Breastfeeding Controversy

There is a billboard in my (Slovak) hometown with a woman breastfeeding a baby and the writing reads – “you can't replace original”. The product advertised is not breast milk. It's an oil company product. That's not the point, though. It could be anything. Seeing that picture together with those words makes me mad. It implies you are not making the right choice if you decide, or can't breastfeed. I, myself, am pro breastfeeding and also did for one year with my son. That is not the point, though, either. The point is that breastfeeding (or not) should not be a controversial topic.

It seems to me that when it comes to breastfeeding, you just can't win. If you breastfeed, there are people who point their finger at you and say “it's disgusting to do this in a public place/your kid is too old for this/you shouldn't eat or drink this, don't you know it goes straight in your milk and gives your baby tummy ache now, acne in teenage years and unhappy marriage in their thirties?” If you do not breastfeed, there are people who point their finger at you and say “how can you be so selfish, don't you know breastfeeding will prevent your baby's ear infections/you can't bond with the baby properly without breastfeeding/you realize that formula gives your baby a tummy ache now, acne in teenage years and unhappy marriage in their thirties?” Here is what I don't understand – so many people have so much to say about breastfeeding and whether it's right or wrong, yet somehow a first time mother very often doesn't have any useful information about what to expect. I don't like to generalize, so I will from now on talk about my own experience.

After giving birth I talked to a lactation consultant in the hospital and I read the FAQ's about the topic. Yes, there were warnings and bad case scenarios to watch out for. But breastfeeding was mainly described as a very natural process (and of course it is, isn't it how human and other mammal species made it through thousands of years, after all?) that has very many positives and is so wonderful for both your baby and yourself. Your baby will be healthier. You'll lose baby weight easier. You'll both bond better. Yay all around!

The first 2 days were a piece of cake. Kai seemed to know how to latch, I was beaming that we make such a great team right away. Fast forward another day or two...and watch all the hell break loose. What happens to your breasts when the milk comes in is fairly unexpected no matter how much you've heard or read about it. It hurts. You could break thick glass with your boobs, that's how hard they get. Suddenly the baby can't latch. It's the middle of the night, you are hurting, your baby is wailing and you just can't figure out what is wrong. We were saved by the lactation hot line, where we were told that I need to pump or manually express some milk, because my breast was just too big and full for the baby to be able to latch on.

I also happened to have what is called an inverted nipple. It does not seem like a big deal at first. Mine pulled out when baby sucked on it. But the baby sucks on it every 2 hours for about 30+ minutes and inverted nipple is not build for that. What has to happen is for any adhesion under the skin that is preventing the nipple from being drawn out to break first. This means that your nipple rips in pieces, with ridges that run deep into your flesh and bleed even without any pressure, let alone when something as powerful as baby's mouth sucks on it. It made me rethink the assumption that birth pain was the worst pain of my life (not to mention that only lasted until I asked for an epidural, while this one lasted for about 2 months).

I dreaded the feeding time. There was nothing wonderful or bonding about facing the moment when a little creature will pull and suck on the shreds of your tissue. Naturally, I'd jerk every time my son touched my breast which would make latching impossible for him, which would then make him livid and so we had to try over and over and it hurt more the angrier he got and the more desperate I got, which would make me jerk more which...well, you get the picture.

I could not sleep through the night for the longest time. My husband offered to feed the baby with pre-pumped milk, but my breasts got so full and engorged that I had to get up and either have the baby empty them out or pump or I could not even breathe, let alone sleep. I got mastitis 4 times – the first time around 4 weeks and the last one around 7 months. I don't remember having a fever that high and the fatigue so bad since I suffered the worst flu of my life in college years.

I did all of this and kept breastfeeding because I believe it is healthy for the baby (and of course, he suffered from so many repeated ear infections he had to have ear tubes put in), because I was a stay at home Mom and had time to do it and because I had enough emotional support from my husband to make it through the first 3 months. It got much easier after that. The tissue healed, my breasts went back to my A cup, yet still produced enough milk to feed a village and I got skilled enough that I could breastfeed and cook dinner or write an e-mail at the same time.

Here is what bugs me about seeing the billboard mentioned above or about any heated discussions when it comes to breastfeeding – live and let live. Stop judging and help instead. If you breastfed then let your friends know what to expect. If you didn't, then let your friends know what to expect. Share the information, bring a soup over if you hear the new Momma is suffering from mastitis or just bad mood, bring a formula that worked for you and your baby and stop being a smart ass that knows-it-all. Trust me, there is plenty of other stuff that will make a new mother feel incompetent and useles, no need to add to it. 

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