Friday, March 13, 2009

Breastfeeding is Hard

On posters in the OBGYN office and in books and magazines about pregnancy and babies you read that taking care of your health and producing breast milk to feed your baby for the first year of his/her life is a prime perspective. The benefits are tremendous. A healthy mother produces the exact nourishment her child needs to be as healthy as possible, and promote the best brain development possible. My daughter did not get sick at all until she began attending day care at nine months of age, and even then she was only sick twice before she turned one (it may actually have been that she never fully recovered from the first cold and relapsed). She also developed at a very favorable speed.

While there is no greater gain than the sound health and growth of your child, breastfeeding also benefits the mother. After the baby is born the uterus slowly shrinks back to its normal size. Breastfeeding speeds up the process. And, what’s the best way to loose that weight you gained during pregnancy? You guessed it - breastfeeding. By the time my daughter was five months old I actually weighed a little less than I had when I found I was prego. In fact, I couldn’t keep any weight on. Although I ate normally, healthy stuff to pass on to my daughter, she sucked all the nourishment right out of me.

With all the perks to my child in mind (I actually wasn’t aware of the extra rewards for the mother until I experienced them), breastfeeding was still tumultuous.

I have been through many extremely arduous experiences in my life; I was homeless at sixteen coming out of an apathetic and abusive home. However, continuing to provide my daughter with breast milk for the entire first year of her life was the hardest thing I have ever done.

My daughter fed exclusively off the boob for the first three months of her life. At that point I had to return to work. At first L would feed from the breast in the morning before I went to work, I would pump the milk out twice while at work and once when I got home, and then L would have one last latch before bed time. Eventually the actual latching on moved weekends only, and at around six months old L quit the nipple completely. She quit because I scared the crap out of her…twice. The first time she bit me it was a beautiful Saturday morning. The morning sun was shining in through the windows. I was sitting in the glider reveling in the feeling of not having to use the pumps. Then her sharp flat little teeth slid into my areola…and I screamed, and it made L cry. It was the only feasible reaction, but I hushed her and said I wouldn’t do it again. She latched back on and we were in business. The following week it happened again. Imagine a sharp slice like a dull razor on the most sensitive piece of your body. You’re going to scream. I didn’t jerk L off or jump up. I just let out a shrill that I suppose to L was the equivalent of me dreaming about clowns. She got scared and cried, and never latched on again. The pumps became the only outlet.

We were living in a not-so-nice neighborhood (no place to raise a child), which I had been trying to get us out of since before L was born. We did not have the money for the more expensive, better quality breast pumps. I purchased two of the cheapest handheld electric pumps available from Wal-Mart. Ever hear the phrase “you get what you pay for?” I now know these things were a joke. Near L’s first birthday, the day I would be pump free, one of other pumping mothers at work told me about how she had rented her pumps from the hospital and it took her only seven minutes a sitting to pump. But for me, five times a day, for thirty minutes a sitting, I (and my man if I was home) had to listen to the most obnoxious sound ever created. It was an errrRRR errrRRR sound like a dieing motor that made you want to jam sharp pencils in your ears. My man once told me that we should keep the pumps and if L ever tells me she hates me he will stick her in a room and make her listen to them for a few hours and tell her what I did for her. If I mention the satanic pumps to him now he gets bad chills.

Finding somewhere to pump twice a day in the corporate grey where I am employed was no pleasurable task. In a building that houses over a thousand employees there was one curtained area in a bathroom at the farthest corner of the building. There were at least three other mothers that needed the same space and always seemed to be there when I needed it. When I was able to use it, the bathroom always felt like a walk in cooler. Guidelines will tell you that in order for better let-down (when the milk starts to flow) you should not be in a cold area.

