Thursday, June 13, 2013

Milk... It's what's for dinner.


That's what this post is about. 

Not the medical kind either... So if you're squeamish about that or just male in general, feel free to skip right on over this post... Figuring out the answers to the "quandaries" post might be more your speed. 

But for any of you out there who have or are or are hoping to or have tried or have walked with someone who has... Let's be frank. Well not too frank... After all I'm guessing not too many people named Frank have nursed & I'd like to avoid a "parental advisory" label on my blog...

Nursing an oxymoron. It is amazing & traumatic & confusing & natural & simple & nerve racking & hard & messy & sweet & fleeting & overwhelming & more all rolled into one miracle. It's as awesome as it is weird. 

I have nursed 4 babies. Not at the same time... oye! I'm not an expert, I've just been there & am currently there. Both Maverick & Theo are currently in the "milk... It's what's easier for dinner" stage of nursing. What?!? You're unfamiliar with my completely made-up in my head stages of nursing?!? Let's remedy that...

Let's back up & tackle this in chronological order...

Not Ready-
That's what every mom-to-be is. Maybe you need to read your seventh book or talk to one more mom who's nursed and two others who didn't... Or maybe you're like me & are so weirded out by the thought of milk and babies surrounding what's been so over-sexualized by our culture that you are too uncomfortable to even think about it before the baby is born. Either way you're not ready. It's ok. If I was going to offer preparation advice it'd be to talk to someone you trust who's been or is there (even if you can't look them in the eyes during the conversation) & exfoliate... Use a loofa or the edge of a towel to gently build up some exposure to friction where you're hoping your baby will drink from... Yep. That just got real awkward real fast...

Deer In The Headlights-
Am I allowed to say "headlights" in a post about breast feeding? Moving forward... My nurse midwives have been incredible. The one who delivered my first born stuck that baby to me as soon as she took her first breath of air. I didn't know what was happening. I was shaking & laughing & crying happy tears & nursing a newborn all at once. That was good, because i didn't have to cloud the miracle with any awkward thoughts. I jumped the gorge of feeling embarrassed to even think about breast feeding to doing it before my epidural had completely worn off. I remember looking at my newborn daughter with complete amazement. Yes because it was a miracle, but mostly because I had no idea how to do what I was doing. I guess it's a good jump start to the reality of parenting. Out of the fog of amazement and wonder comes the next stage...

L-L-Lamenting (Latching & Leaking Problems)-
Nursing is hard. It hurts. It's frustrating. Right in the midst of recovering from evicting a human out of your womb a body part that you never expected to hurt starts burning like crazy. There's a crazy emotional battle when it's time to feed the baby because you really want them to latch (because nursing is important) and you really don't want them to latch (because nursing can be off the pain chart). There's a false feeling of rejection and failure when a baby struggles to latch on. The thought "this is never going to work" is always crouching nearby ready to spring into mind. And no one really know what lanolin actually does... But we use it like crazy anyway.  Often this short pain-ridden period is traversed only with the realization that it HAS to get better... Because NO one would nurse for longer than 2.1 days if it didn't improve. 
The problem is once the latching thing starts to get rolling the milk has arrived. It's never the right amount at first. Some moms worry that they're starving their baby while others could nourish a small country with their abundant supply. You no longer recognize the size of the chest on your own body and you have a new ability to squirt milk... You just don't really have control over said ability. So you leak. In the shower, while you sleep, when you let down, when a baby cries... If you're in this stage for the first time PLEASE know this: it DOES get better. Your body is created to produce the amount of milk your baby needs. It just takes some adjustment time. I recommend giving nursing a two week commitment before giving into the "it's never going to work" thought. Your laments won't be completely gone, but you'll see enough improvements to know you can make it. Also rely heavily on lactation consultants, cotton breast pad, spit rags and other moms who have been where you are. You can do it. It is worth it. 

Cry And Cuddle-
This stage is full of hormones. I have no medical understanding of what exactly happens in the chemical land of post-partum but I've been there & it's crazy. Nursing rolls right along with the highs and lows of hormonal and mental adjustments. Getting to snuggle your teeny tiny person for hours on end while they make the sweetest expressions & sounds whilst they drink is unbelievable. This time makes you be still. Nursing causes you to take time to feel... to process... to bond... to cry when you need to but can't explain why... All while cuddling. It's good. Very good. Don't sucome to worry. Don't stress over a schedule (in fact give your baby all the milk and sleep that little body demands without even a resemblance of a schedule for the first 3-4 weeks). Don't play the baby comparison game with your husband's cousin's whose baby is 9 days younger than your baby but is already turning cartwheels & sleeping for 14 hours at night... Just cuddle close & cry tears of joy or stress or sadness or amazement and watch your baby change drastically as you adjust... Because adjustment brings about...

