Category Archives: breastfeeding

Not ready

When my boys were each six months old, I weaned them off a single feeding, supplementing with formula.  The next feeding followed a month or two later.  This method was effective – perhaps too effective with Benjamin, who finished weaning himself at ten-and-a-half months, a full six weeks before I was ready.

When Lilah turned six months old, I reasoned that if I waited another couple of months, I could wean a feeding by using my stored breastmilk and we wouldn’t have to use formula at all.  I pumped and stored every morning.  Around the beginning of July, I took stock of my freezer full of breastmilk and realized that I had roughly 450 ounces of milk that would not expire until after the child turned a year old.  Seeing as she was not actually drinking any of the milk yet, I stopped pumping after nine months of getting up before the baby in order to beat her to my mammary glands.

And there the milk sat.  Her ten-month birthday rolled around, and I still was making no moves towards weaning.  Lilah nursed four times a day, in between consuming about the same number of calories from solid food as the average linebacker.  My husband, wise man that he is, said nothing beyond the occasional query about why we were using up half our freezer space for milk that no one was drinking.  To which I rejoindered that we’d have plenty of freezer space if he got rid of all his frozen processed food wrapped up in plastic and bleeding BPAs into the pseudo-food he so adores.

Don’t mess with a mama who isn’t ready to wean.

Part of my reluctance has to do with the fact that this is my last baby.  Once she weans, it is over.  I will never again be in that phase with the little one so eager to latch on to me.  I will have no more babies – children, yes, but no more babies.  I will know for certain that this phase in my life is over.  I am just not ready to lose her babyhood.

Sure as the sun will rise tomorrow over the smog-filled LA freeways, this child will grow hair and learn to walk and start talking and then start talking back.  She will learn her letters and then to read and start worrying that she is too fat.  And I am just not ready to let go of the heavy warmth of a baby.

Benjamin, now three, still has that weight against my body, but Zachary has slipped out of babyhood forever.  And, as I have written before, my two boys have taught me that we don’t get to keep the babies.  So, I am hesitant to guide her in the first step away from babyhood.

However, I am going to let you in on a little secret here: the main reason I don’t want to wean my littlest is because breastfeeding is easy.

Oh, I know we like to go on about how hard it is to nurse, and in some ways it is.  It is exhausting and time-consuming and ties mama to baby.  But, if you can sort of let those concerns go – if you can decide that it is for a short time and you want your time consumed that way and you don’t mind being tied to your baby – then it’s pretty easy.  There are women and babies who have physical problems nursing for a variety of reasons and I do not mean to belittle their experiences.  My point is that for those of us whose breasts work according to plan, it’s simple.

Simple because the equation is easy.  All that is required is a baby and a mother, with the optional accessory of a nursing bra.  When I am nursing a baby, I can sink down into that glider holding the child and know I am doing absolutely what I am supposed to be doing.  I am parenting perfectly simply by sitting there and feeding her.

And that’s about the only time I get to feel like I am parenting perfectly.

The rest of the time I am yelling too much or fucking up potty training or breaking up fights.  I am not all that great a parent most of the time.  I am the best mother they have, but it is really fucking hard.  There are too many decisions and too many ways to get it all wrong.

Breastfeeding?  It’s straightforward.  I am nourishing the baby, and that’s just what I am supposed to do.

As soon as the baby becomes a toddler, we move from easy answers straight to multiple choice with seventy-seven possible choices.  Even worse is the fill-in-the-blank of the preschool years.  God help me when I get to the teenaged years, where it’s one long essay exam in which all the answers are incorrect.

Watching another mother at the YMCA nursing her 21 month old, I spilled out my reluctance to wean one feeding.  “I know I need to go slowly, one feeding at a time,” I told her.  “It’s easier on me hormonally that way.  But I can’t seem to bring myself to cut out that mid-morning feeding.”

