Warning, guys: if you read this article, you will never see boobs the same again (and I mean it as a turn-off).
Today, let’s talk about breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is one of these baby-related hot-button issues. There are some crazy people on both sides, like those who are offended when they see women breastfeeding in public and those women who have toddlers hooked on breast milk. In the midst of the craziness, new mothers try to choose the best option for the baby and themselves.
I do think the pressure to breastfeed is getting out of hand and that it should remain a personal choice. That said, I had decided early on in my pregnancy that I would try it. Why not? Breast milk is free, available and nutritious for babies. I was willing to lend a boob or two to Mark.
However, I was aware that breastfeeding could be a frustrating and painful adventure. There can be some “technical” problems on the mother or the baby’s side—breastfeeding is natural but not always as instinctive as you may believe. Hence the “I will try to breastfeed”, emphasis on the “try”.
It all worked out fine at first. Mark was placed on my breast a few minutes after birth and he swallowed my nipple whole, already starving (gee, I wonder why—I did all the work, buddy!) and latching like a pro. It was a strange feeling to have a baby drink from me but it felt right. I was proud to feed him with some good French breast milk—gourmet food for baby.
We came home 24 hours after Mark was born and I swung by the supermarket to buy some “nipple cream” (that’s how I called it), an ointment to prevent sore and cracked nipples. Sexy, I know. Turned out I barely used it: my French nipples were apparently made for breastfeeding, I didn’t experience any discomfort.
Breastfeeding is hard work, though, as I soon discovered. First, you have to be available at all times if you are feeding on demand like I did. It takes a lot of time, energy, and it left me very thirsty. It also made me sweat a lot for some reason—I was drenched at night.
At first, our breastfeeding sessions lasted about twenty minutes and then Mark would pass out on whatever nipple he was working on.
Mission accomplished. I could beam like a new mother.
But around the third week, Mark was no longer falling asleep after eating and if I tried to interrupt his lunch/dinner after an hour or so, he would cry non-stop.
I had no idea the poor kid could still be hungry after breastfeeding for so long, but apparently he was. One night, we gave him a bottle of formula: he drank it all and stopped crying, finally satisfied.
Okay, so apparently my milk wasn’t enough.
Meanwhile, during his routine check-up, the doctor was concerned because he wasn’t gaining weight fast enough. I suggested topping him up with formula; the doctor invited me to learn to breastfeed better with the help of a lactation consultant.
I got slightly pissed off.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m perfect and I am more than willing to take advice from experts. But here we were in the doctor’s office, exhausted and worried because Mark wasn’t gaining weight and crying non-stop, and I should somehow find the time to go to the lactation clinic to attend weekly breastfeeding classes?
Uh uh. As I told the doctor, I was perfectly fine with using formula if he needed it to gain weight—because that’s what mattered.
I knew Mark was getting milk—it’s hard to explain if you’ve never breastfed before but trust me, you know whether he is using you as a pacifier or actually eating. And if I pressed on my nipple, milk would come out of it—another “duh” clue that was hard to miss. My best guess is that breast milk wasn’t nutritious enough for him, or that I didn’t have enough milk.
Mark also did a lot of “cluster feed”, i.e. eating every hour or so for a period of time. This is hard on the mother when every breastfeeding session is an hour long: I was basically spending my evenings or morning breastfeeding. Poor Mark was also getting exhausted and burning more calories than needed!
Sometimes, thing don’t work out as planned. At this stage, I didn’t care for the reasons. I wanted Mark to eat well and gain weight. And I wasn’t going to stubbornly insist on breastfeeding if he didn’t benefit from it.
So we transitioned to formula, and Mark started gaining weight. He went from 2.76 kg (his birth weight) to 4.58 kg (at two months)!
All in all, I breastfed him for about a month and I’m glad I did. It was a great experience and I think we both enjoyed it, plus he did get some healthy breast milk. But sometimes, you need to be flexible and do whatever needs to be done and whatever works—for us it was formula.
Life with a newborn is stressful enough that you don’t need to guilt trip. We went with the flow—that’s how you are supposed to do with babies, right?