Fed. Is. Best.
(Required first three words so folks know I’m not crazy about this subject)
We are hitting a milestone that I’ve thought about for months. This weekend, we’ll be introducing solids into Viv’s diet. That means the streak of me being her sole provider (9 months in womb, 6 months outside) will be over soon.
I grew something from the tiniest of cells to an almost 15 lb, 27 inch, amazing little person. Science is truly remarkable. What. A. Journey.
You’ll never hear me talk publicly about breastfeeding again. It’s been such a HUGE part of my life for the last six months that I had to say something about the experience.
Public lecture to myself: Stop hiding in bathroom stalls. I got better with time. I slowly came out of the stalls. However, I sometimes still go hide because “it’s easier.” It’s dumb, and I should stop. You should, too. Instead of being negative about it – let’s honor the proudest places I’ve fed Viv to-date:
- In line to check our bags at the airport, while talking to another family (including the dad and grandpa)
- In a restaurant
- In a restaurant with (*gasp*) a beer in front of me
- In an airplane seat next to a retired businessman
- In an airplane seat next to a young man
- In my seat at the Lady Rams state basketball game
- In one of the leather seats on the club level of the xcel
- Sitting on a street corner with my mom and dad when we were out for a walk and she just wasn’t going to make it home
So I’ve made some progress. That’s a good thing.
I’ve also had so much support. From my in-laws making me the sweetest nursing nook to use over the holidays, to my husband and parents ongoing support. It takes a village, and my heart explodes when I think about how awesome my village is.
I’ve witnessed too many friends whose bodies have failed them somewhere along this journey. It has made me truly appreciate the gift I’ve been given to provide for Vivianne. So a humble raise of the glass. I hope to be this lucky again.
To sweet little Vivianne: It was a privilege to grow you, and I’ll keep doing my part even after today… May your sweet potato be cooked evenly, your banana mushed to perfection, and your mind open to yet another new experience. Bring on the food!
The rest of this post is about 1) The Science of Breastfeeding and 2) FAQs on Breastfeeding. I’m not offended if those are details you don’t care about.
THE SCIENCE OF BREASTFEEDING
Things I’ve learned about my body in this process (it’s crazy this isn’t just common knowledge, but it’s not).
- Milk comes out of many pores in your nipples, not just one. Seriously. I know – Mind. Blown.
- A baby sucking on the nipple indicates that your milk should letdown from the milk ducts where it is stored.
- Letdown comes with this weird tingling feeling – almost painful, but not quite. I didn’t know this is what that feeling was until month 4, and it helps to know.
- After your milk is letdown, then baby can drink. So at the beginning of a feeding session – suck, suck, suck… then letdown…. then suck, suck, swallow, suck, suck, swallow.
- Letdown does not discriminate between left or right boob. This is why many women leak out of the opposite boob that baby is eating from.
- Your body learns to produce based on your baby’s need. Therefore, skipping a nursing session will indicate for your body to make less milk. This is why nursing mamas need to always be nursing (or pumping).
- Future partners – listen up! There are natural ways to help a mama increase milk supply (herbs, teas, oatmeal, brewers yeast, etc.). Google it, and then be partner-of-the-year by creating some nursing friendly snacks for your lady mama.
- Supply / demand can have great impacts on baby’s digestive system. I was trying to build a freezer stockpile for returning to work, and in the process built up an oversupply. This led to Viv getting too much fore-milk (less fatty, front of boob milk) and less hind-milk (more fatty, back of boob milk). She developed a lactose intolerance to the fore-milk and pooped green after every feeding. She also wasn’t gaining weight as fast as she should have been. It took a few weeks to adjust my supply to be aligned to her demand, thanks to a lactation consultant’s wisdom. But this is one reason why women may not have a huge backlog of milk supply. My work pays for me to overnight milk home when I travel. I thought that was silly until now.
