Monday, January 30, 2012

Milk Machine is Going Out of Business

This is my ode to breast feeding.  Since this was my first trip around the Mommy circus, there was a lot I learned.  Most of it the hard way, but thats the way it goes when you take on something as huge as becoming a parent.  My journey with breast feeding (BFing) has been mostly successful, sometimes embarrassing and painful and now that the end is in sight, rewarding.

In theory, BFing sounds so easy.  It is after all, a very natural process.  Despite the girl from my birthing class who told me she wasn't going to do it because it "felt unnatural", it truly is your body's natural response to birth.  Sounds so wonderful.  And if you think about it, this is what breasts are for, to feed your child.  Every female mammal can do it, its how God created the woman to work dating all the way back to Eve (bet she didn't have to worry about formula).  I highly recommend taking a breast feeding class, my local hospital had one that was taught by the lactation specialist.  I learned so much from her, and since I am confident she knows her stuff I trusted her information.  For those parents that choose formula, fine by me.  My attitude has always been that the decision was up to the mother.  For me, breast feeding was important and I have worked hard to make it Reagan's primary source of food.  However, she has also had one bottle of formula every day since about 4 months.   I believe breast feeding is the healthiest, cheapest, sometimes fastest way to feed my kiddo.  And most pediatricians, doctors, and lots of others would agree.  While its not for everyone, it was for me.  You can read about the benefits of breast milk here, here, here, and here (and lots more).  But it also means I pump several times at day at work, leak when I don't have my timing right, feel very uncomfortable during the night when Reagan sleeps for a long stretch and almost always stress about making enough milk. 

There have been many moments of bliss for me when I am feeding my daughter.  I was lucky that she mastered the latch right away, a key to successfully BFing.  So from her first hour of fresh air, we were working it out together.  At first, BFing takes forever.  Babies will eat on each side for 10-15 minutes, every 2 hours.  Do that math and it seems like that's all you do for the first 6 weeks or so.  And here is another golden nugget for you; while those covers seem easy to use and helpful for privacy they are not always very easy to work while you are still getting the hang of things.  I got over my modesty real fast and after more than 5 months of breast feeding, is there anyone who hasn't seen my boobs?  In public I am always covered but when I am in my own home, I get over it because I don't care to fumble around under the cover and Reagan doesn't prefer it either. Some of my most peaceful times are when I can just relax with Reagan while she is nursing and its amazing.  She snuggles up to me, sometimes stroking my bare skin with her little hand, and I feel so close and connected to her. 

A word to the wise.  If you plan to go back to work, start introducing a bottle to your baby once a day around 4 weeks.  You can pump milk and this will help the baby get used to eating from a bottle.  I did this with Reagan and it was a great way to help me transition her to the babysitters, she also learned to take the bottle from anyone.  I would also pump after I nursed to try and increase my supply and start building a freezer stash.  This gives you the freedom to skip a feeding if you need to or in my case, supplement when pumping doesn't give you enough. 

When Reagan was only 2 weeks old we made our first big venture out of the house to pick up my Mom from the airport about an hour away.  I realized half way through this adventure that my body was not nearly healed enough from my c-section to handle the bumpy drive and OUCH did that hurt.  We also stopped to eat at a restaurant, and of course we were seated right in the middle of the restaurant at a table.  My advice to those who realize they are going to have to feed the baby at some point during a meal out, ask for a booth.  While I was stuck out in the open and trying to feed a screaming baby under a dark cover, it could have been more private if I had a booth in the back.  ASK FOR A BOOTH, or get over your modesty.  I noticed more than one person (ok, more than one MALE) giving me the eye ball that day, and though I am sure I blushed and it definitely made me uncomfortable, it also helped me get over it fast.  Reality check: my kid is hungry so I am going to nurse her despite where I am, who is around me, and if they like it or not.  Breast feeding is about choosing the healthiest option for her, but not always the most convenient one.  Was that a hard day for me?  Yes sir.  Am I a little smarter about it now and definitely more confident.  You betcha.

Nursing can also be surprisingly painful.  It took more than 4 weeks for my nipples to "toughen" up enough that it didn't feel like Reagan had a mouthful of broken glass when she first started to eat.  I used nipple shields and nipple cream but it only did so much for me.  It gets better, but you really have to stick it out for a while.  It's a commitment, you have to be willing to really work for it.  It helped that my mother had also breast fed and she was full of support and advice.  Most of my friends are also nursing mom's so it helped to hear their stories and I knew I was welcome to BF around them. 

