The Boob Job
Some of you guys are probably pretty excited to see this post. So far it's been all eating disorders, child rearing and recipes over here. Blah, blah, blah. But now- Boobs! Well, don't get too excited. I know you find these lumps of fleshy tissue that sit on a woman's chest titillating and arousing, but they have a practical purpose. Despite society's best efforts to reduce breasts to cup size and cleavage, there is really only one evolutionary reason these mounds of lactation still exist. They feed and nurture the future of humankind.
So sexual fantasies of bouncing, luscious, nipple peaked flesh move over. These titties have work to do.
I never questioned that I would breastfeed my children. My Mom did it and she was pretty awesome. Thus I must be awesome or die trying. And I did exclusively breastfeed both of my children, although it was a little more complicated than I expected. I think there are a boatload of excellent reasons to breastfeed. Here are mine in no particular order.
I'm not sure why this point doesn't convince everyone up front. Do you have any idea how much money those lactating machines contain? There's a reason they call it liquid gold. And imagine not having to worry about heating up bottles, preparing one every time you leave the house. Just check your chest. Boobs still there? Great! You're ready to go.
Keeps the weight off
Notice I didn't say it helps take the baby weight off. In my experience, this is pretty much a lactation lie. When you're breastfeeding, you are a food factory. Your body will insist on keeping on an extra 5-10 pounds to maintain your supply. Throw in a little exhaustion and the fact that you are stress eating to cope with the insanity that your life has become and those extra 500 calories breastfeeding burns are already accounted for.
But it can help you maintain your weight during a very stressful time in your life.
It's best for your baby
There is no argument about this when you look at the science. It's the reason that formula companies clamor all over themselves in advertising to claim theirs most closely mimics breast milk. Breast milk is the bomb. And it does some amazing things like changing content and taking cues from your body about your growing baby's needs both in terms of supply, antibodies and fat percentage.
Some people will note that I did not list the mothering bond and the way breastfeeding intensifies that relationship. Mothers often gush about this in the same way they glorify pregnancy. That just wasn't my experience. I hated being pregnant for the same reason I disliked breastfeeding.
I was not in control of my own body. It leaked, it swelled and its unpredictability was infuriatingly messy and left me feeling like a human incubator or a cow.
But I didn't do it for me. I did it for my babies. And so I committed to exclusively breastfeeding for the first year and felt not an ounce of guilt when I promptly weaned them both at 12 months.
At the time when I had my first child, I had very few close friends or family that had babies and I knew no one who was breastfeeding. I figured it out eventually but there are things I wished someone had told me up front. Advice that would have saved countless hours of anguished anxiety.
If you are about to embark on the journey of breastfeeding for the first time, I offer you these words of wisdom.
1: COME PREPARED.
There's so much to do before your baby is born that you may not have even thought to focus on this aspect of their arrival. But it's important that you know what to expect so you can make informed decisions about feeding. Studies show that the first 8 days of an infant's life are crucial to establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship.
I did not know that my milk would not come in for several days and I was completely unprepared for the anxiety that aroused in me. I felt responsible for providing sustenance to this tiny, helpless being I'd brought into the world and yet seemed unable to offer the nutrition he was craving. If I had done more research, I would have understood the benefits of colostrum and the way even those few drops of heavy, fortifying milk in the initial days can lay the foundation for a healthy baby.
Write a birth plan. There are a few websites that have free forms to help you draft one.
Labor and delivery, especially for new mamas, is stressful and full of the unknown. Make the decisions about your healthcare choices and those of your baby before hand. These will include details of afterbirth decisions like the administering of vitamins, feeding and nursery options. When you check in at the hospital, simply hand them the birth plan. They are legally obligated to follow it or risk litigation.
Trust me, you don't want to be making these kinds of powerful choices when you are vomiting and crying and wishing you'd die so the pain would just be over. Nobody makes good decisions in that situation.
I recently heard the story of a new mother who wanted to exclusively breastfeed but was told within minutes of the birth of her son that she would need to supplement with formula because the baby had low blood sugar. The baby was a healthy weight and the delivery had been uneventful. This is dubious advice at best since most babies, after hours of stress and constricted blood flow during labor, arrive with low blood sugar. If she had clearly outlined her decisions about feeding in a birth plan, it's likely the nurses would not have pushed her to supplement. There was no strong medical reason to do so. Which brings me to my next piece of advice.
3: BE THE EXPERT.
It's frustrating but it's true. You'll have to be the breastfeeding expert. Even in a state with the highest rate of breastfeeding in the nation and a supportive pediatrician, I still faced pressure at times to supplement due to assumptions and misinformation.
We do not live in a healthy society that encourages breastfeeding. It's a reality. You'll have to become an advocate whether you want to or not. Embrace it.
When my second child was born, she did not immediately pack on the pounds when my milk came in. She seemed to be breastfeeding well, latching successfully and having nursing sessions that sometimes lasted 45 minutes at a time. I began to feel nervous when my pediatrician hinted that if she didn't gain weight by our next appointment, he would recommend supplementing with formula. He showed me her growth charts, her little dot hovering well below the line of the bell curve. I went home and fretted and fussed, trying to increase my supply with fenugreek and forcing her to eat more frequently. And then, after doing some research, I discovered an interesting bit of information. The charts my pediatrician, and every pediatrician uses, are from the American Academy of Pediatrics and they are based on normal growth rates for formula fed babies. The World Health Organization, which is decidedly better at advocating for breastfeeding than the AAP, has its own charts based on the healthy growth of breastfed babies. My daughter was perfectly healthy and within the norm according to those charts. I went armed with this information to our next checkup, including print outs of the charts.
4: GET SUPPORT.
Although we may not live in a society that fully embraces the power of lactation, there are a lot of places women can go to get support, especially in those first few crucial weeks when they are establishing healthy breastfeeding patterns. Some of my favorite resources I've listed below:
I'm pretty independent and as an over achiever, it's usually important to me to figure things out on my own. The day I went home with my first child, my milk came in. At the hospital, lactation specialists had come around to the room and offered advice or assistance with latching and other concerns but I was confident I had it figured out. I had put my son directly to my breast within seconds of being born and he'd been sucking away like a champ non stop ever since. But when I was at home, coming down off the adrenaline of delivery and feeling the stress of insomnia begin to wear at my sanity, things were not so easy. He didn't seem to be latching firmly anymore and was uncomfortable while nursing, sputtering and falling on and off the nipple.
After several distressful feedings, I swallowed my pride and returned to see the hospital lactation specialists, who helped me adjust my position and solved our latching issues.
Most hospitals have specialists like these and they are available to you for consultation not just during your delivery but for several weeks afterwards.
Now that I've spouted off about all the benefits of breastfeeding and filled you up to the brim with advice, let me leaving you with one parting comment to digest. Although I am clearly a breastfeeding advocate, I have not nor will I ever judge women who can not or choose not to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is a relationship, and every child is different. Choosing to provide your baby with sustenance from your own body can be a complicated decision and there are many personal factors that I could not possibly take into account and judge from a distance.
I have faith that the majority of mothers simply want to do what is best for their baby and as along as we come at that choice armed with knowledge and support, whatever decision we make is the right one.
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