Note: The title of this piece might be surprising – given my usual topics. Fortunately, I have been rescued from my writer’s drought by my daughter. Today Leah returns to work after her 12-week maternity leave. As she was concluding her leave, and exploring her options for continuing to provide breast milk to her baby, she was motivated to write this piece. I am grateful that she chose my blog to share it. Readers, if you have new mothers in your life, I hope you will share it with them. I think it will resonate. Meanwhile, please join me in wishing Leah good luck as she moves into this next stage of motherhood.
So you’re thinking of breastfeeding? Great!
Here are some things to consider before you begin:
First, you might as well go ahead and start crying now. Why wait until later when you can get a head start on this essential part of your journey.
Next, just to check: do you like your nipples the way they are? I hope not! You can expect all sorts of weird nipple shit. They’ll stretch, dry out, turn redder or maybe whiter. They’ll bleed. Did you know you can get scabs on your nipples? Pretty cool, huh!
Definitely count on nipple pain: some pain is normal. But too much pain means something is wrong. What is too much pain? Probably somewhere between searing and all-consuming. Anything less than that and you can skip this section.
But, on the off-chance you don’t like your particular amount of pain, don’t worry, there are many products available to help! As long as you don’t mind doing hours of research on which exact product is right for you, and you have an enormous disposable income, you can make use of any number of creams, gels, ointments, balms, pads, cups, and shields to alleviate your pain.
Pro tip: Do your research while the little one is chomping on your nips! It’s a great distraction.
All those products you panic-ordered from Amazon not working? Don’t worry. Just go see a lactation consultant! It probably won’t be covered by your insurance, or if it is, you’ll probably have to submit the claim yourself, but you can easily do that in your spare time. The lactation consultant will provide lots of helpful suggestions of more products to buy, different positions to nurse in, and maybe even diagnose a lip or tongue tie—just pop over to the doc to get your kid a little snip – yes, they actually snip part of the lip and/or tongue! And then you can restart learning how to nurse all over again.
Aha! Now you’re breastfeeding!
It’s the most natural thing, isn’t it? You’re doing so great. Isn’t having a baby everything you ever dreamed?
Oh, don’t go yet! There are a few other things we should cover:
How’s your supply? Not enough? That’s fine, you’re just inadequate! Your baby isn’t gaining enough weight and you’re a terrible mom. Remember I told you to start crying? See, now you’ve already gotten that out of the way and you can move onto the solution: Just find some formula. You can work on upping your supply in the meanwhile! Wait, there’s a dire, nationwide shortage of formula, so you can’t find any? You went to twelve stores and they were entirely out of stock? You tried asking five of your local online moms’ groups? Well, there are no other options but whatever you do, don’t make your own formula.
If you do decide to try upping your supply, have I got the solution for you: Try power pumping! It’s relentless pumping for an hour. It’s only partially soul crushing.
Pro tip: If your soul has already been crushed, you don’t need to worry about this!
Or you could just pump every two hours day and night for a while. That doesn’t sound good either? Did I mention the option of buying formula and feeling inadequate?
Maybe you have an oversupply. That’s awesome! Enjoy those rock-hard breasts! If you somehow don’t like feeling so engorged that you can’t lift your arms, try pumping to relieve the pressure. But not too much! That will only make you even more engorged! It’s a real goldilocks situation here.
Phew! I’m sure you have your supply figured out now. Congratulations!
But in the future, you might find small white droplets on your nips that won’t wipe away. Isn’t that neat? You either have milk blebs or thrush. No biggie. These conditions are virtually identical: in one case do nothing, in the other make doctors’ appointments for you and the kiddo and pick up medication, and make sure you both take all the medication or you’ll just pass it back and forth in an endless, terrible loop. Good thing you enjoy ruminating and scrolling through online forums to figure out which you have.
Pro tip: Try ruminating and scrolling during night feeds, the stress it creates will wake you right up!
Now, on the off chance you ever need to return to work or for some other totally unfathomable reason aren’t breastfeeding with complete satisfaction, you might consider a breast pump. Good news: there are so many to choose from!
Have you figured out which pump you want yet? No? Well it’s really great that you’re a control freak who loves doing extensive research yourself, totally by yourself, no assistance whatsoever. Did you think there would be some expert to help you? Some medical professional whose job it is to help with this medical device? Silly you!