At this time I was on hourly wages (I’m salary now) and only had a specific amount of time I could spend on break. Instead of trekking to one end of the building only to find the pumping curtain occupied, and then trying to find another room, I began to sneak into these tint meeting rooms called huddle rooms. I would write my name on the reserving calendar just outside the room as though I was having a meeting in there. After a few weeks the first one I was using was assigned to a contractor who would be there for quite some time. The second one did not have a lock on the door and it wasn’t long until a woman whose desk was near by, peeked her head in to see what the noise was. She opened the door and just stared at me like her brain couldn’t process what was happening until I said “excuse me” in the most awful, powerful, hormonal voice I could muster. After that I talked the head of security into allowing pumping mothers to use the small room with a cot they call the infirmary.

Another bothersome aspect is what’s called a lull when the let-down happens. Your eyelids get heavy and you feel like all of your energy is being sucked out with the milk. Seeing your content baby during this time is like an immediate boost back to life. But when you look down and all you see is little machine that would look much better smashed into little pieces the lull carries through. Since I couldn’t get novels to stay open I brought comic books to work to read to get through this while pumping.

One final hardship I will share. My daughter started going to daycare half the week when she was 9 months old. The first daycare she attended was not so great and she would cry with relief when she saw me walk through the door. When we got home I would have to ump right away, but L did not want me to put her down. I would lay a blanket down right in front of me, put L there with some toys, sit in the glider and start pumping. L would cry and reach for me the whole time. I tried to cradle her with my legs so she would understand I wasn’t leaving her, but she would just sob. I recall one day had been particularly rough and being hormonal from milk production wasn’t helping. With L on the floor I began to pump…and L began to cry very loud. When the lull came I lost it. At first I thought I would cry to but I began to laugh hysterically. I laughed so hard my eyes dropped tears. There was nothing else I could do. I couldn’t take everything coming at me all at once and I didn’t want to upset L anymore than she was. Laughing was my only option.

I understand now why there are support groups for breastfeeding mothers. If I haven’t painted a clear enough picture of how hard it is to produce milk for your baby for an entire year let me know. I will come over with some vice grips, breast pumps, a frying pan (to help simulate the lull with a smack to the head),and the most annoying Yanni or happy-hardcore techno album, turn your thermostat down to forty degrees and get to work.

Check out this very awesome shirt I will be purchasing during my next pregnancy (it appeals to my inner superhero…maybe I read to many comic books). Yes, I would do this all over again for another healthy baby. I have to give the same advantages to any other children I have…but next time I am renting the hospital grade pumps.


  1. This process seems not very desirable to me. However I think that it's great, as I did not breast feed as a child and it caused my mom quite a bit of stress. I would not even drink the milk at all, I just didn't like it. If I ever have heart problems I am going to surely blame it on my weak heart health as a baby due to my lack of consumption of breast milk. When I have a child I sure hope it doesn't bitch like I did.

  2. I was did not think this would be an interesting article...but as all of your post are this one was really insightful. I was allergic to breast milk so my mom had to use soy milk. Worst than that I was also allergic to disposable diapers and would get a disgusting rash if she used them so I had to use cloth ones. With all that those imply, i'm not gonna be specific i'm sure u can infer.

    Breast feeding sounds really kinda scary to a guy. It reminds me of what it feels like to have low blood sugar. Not a nice feeling.

    Props to all Moms.

  3. Sorry for horrible syntax im half asleep

  4. When I first saw your post, I thought "How am I going to read and comprehend all of this?" (just kidding).. Actually, coming from a guy, I had no idea the life of a breast feeding mother can be so interesting. I definitely agree in support groups for breast feeding mothers. With all the hardships that you described, I believe people, including myself, should start appreciating the importance of the devout mother. In todays world, everyone is so busy just to make ends meat; and you are taking that task along with breast pumping, five times a day, for thirty minutes at a time. That is just astonishing. I need to tell my mother how thankful I am to be her son. thanks

  5. And yes, sometimes breastfeeding is hard, especially at first. I don’t say this to discourage new mothers from doing it, but rather to prepare them. I think the more realistic picture a person has of breastfeeding the better prepared she will be to succeed at it.