Rythym Established
It does happen! Your milk supply starts to match up to what the baby needs, so you leak less. You develop the super power to predict when your baby will need to nurse, which means you can make plans of sorts. Your baby has improved at nursing and is more efficient, so you no longer feel like you're anchored to the couch for 40 mins of every other hour. You can be "normal" even though you're nursing! Tip for pumping: If you have trouble getting any milk when pumping, try to pump while nursing. Your baby will cause you to let down and you'll get a lot of milk and you don't have to try to find time to try to pump when your body isn't used to producing milk. Also signing "milk" when you nurse will help your baby learn to communicate with less whining. 

Nursing Is Easier Than Dinner-
Spoon feeding isn't my favorite act of infancy. I realized with my first baby if I put it off long enough it didn't last very long... Like 2 weeks then on to soft solids. Lets just say that child #2 and #3 were having none of that "waiting long enough" gig. They came out interested in steak & pizza. Baby #4 requires me to slow down more & his extreme enjoyment of baby food is pretty contagious... Even for this hurried, impatient, dislike-the-mess mama. Baby food is easy to forget at home. Impatient baby mouths make mean-sounding threats if you happen to try to sneak in a bite of your own food during the hour in which they expect a constant stream of spoons of baby food. Babies love to feel the food with their hands, their face, their hair, your hair... It is in this light that I often think "I'll just nurse the boys now... We can do food later..." After all, milk is always with me. Always ready. Always the right temperature. It calms them down when upset. It calms me down if I'm upset. Helps them to sleep. There's no pickiness involved. They can eat while you lay down. Not so much with baby food. This should give you hope if you're reading this in the middle of your L-L-Lamenting stage. It gets to the point where milk is what's for dinner by your choice. Tip: If you are still predominately nursing, don't stress about baby food. See it as a way to introduce new flavors & textures, not as a three meal a day regimen that you must abide by.

Prolonged Panic-
This is the slightly irrational fear that you won't actually ever stop nursing your child. Whether you have a baby who still wakes in the middle of the night to nurse, or you actually did the math on how long you have been the source of nutrition for this person, or possibly you're feeling controled by a four-hour leash, or maybe your ginormous infant wants to eat 5-course meals three times a day and still nurse as often as his premie brother whose superpower of Down syndrome requires his main source of calories be from milk (like me... there's a chance i might be experiencing some of this stage as I write...) Habbits like pinching (those baby nails are crazy!!!) and the introduction of teeth (a little flick on the cheek is how I deal with biting) and the smell of constant spit up don't help this stage. Nevertheless the fear that breast feeding won't end is a lie. As with all lies, the truth is what will set you free. Nursing is so very fleeting. Once it's over you have the rest of your child's life to not do it. Many women would switch places with those of us who are blessed to be able to nurse our babies in an instant if they could. I'm not belittling the effort it requires. I'm not denying that it is draining. I'm only suggesting some perspective. It will be over one day... and we will miss it. So let's determine to breathe and spend these moments looking at our babies. Let's enjoy the moments we can & realize the ones we simply can't are passing. 

Yep. This pretty much directly follows the panic stage. It could take you 6 weeks or 6 years of nursing to get you here. It could be involuntary or you might have fought hard and long to arrive. You may feel depressed at the end of this era or be wearing your "normal" bras and long, maxi dresses with excited victory. So far my weaning expiriences have been extremely smooth & easy beginning with the introduction of cow's milk around a year. Hannah weaned completely when I went on a 5-day wilderness canoe trip & i left her with family. Mic just lost interest in nursing before bed (the only time we were nursing at that point). This time around I have NO clue what weaning will look like since I'm nursing two very different babies. Theo will require more time nursing... Therefore so will Maverick. I'm currently switching him to the side that produces less so Theo can get more milk from my super-producer (yes that's too much information... but maybe you thought you were the only one with a big difference in production per side... Now you know you're not). I'm planning on introducing cow's milk at around Maverick's 1-year birthday (which is close to Theo's adjusted 1-year birthday) and seeing where we go from there. I'm more tired this time around. I produce more milk this time around. I have twice the demand this time around... And yet I'm more at peace with the prospect of a longer weaning process. The difference is having years of not nursing my first two babies to grasp how fleeting of a process it really is. Also we're  praying that around that time Theo will no longer need his G-tube at all (we're currently at 3 weeks of not using it!!!) so that excitement trumps wearing a normal bra... for awhile. 

Ahhh the memories... At this stage you've finished nursing and you have drier sheets, looser fitting shirts, more energy, and require babysitters to stay for longer periods of time... The rate at which nostalgia sets in is directly proportional to how long the weaning process took you. But you will look back with delight on the moments of sweet sounds, private looks, milk-drunk smiles, close cuddles, hair twirling, finger holding, little hands patting, and lots of sleepy rocking. After all, you are the only person who had that view. For as long or as short as you were able to nurse, you shared it with your baby. Be thankful. Be encouraging to moms who are struggling. Don't ever be judgmental. I praise The Lord for allowing me to nurse my four babies. It is a miracle that I am glad I struggled for. 

If you have more questions or need more tips I'm obviously WAY past being uncomfortable talking about breast feeding. Again... I'm stating clearly that I'm not an expert, just willing to share what I know. However lactation consultants are experts & they're awesome. So don't walk thru this alone.