You will find all your answers on Instagram. Yes, Instagram. Just scroll through years of posts and reviews from many different accounts and poll all of your friends with young kids. That’s a great start!
Of course, you’ll also want to figure out whether your insurance will cover a breast pump at all – if you even have insurance – and if so which one. They’re only a few hundred dollars out-of- pocket anyway. And you love calling your insurance company, so that’s a treat! You’ll also want to determine your pumping needs. Do you want to be able to move when you pump? What luxury! Consider one with a rechargeable battery. There are also wearable and portable options. Yes, those are different.
Oh! Don’t forget to measure your nipples! You need the right size. No, they don’t do that for you at the hospital.
Do you want the silicone flanges or are you cool with hard plastic?
Do you want in-bra collection cups or the regular kind? Need longer or shorter tubing? Oh, and make sure you have a pumping bra unless you prefer not to have access to your hands.
And don’t forget to replace your pump parts regularly. Good thing you have that disposable income; none of this is covered!
Are you comfortable with the fridge hack? Pitcher method?
Make sure you work on building up your freezer stash if you ever plan on being away from your child for any length of time. Just add in a few extra pumping sessions in your down time. It’s no trouble.
And I hope your child takes a bottle. Do they take a bottle? Try these 20 different types of bottles, maybe they’ll like one.
Now that you’ve got all that figured out you’re so close to breastfeeding worry-free!
Just keep an eye out for clogged ducts. They can come on fast and develop into mastitis, which is no bueno, my friend. That requires a doctor’s visit and antibiotics. But I know you love parenting and running errands when you feel like absolute human garbage.
If you do think you have a clogged duct, there are many easy at-home remedies! Try taking sunflower lecithin. It should make your milk slippery-er. We all want slippery milk. You could also try massaging the clogged area while taking a hot shower. It will likely be very painful!
That didn’t work? Okay, load up your haakaa breast pump – you have one of those don’t you? – with warm water and Epsom salt. That might do the trick.
Do you have an electric toothbrush? Turn it on and place the back of it on the area with the clog. It just might vibrate the clog right out of you – a handy second use for your toothbrush!
Repeat all of these steps until the clog is gone and make sure to be increasingly frantic as you go. That always helps.
By now I’m sure your milk is flowing in exactly the right amounts, with exactly the right amount of pain! However, you might still find your baby refuses to drink your milk. This could be due to high lipase: it makes your milk taste and smell bad! Isn’t that so funny – your milk tasting bad! I’m laughing so hard I’m crying.
But there’s a simple remedy for high lipase. For all of the milk you pump, just scald it before putting it in the fridge. So easy! You were wondering what to do with all your down time anyway. But be careful not to boil it! Never boil it. You want bubbles to form but not the boiling kind of bubbles.
I’m sure there are other things we could cover, but I’m guessing by now it’s time for another feed.
Oh, you were reading this while you nursed or pumped? Who’s the pro now!
Just keep in mind that whatever choices you make, however your journey goes, others will judge you for it! Welcome to motherhood.
3 thoughts on “A Simple Guide to Breastfeeding”
Dearest Niece Leah:
Your blog is particularly validating to your Uncle Markie. Why you ask? Because I always felt slightly guilty (just slightly) about favoring my nieces over my nephews. It is reassuring to know that I was correct and (in this one instance, and I emphasize this one instance) your aunt Pam’s criticism of my preferential treatment is actually off target.
Oh, if I may also share a bit of wisdom which your uncle has on this topic…. Try feeding the baby chocolate milk or ice cream. (I remember suggesting this to aunt Pam a few decades ago .) If you need more helpful advice you know how to reach your uniquely knowledgeable uncle..
Joni Mitchell once wrote “laughing and crying, you know they’re the same release.” I, of course, don’t believe that, but I still think there is something the two have in common. Perhaps more in the blog post you wrote here than in any other forum I know of. I am sorry for how painful it all is-physically and emotionally. And I am sorry that our healthcare system is failing so horribly in serving new mothers.
But I appreciate your courage and generosity in sharing with others and hopefully helping those who have yet to be in this situation. And I appreciate the humor. Thank you for the excellent blog post.
I LOVED YOUR BLOG!! So funny, I laughed out loud in my office. Of course, comedy has been described as “tragedy plus time” and what you shared is also so stress producing. I remember those breast feeding struggles well even though they happened a long time ago.
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