Monday, December 15, 2014

Breastfeeding: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It's been two weeks since Baby O came home from the hospital and we have settled into a routine (more or less) at home.  A big part of that routine is feeding our newborn and I've chosen to breastfeed instead of going with formula.

So I'll warn you now, today's post is going to talk about breastfeeding, which I'm sure is a subject that not everyone who reads my blog will be interested in.  If you're one of those people, you can drop off here and I won't be offended.  :-)

But before you leave, let me just share one piece of information: I don't care what anyone says, providing milk to a child is a TON of work and it requires a WHOLE lot of dedication.

OK, you can drop off now if you're still not intrigued. :-)

Let me guess who's still reading: moms that have had babies, spouses or friends of moms who have had babies, and women who are thinking about having a baby one day.  If you don't fit into one of these categories, my hat off to you for caring about the world of breastfeeding women.

All the literature and baby propaganda out there will keep banging one piece of information into you: breastmilk is best for baby.

OK, I said, I get it, I get it.  I'll give my baby breastmilk!  So before my first child was born, I thought I had taken all the necessary steps to prepare for breastfeeding.  I took a class.  I skimmed through a book about breastfeeding.  And voila, I was ready.

Right?  Wrong!

It was not easy with baby #1 and now that I'm two weeks deep into breastfeeding baby #2, I'm remembering, oh yeah, it is not easy making milk for a baby.  So in celebration of kicking off my second (and final) year of breastfeeding (that is, if baby O and I make it to a full year), here is a collection of thoughts and remembrances I've had, about the highs and lows of breastfeeding.

It's not a comprehensive list - just a mishmash of how my brain has been working these last two weeks as I've been reminded of all the things I learned about breastfeeding while nursing my first child... a year's worth of wisdom and lessons learned.

The Good

1. You get to bond with your baby.  Newborns demand to be fed every two to three hours and each feeding can take 15-20 minutes.  As you can see, the time you spend with your new one can add up!
2. Breastmilk is the best food you can provide your baby the first six months of his/her life.  I'm not trying to poo poo formula.  I understand that some moms just can't provide enough breastmilk for their little one, and the have to supplement with formula.  Or feed their baby 100% formula.  But I figure, if you've got it (milk) why not give it (if the baby will take it).
3. You lose the pregnancy weight!  This "good" outcome is tied to a "bad" outcome (see next section) -- depending on if you see the glass as half full or half empty.  I love to eat.  And breastfeeding burns calories like you wouldn't believe... so go ahead and have another serving of dinner.  Of course, I'll warn you now, the quality of the food you eat still counts for something.
4. Fewer bottles to wash.  At the beginning, mama may do most of the feeding with others offering the occasional bottle.  Until (or unless) mama goes back to work, there may not be many bottles to wash.  And if mama provides milk at all the feedings (like I did with baby #1), there are no bottles to wash.
5. Breast pumps.  I had trouble with my milk "coming in" with baby #1 and having a hospital grade pump really helped with that issue.  It also helped get my milk supply up to where it needed to be so that I could freeze extra milk for husband to use in emergency cases.  (In the end baby #1 never took the bottle so all that frozen milk ended up getting donated).

The Bad

1a. You're hungry all the time.  This just might be an exaggeration.  And it probably depends on the person.  I find that my most intense hunger strikes in the middle of the night, after a 2am breastfeeding session.  I've found myself setting aside a small plate of whatever we had for dinner so that when I do stumble down to the kitchen at 2am, I can just reheat and eat.
1b.  Corollary to 1a: you're thirsty all the time.  I have a 20 ounce mug that I keep filled with ice water at all times and I sip water all day long.  I also have a favorite water bottle that I have tucked in my diaper bag for outings so that I always have water with me.
2.  Schedule?  What schedule?  You're getting ready to leave the house for that 10am appointment with the pediatrician when suddenly the baby bursts out crying.  You look at your watch and realize it's been three hours since you fed the baby.  The world stops turning.  It's time to feed the baby, regardless of what's on the schedule.  I wear a watch that I set at the start of each feeding session.  Right now, the timer counts down 150 minutes.  That reminds me that if the baby hasn't already woken up and started crying, she will it any minute because it will be time to eat soon.
3.  A limited clothing wardrobe.  Last week I went Christmas shopping and I kept seeing cute tops and sweaters that I wanted to buy.  And then I remembered oh yeah I'm nursing.   When I'm at home, I don't care too much what I wear and sometimes all I've got on is my nursing bra with a cardigan over that for quick access.  But when I'm out in public, I have to look a little more presentable and some tops are just easier for nursing than others.
4. Ruined clothing.  I learned with my first child, that even if that silk top is easy to nurse in, it's ruined if you get breastmilk on it.  So no fancy clothes if you're nursing.
5. Plugged ducts.  Plugged ducts happen when milk is not removed from the breasts as fast as it is produced.  More about plugged ducts.  Plugged ducts can be a precursor to mastitis (see below) if not treated.
6. Nursing strikes.  This can happen when mama goes back to work and needs to leave baby with a caregiver.  Mama comes home from work and discovers that baby no longer has interest in breastfeeding.  It's enough to make any mama cry from heartbreak.  I haven't been there, but I've heard enough stories to know I'd be devastated, too.

