You might think that breastfeeding is easy. The equipment comes already attached. There's no milk to buy. No nipples to lose under the sofa. No batteries included.
But activating the suction machine correctly is only one of the many
malfunctions that can interfere with the supply of milk.
Everything from inverted nipples to a baby who can't suck properly to
being too tired for your body to make enough milk are just for
starters. Plus, what works for one woman doesn't work for others. The usual.
Thirty-six years ago Mrs. Linklater decided she wanted to breastfeed
her children. She'd heard about all the good stuff it could do
for a baby. Yes, they knew about the benefits back then,
too. Using one's titolas for suckling a child wasn't invented
yesterday. She also thought it would be great to have huge boobs for a
change. [Until that unpleasant encounter with a delivery guy who
became fixated on her chest. EWWW.]
Reducing allergies, preventing illnesses, having healthier, happier
babies, all the good things you hear about now were the same good
things they were touting then. Plus nursing offered the added
benefit of providing protection for breast tissue against cancer. The
theory isn't quite as simple as use it or lose it, but close enough.
The one major difference three and a half decades ago was that many
doctors didn't realize how what you ate or drank, like alcohol, coffee and
orange juice, the diseases you had, like hepatitis and now HIV, and the
pills you took, from diet pills to sleeping pills, could go through the
milk and affect the baby. Even now you'll get arguments about
alcohol, because no one likes to give up their booze. So your baby is a
little LD, those cranberry cosmos were worth it.
Back in the golden olden days, the doctors didn't listen to the
moms. They only talked among themselves. What do you think, Al,
would Mom's Mai Tai before nursing make a baby drunk? Nah. a
little sleepy maybe, no big whup.
As a nursing mother I could tell right away that my babies were
affected by my food choices. For some reason, orange juice
made my second child fussy. I didn't do caffeine, nicotine or booze.
When my younger daughter was a eleven weeks old, I took Dramamine before a plane
ride and the bad news was that I knocked her on her ass for the
good part of the next day. The good news was that I knocked her on her
ass for the good part of the next day. No, I didn't do it again.
Breastfeeding should be used for good, not evil.
Around that time, I was asked to start a milk bank at one
of the hospitals. Diligently, I wrote down all the drugs each volunteer
mother was taking and got very worried when the doctor said it didn't
matter about the drugs because they didn't go through the milk.
If you're wondering whether I said I didn't agree with him, I said "I
don't agree." Like he cared.
I was concerned because more than fifty per cent of the nursing mothers
who donated milk were on Librium, a powerful psychiatric drug. Holy shit. If you think Brooke Shields invented post partum
depression, guess again. She just made it infamous. I can only
wonder what happened to the babies who got the Librium in that milk.
Plus, the women were asked to express only an ounce or so of their
foremilk into a bottle, then freeze it. When the bottle was full I
would pick it up and take it to the milkbank at the hospital.
Foremilk is the first milk that comes out of the breast. It looks
thin and bluish like skim milk because it has less fat. If you
keep expressing milk you will begin to see the hindmilk which has more
fat. It mixes in with the foremilk as it comes out, like a river,
bright white and opaque.
It seemed to me that a baby would need the fat in the hindmilk for
calories. I wasn't sure if foremilk alone was enough for a new
baby. Ultimately, between what I considered dangerous drugs in the milk
and the lowfat stuff I collected, I decided to get far away from the
milkbank. When the docs finally realized how much crap might be
coming out of mom's machine a few years later, the bank closed.
Trying to breastfeed my first child, I was pretty much on my own.
There were no lactation specialists to count on. While breastfeeding
was enjoying a resurgence after decades of bottlefeeding, you were SOL
back then unless you had family or friends who were currently nursing
and could demonstrate for you. My mother had been an obstetrical nurse,
but she had passed away.
I tried La Leche League, the national support group for nursing
mothers. They had reading materials which weren't very helpful to me
ahead of time. As a group they seemed to sit around and brag
about how long they breastfed their kids. That, and how many birth
orgasms they'd had. Don't get me started.
