Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nursing and Newborns.

I was reminded early this morning what it's like to be a first time, new mother with an infant.

It's magical, it's having a loving connection immediately, it's quiet and restful, it's happiness and joy.

Wait, that's what it's like to be ALONE.

Having a new baby sucks. You look at this little bitsy baby who came from you, whom you carried, whom you thought you would look like a perfect cross between you and your partner; and you think, "Why does he/she look like THAT?" They are a horrible let down. Yeah, I said it. They don't look like you thought they would. It's painful. You were so ready to love a perfect little cherubim- and what you got was a soggy looking little old person. Nobody told you that's normal.

You don't have some immediate connection. In most cases, a connection takes time to form- but most of us feel like we're supposed to have it right away, so we feel like we've failed and OH NO, we're bad mothers. Stop it. We're not. We're great mothers. I love my kids- I just didn't think they'd look like my sister in law more than me. But I am a loving mother (now).

Back to newborn letdowns:

The fact is babies don't sleep when you want them to. They're up all night long, or they sleep and wake in intervals that mean you don't get to sleep- ever. Just when you're ready to fall asleep, the baby wakes up hungry again.

Bottle feeding is easier off the bat, because you can pop a bottle in their mouth, and when they're done, you both lie down and get back to sleep- but if you are a nursing mother, or trying to be a nursing mother, you have to stay up and pump, then sterilize the equipment and THEN you get to lie down and sleep again for an hour until the next feeding rolls around. If you are lucky enough to get 2 hours between feedings- some people don't. More on that after.

I've done this twice now. The first time with Brat was much, much harder. She was a preemie baby, and didn't have a suckling reflex, so we had to bottle feed (and intubate) her in the hospital. After that, she didn't have any desire to latch on, so it took a LONG, LONG time (6 wks) to get her nursing exclusively. Bottles are easier for babies, they don't require as much effort to get the milk out. Fact.

During that time, I spent so long on the electric pump, I must have looked like I was trying to provide milk for three babies- but I was terrified I'd lose my milk supply, so I pumped after every feeding/ attempt at feeding before I gave her a bottle.

Eventually, Brat became a pro at nursing, and we were able to nurse, or bottle feed at will. It was overall a wonderful experience. Except for those first 6 weeks of torture.

With Monster, she nursed like a pro from the get go, but will NOT have anything to do with a bottle, or formula, or expressed milk. Nothing will do for her except me- which is frustrating for me some days, as I'd love a day to myself.

But there are other women who have other issues with nursing, such as oversupply, which is painful. Or worse, UNDERsupply. Some lactation consultants try to tell you there is no such thing as an undersupply- but that's not true. There certainly is. I mean, you could, technically, nurse constantly, every hour for 20-30 minutes at a time, and then start again a half hour later.

It's possible- if you had NO desire to sleep EVER again, or eat, or shower, or be human. But if you are trying to avoid postpartum issues, keep yourself clean, and offering care for this tiny baby- then chances are good that you are going to need to offer a bottle once in a while to compensate for lack of supply.

And many of the lactation consultants I've met myself, or heard about from friends, advocate AGAINST a bottle- for any reason. Which is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. If you type 'nipple confusion' into Google, what you get is a whole host of "La Leche Leaguers" and hard core yippies saying you should NEVER EVER give a baby a bottle, or you'll have a baby who forgets how to nurse. Bullshit.

Yeah, I said that too.  Bullshit. This so called 'nipple confusion' apparently occurs in less than 8% of nursing babies who get bottles- and it's reversible if you try hard enough. What isn't reversible is the emotional backlash of having a baby who cries for more, constantly. It erodes your confidence as a mother, makes you question everything you do. It steals your sleep- even when the baby is quiet you lay there worrying that you've done SOMETHING wrong. You haven't.

Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn't come naturally. It takes practice, persistence and patience. All three of which are unavailable to most first time mothers.

Here are some facts: prolactin (milk making hormone) is only produced/ distributed when you sleep. So, you HAVE to sleep, which means sometimes, someone else has to give that baby a bottle so you can rest. Nipple confusion isn't 'real', babies may come to prefer the bottle as it's easier, but 92% will still go back on the boob. The amount of breast 'usage'/ feeding in the first two weeks will determine how much milk you are able to produce in the long run (that's when your breast produce the milk ducts), so pumping builds supply, which gives baby more to eat, which keeps baby satiated for longer, so you can rest, which means you can make more milk. See the pattern? Bottle once means rest, means more milk, means more rest? Nice. In a perfect world, this pattern would work for 100% of us, instead of just 92 %- but if you are one of the 8% who can't, it's okay too.

Regardless of how good breastmilk is for the baby, formula IS NOT POISON. So, if you can nurse, great; but, if you can't, don't beat yourself up about it. Your baby will grow up to be just as happy and healthy as other kids. My advice? Do what works for you.

My pattern of sleeping when I could, nursing on demand, with pumping after each feeding- that's exhausting. So when I hit the wall- and I did- I had my husband give Brat a couple bottles. She's as normal a five year old as I've ever met (and I've met a lot of 5 year olds).  Monster had a couple bottles at the beginning too (when she'd still take them), and I haven't noticed a detrimental effect yet.
I know other kids who were exclusively bottle feed from birth, from 2 months, from 4 months. None of them are anything except perfect. Your baby will be no different. He/she will be happy, healthy and whole because you were a good enough mother to worry about it in the first place.

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