April 24, 2013

Nursing, 5 Months In.

I haven't yet written a post entirely about breastfeeding. If you don't care or don't want to hear a whole lot about boobs and milk and babies, you can please just click away from this post? Because otherwise I'll be embarrassed that you read so much about me and my "supply."

On Friday, Livvy will turn five months old, which means I've been (almost) exclusively breastfeeding this little doll for five months. I nursed my first daughter, Tessa, for five weeks, so this is a whole new ball of wax, and we've hit the sweet spot that everyone told me we'd hit. I don't really want to reminisce very much here about what went wrong with nursing Tessa because this is my post about nursing Livvy, but I do want to say that: Unlike with most things in life, there are no do-overs with nursing. With exercise or friendships or whatever, you can take a break or screw up and then get back to it, recommitted, remorseful, ready to kick ass this time. But with nursing, there's not really any taking a break. You take a break and the milk dries up. And when it's gone, it is seriously gone. I wasn't used to life working like that, and I literally had to grieve breastfeeding after I stopped doing it. It suuuuuucked; I was so angry at myself, and I was bitterly jealous of moms who were nursing. That patently judgmental "breast is best" platitude is so pervasive that I remember feeling embarrassed to bottle feed in public. Mostly, I felt that I'd failed. And I felt that almost every time I mixed a bottle for my baby. I also remember feeling relieved when Tessa turned a year old, not just because I wouldn't have to buy formula anymore but because I could move on from that whole depressing chapter.

The other thing I want to say about my first nursing go-round is that it's made me extraordinarily sympathetic to mothers who wanted to nurse but couldn't or who lost their milk before anyone told them how to keep it. I knew this time around that if I was going to nurse my baby I would have to a) educate myself and b) tough it out to get to the good part. This time, immediately after having Livvy, I made breastfeeding priority No. 1. (Actually I made it priority No. 2. Because my No. 1 priority was getting sleep.) While I was still pregnant, I read Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding cover to cover and decided from the get-go that I was going to throw out the window that very common suggestion to write down when you breastfeed and from what breast and how many wet and dirty diapers there are. I just wanted to feed my baby when she was hungry and not stress out about it. Likewise, sometimes now there are times when I don't want to feed my baby; I want someone else to do it because I don't want someone hanging on me or needing anything of me, even someone as precious as Livvy. So we'll make a bottle, no big deal. I guess what I'm saying is that I've found that, for me, the best way to succeed at breastfeeding is to be relaxed about it but to also take it very seriously.

Nursing Livvy hurt really bad at first. Even though I got latching tips from about three different lactation consultants, the first week was pretty miserable, and I cried feeding her. Even a few weeks in, it kind of hurt. But after about six weeks, it didn't hurt at all. Now, after months of long nursing sessions--tons of them in the middle of the night, in public, in the car, in restrooms and dressing rooms and friends' living rooms--I can happily say that it's gotten easier, quicker, and that I now absolutely love nursing Livvy. No matter how scattered or on edge I am, as soon as I sit down to feed her, I become so relaxed that I start to yawn, to think of naps and other sleepy things. (Pumping does not have the same calming effect for me.) Prolactin is a hell of a drug.

And I'm still learning new things every month. I'm so fortunate that my mom keeps Livvy once a week for about 24 hours at a time. But that means that six days a week I breastfeed and one day a week I pump. I've had to make sure that I pump about 30 ounces while she's away because I know that's about how much she'll drink, and I need to keep the supply matched to the demand.

More recently, I had been feeling like my milk supply was dwindling because it didn't seem like Livvy was getting enough to eat, especially not before bed. In an attempt to get her sleeping longer stretches, I started feeding her bottles of the milk I'd pumped while she was at my mom's, and to my amazement she'd gulp down an additional seven or eight ounces after nursing. Also, my boobs started feeling empty and soft after months of being very full. I did some reading and found that this is super normal, that somewhere around the fourth or fifth month the engorgement and leaking and "fullness" feeling goes away, leaving lots of moms feeling like their supply isn't cutting it. I think it was partly that and partly that my supply actually wasn't cutting it. So, starting last week, I put the bottles away, and she and I toughed it out together, exclusively breastfeeding so that I could build my supply back up. It worked like a charm.

I don't want to say that I feel "proud" to have nursed for five months, because I don't think it's been much more difficult than bottle feeding was. (In most ways, it's easier. No bottles to make and clean. No formula to buy. And I do think it's helped some of Livvy's colds from progressing past a runny nose. She's yet to have a fever.) I think what I feel about it is just ... happy and relieved. The only real downside to nursing is that I can't share the responsibility of Livvy with Nekos as much. That means that I not only do every feeding, but I change almost all the diapers, too. Not because Nekos is a big jerk but because diaper changes and feedings go together so I normally just do them both. (I hope he'll make it up to me by changing extra diapers when she's older and weaned.)

For my 30th birthday, when I was five months pregnant with Livvy, my mom bought me a beautiful vintage necklace with lapis lazuli stones and tiny silver bells. I wear it all the time, and Livvy, who tends to rest one of her tiny, dimpled hands on my chest bone while she nurses, likes to jangle this necklace while she eats. It is, at the moment, my very favorite sound in the whole world.