If you needed help preventing sore nipples which I assumed would happen
to me, nobody offered much. To sum up what most of the literature
said, "Shit happens."
For women with fair skin who had never breastfed, their suggested
methods for toughening up nipples were lame. No need to discuss their
dumb thumb twisting techniques here. Mostly because they were totally
ineffectual. Nothing short of dragging your tits on the sidewalk
all day can toughen your nipples like attaching a baby to your boob for
ten minutes every two hours. Unfortunately no matter what you do, if
you've got fair skin, or it's your first baby, you're probably getting sore,
sister. [For most people that last paragraph is probably
Ultimately, I didn't get to the weekly meetings of La Leche until my
child was three weeks old and by that time I had figured the important
things out. Sore nipples were part of the initiation rite.
It took about a month to get past them.
However, the ladies at La Leche seemed more interested in whether or
not I'd had a birth orgasm, since I hadn't had an epidural. Let's
see, having an orgasm while pushing a bowling ball out of my
body. Not going to happen. Besides, why would you want to
have an orgasm in a delivery room with your doctor sitting with his or
her face between your legs? Could there be a more inappropriate time or place?
In the hospital, after trying and failing several times I finally got
my baby to latch on. Having the nurses try to help me was a comedy
of errors. They were useless.
All they seemed capable of doing was weighing my child before and after
she was fed -- something hospitals stopped doing, then started, then
stopped again. Depends on who's running the place.
Following the failures, one nurse marched into my room with my
hungry daughter and said in a firm voice, "This baby only got a quarter
of an ounce the last time, what are you going to do about it?"
Sitting there in bed, naked from the waist up, thinking I was finally
going to be able to do this, I had to fight back tears. Wait a minute,
I'm Mrs. Linklater!!! This isn't MY fault!! Besides where does
that bitch get off talking to a new mother like that?
"How dare you talk to me that way! That's MY baby! Not
yours! I've been trying to nurse her every time you bring her in
and this time I thought I could finally do it. But you've made me
so upset that I probably won't have any milk at all."
She stuttered and stammered something about just being concerned and I
never saw her again. I did see the head nurse peeking her head around
the door while I was ripping El Bitcho a new body part.
Despite the altercation, I managed to nurse successfully for the first time. Now I
worried about making enough milk. Supposedly you shouldn't have to
worry about that, but you do. My first child nursed every three
or four hours. Peeped. Pooped. Slept. My second nursed every hour and a
half around the clock for four weeks. Sucked air, never burped,
pooped from midnight to three AM. Both had gained 2.5 pounds after a
What I learned is that it isn't how many fluids you drink, especially
if you're into beer, which is pretty stupid, it's how much rest you get. Good
maintenance means good production.
Breastfeeding is not a time to diet. Or pig out. In my perfect
world there would be spas for nursing mothers. With chefs to make all
the meals. Massages, pedicures, manicures. Soothing music.
Aromatherapy. Who am I kidding? I also think that Elizabeth
Arden would be a great place to have a baby, too.
My second and last child was weaned at a year. But I could still
express milk when she was three years old. That might explain why some
grandmothers can become wetnurses. Once you've done it you can do it
again with or without a baby. It may take some WD40 to get things up
and running, but think of the bond grandma can have with her
grandchildren. Yep. Just imagine.
Maybe that's a new career I could carve out for myself. Being a
wetnurse for moms who have to go back to work after twelve weeks. I
might be on to something. Get me one of those powerful electric
milk pumps -- the big shiny chrome ones -- and I could go into
production and start selling Original Mama's Milk from a stand on the
corner. 'Lipitor free." "Paxil Free." "A little
Zantac from time to time."
Now that our trusty government has stated unequivocally that babies should be
breastfed for six months or you are a terrible, horrible, no good, very
bad mom, how soon do you think companies will start operating their own
daycare centers or set aside a special place for nursing moms to
express milk to bring home to their babies?