Triticum Turgidum

Lying Dormant and Waiting to Bloom Since 2005

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Location: The Prairie, Illinois, United States

I am a beauty-loving ambidextrous higher-order primate who learned transcendental meditation at 7, statistical analysis at 23, tap dancing at 30, and piano at 35. I tolerate gluten, lactose, and differences of opinion, but not abuse. Or beets.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Oppressed by the Breast

Breastfeeding sucks.

(Heh heh -- I just got that.)

I'm having the hardest time with nursing. I naively thought it would either be 100% successful or would not work at all. Instead I'm stuck in the Limboland of Inadequate Supply, pumping 7x/day in the hope of being able to feed my baby the Pure Breastmilk Diet without having to defile her dainty little system with Vile Formula.

But this notion of inadequate supply is my own little fantasy, you see, because there's no such thing as an inadequate supply. EVERY woman can produce enough milk for her baby provided she tries hard enough. Such is the rhetoric of breastfeeding in the early 21st century. It's disturbingly like the weight loss rhetoric: So you say you're not producing enough milk (losing enough weight)? Just try harder. Anyone can produce enough milk (become stick-thin) with a little discipline. The implication is that you're lazy and/or ignorant if you have problems. The breastfeeding and dieting rhetorics are alike too in that everyone who's nursed successfully gives you the same simplistic advice: demand leads to supply (weight = calories in minus calories out).

A colleague pointed out to me that this rhetoric is a bourgeois White middle- to upper-class construction. Yes, research shows that breast milk is better for your kid than formula, which is why I, like so many women, was brainwashed during pregnancy that I was a Bad Mommy if I allowed so much as a drop of formula to cross my child's lips. But the advice I've been given -- stay in bed for several days and do nothing but nurse (while your maid brings you ready-made meals and your butler does the laundry, presumably) -- assumes a life of privilege, or at the very least the absence of other children in the household and the presence of a partner who brings in enough money to allow Sainted SAHMhood. I have no other children and don't intend to be a SAHM because I don't want to be. But I'm on leave now, so I could conceivably do exactly what they say. Problem is, when I tried it for 3 days, my baby was starving, cried the whole time, and lost weight. So yeah, I could build my supply by taking repeated "nursing vacations," but do I want to? Not really. It's hard watching your kid go hungry.

I've seen or consulted by phone six lactation consultants, several nurses, and one pediatrician. The first week, my poor baby lost 17 ounces, which was over 11% of her body weight. The pediatrician doesn't want more than 7% lost. So everyone told me to supplement with formula temporarily. At the 2-week appointment Fi had gained back her lost weight, so everyone was happy. They told me I could start weaning off the supplements. I did, and that's when the misery started. Poor little thing was bleating like a lamb (actually, a Muslim lamb: her hunger cry sounds like "Allah! Allah!") for food she couldn't extract from my chest. There's nothing wrong with her mouth or her latch. She knows how to suck. But multiple visits to the breastfeeding clinic at my local hospital showed that she couldn't get more than an ounce or so total with each feeding, so they recommended I continue to supplement. At the last visit she took in a paltry 1/3 ounce, so they told me she wasn't working at it because she probably already knew a supplemental bottle would come. They suggested I pump and feed expressed milk from the bottle because I can get more milk in 10 minutes of pumping than my daughter can extract in 40 minutes of feeding.

So that's what I've been doing: pumping 7x/day, taking fenugreek (don't ask), drinking plenty of fluids, etc. And I'm stuck in a holding pattern that has my daughter taking in half of her nourishment as milk and the other half as formula. Today I rented a Medela Symphony, the state-of-the-art hospital-grade pump ("sucks just like a real baby!"), to see if it can extract more milk than my perfectly respectable borrowed Medela Pump In Style. (By the way, the Pump In Style retails for about $300, the Symphony for $1300 -- hence the borrowing/renting.) I also picked up a supplemental nursing system, a laughable device that requires one to tape tiny tubes to one's breasts so one's child can get the milk/formula combo she needs while stimulating the breasts to make more milk. (Kid stimulation is supposedly better than pump stimulation.) Oh yes, and I awoke at 4:00 this morning with freakin' mastitis so I have to get some antibiotics and pump every two hours, even at night, just to keep the milk flowing so my left breast doesn't, er, explode. I've been home all day because mastitis produces flu-like symptoms.

Clearly I'm not cut out for breastfeeding. So why can't I just let it go? For the same reason, I think, that I began having problems in the first place. The first two weeks of my daughter's life were so traumatic (did you know pushing out the first post-surgical poop can actually give one a hemorrhoid? Tragically, I did not) that I was a complete wreck. I'm still a wreck, just less intensely so. I am a Type A anxiety freak stressmonger. It was only when friends and acquaintances started telling me that stress can inhibit the letdown reflex (when your brain sends the signal for the stored-up milk to be released) and reduce the milk supply that I put two and two together. I couldn't take that advice to nap when the baby naps because I couldn't nap if I heard her make even the slightest peep. It's like trying to sleep when you know an alarm is set to go off at any minute. So I've spent the past six weeks surviving on very little sleep, eating as much fiber as I can to avoid angering The Beast down below, and stressing about my inability to produce enough milk for my kid, all of which, paradoxically, make the problem worse.

