Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Have Boob, Feed Baby?
Nursing is such a beautiful, natural thing. Moms and babies have perfected it through out the history of, well, moms and babies. It really is a simple concept. The breast are actually glands, glands that are "activated" during pregnancy and then turn on after birth. Hormones signal to the glands to start producing milk and the body uses calories and water to create the perfect little liquid meal for baby. There is an amazing, unique relationship between baby and breast, a supply and demand bond, a miraculous chemistry of calories, fat, antibodies, sugar, protein and more in this production. While scientists have tried and formula companies claim, nothing has been made quite like it. You should go research all this, it is really cool. Goggle, it is a wonderful thing.
Not all mothers want to breastfeed but some plan to do so, believing (as do I) that it is the best for their baby. After all, what could be more natural? Side note: Anyone else find it odd that we applaud women that breastfeed and yet we call it natural? If it is natural, why do we act like it is this herculean feat? There are other natural things that we don't praise people for, like going to the bathroom. Oh wait, I have cheered for someone going potty before. Hmmmm, maybe there is something to that. Moving on!
So what happens to the new mom that decides she's going to breastfeed, figures it can't be that hard since women have been doing it for ages, reads that if you have a correct latch it shouldn't hurt, gets the Lanisnoh, breast pads, nursing stool, and a cute nursing cover so she can be "discreet" and is already to breastfeed and then little Johnny comes along and holy crap, it isn't as easy as "have-boob-feed-baby?" Johnny clicks when he nurses and it feels like someone has placed vice-grips on her nipples. She follows the directions she's read to break baby's latch and try again, this time pulling his jaw down or adjusting his position so his jaw is under the nipple and he'll have to open wider, put his tongue forward to get a correct latch. Tentative but confident that this natural way to feed her baby is totally something she can figure out she goes for it. Once again it hurts but lessens a bit as he sucks and since she doesn't feel like screaming this time she lets him stay only to have such a forceful let down of milk that Johnny pulls off sputtering with milk running out of his mouth and spraying him in the face before mom gets pressure on the boob to stop the flow. Trying again, she moves him towards the breast again, trying to encourage a good latch but now he's so hungry and so angry that he won't stop screaming even when the nipple is completely in his mouth. The meltdown reaches to mom and soon both are in tears. Now what?
I think this is why some moms give up, even the most basic problems can be discouraging. Pain is a bitch. And, I'm going out on a limb here, but I don't really believe that good latch equals no pain for every woman, every time. Without good support, quality information, lots of encouragement, and a little bit of reason, even the perfectly latched, well supplied baby/mom team can want to quit. Particularly if she is convinced that this natural nourishment for her baby should come easily and she is embarrassed that she is experiencing trouble. If there are real problems such as latch issues, thrush, mastitis, low/over supply etc. it can even be more difficult. At such a delicate time as the postpartum period, an overwhelmed mom faced with the manic nature of her body, painful breasts, sleep deprivation and a squalling infant could easily become defeated. In those most desperate moments the bottle and formula look like a savior even if she knows "breast is best."
Does it have to be so hard? No, and a lot of women don't find it to be a challenge. Who knows why. Maybe they were more prepared. Maybe they had better support. Maybe they were just freakin' lucky. (Now, now, don't go hating them for it.) But in those very early days, many women have an experience that isn't quite the rainbow farting unicorns they had imagined. They pictured sweet greeting card images of looking down into the deep eyes of their new baby, wrapped sweetly in a soft blanket suckling delicately at her breast. Instead they got a clenched jaw, a baby with a toothless mouth of torture, the vocabulary of a sailor and tears- 2 sets. She may even be blessed with cracked and bleeding nipples and if she's really on the shit-list, thrush. Somebody may have really had it out for her mommy confidence if her baby doesn't gain well, she's told she doesn't have any or enough milk or the ultimate blow: baby is failure to thrive.
I can't help but wonder if there was a time when society didn't throw around terms like "natural" or "easy" when it came to breastfeeding. Not because it wasn't those things but because it didn't really matter. Breastfeeding just was. That, and instead of women getting their support from books, the internet, Lactation Consultants, OBs and pediatricians, they got their support from their families, from other moms, from the community. Don't get me wrong, all those resources are great and I'm so glad we have them. The thing is maybe what we need even more is real support, swapping stories, acknowledging the struggles and sharing the beauty that would help a mom press on. There are real challenges, real reasons why for some moms and babies breast is not best. Not as often as we seem to hear but they do happen. For those other difficulties I wonder if it is really just a lack of support, one on one, hands on support. Either way, all of them would be easier with help and support. The mom that feels guilty that she started formula because she couldn't take the pain or the screaming. The mom that isn't sure she can make it through the initial few weeks. The mom that was abused and can't breastfeed emotionally even though she can physically. The mom whose baby needs her to stay on her meds more than she needs to breastfeed. Or the mom that was told she couldn't do it. If, after a new baby is born, the women in the new mom's community descended on her with meals, cleaning, glasses of water and company, helping her get settled while she establishes this new nursing relationship there would be more women saying "We had a rough start but we made it and it was totally worth it." In my land of rainbow farting unicorns, that is what happens, women, both familial and friends, offer hands on support providing practical and emotional encouragement. Can you do it? Can you find a way to play in my little world of make-believe and actively support a breastfeeding mom or two?
It only seems natural.