Friday, July 13, 2012

10 Things I've Learned about Nursing

Update: I've posted a follow up blog to this one that details more my experience with lactation consultants. They are good people. I just had bad experiences. You can find that post here if you so desire!

I've started to write my nursing story on several different occasions, got about half way done, and decided it was way too long with way too much whining. I want this post to be somewhat beneficial to others. Of course, when I think that, I really should just reference #3.

So instead of telling it as a narrative story, I decided to make it a list of 10 things I've learned about nursing. The list idea was inspired by Shimelle, a great London scrapbooker whom I follow (and have even taken some of her classes - Learn Something New Everyday, anyone?) And instead of me focusing on the crappy parts about nursing, hopefully this will help me keep things positive, thinking what I have gained and how I have improved. Well, here's hoping, at least.

So, without further ado, 10 things I've learned about nursing:

1. Lactation Consultants Lie - Okay, we're off to a great positive start, aren't we? I could put this in positive terms, but this is the idea that has been rolling around in my head for almost 4 months. It was actually the title of my narrative nursing story. And I guess it's really not true. They do not lie intentionally to hurt you. They just want you to breastfeed so badly, they'll tell you all the good without the bad. My intention, however, is to be truthful. I read lots before Lucas was born, trying to educate myself so I would be prepared and successful. And no one said the truth: breastfeeding hurts. A lot. It is not nor will it ever be what I would consider comfortable. I mean, there is a person sucking on your boob. Hard. As in, if I don't suck, I'm going to die. Literally. Almost four months in and I would say it has been down graded from painful to uncomfortable. And every time I mentioned the pain to one of the 5 lactation consultants, 4 nurses, 2 nurse practitioners, and my OB/GYN (and the partridge in the pear tree), they always gave me the next milestone as the time it would get better: "By two weeks, it's so much better!" "Give it a month, then things improve." "You really have to do it for six weeks until you see some improvement." "Well, after two months, it should be better." Well, after two months, I quit the sucking on the breast thing, but we'll get there.

2. Lactation Consultants Lie - No, I'm not repeating myself. I feel so betrayed by the lactation consultants I saw (except for one who really did help) that I feel their betrayal deserves two spots on my top 10 list. This time, though, they lie intentionally. Or, I guess, they manipulate intentionally. Everyone agrees that breastfeeding is best, right? Even I agree, or I sure as heck wouldn't be doing it. But lactation consultants will pressure you so much into breastfeeding that you just know you are a horrible mother if you even think of giving your child formula. They tell you everything that leads you to that point without actually saying it. I know it would not be the end of the world to give Lucas formula. I've even given Lucas formula (once under the mandate from a lactation consultant - go figure.) But when you're in the midst of hormonal imbalance, sleeplessness, and the worst pain you've ever experienced (seriously, breastfeeding was worse than childbirth), no reason can override the shell of guilt that has been ingrained into you since your first childbirth class. And I think that's their plan. It's mean, it's manipulative, and it's not fair, But it works.

3. Trust Your Instincts - I decided to go positive on this one. Because what it could really say is "No one has any idea what they're doing, either." (Even lactation consultants. Except that one.) This is probably the biggest lesson I've learned, and it's one I have to re-learn every day. I am the only one who can instinctively know what my baby needs. And I have to trust those instincts. No book, no consultant, no mother, no husband, even (though they definitely come the closest, and I rely on his instincts a lot, too!), can tell you what's going on. Trust me, I've tried. I've sought advice from so many different avenues, I finally had to stop seeking advice and just wing it. And, funny thing, I kind of do have those mothering instincts that tell you what to do. I just have to trust them.

4. Breastfeeding is Hard to Do, but Harder to Stop - I've tried to stop on several occasions, but somehow we are soldiering on. I've carried a can of formula around with me for four months, now. But every time I've said "that's it!" he gets hungry, and I pull out my boob. Really, what I think kept me going was that after two months of excruciating pain, I finally switched to pumping almost exclusively. I would nurse once a day, but eventually there were days I didn't nurse at all. So it was really easy to give him a bottle of breastmilk, which helped me hope that some day I would return to nursing.

