Friday, August 31, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding

Now that I'm way past it, I remember it fondly and wish I'd known, before I ever started, everything that nursing three children has taught me.  Seasoned moms are your best bet, and check out the internationally known breastfeeding organization: La Leche League, a bonanza of information in the language of your choice:
In my experience, nurses in hospitals are too busy to help out, doctors not much better.   The one I called when my firstborn was shrieking for six straight hours cocked an eyebrow, swung her stethoscope nonchalantly and said, "Yeah--little babies cry.  Whaddya want?"  What I wanted was for someone to help me figure out that the kid needed to be put over my shoulder and burped so that his tummy would stop hurting so that he would stop screaming so that he and I could both get some sleep.  Which I eventually, after a couple of sleepless weeks, did figure out, and if you pay a bundle to a midwife or a doula, or if you have a friendly relationship with your mother, you'll figure that out sooner.  And even if you had just read all about burping in the weeks before the birth, I guarantee you that you may forget all about it in the excitement of having just given birth.  You do tend to become quite brainless while you are pregnant and breastfeeding.  Hormones, physical discomfort and exhaustion all militate against the ability to think and retain readings on motherhood.  In the last month of pregnancy and for the first weeks of motherhood I could only bring myself to read pulp lit:  all of Dan Brown plus Valley of the Dolls.  Beware with baby boys, because while you're sitting around in a trance nursing the kid, some doctor will walk in and tell you to circumcise your son, and unless you've put in writing that you want nothing of the sort done, you'll say, "Whaaa?  Uh, okay," and not even remember what you were asked.  A friend remembers that  her doctor walked in and suggested circumcision and when she tiredly demurred, he said, "You don't want him to look different from his father, do you?"  and she felt too tired to continue to defy him. 
Before I even start, I'll return to my mantra:  trust your own hunches.  If you don't want to breastfeed, don't let me or any doctor tell you to do so.  The late lamented Wendy Wasserstein complained about "the nipple Nazis," that is, hyper-efficient American nurses who surrounded her with breast pumps when she was lying in her hospital bed after the premature birth of her daughter.  If you do want to breastfeed, you need not listen--as I unfortunately did--to nurses who insisted that I sit up in bed in order to nurse.  Lie down if you want!  You can nap while the kid nurses!  Those nurses.  They insisted that I had to switch the kid to the other breast every fifteen minutes (and they hung my watch, just so I would have to check the time, on the support triangle that I, after a cesarean, had to pull myself up on in order to sit.)  I was told to insert a finger in his mouth to break the suction--I guarantee you, no baby likes this.  Otherwise--they looked grim--consequences would be bad.  As in cracked nipples.  Well, I never had them until his brother, the second kid, glommed on like a football player chugging a six pack as fast as possible after a winning game.  And then there were all kinds of homeopathic salves that did the trick, and then, since I had had some practice with the first, I figured out how to make the kid stop chewing and start sucking.

 Rule #1: Find comfortable positions.  Sit if you like, but you don't have to do so.  Pillows under the elbow help.  You can buy a body-length cylindrical pillow that in the last few months of pregnancy can be placed between your knees and under your elbow at night, rendering sleep, the ever-elusive third-trimester sleep, a possibility.   I found the same thing great for nursing, wrapped around my waist with the kid resting on one side.  Experiment with getting comfortable and nursing.

Rule #2: Drink, drink, drink.  Water and herbal teas are probably your best bet, unless you do not like either, in which case cranberry juice is also good for you.  After my first cesarean I came to with a Nurse Ratched type hovering over me, and croaked, "May I please have some ice chips?"  A reasonable and expected request for one giving birth in an American hospital to make.  Only I happened to be in a German hospital, and Nurse Ratched's face flinched.  She turned on her heel and stalked out, returning with a huge cannister of fennel tea, which she thumped down on my bedside table.
"In Deutschland, wir machen so!!" ("In German, we do things this way!") she informed me.  Fennel tea tasted great, and the Germans believe that when a nursing mother drinks it, along with carraway-seed tea, she helps prevent her baby from having gas.

Rule #3: Eat, eat, eat.  Whatever you want!  Chocolate!  Pesto!  As much as you want!  Now you can eat sushi, which you should not eat during pregnancy, and now you can drink wine, but don't get drunk.  Now you can drink coffee, but some babies do get awfully hyperactive when you do.  But some sleep right through it.  You observe your kid, and forget what anybody else says.

Rule #4: Amuse yourself reading websites from different countries that tell you what nursing mothers should and should not eat.  In Germany I found a lot on the VERBOTEN list:  no orange juice, no onions, no peas, garlic was frowned upon, no strawberries . . . . I was craving fresh-squeezed orange juice, and when I begged the nurse for some she looked scandalized.  No proper Germany mommy would dream of such a thing.  Then I read the American websites, which at that time were all about preventing lactose intolerance in your baby, and which assured moms they could eat whatever they wanted, but watch out for the cheese on the top of the pizza.  By the time Baby #3 arrived, I had the confidence to ignore the nurses, and when my Korean roommate's husband brought in highly aromatic kimchee and other delights, the nurses huffed around saying "Well, we don't think you should eat it but we can't stop you!"  So we said, "Nyahh, nyaaah--what about all the mommies in Korea?  What about the Middle Eastern moms who eat garlic and onion and cardamom?"  The poor nurses.  We gave them a hard time.  And our babies slept  . . .like a dream.

Rule #5: The obvious: breastfeed on demand.  I knew a woman who followed doctor's orders, breastfeeding only every four hours on the dot, no matter how much the baby screamed.  Nerve-wracking all around:  another example of when NOT to listen to doctors (see previous posts).  Take the kid everywhere you go, wrap up in a shawl or a breastfeeding mom's t-shirt, the kind with the slit on the side for easy baby access to the breast, available from or in the U.S.  The most comfortable and easy to use nursing bras were the ones with a single snap in the middle.  Remember: you're undoing it one-handed, because the other hand is holding the baby.   Same goes for nursing tops:  stick to the ones with the side slit and forget the ones with the buttons.

Rule #6: Ignore naysayers, and even in our enlightened day and age, you'll find them.  Some fifteen years ago a friend was nursing her infant daughter in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. and the waiter came up and asked, "Wouldn't you rather do that in the bathroom?"  If the waiter asks you this, smile sweetly and answer: "Do you like to eat among toilets?  Neither does my baby."  An elderly relative who invited me out to dinner disapproved of my daughter nursing at age two.  "You won't want to do that in the restaurant," she chirped.  "You can use the ladies room there."  I pulled my big shawl around me and told her we'd be just fine at the table.  "When in Rome," she growled, and I said, "The Romans'll have to get used to me."  And they did, those Romans.  And you know what?  No one will bother you unless you're making a point of flapping your breast all over the place.  Do be discreet, and it is easy to be discreet with a shawl or a blanket or a nursing top.  Even so, you may get the tiresome Barbara Walters type sitting next to you on a plane hummphing that she feels "uncomfortable" when you nurse.  Smile sweetly and tell her you respect her discomfort and keep right on nursing.

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