I should admit-- it may not seem like it, BUT I love mommy groups. Well love/hate them. I think we should just all admit how absolutely ridiculous we're being at least 30% of the time and we'd all play much nicer. I'm already a ridiculous person so I'd just rather other people join me. It's too much work to be mature and sane all of the time.
You might find that I joke here and there about "mommy extremists" especially when it comes to the topic of breastfeeding. As someone who did breastfeed and found the struggles and joys in it, I remember how the extreme judgment felt but I also remember the difference support made. So while I poke fun, it's not at the act of nursing itself, but the obnoxious way in which other people feel they must attack individuals regarding the choice to breastfeed or not.
As I watched shark week last year, I found myself realizing that my cute little babe and a Great White Shark had a lot in common. They both latch on to their prey and masticate the living daylights out of it. She’s a shark. A shark that had a feeding frenzy every three hours.
Before I knew anything about anything regarding pregnancy and babies, I was getting my hair done (DON'T WORRY, it was just a cut, NOT dye job, jesus) and the woman, someone I had never met before, asked if I was going to breastfeed. Yes, a complete stranger wanted to know what my personal choice was going to be in terms of feeding my baby, that way she could shower me with accolades when I replied, “Yes.” She said, “Oh, of course I wouldn’t judge but breast really is best.” (I didn't know then how much I'd come to loathe that phrase.)
The thing is, at that time, I didn’t even really know what breastfeeding meant. I mean, obviously I knew my jugs were about to become milk cartons and what not, but I didn’t understand the logistics of it all. I didn’t grasp how it would affect me emotionally or physically. I didn’t grasp that there’s like a dedicated squad of women who live to judge the shit out of you if you don’t breastfeed. I was blissfully unaware. “Yes” was an easy answer because I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
A few months before I was destined to become a dairy queen, we attended an "intro to breastfeeding" class. Yup, these exist. You go and a lactation consultant spends three hours telling you the benefits of breast milk and how it reduces your risk of cancer and how babies who nurse are more likely to be able to care for you in your old, decrepit age. It was nice to learn about some of the benefits of breast milk as I had no idea before stepping into the classroom. However, you leave thinking that dare you consider formula as an option you’re a complete failure of a mother.
When my little shark arrived, I was out cold (c-section, spinal tap didn't work, blah blah blah). Despite waiting for sleeping beauty to awake, they could only hold off for so long and babe's first taste wasn’t the boob, it was the bottle. The bottle of formula. DUN DUN DUNNNNNN. I know what you’re thinking. She’s dooooooomed.
Anyway, over the next few days I breastfed during the day and sent her off with the nurses at night. My muscles had atrophied due to the loss of blood, low iron levels, and inaction so I actually couldn’t hold her on my own. At night, they pumped me up with more drugs while they pumped her up with more formula. It was fantastic. She was happy and we slept so we were happy. I didn’t seem to have a problem with her latching at the hospital so the lactation nurse high-fived me and I was sent on my way.
Once home, I tried to recount all the things my lactation consultant told me. “It shouldn’t hurt. If it hurts at all, you’re doing it wrong.” First of all, I don’t know about you but my husband didn’t get nearly enough boob action for me to ever prepare myself for someone sucking on the nipples ALL DAY AND NIGHT LONG. So, when little babe here was chomping at the teet every two hours for up to 45 minutes at a time, you bet your tiger stripes it hurt.
So, everything was going "well" but being the new mom that I was, I was concerned she wasn’t getting enough. Her next weigh in wasn’t until her month one appointment but I knew she was supposed to gain 4-7oz a week. How was I supposed to log her weight gain properly?
A few innings into the ballgame and I was wondering if we were going to connect for that homer. My boobs were sore, my baby was “snacking”, and I had overanalyzed to the death whether I was doing it correctly. I insisted we visit a lactation consultant who could observe and make sure we were a working unit.
We made an appointment and visited a well-known store around our area that specialized in all things boob milk and nursing. It’s the same place we had the orientation class. I was excited because so many people had talked about this place and how awesome it was. I just knew they were going to make everything perfect.
We got there a few minutes early which I didn’t think was a huge deal. The woman who was our lactation consultant loudly stated to a coworker that she was surprised we were early and acted somewhat annoyed and rushed. Look, she could have finished her donut and coffee, it’s not like we were demanding to be seen seven minutes early.
We get into the room and before we even sit down she looks at anonymous baby in her car seat and tells us that she already had beef with our set-up, but we’d get to that later. OH MY GOD WE SUCK. I sat on the couch while she asked me a few questions and we showed her our log of feeding times and diaper changes. Everything was going smoothly until her pure eyes befell upon a word she prayed she'd never see written down. “Formula.” You see, one morning, after feeding baby at 4:00am for 45 minutes, she woke up 15 minutes later still upset. Newbie parents first thought: she must be hungry still. Maybe I was feeding her incorrectly? Tired, unsure, and sore, I had my husband mix an ounce of formula to give her. And this is the exact moment when we might as well have placed her in a coffin and called it a day.
