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Possible Side Effects May Include...

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

If you put a bunch of breastfeeding activists and lactation consultants in a room and had them come up with a commercial for breastfeeding, it might go something like this...

Slow and gentle orchestral music starts up in the background as the picture fades in to show a newborn baby in his mother's arms. The mother gazes down at her child in rapt adoration and gently raises the child to her breast. As the music swells and we watch various shots of mothers and nurslings snuggled together in nursing bliss, you'd hear the voice over.

"Every parent wants what's best for their child. Breastfeeding is one of the most natural and beautiful ways to ensure the health their health. Breastfed babies have lower rates of colic, allergies, illness, ear infections and even diaper rash. They are less at risk for childhood cancers, obesity and death from SIDS. Breastfeeding takes far less work than bottle feeding, is inexpensive and portable."

The commercial would go on and on about how wonderful breastfeeding is for both mother and child. Then at the end, Mr. Fast-Talking-Announcer-Man would speedily say:

"Possible side effects may include sleepless nights, breast infections, cracked and bleeding nipples, latch pain, thrush, reliance on breast pumps, societal pressure and a general desire to crawl into the nearest closet to hide."

What's my point? Well, on the heels of my post about the beauty of the nursing bond between mother and child I think it's only fair to talk about one of my biggest issues with lactation consultants, breastfeeding campaigns and nursing mothers.

I think that far too many of them underplay the difficulty that breastfeeding spells for many women.

You often hear it glossed over as "after the first two weeks, breastfeeding is...[fill in the blank]" That "after the first two weeks" part is usually said quickly and quietly.

I've spoken to so many women in real life and online that expressed sheer amazement at just how difficult breastfeeding was. In fact, apart from my friend who had a baby a month ago, pretty much every mom I know TRIED to breastfeed and quit within a week or two. It was just too hard and they couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

To be honest, I felt the same way with Elnora. Sure, exclusively pumping worked out for us, but we were very blessed. Had I not known of that option, or had I not had a good supply for the pump, Elnora would have ended up on formula. Not because I didn't want to breastfeed, not because I wasn't educated, not because I didn't have support...but because NO ONE ever told me how hard those first two weeks would be.

I'm a "natural childbirth" advocate as well as a breastfeeding advocate. I love to try to educate and encourage women about their options when it comes to unmedicated birth. The first thing I tell them if they mention that they'd like to "try for a natural birth" is that they have GOT to prepare. We go out of our way to tell women that natural childbirth is like running a marathon. You've got to prepare, you've got to take classes, you've got to know that it's likely to be one of the hardest things you've ever done.

We tell them about transition...the point at which almost every mom, even the most hard core natural birthers think about the epidural. We tell them that that point is usually the hardest point of labor and that if they can hold on past transition, it gets a lot easier and they'll make it.

I wonder why we won't talk about breastfeeding the same way? Sure, I've heard moms talk about the need to have an LC's number on hand or the need to get to a LLL meeting before the birth. I've even heard moms talk about the need to take a breastfeeding class before the birth. What I rarely hear is a mom lay it out in raw, honest truth.

Breastfeeding is HARD for most moms. That first week or two can be enough to make even the most determined mom dissolve into tears at the thought of latching their baby on again. Even with lactation consultants and breastfeeding classes, many moms find that the first week or two results in painful latches, cracked or bleeding nipples, painful engorgement and so little sleep that you think you might pass out. We write things off by saying "get to a LC, it's not supposed to hurt" when the reality is that even with a perfect latch, that first week of nursing DOES hurt for some moms.

Do we do a disservice by talking about the wonderful benefits of nursing and skimming over the problems as if they're the simply the disclaimer at the end of a pharmaceutical ad? Do we lead moms into a false sense of "this should be easy" that leaves them confused, bewildered and heartbroken when they find that it's so much more difficult than they ever dreamed?

I realize the desire to avoid scaring moms. I get it, I really do. But women are intelligent. Can we really not come up with a way to be honest about what moms might face and to make sure that they are equipped with the ability to deal if and when things get tough?

I think I would have made it with Elnora if only I'd known that a few more days might have worked things out. I have to think that I'm not the only one.

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  1. Blogger tiny-dog | 7:29 PM |  

    Your commercial idea... hee! The part that no one ever told me about was how inseperable you are from your baby while breastfeeding-- long after the newborn stage. I don't think it would have discouraged me to know this, but I am surprised no one mentioned it. This weekend was only the second time I have ever actually used a babysitter and gone out with my husband-- and my baby is 8 months old!