If I was hoping she’d try to talk me into extending my breastfeeding, I had chosen the wrong ally.  “Well,” she said, switching sides, “it’s sure a lot easier at your baby’s age.  When I wean my daughter, it’s going to be hard.  She’s old enough to notice.”

That mother was right.  I do not want to nurse till Lilah is two, much as I’d love to freeze her at eleven months.  And so, on Saturday, I got her up from her nap and fed her milk in a cup.  She happily gulped it down, not seeming to care that we had skipped her post-nap nursing.  But I felt it, in a tingle that went unrelieved.

When she wriggled down to play with her fire truck, I watched my baby crawl away from me.

I’m back. Did you miss me?

            Either I am a fast worker or a terrible judge of how long things will take, because I always get all anxious that I won’t have enough time to complete a task and then I finish early.  I guess that makes it a good thing I am a writer instead of a prostitute.

            There is a Yahoo group for L.A. mothers, and yesterday a woman posted that she is having migraines, the treatment for which forces her to pump and dump.  She has a three-week-old, is a low producer, and is heartbroken to watch that milk going down the drain.  I replied that I know nothing about migraines, but I have a freezer full of pumped milk that I will have to throw away because it is going to expire before I can convince my baby to take a bottle.  (You cannot donate milk to a milk bank unless you are prescreened before you pump.  Already-pumped milk is not accepted.)

            So, this very lovely mother of two came over and emptied our freezer of all of October and half of November.  December we’re still hoping to feed to Lilah sometime in the next few months.

            A mitzvah is a blessing, not a good deed.  To do a good deed is to perform a mitzvah, but it is actually a blessing for the doer, not the recipient.  I have been the recipient of a flood of mitzvoth lately, and it was nice to be able to pay it forward.

            Plus, I got to say, “I told you so” to the husband who kept telling me I was just wasting freezer space.  And you just can’t put a price on that.

Flying the banner

            My post last week led to a few very respectful dissenters who wondered why I couldn’t respect other people’s desire to raise their children to believe in modesty.  Well, actually, I am not all that immodest a person these days.  If you want to know about high school, you’ll have to ask Chris to comment, and Poker Chick could probably tell a few tales about college, but nowadays I tend to keep my shirt on even while drinking.

            However, breastfeeding is not an issue of modesty.  Modesty is about not letting your seven-year-old prance about with words on her perky little butt.  Modesty is about buying a Prius even though you can afford an SUV.  Modesty probably entails not letting your four-year-old still see you undressed, but I’m still working on that.

            Breastfeeding is an issue of feeding a hungry baby.  It is also about health, because it is far better for the baby and the mother than formula.  Breastfeeding is about the environment, as it saves all those canisters of formula and the gasoline required to get it to my front door.  And, it sure helps out on the pocketbook.

            None of this is to say that I think those who don’t breastfeed are ogres set on tormenting their children.  Like the rest of us, they have their reasons for the choices they make (and for some it is not a choice).  But they ain’t doing it the way I do it.  I won’t judge them if they promise not to judge me.

            To be honest, I do think there are limits on when breastfeeding is appropriate.  But those limits have to do with age, not location.  Unless you have a very precocious child, once the child is able to say, “No, I’d prefer the left one, please,” it may be time to think about weaning.  Until that time, it is essential that women feel comfortable breastfeeding where and when they need to.

            Because public breastfeeding is about a commitment.  When I feed my baby in public, rather than hiding in a corner or trying to cover her head or letting her scream till I can get her home, I am denying the shame that people try to attach to the act.  The moment I accept heavy limitations on breastfeeding is the moment I start to fail.