For the duration of our appointment we were asked to solemnly swear on our lives, our dog’s life, and the happiness of all future children to not be weak and selfish enough to give her formula again. Didn’t you know that 1oz of formula can change a baby’s stomach for a whole day? Didn’t you know that they put rat poison in formula? Didn’t you know that now that she’s been exposed, she can’t possibly live up to her potential? Ok, perhaps I’m slightly exaggerating, but if you haven’t had the joy of encountering the extreme end of pro-breast milk, “breast is best” advocates, consider yourself blessed.
The judgment is real my friends. And here’s the thing, I don’t disagree that breast milk is great! I know breast milk is “better.” I just don’t believe that formula is the opposite. And I was there to get help. Why were you lecturing me? You’re worse than the dentist who lectures me when I skip my six-month, one year, and 5 year appointment. You’re exactly why I miss my appointments!! Stop chastising me and help me. So I was already nervous and now I was full of anxiety. I’d already done so much wrong before we even got to the observation part.
That’s when things got even more awesome. There’s tons of different ways to hold your baby when you’re breastfeeding: the cross-hold, the football hold, the downward dog facing backward hold, etc. So once you’ve picked the hold you’re going with, for me it was the “cross-hold”, you’ve got to make sure your baby latches properly. Now that sounds easy. Don’t babies come out knowing how to properly suck on a nipple? NOPE.
So I’ve got one arm under her, supporting her whole body while my other arm is supposed to be available to hold her hands back as she keeps flailing them, while self- massaging the boob to get the milk flowing. Meanwhile, I need to make sure that I prop her head back by forcing the underside of my wrist into her spine so she nods her head back. Then, I’m supposed to use my hand and cup the back of her head and thrust it on the boob while her mouth is open. I’m being totally serious. So, while I’m learning how to speak Mandarin while knitting, my lactation consultant was discussing my delivery. I took the opportunity to joke, “Yeah, she was really high maintenance, wasn’t she?!” BIG no-no. A stone cold face looked at me. “No. Babies are not high maintenance. If anything it sounds like you were the one who was having the difficulties. It’s never the baby.”
In my dreams she turned away long enough for me to guzzle from a flask. In reality we got back to practicing nursing. During one part of the conversation we were talking about little babe and how she was a great sleeper. Hubby took it upon himself to jokingly refer to her as “lazy.” Had we not learned our lesson? Babies are NOT a laughing matter. Babies are not lazy. Actually, they are very quizzical and curious, if you didn’t know. We were really striking out.
After a few more oaths swearing we wouldn’t resort to that pre-made death in a bottle, it was time to discuss the cute monkey pillowy things that we had placed on her car seat shoulder straps. We thought it would make her more comfy but apparently they were recipe for suffocation. There were some helpful parts of the appointment, like when she showed us how to tie a moby wrap. I mean it wasn’t all bad. But, if the point was to leave the appointment feeling confident about breastfeeding, I was worse off than ever before.
I got home and tried to remember the 22-step technique and anytime we strayed from it a bit I felt like an absolute failure. How could I not do it properly? There was lots of frustration and lots of vowing to quit and just pump. Fortunately my mama friends rose to the task of finding me a real support group that actually offered support! I found a lactation consultant there who had a more gentle approach and within a week, little kitten and I were rocking it out. It turns out she had tongue and lip tie, two things which were creating a barrier from her being able to latch 100% properly. But with practice we were able to overcome that. You can also take them into a doc and have it taken care of if it’s really serious. Also, when it comes to lactation consultants, check with your insurance. Mine covered 6 free home visits!
After all the downhills and uphills, I got to a point 5 months in where I loved nursing but simply couldn’t keep up with her. It was hard for me to end nursing completely. Even though I knew she'd survive- heck I was a formula baby and look at how marvelous I turned out- when you’re beaten over the head by so many women throughout your pregnancy and prime breastfeeding months, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve failed a bit or a lot. I kept questioning if I had done enough. And even more than that, I’d grown to really love it. That was my time with the munchkin.
Dairy Queens and Formula shakers can both be fantastic moms and it’d do a bit of good for everyone to remember that.
One of the nicest things about the transition to formula is our public outings. We were anything but graceful when trying to breastfeed in public. Kitten was not about having a piece of fabric over her head. I’m not going to get all soapboxy here, but breastfeeding in public sucks. There’s still such a stigma when it comes down to it. I’ve read a slew of ignorant comments on articles- everything ranging from, “I don’t pee in public so you shouldn’t breastfeed in public” to “Why don’t they go to the car or a bathroom and nurse instead of forcing us to stare at them” to “Nobody wants to see a boob when they’re eating at a restaurant.”
Holy balls. Seriously people? Are you that hard up that looking at a mom breastfeeding her baby is going to give you a boner in public? That’s right, I forgot. Your eyeball and my boob are magnetically attracted. You have no option but to force yourself to strain your neck and get a peak so that you can then act offended. When a baby is hungry, you feed it. That’s it. Get over it.
So, let's remember... there are plenty of things we can judge people about, really! But feeding their baby? Is the kid fed? Is the kid happy? Is the kid healthy? Then I think we have nothing to say but, you're doing great, mama!