I’m angry. Not everyone knows that boobs are magical and this is causing major problems.
I have cried with too many friends about their breastfeeding experiences becoming derailed. Every woman who has given birth knows that as soon as that baby is in your arms, there is an intense biological obsession that immediately sets in: FEED BABY. We’re hardwired for it. All new mothers especially live and die by this objective. MAKE SURE THAT BABY DOES NOT GO HUNGRY. It’s our job on the most primal level and we know it.
This essential and primitive drive to feed our children makes us vulnerable. We will do anything to ensure our babies are fed.
Devastatingly, in our vulnerability, American society has failed us. There is so much misinformation disseminated by the public, our moms, our pediatricians, our girlfriends — who knows what is true and what is not? How can you tell? What directions do you follow and which ones do you dismiss?
I can’t get over this annoying trend going on to make breastfeeding unnecessarily difficult. Like those apps to track feedings, what time, what side, how much (lemme just refer to the mL markings on my breast…). Pick up your iPhone and delete that thing. And all the stuff: Boppies, “Breast Friends,” bottles, pumps, storage bags, Hooter Hiders, oh my! Use the tools that make your life easier but disregard any notion that because Target has an entire aisle devoted to breastfeeding “essentials,” this has to be a complicated thing. Clocks. Simple contraptions before children that become torture devices when we’re trying to follow breastfeeding “rules.” Ladies there is only one rule: nurse your baby when your baby wants to nurse.
For a long time mothers passed down nursing wisdom to their daughters. Children were raised in a culture of breastfeeding and there wasn’t so much confusion for women about what to do. After all, they had been exposed to nursing their entire lives and their mothers were there to fill in the gaps. Squirt a bit of breastmilk on that scratch and it will heal. Try side-lying nursing when baby is otherwise refusing to eat. Relax your shoulders when you sit down to nurse for better milk flow. What if these nuggets of generational wisdom were commonly known among today’s mothers? But they aren’t because we as a society and a healthcare system have failed. A cultural understanding of nursing has been lost.
Let’s get something straight before I go one any further: I am not against mothers giving their babies formula. No, no, no. I believe more and more deeply, with every painfully humbling day as a parent, that I do not have all the answers. That what works for me may not work for you and visa versa. That every mother is doing her very best to give her child(ren) the very best. That all families thrive in beautifully unique ways utilizing a great array of parenting tools. If formula feeding is your preference I support you!
What I am against is this: Women who want to breastfeed, being foiled in their earnest attempts to nourish their children due to the colossal failures of our healthcare system to TELL MOTHERS THE TRUTH. Breastfeeding “failures” (they are the failures of the system NOT of women) are devastating and the damaging of women’s feelings, hopes, and dreams MATTERS PROFOUNDLY.
That reality infuriates me and I have no problem being feisty about it.
Do you know why there were formula samples in your hospital “gift bag?” Because Enfamil makes a lot of money by undermining your confidence in your body. Because the folks in their marketing department know about your biological drive to feed your baby and also the hormones that are going to hit on day 5. Your worry that you won’t make enough milk is another dollar in their pocket.
Did you know that most physicians don’t receive a robust education on breastfeeding in medical school? Doctors in general are wonderful, well-meaning men and women. But tragically they don’t know a lot about breastfeeding. Did you know that the growth charts that tell you if your baby’s weight is in the 90th% or the 10th% are based on formula-fed infants?
These formula samples were given to me because I might need them…and my baby is only in the ___th percentile…I should give her a bottle just in case I’m not making enough…
What just absolutely kills me is that very, very often perceived low supply leads to a truly low supply* (see end of post).
Baby crying after a feeding? NOT AN INDICATOR OF SUPPLY!
Feel of the breast after a feeding? NOT AN INDICATOR OF SUPPLY!
Amount you can pump? NOT AN INDICATOR OF SUPPLY!
Length of time between feedings? NOT AN INDICATOR OF SUPPLY!
Didn’t feel a letdown? Not leaking? Anything else you can think of? Say it with me: NOT AN INDICATOR OF SUPPLY!
The ONLY reliable indicators of milk supply are (1) wet and poopy diapers and (2) weight gain. THAT IS IT. If your baby pees and poops and is gaining weight**, YOU HAVE ENOUGH MILK. YOU HAVE THE MAGIC.
Did you know that when twins are laid on their mother’s bare chest her two breasts can thermoregulate independently of each other to keep each individual twin at the ideal temperature?! Did you know that adoptive mothers can create a milk supply for their baby they did not give birth to by putting the baby to the breast frequently?! Did you know your baby’s spit tells your boobs to produce milk with specific antibodies to fight off the exact bug they caught at the grocery store?!
We have magic boobs!
I am an RN, doula, birth assistant, CLC (certified lactation counselor), breastfeeding class instructor, daughter of a longtime nursing mother, and most importantly a nursing mother myself. If I could give all women one bit of breastfeeding advice, it would be this: Believe your boobs are magical. Bottomless. Able to meet any demand. Because it’s pretty close to the truth.
If you were to bring me your hungry baby and ask me to nurse him right after I had nursed my own baby, I would do it without hesitation and I wouldn’t doubt for a second that your baby would be receiving milk. A full meal? I couldn’t guarantee that, it would depend on many factors, but that’s beside the point. I ALWAYS HAVE MILK. Well, maybe YOU always have milk, you counter. Not all of us are so fortunate. I don’t always have milk; I have to supplement, I have to pump, I *can’t* pump, I have to prolong feedings — STOP. Just hear me out for a minute.
