Saturday, August 25, 2012

Expressing Myself. And other Lactational Matters.

Warning.  This blog contains information about babies and boobies… that’s right, breast-feeding.  Breast-feeding is not for sissies.  I’m not going to get graphic or anything, but STOP READING NOW if you are prone to being grossed out or think you might never look at me the same again.

All mammals do it.

I learned a little bit about breast-feeding before Penny came into the world through our classes, my own reading, and mostly talking to quite a few other women about their breast-feeding experience.  The take-aways: 

It was hammered home to me that if you can breastfeed, you should.  It’s the best thing for your baby, it’s free, it’s always available, it helps you lose the pregnancy weight, it’s amazing for bonding, yada yada yada… (read the whole spiel at La Leche League’s website.)

I was taught the different “holds” and positions for getting your infant to “latch” using a small doll in birth class.  Classic, crossover, football hold, side-lying, etc.

I read up on how first you produce colostrum, then your milk “comes in” and then your alveoli customize how much milk to produce based on your baby’s consumption.  Smart boobs.

I also learned a little bit about complications like mastitis and thrush and when to call your doctor, etc.

I felt like I had a pretty good feel for how it would be, and there was never any question that as long as everything went as planned, our kid would drink breast milk.

What I didn’t grasp was that breast-feeding would be hard. 

Penny and I were doing pretty well, she latched right away, my milk came in like a champ.  It was a little touch and go, but we were getting it down. 

Then I got clogged milk ducts.  Very painful and alarming.  Thought I must have breast cancer or something. According to the lactation consultant I talked to, I had three good options to clear it out: many fond memories of the
goats on my grandpa's farm...
I needed to heat up my boob with a hot compress or really hot shower, and then either...
1. nurse through it (too painful!),
2. pump it out (didn’t own a pump yet), or
3. “express it by hand” (...guess I had to figure out what this meant).  

Not much later that day as I was exercising option 3, my thoughts turned to a vivid recollection of when I was 6-years-old learning how to milk a goat on my grandpa’s farm in Buckeye.  I’ll say no more about my time “Expressing Myself”, except that this was an experience that I did NOT sign up for when I opted to breast-feed my child, and it consumed me for two days.

A few others things I wasn’t mentally prepared for…

It hurts. First-time moms to be, know this: while you and your baby are still figuring it out, and at different stages throughout baby’s development, breast-feeding can be painful.  Very painful.  Like, wanna-putta-rope-in-your-mouth-so-you-don’t-bite-off-your-own-tongue painful.   It gets better after several weeks, but be prepared, and get some Lansinoh and a good hot compress (I use one like this).

It’s all the time.  New newborns do not come into the world with a feeding schedule.  Especially the teeny tiny ones like Penny.  They need to eat, like, all the time.  Breast-feeding in the beginning may make you feel like your only purpose in life is to make milk all day and all night.   Right after we brought Penny home, for the first couple weeks, we were blessed with many many visitors through our revolving door to welcome our daughter to the world.  As everyone played “pass the baby” it got to where I felt like that only time I actually held my own daughter was when I was nursing her.  “She only likes me for my milk.”  I would think.  OK that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get what I mean.

It’s not a secret.  Everyone knows that when you’re nursing, there is another human being sucking on your nipple.  You can try to be super private about it, but everyone knows, and everyone reacts differently.  The shared experience of nursing unites women all over the world, and women wanna help other women.  It took me a few days to embrace this, as nurses, in-laws, friends, seemingly everyone was up close and personal with my bare breasts.  I felt self-conscious.  Basically, your boobs become fair game; a specimen for any other woman who has ever breast-fed to examine, assess, marvel at or pity, and provide free consultation; and fodder for anyone else nearby to have this thought: “her boob is out.  I can’t see it but I know it’s out”.

It gets on stuff.  The milk drips, sprays, leaks.  Sometimes you can contain it, but sometimes you just can’t.  This to me has been much funnier than inconvenient, but I have yet to be in a social situation where it presents itself as a problem.  Hopefully I’ll have things under control by the time I go back to work!  Little known fact… breast-milk has immunologic and anti-bacterial qualities and can be used for things like eye-infections, skin rashes, chapped lips, even as a contact lens solution.  So if a little gets on you, just rub it into your skin and forget about it!

Penny Jane 4 weeks old, look at those chunky cheeks!
To be clear, I love breast-feeding.

(Even when that means that I am clenching my face in agony, whispering to myself “I love breast-feeding, I love breast-feeding, I love breast-feeding…..”)

I have told my husband so many times, “I wish I could Instagram this” when Penny is nursing.  But even if it were appropriate to post close-up photos of my child and my bosom, even Instagram couldn’t capture the enchantment of breast-feeding. (follow: juliejanuary)

When Penny is nursing, she is as physically close to my heart, my breath, my warmth, as she could ever be, drawing in all her nourishment from me one sweet suckle at a time.  I love that.  She makes the cutest noises, takes the most precious breaths, gazes blissfully up at me in a way that makes me melt.  She is her most vulnerable, sweetest self when she is nursing.  And no one else gets to share that with her, just me.  It is so incredibly special.

I know some women never experience the magic of nursing a newborn.  I feel so blessed that I get to do this.  It’s so worth all the awkwardness and pain and rough-patches.

Words to Live By

At our first pediatrician appointment, I was so excited to show the doc my diligent records about how much and how often Penny had been breast-feeding.  To my dismay, our pediatrician grinned and said to me: 

This stuff is more for you than me [referring to my data]. 
Breast-feeding is working if Mom is smiling, and Baby is getting fat.”   

These words have put me at ease in times of anxiety about feeding my daughter. 

Ask For Help

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding or ever thinking about being pregnant or breastfeeding in the near or distant future… I leave you with the best piece of advice anyone ever gave me: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  

Almost every hospital will have a lactation consultant and there are 24/7 hotlines provided by the government and by organizations such as La Leche League.  Ask your mom, ask a neighbor who has kids, ask me, ask your doctor or pediatrician.  I would be a nervous wreck if I didn’t ask for help.   

This blog is dedicated to all those who have helped me and my boobs fatten up my daughter.  And to my mom for breast-feeding me 28 years ago!


  1. No one has ever described this process better than you! If I could publish you...I would:) Congrats on your sweet girl.

  2. One of my favorite posts for sure!!! It is HARD, but so much more rewarding then quitting. I wish all mamas could read this. Forge on my breastfeeding sister-in-law.


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