BFing is also all about timing.  It took me almost 5 months to better plan my sunday mornings so I could actually hear the sermon at church.  Either she would want to eat just as we walking out the door to head to church, or in the middle of the service, or (worst of all) decide she was hungry 5 minutes into the car ride home and scream the the rest of the way.  I learned to offer to feed her before she started crying, hence avoiding the melt down and keeping the baby happy.  It doesn't always work, but I did hear the entire sermon this week.

One the the funniest things about breast feeding is the spray that can result from a let down.  Sometimes when I am nursing, Reagan feels the need to pull off and smile at me.  Aww, so cute.  Except, since she was mid-gulp when she began smiling I am now spraying her, myself and anything else in a 15 inch radius with milk.  We don't call her slobber chops for nothing, that girl can make a mess when she eats.  Just ask my sister.  She had the lucky job of picking us up from the airport when I flew home with Reagan at just 7 weeks old.  I don't know if it was the strange place, the travel, a new schedule or what but Reagan didn't eat much the entire 14 hour trip resulting in quite a bit of extra milk.  I was beyond engorged by the time I got into Juli's car and of course Reagan wanted to eat.  But she also wanted to keep pulling away to look around.  Hence the milk spray all over the dash board and passenger seat incident that will go down in infamy.  I found it some what hilarious, Juli found it gross, and Reagan didn't mind at all.  (Did I just gross you out?  What are you reading my blog for if you don't expect TMI?)

There is also the lovely pump.  My new medela is practically my best friend.  Goes everywhere with me.  I will say this about pumping, its kinda boring.  I bring my phone to play games, or my kindle to read because it takes 15-20 minutes and you can't really do anything so I find ways to kill the time.  I also highly recommend the medela.  Yes, they are terribly expensive but compared to the other brands and hand me down pumps I tried the medela was better and faster.  My Truly Yours hand me down died after only a couple months and the Playtex didn't have near the same suction.  It's an investment worth the $$$, or find a used pump and simply buy the replacement kit for the bottles, tubing and funnels.

I think BFing would have been a lot easier on me if I had a better milk supply.  Some women have no trouble getting 6-12 ounces at a time but for me I was lucky to get 4-5 ounces.  I have spent countless time worrying about if I will have enough milk.  The stress of this of course also effects you and I inevitably made the situation worse by worrying.  I had to regularly dig into the extra bags I had in the freezer so I could give her the amount she would eat the next day at the sitters.  My supply is also VERY low in the late evening so I give Reagan a formula bottle right before bed because she wouldn't sleep very long if she nursed.  Figuring out a system that works for you is key.  For a while I would also get up around 2 am and pump because I was so uncomfortable and it helped supply the needed ounces for her bottles at the babysitters the next day.  This worked if she slept till about 4 am because I had enough time to refill my supply, but again timing is crucial.  If she woke early to eat, I ended up warming up with I just pumped.  Fenugreek also helped me, and I have heard good things from others who have tried it.  It's a herbal pill to help increase lactation.

But at this point I am more than ready to put the boobs away for good.  Chet calls me milk machine, but I want to go out of business.  It's just hard, and such a pain to mess with at work, and my supply has continued to drop.  I think its mostly mental, I want to be done.  Not to mention the fact that Reagan spits up... everywhere... all the time.  To make a messy and stinky situation worse, she spits up much more if I eat any milk products.  Trying to live dairy free is horrible!  I simply can not live without chocolate, who can?  The reality is breast feeding, even for 5 months, is a great accomplishment (this is what I keep telling myself).  Most doctors recommend 1 year but if you are a working Mom it becomes hard to juggle it all.  I want my life back!  I don't want to have to plan meetings and presentations around pumping.  I don't want to have to thaw and freeze milk everyday!  I want to go out to eat and not have to worry about where we sit and trying to eat quick before she gets hungry.  BFing also helped me lose the baby weight and though the scale tells me I am back to my pre-baby number it certainly isn't in the same places.  I haven't reached my target goal weight or 6 month deadline so I want to push forward and stick it out a few more weeks but I am also very ready to be done. 

Part of me also feels bad about quitting.  Formula smells terrible, how can she like it?  It is also expensive, and with a new baby our budget is already tight.  Even though I know it will be fine to stop, Mommy guilt is still there tugging at my heart.  It is also a great way to feel connected to my little girl, am I really ready to stop?  This week we will use the last couple bags of my freezer stash to supplement her bottles.  And then it will be at least partial formula in every bottle even if I continue pumping.  I just don't get enough pumping, so why bother at all?  This is the great debate!

For today, I am sticking with it just a few more weeks.  By mid-Feburary I will start to ween and we will just have to see how it goes.  Mommy guilt aside, Reagan will be fine.  We have introduced cereal and a new vegetable each week.  She is healthy and happy, even with formula.  This is my attempt to let the stress and guilt go and hopefully say goodbye to BFing soon too.