You have magic boobs. When they don’t feel full, they still have some milk in them. When you’ve just finished nursing or pumping, they still have some milk in them. When your baby wants to nurse again 30 minutes later, they still have some milk in them. My husband learned a long time ago from watching me nurse that “Do you have milk right now?” would be an absurd question to ask me. I have a baby. I am a mother. Therefore I have magic boobs. Gimme that kid.
Your breasts actually make milk while you are nursing. And “empty” boobs fill faster than full boobs so offer often! (I just linked the same article twice on purpose because it is THAT GOOD. Dispells so many harmful myths). If you brought me a set of triplets to feed, it would take me a while to adjust to such a heightened demand, but donor milk would suffice in the meantime, and I believe that my body would absolutely meet that demand. My boobs don’t quit. My boobs are magical.
I’m going to a bachelorette party next week. My husband will have our 9-wk-old for six or so hours. I need to pump at some point to provide the goods. My plan is to do it first thing in the morning one of the next few days because that’s when I have the most milk. But what about your baby? Doesn’t your baby need that milk for her first feeding? She’ll be fine. The pump can’t get it all out anyway (pumps aren’t magic) and my baby will just have a smaller breakfast than usual. And then she’ll have her first snack a little earlier than she otherwise would. It evens out. It’s like when you have a bagel for breakfast and then eat a granola bar mid-morning. IT’S ALL GOOD PEOPLE! My boobs are workhorses and they do whatever Mama says. (My toddler may not listen to me but my boobs do).
I just love the way a Swedish midwife put it in the AMAZING documentary The Milky Way. She sighed, as if to signify it was ridiculous that not everyone knows this, and said, “We think the breast has milk in it. So we don’t give bottles.” And then she just looked at the camera like, Are you going to ask me any other stupid questions today?
Rest easier tonight in the knowledge that you too have magic boobs. Ask them for anything and they will deliver. The faith you’re putting in that emergency formula on your counter? Put it in your boobs instead. Keep those puppies empty (and therefore constantly refilling) by nursing your baby all the time. Let go of any expectations you have about how your nursing baby should behave. He’s not crying because you don’t have enough milk; he’s crying because he’s a baby. She’s not hungry again an hour later because you have a low supply; she’s hungry again an hour later because she has a small stomach and she loves Mommy’s milk! Give her what she loves!
Be lazy about nursing. Roll over and nurse again because getting up to make a bottle is a royal pain. Stop writing everything down because it’s only serving to make you insane. If you’re counting hours or ounces or anything, try not to. Don’t work so hard. Nursing on demand is work enough. Relish those milk drunk faces and don’t worry so much. Believe in the magic and get the magic to work for you by nursing.
Now, I do mean *only nursing* in the beginning. Wait a few weeks to introduce that bottle. In the delicate first month those bottles are the magic’s kryptonite. I’m all about a lazy mama, but we can’t have lazy babies. Newborns love to be lazy (who can blame them?) and that translates to abandoning the breast in favor of the bottle if bottles are introduced early. Bottle feeding is passive; breastfeeding is active. Babies don’t like to work so given the choice between the bottle and the breast, a newborn is likely to choose the bottle. Once that has happened, it takes crazy dedication to pumping to maintain a supply to put in said bottles. Some women are able to keep a strong supply with exclusive and around-the-clock pumping; others cannot. Mothers often then must use formula whether they intended to or not. At that point the supply tanks further and eventually ceases entirely. It’s such a slippery slope! And it’s heartbreakingly simple to prevent: hold off on that bottle until your baby is obsessed with your boob.
The magic is there as long as you want it to be but it’s a use-it-or-lose-it situation. Ask for the magic (nurse on demand, meaning when baby cues) and you will not be disappointed. Reduce nursing sessions, and the magic milk will reduce as well (this is how weaning happens). There is no conservation in breastfeeding; it’s for right now. It’s like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter. You need breastmilk? You’re putting your baby to your breast frequently like 10-12 times per day? Well of course! I will supply exactly what you require! Oh you don’t need me as much anymore? I see you’re asking less of me. No problem, I will disappear!
It’s Field of Dreams for boobs: If you use them, milk will come.
Demand as much magic as you desire, sisters. Trust that your body is more than capable. When in doubt, whip it out. “Save” it and squelch it; use it and multiply it. Hey why can’t bank accounts be like boobs?!?!
*In all my talk of magic boobs I do not want to forget the women out there who are doing everything right and yet still are not able to produce sufficient milk to satisfy their baby. I see you. I know you DO nurse on demand and add in pumping sessions and take fenugreek and pound lactation cookies. And still your baby is dehydrated and not gaining. I am so deeply sorry. If this describes your experience, dear reader and mama, please get help if you have not already done so. Sometimes there is a medical cause that can be dealt with, such as a retained placenta or a tongue tie. Grievously, other times, there is a cause that cannot be helped, such as insufficient glandular tissue. If you want help exhausting the options, I would be honored to troubleshoot with you. Or if you’re understandably done with all that, I would also love simply to listen and cry with you.
**Generally an exclusively BF infant should have 6+ wet diapers and 3+ poopy diapers daily in the beginnging (after the first few weeks, EBF babies may go 1-2 weeks without pooping sometimes and it’s ok!). And there is great variety in weight gain; some babies are chunks, some are petite. As long as the number is going UP, you’re good! Please comment here or contact me via other means if you have any questions at all about your milk supply, latching issues, or any breastfeeding concerns in general. I would genuinely love to help!