The Ugly

1. Mastitis.  This is what happens when plugged ducts lead to infection.  I've survived through one case of mastitis and lived to tell and it was not fun.  I do not wish this on any breastfeeding mama.
2. Nursing while sick.  It's awful having to nurse when mama is sick.   I can't speak for all sicknesses, but in general, mamas are encouraged to continue breastfeeding through cold, flu, fever, and even mastitis.  I had a bout of food poisioning and continued to breastfeed despite the food poisoning, with approval from my doctor.  That was not an experience I want to relive.

And that's about it.  I know my "bad" + "ugly" list appears to outweigh my "good" list, but the truth is that almost all the good things are guaranteed to happen (if you want them to happen), while the bad and ugly events may never happen.

Have you ever breastfed?  Is there anything you'd add to my list of good, bad, and ugly?


  1. Great post! I'm definitely pinning/sharing to help other mamas out there! I really agree with every single point you made :))) Food poisoning while nursing sounds dreadful. I had mastitis once, oh no wait, twice -.- The first time was unbelievable though. I had to literally crawl to the bathroom because every time I stood up, I got so dizzy that I couldn't see anything. One of my sisters in law came over to take care of my son because clearly, I was in no condition to do so. And also luckily, doctors do house calls here because I couldn't even get downstairs to get to one. It went away well enough to function almost immediately after I got medicine, but when my son nursed and then later when my husband massaged the huge lump of milk - oii, I had to bite something to keep from screaming. You know because if my son de-latched, that hurt even more. Soooo long complain-y point - I so agree- nursing is hard work! It's worth it for sure, but it takes a lot of dedication, especially through the ugly bits.

    1. Yuliya, isn't it amazing how vividly we remember our illnesses? Your mastitis sounds awful. I know exactly what you mean about how painful it was to nurse while you were recovering from the mastitis. And yes, it takes alot of dedication especially when it's so easy to fall back on formula and bottles.

  2. Very good post. We had a hard, hard time with nursing because it was so painful for me (tears, every time she ate...toe-curling, tear-enducing pain). I don't know if it was her latch or what, but after 5 weeks, I couldn't endure it anymore, so we switched to pumping full time (and I was one of those that didn't make enough milk, so we had to supplement with formula). I'm hoping round 2 goes better than round 1 did!!

    1. Katie, that sounds difficult, first the pain with the latching on and then the frustration of not making enough milk. I hope round 2 goes better than round 1, too!

  3. As you know I'll be expecting very soon, so this post was exceptionally beneficial for me to read. I love that you shared both the good & bad. Also that you didn't sugarcoat anything. Thank you so much for this! Its definitely been a great read for me at this moment.

    1. Jesse, I'm glad that you found the read useful. I remembering relating to other nursing moms, "Nobody mentioned it would be so hard!" And I hope I didn't scare you off. For some, nursing can be very challenging, but I've made many moms who have survived the challenges and were happy that they did.

  4. Breast feeding is a huge commitment! It's so good for all the reason you mentioned for sure, but you are right- it's not easy, for something that is "natural". I was so young, I was only 22 and I got mastitis a few weeks in and got so sick I went to formula. I think a support system and and having information like you shared is so valuable to a new mom trying for the first time. I am gals you and Baby O are settling in to a good routine :)


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