- Ever wonder why men have nipples? Men have nipples because not everyone has artificial pacifiers available to them (so obvious when you think about it). There are tribes in Africa where the men use their nipples to pacify the baby when the mom is busy. Makes all the sense in the world. (Sidenote: You’ll try anything once after two hours of screaming when mama’s boobs need a break. Viv was totally not interested).
And when your brain becomes like mine – where the body becomes about science. And you realize boobs are designed to provide nutrition to hungry babies. You get to a point where it’s humorous that we find boobs to be sexual. My philosophy? We find nurture and comfort in our mamas, which manifests itself completely in the mama’s boobs. I think adult men motor-boating at the strip club are really just calling out to their mamas for a hug. Weird Americans…
FAQs ON BREASTFEEDING
I knew nothing about breastfeeding six months ago. I attempt to respond to common comments from people who were like me – who just don’t know but want to understand…and to comments from the other side, the fanatical “breast is best” folks. There is a middle ground – I am in it.
Why do women breastfeed over formula?
The research on this has changed drastically over the last generation. Most of the babies in my generation (myself included) were formula fed. And guess what? We are totally normal (right?!) – so formula works completely fine!
Some of the reasons I choose to breastfeed:
- Convenience: The dishes. And warming of a bottle in the middle of the night with a screaming baby. The dishes. (Did I mention the dishes?) We are too lazy to formula feed. It’s tough. And kudos to the moms that do it. (Note: the convenience goes away and the headache triples for the breastfeeding mom when she returns to work, so I am realizing this is a short term benefit).
- Variety in Taste: Breastfeeding gets the baby used to less uniformity in food. Whereas formula is pretty consistent in taste, the flavor of breastmilk changes based on what the mom ate. These differences will help the baby get used to different flavors (hopefully) helping them become less picky eaters as toddlers (hopefully). Note: I was formula fed and I eat everything – so take this with a grain of salt.
- Immunity Boost: There is a weird physical connection that is hard to explain until you’ve experienced it yourself. But baby basically shares saliva with you as he/she is drinking. This saliva goes into your system and includes cues from the baby on what they may need. E.g. if a baby is exposed to germs, they will send a message to your body to send more antibodies to fight that specific cold, flu, etc. Lots of times, if a sickness is going through a household, the breastfed baby is the only one to stay healthy.
- Financial: After getting the basic equipment (which the Affordable Care Act helps new moms secure), breastfeeding is free. Formula is expense.
- Concerns with Water: With formula, you need to make sure you are by a good water source at all times to mix with the formula. Not a huge deal, but another hurdle / inconvenience. Unfortunately, this concern times infinity if you live in Flint, MI.
- The bond (???): I mean sure – I think it helped with some baby blues at first. But breastfeeding is seriously difficult.
- It forces a bond, even when mama needs a break. I wouldn’t have gotten through this without Dave’s support. There were times in the first few weeks, where he’d give me a massage while Viv ate and say “I know it’s hard” on repeat while I cried. Sometimes the bond was the best. Sometimes the worst. (When we started pumping, it was called “Operation Mama Freedom.” I needed space)
- It also forces unwanted space between dad and baby. There are some things Dave is simply not equipped to do. When you are like us, and trying to figure out what 50/50 parenting looks like, this naturally sways a big piece of parenting burden onto me and sways our balance. Six months later, we still search for the right balance.
Moms who formula feed have failed.
In urban culture at least, the formula feeding mom is shamed. It’s gross. They feel less than every time they mix up a bottle. Fed is best – whatever way you can get nutrients into that sweet little baby, do it. And be proud of it. Sometimes I want to help the formula feeding mom shake up her milk so I can do it in an overly dramatic / stop hiding it way – but then I’d be the crazy lady trying to steal the baby’s food. So I don’t. Or at least I haven’t yet.
Why can’t you feed the baby and then go out… Avoiding the need to feed in public?
