Friday, March 18, 2005

Mammary Madness*

*Originally published at MetroDad

Remember how I warned all ya'll that so much of the advice we're given for parenthood runs counter to CFS (aka Common Fucking Sense)? Nowhere is this more apparent than in the furor around breastfeeding.

This is far, far, far from a new topic - in fact, Metrodad already touched on this in a previous entry but it seemed as if he and BossLady had a far easier time adjusting to the reality of breastfeeding than what Sam and I have gone through (ok, really Sam since technically, my breasts don't lactate). More to the point, the pressures that exist for newborn mothers around breastfeeding are a classic example of how good intentions destroys CFS and creates neurotic wrecks in the process.

Call 'em the La Leche Legion, the Boobie Brigade, Titty Tyrants or just plain Breast Feeding Fascists (BFF - yes, I like acronyms) but the pro-breastfeeding lobby in America is not to be fucked with. In all the books we got prior to L's birth, breastfeeding is talked up with such passion that new moms who dare to consider bottle-feeding formula come off seeming like their feeding their kids broken glass.

The irony here is that part of why BFFs are so insistent on breastfeeding is precisely because the pro-formula lobby, up until the last 10-15 years or so, had ruled the day in what seems to me to be a classic example of a loss of CFS as well.After all, why in the world would anyone encourage moms NOT to breastfeed and use formula instead if the human female body has a whole goddamn biological sub-system specifically built for the task?

What, you think evolution created mammary glands just to give straight men something to stare at? Like breasts are optional equipment on your body that you can choose to disregard just because science thinks it's improved on the product? If your body went through all the trouble to create breasts that actually lactate (a rather remarkable thing, in and of itself), you'd think this was Nature's way of telling you to use what you got rather than cracking open another Similac can.

I want to be careful here not to diss formula since, as MD points out, most people in our generation of now 30-year olds were probably formula-fed and we didn't turn out bad because of it (well, except for that weird rash I still have...oh, never mind). However, I can appreciate that BFFs are trying to counter the last few generations of pro-formula attitudes and get baby's back on the breast because it's better for them. I'm not mad at that.

The problem is that as a necessary condition of being breast-friendly, there's a subtle demonization for formula and bottle-feeding that goes with it. It's not in-your-face, but it's easy enough to read between the lines in all the new parenting books that are out there, as well as the attitude of lactation consultants who will come visit you the first few days post-partum. No one will say, "don't give your baby a bottle of formula" but for PIPs (remember: paranoid, inexperienced parents), we excel at building mountains from molehills so we blow everything out of proportion.

For Sam and I, we had a terrible experience with this. She was able to breastfeed right after L was born and for the first day or so, everything seemed fine. Sam was producing colostrum, that early breastmilk that's apparently the best-thing-ever for newborns and L seemed happy enough with it. But by day 3, L seemed to be getting really fussy and nothing we could do - feeding her, swaddling her, rocking her - seemed to do much good for more than a few minutes. It was really wearing Sam and I down, especially as new parents who hadn't been sleeping at all the previous three days. Most of all, we just couldn't figure out what the fuck was going on. Babies, in theory, are supposed to sleep 90% of the time when they're first born but L was fussing what felt like half the day.

At the time, my mom was visiting and she basically spent 5 minutes with L and declared, "she's hungry" like it's the most obvious thing in the world. Now - I have some serious Mom issues and therefore, I have gotten into the habit of disbelieving any advice that comes out of her mouth so in this case, I just tuned her out.

But the truth was - L was hungry because Sam's milk hadn't come in yet. This isn't unusual at all - it's not like all women give birth and then start churning out more milk than a dairy farm. It can take days for production to match demand, let alone for mom/baby to master the art of latching. However, Sam was so insistent that we only breastfeed that everytime anyone (including myself) quietly suggested that we might want to consider using some of the formula we brought home with us, she became quickly defensive and despondant, as if those little Similac bottles were mocking her deficiencies as a mom.Clearly, this was partially Sam's neuroses as a PIP at work but it was also heavily influenced by the success that BFFs have wrought on new moms everywhere. The bottle is treated with a quiet disdain and it absolutely influenced Sam and my behavior the first month of parenthood.

What we ended up doing that entire day was starving L unnecessarily. She was nursing at the breast but wasn't actually getting anything out of it and it's no wonder she was so fussy that whole day. By the time we met with a lactation consultant the next day, she assured us that it was fine to formula-feed L as a supplement and for us to not stress about it. Upon which, fully fed, L actually, you know, SLEPT and Sam and I felt a great weight lifted from upon our shoulders. I cannot adequately describe this but I had never felt so relieved in my life.

It also could have been worse. When I started mentioning this episode to other friends, I realized how incredibly common it was. Clearly, Sam and I weren't the only stupid morons out there, caught up in BFF. One friend told me that his cousin had done the same thing, only that their baby had to be taken to the hospital for dehydration. Whoa! Luckily, L was spared a trip to the ER but for days after, Sam and I were convinced we had indelibly scarred her for life by starving her for the day. No doubt, this will emerge as a subconscious trauma for L when she starts going to therapy in 2027.

What's particularly crazy about all this is that all we really needed to hear was for a book or person to just tell us, "breastfeeding is hard and you'll be confronted with challenges with it. Don't feel bad using formula to help get you by." I wonder if BFFs are so worried that parents might abandon breastfeeding altogether if they're not militant about it, but very few of them are ever real with you about the reality that, for some women, milk production can be a challenge and there's nothing you can do about it, despite better intentions.

Ironically, when I suggested Sam attend a breastfeeding support group at our delivery hospital, this ended up making things worse since Sam felt like she was in a room filled with mothers lactating like friggin' cattle - pumping out six ounces as if were no big deal - while she was having trouble even eeking out a third of that.

What's telling in all this is that the one authority figure around you who's fine with formula is usually your pediatrician. The baby's health and well-being, after all, is their first priority and I think it's telling that doctors don't seem, at all, bothered with the idea that a baby might be both breast and formula-fed so long as the operative word here is "fed." Makes you wonder how the BFFs ever became as powerful as they are.

By the way, if you really want to see people get downright nasty with one another about this whole debate, try reading the Craigslist forums on parenting. People who say the Bay Area is filled with congenial, laid back folk are clearly not appreciating that we have assholes here too.

As a postscript, now that we're about six weeks into parenthood, breastfeeding has become much easier than it initially was. Sam's still not producing enough breastmilk for us to start making brie from the excess or anything but she is making enough to keep L satiated plus a few ounces every day to store in the fridge for the late-night feedings I usually take care of.

Just remember though - if your baby is hungry and you're not producing enough milk, use CFS: give 'em the bottle to help fill in the gaps. It's absolutely nothing to feel guilty about, especially once your baby decides to stop screaming on you for starving him/her.

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