  2. Blogger Melissa | 8:29 PM |  

    Hear hear! Everyone wants to tell you their birth stories - the good and the bad - but no one ever shares breastfeeding stories! And yet so many of us experience the same really hard two weeks. It never ever occurred to me to do anything BUT breastfeed (my likely response: how in the world would my baby eat?) but I was so completely unprepared. Everything I read said "it's not supposed to hurt" so I felt like a total failure and that the world was out to get me. Wasn't labor and delivery and no sleep and dirty diapers hard enough?

    I so wish that I had started reading blogs like this one while I was pregnant! :-)

  3. Blogger Jennifer | 8:46 PM |  

    I'm with you Melissa...in fact, up until about two months ago, I'd never heard about "the dreaded second night."

    I heard about it on an LC list and it was spoken about so matter-of-factly. Apparently it's quite common for newborns to not only want to nurse non-stop on the second night, but also for them to fight them mom when it comes to latching.

    Wish someone had told me that. Night number two is what killed it with Elnora. Now had I had better help in the hospital I could have gotten through it without the situation getting worse...but had I known that the second night was often the hardest, it would have made a world of difference.

    The same thing happened with Emmitt. I spent the second night out on the porch with Emmitt in the recliner. Greg heard him screaming at about 2am and came to check on us. I was on the verge of losing it..I was actually chanting "I will not get the pump, I will not get the pump, I will not get the pump."

    Greg was an angel. I basically passed out in the recliner while he calmed Emmitt down and latched him on (while I was sleeping, lol). His actions that night saved us. I'd wager 7 to 1 that if he hadn't come out, I'd have broken out the pump and a bottle by morning.

  4. Blogger Joanne | 2:08 AM |  

    One idea that I have found annoying is that if you are breastfeeding the only thing your partner CAN'T do for you is feed the baby. This didn't seem so bad for me before my baby was born. I didn't understand what the big deal was with "dad can feed the baby" being a benefit to using formula . . . I didn't realize nursing also meant that I'm the only one who can put the baby down for a nap/for the night, and I'm the one who must always get up with him in the night when he wakes up.

  5. Anonymous Jolie | 5:40 AM |  

    That's exactly what I've tried to tell my pregnant friends. I kept thinking that I was doing something wrong because it did hurt for about 2 weeks. I would cry when I knew he was going to wake up to eat and wince every time he latched on. But after 2 weeks, it was much easier. I told this to a woman I know that was pregnant and I saw her again for the first time since he baby was born and she said she kept thinking about what I told her and she stuck it through the first 2 weeks and now it is going great. I was so proud.

  6. Blogger Judy | 5:56 AM |  

    It's like you're in my head or something. This weekend was ridiculous, and we're far past those hard first two weeks (which I spent either crying or asleep).

    I know many of my problems are due to my baby coming 6 weeks early combined with a difficult C-Section (I had planned a home birth people, just chill) but this has been quite a process. It took nearly 2 weeks for my milk to come in, then getting the baby to latch just as practice, then having to get milk from a friend, then trying to keep up with pumping my own supply, seeing if I can wean her off the bottle at every feeding, her ever increasing appetite, unpredictable feeding intervals, and then she just nurses for the fun of it (demanding the boob 1/2 hr after eating, freaking me out thinking she's hungry again and then promptly falling asleep for 2 hours after nursing for like a minute) sometimes in addition to the nurse/sleep/nurse/sleep/nurse/sleep/bottle feeding marathons.

    There's the whole mental side of it like am I just not patient enough? But she'd be attached to me 24/7. She cries if I don't give her a bottle. Will I pump enough today? Will I have to ask my lactivist friend for more milk?..........

    I'm posting this response on my own blog I like it so much.

  7. Blogger tanya@motherwearblog | 6:02 AM |  

    Ha! I just did a workshop called "the second night!"

    Yes, we have to be realistic with mothers. Otherwise we create unrealistic expectations and set us all up for failure. When I teach I start with a long discussion of how beneficial it is, and then a shorter but very direct explanation of how hard it is to have a new baby and how much time feeding takes - no matter how you feed your baby. At least 7 hours per day is what it takes, more if you have to deal with bottles.

    The problem with talking about pain is that anything more than mild soreness should be considered a problem that requires help. If we talk about pain as normal it discourages women from seeking help. So I think we need to be very specific: Mild soreness in the first week - a 1 or a 2 on the pain scale is normal as long as it goes away within a few days. Anything more than that - at any time during breastfeeding - requires help, and you should get it as soon as possible.

  8. Blogger Leah | 6:09 AM |  

    Beautiful post. SO true, too.

  9. Blogger Jennifer | 7:33 AM |  

    Tanya, you SO need to write a blog post called "The Second Night" to give moms a heads up on that. Oh I wish I'd known...blah...blah.

    Re: pain. I should clarify. It's not that pain is normal it's that sometimes you CAN be doing things right and it still hurts. For instance, I didn't get to an LC until day four. By then, I already had a cracked nipple. While we did get my latch fixed, it still took time to heal, which meant that the next week was still pretty darn painful.