Breastfed babies are typically snackers. Part of the benefit of breastfeeding is not forcing the baby to have large meals and potentially overeat at one point in time, but to show them food will always be there when they are hungry and they only need to eat what they want at the time. No more, no less. We try to feed before going out, but that is no guarantee that Vivianne will not want to eat again.
Then use a bottle.
Sometimes we do. We are lucky that Viv is not picky between breast and bottle – some babies are. We use a bottle if the rhythm of the day has allowed us to pump enough milk out prior to leaving for an event. Sometimes the timing doesn’t work and the milk is not ready. Sometimes we don’t have time to get it done.
Can’t you at least wear a cover?
Yes, but that makes it very hard. When Viv is hot, overtired, or overstimulated / distracted (read: most of the time), she’ll constantly pull off the nipple. Under the cover, she can’t see to get back on. She gets frustrated, which leads to arm flails and kicks and crazy baby. Some moms can’t deal with this distress, which is why they don’t use a cover. Viv and I have learned how to manage it. I get under the cover with her often which others must think looks ridiculous, but I have found it allows more airflow / light to get in… Or once she latches, I pull the cover down so she can see and her little nose can get some fresh air.
Don’t drink. Don’t have dairy. Don’t have caffeine. Don’t eat spicy foods. Don’t take any medications.
One of the best pieces of advice from my lactation consultant is not to change your lifestyle so drastically that you resent breastfeeding. She said this is a main cause for women to breastfeed for shorter periods of time. I drink (more on that below). I eat the same foods I did before breastfeeding. I’m not a big meds person, but have taken what I need when I needed to take it (after consulting with doc when appropriate). Your baby will tell you without an ounce of doubt if you need to change something in your diet. Luckily, Vivianne was fine with me consuming the way I wanted to.
On drinking. Alcohol works through your milk in the same way it works through your body. E.g. If I have a beer, approximately two hours later, its affects are completely gone (e.g. I’d blow ~ a 0.00 Breathalyzer). The same is true with my milk. If I have a beer and do not feed my baby / take any milk out of my body for two hours, there is no alcohol left in my milk. I do not need to ‘pump and dump’ to get rid of it – I just need to wait long enough for it to leave my system before feeding.
The second best time for a breastfeeding mom to have a beer is while the baby is feeding1. This means the beer she’s having won’t have time to affect the milk currently coming out, and will give her the longest break in time before she needs to feed again. However, watching a mom drink a beer and breastfeed at the same time is uncomfortable for people, so I don’t do it often. But I did it once in public. And I’m proud of that.
A recent Slate “drinking is okay” article, with associated links to scientific research. In the art of fairness, a recent Mayo Clinic “drinking is not okay” article. Like all things re: parenting, I advise you do your research, choose reputable sources, and make the right decision for you and your family. On this topic, I have found and read multiple scientific studies on the subject which all point to the same thing. Have a beer, but then wait as long as possible to feed. If the timing doesn’t end up working out perfectly, you probably are still okay – but don’t make it a habit.
And don’t get smashed. I haven’t been drunk since pre-Viv (I can hear the virtual slow clap from my college friends. Man was I a pain-in-the-ass-drunk in college). I enjoy a beer with dinner. Sometimes two. And I take care to time it so Viv’s milk is fine. If you see a mom downing martinis, worry about her milk but probably more – worry about her dropping the baby. If you see a mom having a drink or two with dinner, let her be.
Sidenote: I would love to raise Vivianne with a European style appreciation for alcohol, not the American way. I want it to be a natural, non-focal point part of our lives. I want her to see responsible drinking, not over-indulgence. I want her to remember more of her college years than I am able to remember.
If your baby can ask for it, they are too old to breastfeed.
Out of all the new mama things I’ve researched, introducing solids (when and how) is one of the most controversial areas. After all the research, we are using a “food before one is for fun” methodology with Viv. This breaks down into two stages:
- Until her first birthday we do milk first, then food. Milk gives her all the nutrients she needs, food is to play with tastes / textures without the pressure of getting a balanced diet. During this phase:
- We will likely do a combination of mostly self-feeding (e.g. putting food on a spoon and letting her feed herself). If in public and unable to handle an extra mess, we’ll spoon feed her.