            When I lived in London, I found that the women in my area were very uncomfortable feeding their babies in public.  They only nursed in private.  And, soon, they began to feel stuck in the house.  So, they would supplement with bottles when they needed to go out.  Their milk supplies began to decrease because they were using the bottle any time they were not in their homes.  Pretty soon, they had given up altogether.  Nursing for only a few months is considered successful breastfeeding in that neighborhood, and I think it has to do with the anxiety over public feeding.  While that might be fine for some, I feel very, very strongly that my kids deserve at least six months of exclusive breastfeeding and another six months of plenty o’ Mama Milk if they are willing.  Benjamin, it turned out, was not so willing

            So, despite the taboos, I breastfed my second child in London much as I had my first in Philadelphia, which is to say everywhere.  Walking to the Tube, on the Tube, listening to a string quartet in Covent Garden.  “Fly the banner,” the violinist commented.  Sadly, many of the English were somewhat less supportive.  Not that they actually said anything to me.  That would have been terribly un-English.  But they looked at me and then looked away, which is English for “WTF?”

            Being American, I kept right at it, which is how I found myself on a bench outside the Science Museum one fall morning, feeding Benjamin while Zachary and J went inside.  Next to me sat a couple about my age.  The man was right beside me and he looked over.  Actually, he stared right down at the little head as it took care of business at my bosom.  “Great,” I thought.  “Another Englishman appalled by my behavior.”  Except it turns out these folks were Italian, and the man said something to me as he gazed down at the suckling child.  The woman proceeded to translate, but there was no need; I know what “Bella” means.

            These are culturally constructed attitudes, and we can decide as a society that nursing is something to be hidden or something so lovely we cannot stop staring.  If I cover up, I am agreeing that there is something to hide.  I am telling other mothers that they should keep it under wraps, which is the best way I know to sabotage breastfeeding.

            I’d rather fly the banner, thank you very much.

Public Schooling

            Three kids.  Over two combined years (thus far) of breastfeeding.  On airplanes, while walking, on the Tube, by the side of the road, in the Enchanted Tiki Room.  And the  other day was the very first time.

            I got called out for public breastfeeding.  Oh, yes I did.

            I was talking to the preschool director about some issues and she haltingly brought it up.  “I am getting some comments about the breastfeeding,” she told me.

            “Why?” I asked, already defensive.  Sometimes, I feed Lilah on the benches outside the school or on the couches in the waiting area because she is shrieking and hungry after drop-off or before pick-up of her brothers.

            “I don’t know,” the director told me.  “I used to breastfeed everywhere.  But I guess some of the kids are asking questions at home.”

            “Well, if they want to complain, send them to me,” I replied.

            “I think I took care of it,” she went on.  “It seems to me it is a very natural way for them to see a breast.”  Not, of course, that anyone sees much.  My baby’s head is sort of blocking the view.

            I suspect she was hoping I would offer to cover up to save her the headache of dealing with the complainers.  She probably does not think I should have to but would appreciate if the issue resolved itself.  Of course, we all know that most babies prefer not to be covered while eating, and I have yet to see a single baby sitting out front who is covered while drinking a bottle or a toddler with a blanket over her head while eating Cheerios.

            I am not going to cover up.  But, the question remains whether I should simply find someplace to hide while doing it.  If it were just adults, I would say, “If you don’t want to see, don’t look.”  But, these are kids who are always looking at everything, and the parents do have a right to raise their kids within their belief system.

            As do I.  So, I think I will stop feeding my baby in front of them as soon as they stop parading things in front of my kids that I don’t believe in.  That means, no nail polish on their children, as I don’t approve of my kids wearing nail polish (a subject for another post).  And they will have to pack lunches without any disposable items, because I do not use baggies or Saran Wrap.  I expect to see the boys wearing pink on a regular basis, of course, since that is what I am raising my kids to feel comfortable doing, and we are now all adjusting our parenting to make everyone’s kids feel comfortable with my values.

            Did I mention they’ll need to start buying organic produce?  

Pump up the volume

            We’ve all heard the tales.  There is a baby who poops only once every fourteen days because breast milk is so completely digested.  There is a newborn who slept through the night at one week (OK, that was my second son).  There is a four-year-old who admits to knowing less than his mother.