  10. Blogger Jennifer | 7:44 AM |  

    Judy, I think you summed it up perfectly. And while you actually didn't inspire this post/rant, I suppose you're a perfect example of it.

    Sometimes breastfeeding is hard. So hard that even the most die-hard lactivist goes home from a visit thinking "wow, I so wouldn't blame her if she gave up." I have seen moms (you included) literally walk through hell and high water to nurse their kids and I KNOW most of them had no idea that it could be so hard.

    I've seen other moms give up because they tried it for a day and "the baby nursed too much, he was always hungry, I was tired" and that was the end of it.

    Then I think of my mother-in-law that first week telling me that she thought you were only supposed to nurse every 3 hours. I explained to her the concept of the baby nursing aroudn the clock to get your milk to come in, she simply had no idea. (And she had been an L&D nurse!!)

    It just shows how much further we have to go...

  11. Blogger Heather | 8:31 AM |  

    Oh, how true this is!

    I spent the first two MONTHS in extreme agony because of my daughter's bad latch. I knew what the problem was, though, and knew what to do to fix it, thanks to my amazing lactation consultant! If I hadn't known that it was okay to hurt, then I might not have managed it.

    That, and the fact that I told myself that I'd throw myself in front of a bus for my daughter, and I'd certainly endure a little pain.

    Here's the link to my nursing story, in all its painful glory. We're now still nursing strong at 1 months, in spite of the days I spent literally screaming in agony, drowning out my baby's cries, because it hurt SO much.

  12. Anonymous Rebecca | 9:03 AM |  

    Sometimes it hurts after the first 2 weeks also. My husband had to go back to work after using all of his vacation time after the birth of our second baby. I had a medical c-section, and I found that I was so tired from caring for my toddler during the day combined with healing and nursing a newborn that I would fall asleep at night while nursing and my latch would suffer. Blisters and bleeding ensued, and I was an experienced nursing mom (my first nursed for about 15 months until she didn't want to anymore). I would say it's not just the first 2 weeks, but up to the first month that can be really difficult no matter how much support you have. All it really takes is one tired or lazy "that latch is good enough" to cause yourself pain for a week while it heals. But still even through it all, it's worth it. Even us c-section mom's get to practice our lamaze breathing during those painful latches in the beginning.
    One important thing about the pain, even with cracked, blistered, very sore nipples, once you have the baby latched on properly and your milk lets down the pain should ease considerably. If it doesn't, you are probably latched on in the same bad way that caused the problem.

  13. Anonymous Mary Jo | 11:02 AM |  

    I honestly think we don't tell the stories because we're afraid that women won't try. So much progress has been made in getting women to start nursing, even if they quit after a few days, and I think as a group, nursing moms/lactation consultants are scared that the "real" stories will scare people off. It's not like telling all my pregnant friends about my horrible birth experience will keep them from giving birth (what choice do they have?!). But if I don't "sugar coat" the breastfeeding stories, maybe they'll decide there's too much downside and not enough upside.

    The truth is that I don't actually work on this principle . . . I have a habit of telling pregnant women much more about nursing than about birthing. And I'd don't spare them the yucky details. But I do make a point of ending on a good note. And, of course, offering help. But I do think this priciple may be behind some of the "sugar coating", perhaps not outright, but subconciously.

  14. Blogger Jennifer | 11:16 AM |  

    Oh I have no doubt that that's what the intentions are. I get the line of logic too.

    I'm just not sure it's a good idea.

    I have to wonder if for every woman that we convince to nurse, we lose two because they were never told how hard it could be and they think it's going to stay that way forever.

    I could be way off base, but I know that's what caused me to give up teh first time...thinking that it would NEVER get easy and that I'd have a mental breakdown if it stayed that hard. (and that was after just four days!!)

  15. Anonymous Anonymous | 12:23 PM |  

    How many of you thought you'd go crazy if you heard "It's the latch" one more time when you complained of nipple pain? So easy to say, so hard to fix! I had a difficult birth and a haemorrhage with my first son. Consequently, my milk took 5 days to come in and we had a rough start to our breastfeeding relationship. Despite lots of hands on instruction from my midwife, I had quite a lot of pain for the first 6 weeks. I constantly struggled to get him to latch with a big wide mouth. However, something clicked with him at 6 weeks, and it was smooth sailing from there.
    I am now breastfeeding my second. By comparison, he's been a breeze to feed. He was latched on within 15 minutes of birth, and has been a pro ever since!
    So if you are struggling with breastfeeding, don't despair and don't give up. It really does get easier!

