Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Breastfeeding Redux

I realized over the weekend, when Mini McGee turned 6 months old, that I had met all my breastfeeding goals. I was like, "Huh. How about that."

The goals went like this. I'm the sort of person who, when faced with a large, difficult, or unpleasant task, likes to break it into smaller steps or achievable pieces. So, being surrounded by friends and family who support breastfeeding but have nothing against formula either, I decided my goal would be to breastfeed while in the hospital and see how that went. If it went well, I'd aim for two weeks. If THAT went well, I'd aim for six weeks. Then for three months, then for six months, which was so unimaginably far away I didn't think past that. That way if I was having trouble in the first week, I could say, "I only have to make it to two weeks, then I can stop." And of course most trouble clears up by then, and I can go on. This is a way I've always incentivized myself -- "You just have to get through the first 100 words, then you can stop," on college papers. Of course once I've got the 100 words I want to keep going and get to my 500-word check point. And so on. It works well because it keeps me wanting to get to the next achievable goal, but when I do decide to stop I don't have to feel guilty, since I stopped at a goal.

I bring up the goals because this was among the many, many, many things that the lactation consultant at the hospital told me I was doing really, really, really wrong. Of this entire breastfeeding experience, the top 3 worst things would be:

3. Plugged Ducts
2. Cluster Feedings (Growth Spurts)
1. The Lactation Consultant at the Hospital

She asked if I was planning to breastfeed and how long, and I cheerfully told her about my laddered goals system. Oh, no, she insisted, shaking her head gravely. That won't work. You can only breastfeed if you COMMIT to it. There are going to be so many challenges and people trying to make you stop -- if you want to breastfeed until he's six months, you have to decide RIGHT NOW that you're going to DO IT for six months, no matter what, and you have to make your husband get on board.

I was like, "Um, no, I think I'll stick with my system, thanks."

She warned me darkly that that system doomed me to failure because I wasn't COMMITTING. (Because obviously, ALL HUMAN PSYCHES ARE EXACTLY THE SAME.) We moved on to more questions, where she gave me instructions that contradicted my doctor's about medications (and I curtly informed her that she was not a doctor and was not competent to issue instructions relating to my medical care). Then I got the baby and nursed, and she totally objected to his nursing position: Lying flat on his back, with his head turned 90 degrees. "BELLY TO BELLY!" she barked at me, repeatedly. But when turned belly-to-belly, Mini McGee flatly refused to nurse and wriggled until he got to be flat again. He still mostly prefers this flat-back pose, although he's more relaxed now and doesn't lie there stiff as a board.

So having achieved all my breastfeeding goals, I thought it was a good time to reflect. I posted about breastfeeding before, but now I have stuff to add.

My experience: I generally had a very easy time of it. Mini McGee is a good latcher, I have compliant boobs (they keep up with demand, and they aren't real picky about missed feedings so I can usually get away without pumping), and I can't really complain. A few plugged ducts here and there, but nothing dire. We began formula supplementing 1 bottle a day in week 2 because I needed more than 2 hours of sleep at a time; he's happy to eat either. Now that he sleeps, some days he gets formula, some days he doesn't, just depending on if I'm around all day or not. I didn't really have any problems with pumping, but I don't like doing it, so I mostly don't.

Education: Breastfeeding education is awful! It was so. much. information, and it was all apparently designed to scare the bejeezus out of me ... the 8 billion things that can go wrong. The 62 different ways to time feedings. At age 2 weeks 1 day and 6 hours, baby needs this much milk, but 4 hours later it's different. The 502 things you can't eat, look at, or sneeze in the vicinity of. Don't introduce bottles until week X but before week Y, because too early and he'll get nipple confusion, but too late and he'll reject the change. Good. Lord. (And most of it backed up with claims that drastically overstate the medical literature.)

Here's what I needed: A 1-page summary with pictures of the common holds and the baby's latch. Information on caring for the equipment. Information on a couple common problems (plugged ducts, mastitis, thrush) and a list of symptoms with when to see YOUR doctor and when to see BABY'S doctor. Where to go for more information. And a reassurance that YOU'LL LEARN EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW FROM THE NURSES IN THE HOSPITAL. (Yeah, not the lactation consultant. The nurses.)

All the educational information assured me breastfeeding was natural and wonderful and easy, then made it seem terrifyingly complex and prone to horrific problems. The same literature also frequently made a big whoop about people who don't support breastfeeding and how persecuted you will feel while breastfeeding, especially in public. I have not yet met one of these people. Even in public.

The Verdict: For me, I think the biggest benefits of breastfeeding was that it was WAY cheaper than formula feeding and that it's frequently more convenient, since I can go out and about without bottle-feeding paraphernalia or having to think ahead. But I would tell anyone thinking about breastfeeding to skim one book (or chapter in the pregnancy book) and then know you'll learn everything else at the hospital, and not worry over it or read too much about the stuff that can go wrong. (If it goes wrong, it goes wrong, and you can't possibly keep straight all the scare literature -- I had to look up plugged ducts when the moment arrived, despite my diligent reading.) I would also say, take it one day at a time, and if it doesn't work out, isn't it great that modern formulas are so nutritious and convenient?