- We will eat what Viv is eating. We want her to eat an avocado? Some of that will be on our plate, too.
- If at all possible, we will all eat at the same time.
- What will she be eating?
- Her first foods will be: avocado, sweet potato, banana, carrots, peas
- She’ll get one food for three days and only before noon (so likely breakfast during the workdays). This will give us six hours of “awake time” after feedings to determine if she has any allergies
- We hope to make some of our food, mainly fruits & vegetable purees, moving from purees to small chunks over time
- She will have grains – We are thinking oatmeal as a staple. Some argue rice cereal has limited nutritional value and is just meant to fill the baby up (there is a large group strongly against any rice cereals for babies). Somewhat true. But it’s also iron fortified – which is an important nutrient for the baby. I feel it has a place in Vivianne’s diet – just not sure the frequency.
- Gerber baby food will absolutely 100% be in our pantry. Although we want her to eat what we are eating as much as possible, convenience on a busy Tuesday night is required in our lifestyle. They make this stuff for a reason, folks.
- Props to the mama communities for differentiating opinions vs. facts some of the time. Fact: babies can’t digest honey or salt before year one. So whatever we make for Vivianne will not include these ingredients.
- After her first birthday we do food first, then milk. At this point, she should be able to feed herself for the most part. Her diet will start shifting from mostly milk and some food, to mostly food and some milk, to all food and no milk… This is called weaning.
Let’s talk about weaning (a.k.a. get back on topic, Kar-bear)
Around 1 year old, some babies wean. Others don’t. Others want to nurse in some capacity (likely not for every meal, but maybe for between meal snacks, or after a meal, or as part of bedtime, etc.) until they are two. Or (*gasp*) three. Americans find this weird. I say this:
- I will feed Viv as long as she wants milk, for whatever reason that is to her (comfort, nutrition, taste). Forcing her to stop early means I have to deal with a fussy confused baby who doesn’t understand why mommy denies her a need. I also get the privilege of denying her the best multi-vitamin I could give her because society thinks it is “weird.” Neither of those things makes sense to me so I won’t quit because of society – I’ll quit when it’s the right thing for Vivianne or for me. Which brings me to point #2.
- Breastfeeding works as long as it works for the baby AND the mom. I hope to allow Vivianne to choose when she’s done. But I may run into supply issues with work travel & pumping. Or (more likely) maybe I’m just done one day. I think I’d last longer as a stay-at-home mom, but pumping is hard, yo. I actually enjoy the act of pumping (it’s like old Kari’s cigarette breaks, a meditation time away from people). But the constant concern of where to pump, how to store, where to clean equipment, how to transport, getting enough, pumping often enough, etc. It’s consuming. I’ll stop when she wants to or (more likely) when I need to – whichever comes first.
- Between my online and local communities, I interact with 1000+ mamas. In those circles, one mama had issues that led to what I would consider an unhealthy nursing relationship. This was a symptom of much deeper postpartum / motherhood issues – she got counseling and is better now. One. In a lot of mamas. If you see the mom of a toddler nursing in public, the odds are drastically in her favor for doing the right thing for that child. And can you imagine sacrificing your body for years to supply for your child? Waiting for the child to be ready to quit so you can have your body back? I can’t. One of these moms sheepishly said to me when the toddler was going in for some milk, “at first you can’t get them to latch. Then you can’t get them to stop.” Like she needed to justify nursing her two year old. You do you, mama – that is remarkable. So stop flipping your shit when you see the mom of an older baby/toddler nursing. This mom needs the most support from her community – be the one to provide it.
- I will let Viv wean on her schedule. I’ll also protect her privacy during that process. This is why this will be on the one and only time I talk about breastfeeding publicly.
1 The best time to have a beer / glass of wine is obviously after bedtime, when the baby is consistently sleeping through the night.