            They are the parenting urban legends, stories that are whispered from one parent to another, tales that seem almost credible but not quite.  Children will eat green beans if you introduce them early.  Drinking a glass of wine before breastfeeding calms a colicky baby.  If you let her go out without her mittens, she will get cold and eventually agree to wear them.

            And, the mother of all urban legends, nipple confusion.  This truism holds that breastfed babies who are given a bottle will fall in love with the ease of that artificial nipple and henceforth refuse the organic one.  Before we have our first child, the lactivists accost us in parenting classes and in the aisles of Buy Buy Baby, warning us of the pitfalls of allowing a bottle within twenty feet of our newborn.  Even seeing another child taking a bottle might corrupt our little ones.

            Well, it is possible there are kids out there who find bottles so alluring they immediately give up the breast and turn to a life of bottle-feeding and crime.  But, my kids are not confused in the slightest.  They have all known exactly what they want.  And it is right there in front of me, leaking through my shirt.

            Another urban legend is that giving a bottle early will convince a breastfed baby to take an occasional “relief” bottle.  I’m here to tell you that we’re a little short on that particular brand of relief in the Rosenbaum household.  With Zach, I pumped and pumped and the child screamed and screamed every time that bottle came into the same room with him. 

            I had a hard time pumping.  I let down beautifully for the baby, but I never really bonded with the pump.  So, I would sit there at my little milking machine, making almost no progress, frustrated that I could be revising my dissertation instead of pumping out two scant ounces that the baby would promptly reject.  We finally gave up, introducing a cup at four months instead.

            With Benjamin, we gave up even sooner, having been so scarred by our experience with his older brother.  But, with Lilah, I really wanted to try.  I have two other kids, and it would be nice to be able to leave the baby for a little while so I can spend time with her brothers. 

            It all started out auspiciously.  The pumping went swimmingly because I started while engorged and used a manual pump instead of the article of torture called the Pump in Style.  I began freezing milk.  J looked on in derision.

            “I don’t know why you are bothering,” he said.  “She’s not going to take it.”

            “This one will,” I asserted, willing it to be true. 

            For the record, this one won’t. 

            And so, I pump and I freeze and we try, but we are getting nowhere.  I keep pumping because I want to keep my supply up, yet I know the chances are this baby will never tap into the 200 ounces of breast milk already clogging my freezer.  Yet, I hold to it, the thought that someday, sometime, I will leave her with our nanny without getting a desperate text message 45 minutes later, begging me to come home.

            A girl has to have dreams.

Makin’ dinner

Hi, I’m Emily, and I am a successful breastfeeder.

It feels like something I need to hide, to qualify, to be a bit abashed about, because nowadays people are so worried about offending those who don’t breastfeed that they bend over backwards to avoid seeming to celebrate those who do.  But, despite all the complicated Mommy politics around breastfeeding, the fact remains that we all know it is best for the baby and we should do it if at all possible.

What we don’t acknowledge is that, even in the most conducive of situations, nursing is hard.  I mean HARD.  It is tiring and hurts and requires a woman to be with her baby pretty much all the time, unless she is pumping, which is a whole other mess of caterpillars.  It is not easy, but there are a lot of things in parenting that are not easy, from cutting a newborn’s nails to convincing a two-year-old that watermelon alone does not constitute a complete breakfast to negotiating the terms of a cease-fire between siblings.  Come to think about it, just about everything involved with parenting is difficult, although I suspect I bring an unnecessary degree of complication to packing school lunches.

But, like so many other aspects of parenting, nursing is also incredibly rewarding, and given how much I suck at things like remaining-patient-with-a-whining-child and not-allowing-them-to-watch-TV-till-they-are-forty, I am pleased that at least I am able to do this one thing well.

