have written this post because I feel the same way and have had the same experiences. All I can think after reading this (and please forgive me)is "I'm so glad that it's not me who will be going through this next week!" Good Luck! I will really pray for you that the 4th baby will be the easiest yet.

Christy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christy said...

Thank you so much for your post. I was seriously on the verge of giving up feeding at 10 days because the nurses and lactation consultants all said it shouldn't hurt but all confirmed he was latching properly.