Now that I've achieved the unthinkably-distant goal of six months, I guess I'll keep going. I don't know until when, but that's probably because I'm insufficiently committed and won't succeed at -- oh, wait. Never mind.

(And how weird is it that it's about "succeeding" at breastfeeding ... implying that other options that result in a healthy baby are somehow "failure." Modern competitive parenting is awesome!)


Rayne of Terror said...

Yay for you! With my first I approached it in the same way as you. I knew I wanted to try it and set myself incremental goals. At 6 months I thought, well I guess we'll go to a year and re-evaluate. At 1 it was so easy and he was only nursing 2-3x a day so I thought we'd re-evaluate at 18 months. At 17 months he decided he preferred Daddy at bedtime and weaned in a few days. So there! A "non committed" mommy turned into an extended nursing relationship.

Nursing is even easier with subsequent babies. You don't even pick up a book unless there's a problem. Both my kids liked the flat on their backs approach. With #2 I don't worry I am doing it wrong because clearly he is getting enough milk.

Emerge Peoria said...

Keep going! When it's over you will miss the closeness.

Jennifer said...

I love your middle-of-the-road approach. Maybe in an effort to educate mothers that breastfeeding can be a process that doesn't come naturally to every mother/baby pair, some lactation consultants and literature have gone too far in the other direction, overly emphasizing the difficulties and, worst yet, using scare tactics and guilt to motivate mothers to breastfeed.

My personal experience was similar to yours, and I actually hated the whole lactation consultant process. Which I hate to even say, as I think breastfeeding should be encouraged. Nevertheless, with my kids, the consultants I dealt with also contradicted my doctor and were pushy to the point of being rude. I think they should provide basic information and then be available for questions. Not militantly bossing the mother around.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Little Foot is three and a half months old now and exclusively breastfed. I approached it similarly to you but (being me) without the goal thing, it was "As long as this works!"

I recently figured out how to use a pump, and we tested to see if Little Foot would take a bottle. It took her a little bit to figure out, but since she's apparently on the cusp of teething she wound up biting the bottle, and then it produced milk, so she drank half an ounce before looking at us funny and going to sleep. ;)

She hasn't started biting my nipples when feeding from the teething. If she does that, we may reevaluate this process....

Lyz said...

Just stumbled across your blog...

Love this post! I too think that breastfeeding is usually much simpler than the literature makes it out to be...The fact that there IS such a thing as "literature" for one of the most natural processes on earth is kind of hilarious. I mean, if uneducated women in 3rd world countries giving birth without medical help can figure it out, us spoiled 1st world-ers surely should be able to, also.

I nursed my first 2 babies until they were about 11 1/2 months (by then, it was only at bedtime) and the gradual transition worked great for both of us. I started reading them books instead of nursing.

Good job!

rubyslippers said...

I am so impressed with your goal-setting technique. What in the world is wrong with that coach at the hospital? Stick to your short-term goals--look how far you've gotten! I heartily recommend breast-feeding to anyone who chooses to try it. I had a rough time at first, I'm not "made" exactly right for it, but I used a breast pump and put it in bottles for my babies at first. Oh my, the lactation specialist didn't like my doing that, either. "She'll get 'nipple-confusion'!" Just what every new, post-partum mom wants to hear, eh? Well, MY BABIES DID NOT! Just goes to show you there's more than one way to do things, and some babies are "smart enough" to figure things out by themselves...and new mothers are, too!

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you had all those plugged ducts and don't connect them with your refusal to nurse the way those who know how it works best tried to show you. I am happy that you are happy with your experience, but please know that MOST moms do not do nearly as well as you did without learning more about it. We know what works for most moms most of the time. For every mom who wants to do it her way and has it mostly work out, there are at least a dozen others who will later say they "couldn't" nurse. So please don't discount good advice from those who know about this. I really needed help in the early days to deal with nipple confusion and a sleepy baby. I listened to the good advice I got from LLL and went on to nurse quite long term, even when working. I had no trouble nursing my second baby at all. I later was in a position to work with hundreds of moms, and I know very well what does and doesn't work for most moms. But every woman and every baby is different. The important thing is that your baby got a lot of benefits that will make a difference for life.

Tiffer72 said...

UGH! I saw the lactation consultants more than I saw my doctor in the hospital. I was positively sick of them barging into my room and demanding answers of me when I was tired and just wanted to sleep. One of them even came in when the nurse had posted a "Mommy sleeping" note on my door. Fortunately the nurse saw her and got there quickly to haul her out. I finally told the nurse to keep those nazis away from me. This was my second birth and I was pretty sure that what worked for the first would work this time.

In fact, I didn't even have a plan of any kind with my first or this time with twins. I knew that I wanted to try nursing and see how it went. My son effortlessly moved between breast and bottle, milk and formula and nursed for a year and a half. My twins (now a month old and started out preemies would could not even nurse at first) are doing the same.

I truly believe that the pestering / scare tactics by the consultants cause the mother to be nervous and to blow the ability to feed. Especially first time Mom's who are hard on themselves anyway.

Like you said - provide the info, ask if there are questions, then bugger off. Hounding a new Mom should be a criminal offense.

(Note that the LLL member above is the only anonymous post on here.)