I’ve breastfed a couple of babies by this point, and I am a pretty confident nurser.  I know what works and what doesn’t.  It the beginning, however, I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

When Zachary was born and the doctors suggested supplementing with formula to help with the jaundice, I was too green and bewildered to do anything but comply.  I suspect it did affect my later milk supply, but we muddled on through just the same, perhaps because he has never had particularly high caloric needs and because I had all the time in the world to nurse him.

This time, however, when the doctors suggested formula, I pushed back.  The only reason to give formula to a jaundiced baby is to make her poop more.  Since Lilah was pooping just fine and I had plenty of colostrum, I saw no need for formula.  And I said so.

And then, resident after resident, maternity nurse after maternity nurse, they all kept pushing formula.  When I resisted, they sighed as though I was some moron who was sacrificing her child’s health to an abstract ideal.  “It would just be for the short-term,” one resident told me, patiently trying to explain why formula wouldn’t hurt.  Really?  You think that supplementing breast milk with formula just as the milk is starting to come in has no long-term consequences?  Anyone who knows anything about breastfeeding will tell you that exclusive nursing while establishing a milk supply is essential.

I am one who usually follows a doctor’s advice.  I trust these folks with the M.Ds.  But, in this case, there was no earthly reason to give formula except that the textbook said that in some cases of jaundice, supplementing with formula helps.  Not in cases due to blood type discrepancy, of course, especially when the mother is producing plenty of milk.  The advice they were giving was formulaic, and it made no sense in our case.

But, as Lilah’s bilirubins kept climbing, I began to wonder if maybe I was being too obstinate.  When the attending pediatrician came in, I brought it up.  “Everyone keeps pushing formula,” I said.  “But I don’t want to affect my milk supply later on.”

“Formula wouldn’t help in this situation,” she informed me matter-of-factly. 

“Wow.  I am glad to hear you say that.  Every single resident or nurse has pushed formula really hard.”

“Well, that makes no sense.  I am actually surprised to hear that,” she replied.  “We have a lot of young people just learning, I guess.”

Fortunately, I had not been one of them.  I am experienced, and I am a very successful breastfeeder.  I knew enough to know that starting in with formula could affect my long-term milk supply, and I asserted my authority.

But, there are plenty of first-time moms who do not know.  They are stumbling along in the confusion of new parenthood, and they will take the advice given them.  In the case of breastfeeding, the facile answer can have long-term ramifications, but inexperienced parents may not know that.  Advice like the advice I got can make successful nursing even more elusive.

And that’s a shame, because breastfeeding is not easy, even in the most conducive of circumstances.

——

Thank you all for your support over the last few days.  Lilah’s bili count has plateaued and she needs no more blood tests.

It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it.

You probably read my recent post  about nursing, which I posted in response to Bill Maher’s rant about public breastfeeding, but have you read all these other people’s posts?  I’ve added more to the list, and there is quite a diversity of opinions here.  I love a good debate.

Stephanie wrote On Choice and Maher

Poker Chick wrote Bounce Your Boobies 

Sarah wrote Don’t Suck My Tit’s Bill Maher, Just Ignore Them 

Ashley (a brand new blogger!) wrote And Now For Something Completely Different 

Angela wrote Fed Up 

Julie wrote  Discreet, Discrete, Euphemisms

Jen at Problem Girl wrote How I Became One of THOSE Women 

Lawyer Mama wrote Suck It Bill Maher

Magpie Musing wrote several good posts, but the ones Maher needs to read are about pumping at work and extended breastfeeding.

Bub and Pie wrote Weaning Without Warning 

The Mad Hatter wrote Milk Let Down.

Karen wrote I Deserve a Medal

Kevin at Life Has Taught us wrote Read About Boobies .  (His older posts on the topic include  Give it Up for the Booby, Y’all, Breastfeeding Soapbox, I Support My Little Man, and Corporations Hate Babies.)

 That’s all the links I have right now, but send me yours and I’ll add it (emily dot r dot rosenbaum at gmail dot com). I’ll be back tomorrow with more of the snarkiness you have come to know and love.