  16. Blogger Nicole | 12:25 PM |  

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I wish I would have known about you and your blog while I was pregnant, and especially during those first two weeks. I had a incredible support system, even a sister who's a certified breastfeeding counselor. However, nothing could've prepared me for the absolute havoc that was wreaked on my poor nipples. Suffice to say, I tell new mommies-to-be the absolute truth: it may hurt like hell for longer than you anticipated, but it's absolutely worth seeing your baby thrive and grow from mama's milk.

  17. Anonymous Anonymous | 5:49 PM |  

    I was more scared of bf than birth--I set up a self fulfilling prophecy--I got mastitus on day four. Persevered for two weeks, BUT it was my family (read husband) who finally w/drew the support b/c he couldn't see light at the end of the tunnel, and no one told him (except me) that charging through another week or so would have made the world of difference. It's not just the women who need a clear picture, it's the family & network supporting the mother b/c the women can know so much but w/out the support of the network taking care of her, some of the strongest ones will give up on a family battle knowing the bf one could have been won.

  18. Blogger Jennifer | 5:54 PM |  

    That's a good point about the family front.

    I've actually heard tales from moms that went to take naps and that asked mothers or husbands to wake them when baby was hungry.

    The mother/husband, not understanding the need to establish supply or the virgin gut would instead let mom sleep and give baby a bottle of formula.

    One mom even woke up to the sound of her husband rummaging around for bottles.

    I have no doubt that in most of these cases, the people are well-intentioned as opposed to sabatogers, but the reality is that mom cannot do it by herself...she MUST have some help.

  19. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:49 PM |  

    I just want to say THANK YOU so much for realizing that breastfeeding really is hard for many women. For me, it wasn't just two weeks. It was four months of sheer torture. And I gave up. Honestly I used to despise "lactivists" like you who just go on and on promoting breastfeeding but seem to forget about all these women who WANTED TO breastfeed but couldn't. I just got sick of all the guilt trips, and almost turned 'anti-breastfeeding'

    I think your outlook on it is great. The shirts are funny, but not too offensive to women who may not be able to breastfeed. It's not like you have shirts saying that formula is poison.

    So thank you...for being considerate of those of us who tried but failed miserably.

  20. Blogger Jennifer | 6:10 AM |  

    Wow, anonymous, you just totally made my day. Thank you so much for your kind words and my hats off to you for trying so hard for so long! It's women like you that are my hero.

    It's easy to nurse when it's...well...easy. It's amazing for someone to nurse that long when it's hard.

  21. Anonymous tash | 9:13 PM |  

    I've actually heard tales from moms that went to take naps and that asked mothers or husbands to wake them when baby was hungry.

    yep. thats me. my daughter wasnt a new newborn, but still young. I had to get my wisdom teeth out as they were causeing some severe issues. My mil watched her while I had the surgery and then stayed with me at the house for the rest of the day to help. Because of the sedation I napped on and off all day. Hales had said that I would be ok to nurse if I was awake enough to hold her. But that night my mil gave her formula instead of waking me from a nap and I woke to that. oh well. I know she was just trying to let me sleep. I dont know if it affected my supply or not. I have low supply issues anyway. but now at just past a year we are still going. :)

  22. Anonymous Trina | 10:41 PM |  

    I SO MUCH wished that SOMEONE, ANYONE would have told me the truth about how hard the first few days & weeks of motherhood would be. I knew the birth would be hard and painful, and I thought that would be the "hard part". But for me, I'd much rather have repeated the 24 hours of labor a time or two extra than repeat the first 4 weeks of baby-haze that felt like it would never end! I felt like it was a dark, dirty secret that nobody talked about. I wish I would have been a bit more prepared, and had somebody to actually level with me about the good & bad parts. I do plan to tell other first-time moms a little more honestly about what to expect, I think if they are interested and want to learn, we owe them that.

  23. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:19 PM |  

    I tell every pregnant woman the truth: Breastfeeding is exhausting. But it's not as bad or hard as any of you said it is. The truth is that you have to be 100% committed to your baby to be successful at breastfeeding. You can't rely on anyone else to feed or nourish your baby...you can't be lazy. I just had my third child 19 weeks ago, returned to work (fulltime) when he was 13 weeks and I am still exclusively breastfeeding him. He is in perfect health because of my commitment to him. I think sites like this were created so wimpy women would have a place to congregate and not feel like such losers.

  24. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 3:46 PM |  

    ROTFL.

    Yep, that's me. Wimpy. ;) Read the site a bit longer.

    Either way, for anyone who visits in the future and reads through all the comments including that last one...

    There's absolutely nothing wrong with finding breastfeeding to be hard. Everyone has different experiecnes. Some women find it easy, some find it impossible. Some revel in it, some have a martyr complex and revel in that.

    It will be a unique experience for each and every one of us and we all have to find a way to get through it.

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