I don't know where this will end. I don't know how it will resolve itself. All I can say is that I am so looking forward to the day my daughter is weaned. And this strikes me as sad, because those first few minutes of nursing, before Fi realizes she's pumping a dry well and starts to cry, are really, really nice.


Anonymous lightspeed said...

I wish I had something intelligent and helpful and universe altering to say. I wish you were not suffering as much as you are. Everything you say leaves no doubt as to how much you love your daughter. She knows she is loved.
Please take care of yourself.

p.s. Fi is just beautiful!

7:25 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Fi is beautiful, like both her parents.

I had a difficult time breast feeding my son, and had to have a 'consulant' come out and help me. Some babies do not latch on so easily, and it is a misconception that nursing comes automatically.

Hang in there, and ask your p-doc about it.

Many hugs to you!!!

8:23 PM, April 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you sure that your latch is right? I know that if that nipple is not grabbed at the right point all is lost. Large nipples do not work out for nursing very well clearly if that is the case you cannot change that fact. My second son did have a small problem his tongue , it was attached to far , they fixed it and he was off to the races. This is a bitch for you as it can be a really good experience& clearly it is not.However you have given her the time on the breast that most PED's hope for, if it does not improve in 2 more weeks I say quit. Better to give it up than go into it dreading the outcome. K

11:20 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger mreenymo said...

Darling, I agree with the above post.

Breastfeeding should be a cozy, comforting experience. This has not been the case for you. You sound exhausted, dejected and depleted. That is not good for you, your child or your relationship with your husband.

Now is the time to cherish your time with Fi. And, remember that just because breastfeeding is not working out, that does not by any means indicate your lack of mothering skills. Not at all!

You may wish to get a recommendation for the best formula for your child and move on to a more joyful, peaceful state of mind.

Love and hugs!

10:33 AM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Jemima said...

I'm full of sympathy. Do you feel like a machine at this point? I'm sorry the advice (it's easy, what's wrong with you, etc) isn't much help.

It's the first day of breastfeeding that matters the most. So long as she got something then, all will be fine. Probably.

I'm impressed you're still trying. The majority of women in my experience don't bother trying to breastfeed, and many take it for granted you CAN'T breastfeed after a c-section. SO:

You're doing ok. (feet up)
It isn't easy. (deep breaths)
Be kind to yourself. (and relax, only for one minute though.)

3:13 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger liz said...

As a "senile primigravida" PhD student who plans to nurse, I can relate with way too much of what you are saying. Yikes!

I've gone All-Herbal and am monitoring everything and being scientific and careful and avoiding even aspirin and so forth since advent of my PG.

Nevertheless, I am *totally* going to try the old-wives beer-nursing trick sometimes if I can't get it to work!

(PS: Whaaat, fenugreek, but no fennel seeds??! ;)

11:01 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger liz said...

...Never mind my nefarious plan, dangit. I finally actually looked it up, and found this study suggesting that it actually works against milk letdown.

Back to yoga, I guess, if only I had the self-discipline.

BTW, congratulations on your adorable little nub!!

11:07 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Parisjasmal said...

I have nothing to say as I have never nursed anything.
I can understand the type A personality thing though.

I am glad to see you still have your wicked sense of humor (Allah Allah).

Sending you thoughts of peace and serenity. Be kind to yourself. You are a wonderful mother.


2:08 PM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger katiedid said...

I won't try to share advice or anything like that for this subject. All's I know is that the best way for you to care and nurture Fi is for you to feel like you have the enegry and happiness to give her your best. And what is your best is what you determine it is. For that, you can only do what feels right for you. And there are people who will tell you that the only thing to consider is what they think is right for her. Maybe that might be a little true, but it's not all true. You know how you're going to do your best, deep down. Go with that, your gut feeling. People who try to argue you out of your own gut feeling are just control freaks who want to determine every detail in the universe for their own benefit, not for you or Fi. Screw 'em.

Take care, enjoy your time, and if I offended or anything with the above, K, it was certainly not intended. ♥

8:34 PM, April 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhhh...the sweet freedom of formula. Happy baby, happy mom, happier mental state! I was glad to leave it behind. Would have loved to pump for longer, but it wasn't in the cards. Whatever you choose, breast/breast supplement/formula it's the right decision. You'll feel solid about it even years down the road. I do.


4:58 AM, April 08, 2006  

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