5. It Doesn't Have to Be All or Nothing - This is something I've learned to be true in many areas of raising a child. It doesn't have to be perfect. Every good thing you can do is a good thing, even if it's not exclusive. Every cloth diaper you use is one less disposable in the landfill. Every load of clothes you do in one day is one less that sits too long and has to be run again. Every time he nurses at the breast is one feeding of the best stuff. I did give him formula twice, and he is no worse for the wear. And I even feed him breastmilk from a bottle for about a month, while I pumped almost exclusively. Even though he wasn't getting it straight from me, and was probably eating too much at a feeding (because breastfeed babies stop on their own, while bottle fed babies tend to finish the whole bottle), he was getting my milk one way or another, and that was enough.

6. It Is Oh So Satisfying When They Gain Weight - My mother has joked that my milk is "4%" - full fat. It is very satisfying to watch your baby gain weight and grow, knowing the only thing nourishing them is you. It's also really satisfying to watch a bottle fill with pumped milk. It's like magic - making something out of nothing.

7. Nursing Clothes Are SO Comfortable - seriously, I love my sleep bras, and my nursing nightgowns. I would live in them if I could. But, alas, I have to put on real clothes at some point.

8. A Supportive Chair Makes All the Difference - When Lucas was born, we had some really bad couches that were so deflated you could feel the frame through the seat cushion. They were awful. I didn't really know how awful they were until I tried to nurse sitting on one. I had to sit on a pillow, put two pillows behind me, one under my arm, and one on my lap with the bobby on top of it. Then the baby. Only then could I sit comfortably for the 45 minutes it took him to nurse at first. During his second month we bought a new couch/love seat set that has recliners on each end. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Now I can nurse with one pillow behind me and the boppy or a large pillow on my lap. It makes life so much easier.

9. Nursing Is As Easy As I Imagined It Would Be - I have to admit, I didn't plan to nurse only because breast milk is better. That was certainly a contributing factor, but I also wanted to ease of nursing. No bottles to wash. No worries about how much to feed him and if he was getting enough. Not having to take formula and bottles with us every time we left the house and being sure we would have enough for however long we wanted to be gone. It's taken 3 months, but I think I'm there. At first, I was given a nipple shield (still don't know why - they're for women with inverted nipples. Not me.) So I had to take that everywhere. I finally weaned him off of the shield, only to need heating pads, yeast infection cream, and wipes to wipe off the cream before feeding him to get through a feeding. Then I turned to pumping full time, and that involved more stuff than I could have ever imagined: the pump and all of its accessories, bottles to pump into, bottles to feed from, heating pads, hands-free bra, nursing cover (because pumping in public is less accepted than nursing in public), cooler and ice pack to keep milk cool. At 3 months, I decided to try to move back to nursing full time, and it has been so much better this time around. The pain is a lot less (reduced to uncomfortable, remember?) and it is really nice to be able to leave the house without having to think about how long we'll be gone and if we have enough of everything to make it as long as we want to stay out. It is easy, in the sense that you don't need three bags of stuff to do it. You just need you and the baby.

10. igbok - Have you seen these bumper stickers? I love them. I had to look it up to see what it meant, because I had no idea, but it's so simple. It means "It's Gonna Be OK." And that's the tenth, and probably most important thing I've learned. No matter what, it's gonna be okay. I was and am committed to breastfeeding. There were times I was ready to give it up, and if I had, it would have been okay. Both my husband and I were raised on formula, and we turned out okay. But something inside me told me we could make this work (instinct, #3). I stuck it out, and finally, yes, it's okay, too. This is another lesson with broader application. No matter what choices I make as a parent, as long as I am seeking what's best for my child, it will be okay.

So, there you have it. Ten things I've learned about breastfeeding, and about parenting in general. We've made it three and a half months, and I know we have MUCH more to learn. But as long as I can keep #10 in mind, we'll make it.

And to conclude, a cute picture of the kid from the 4th of July. It doesn't get much better than this, does it?

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