Monday, January 13, 2014

The day your breasts betray you.

Congratulations!  You have just given birth to a gorgeous, puffy, delightful new person! They, the professionals who helped usher this new personage from your womb to the world, have bathed and wrapped your newest and most precious possession. And then they placed her in your arms, and told you to go home, and be in charge, and keep her alive and healthy! 

"She's lovely!  Such a good baby!  Good job momma!  Good luck!"  they said as they leisurely wheeled you to the exit of the hospital. Thrusting the two of you into the cold cruel world. No sanctuary, just pure terror in your eyes as you strap your bitty newborn into a five point harness meant to protect her from all calamity--anything from bumps, to fender benders, to rocket grenades.   

The ensuing drive home is always one of serenity. The new mother in the back seat, a place she has not sat willingly for years, one hand clutching the handle of the infant safety seat, white knuckles on the other grasping the blanket bundled about the child. The thought of sitting in the front, away from her precious, makes the blood pound behind her temples and creates a panic in her blood stream hitherto found only in moments of extreme duress, such as being chased by siberian tigers. You begin repeating prayers rapidly in your mind. "Do not crash, do not crash, do not crash," the usual mantra, with visions of mayhem and destruction. Every other vehicle on the road becomes a veritable harbinger of death! It is a heady and delightful time!

Finally, the interminable ten min drive ends and you arrive home. You have successfully survived your first outing into the world! No terrible tragedy, no serious misfortune, no catastrophic calamity has befallen you. You can do this! You can be a fabulous mother!  You can do all and be all, this is going to be easier than you thought!

While still tucked snugly in your hospital bed a Lactation Specialist came to see you. She watched you latch your tiny perfect baby onto your breast.  She watched the progress the two of you made, and made a few small adjustments. She told you, "you'er doing fine, just fine." You beamed with pleasure at her praise, did you not? In your sleep deprived, hopped up on pain meds state you felt confidence!    

That was then, this is now. Now you are home with no specialist. Now your milk has come in.   

Most women have a complicated relationship with their breasts. From the moment they begin to bud and develop, we become discontented. Too small, too large, wrong shape, the litany could go on and on. At some point in young adulthood you made peace with your breasts. They were not perfect, but they were yours. Now they betray you. 

Usually within three days postpartum your milk will come in. It comes in with a vengeance! Your breasts become so large it is obscene. The most petite of chests becomes pornographic in size.  Those babies are rock hard and literally hot to the touch. The skin is stretched so taunt across your chest, that your breasts take on a sheen. They look like plastic,  plastic breasts with nipples pulled so tight they are almost flush with the areola. Now the baby cries.

You know what to do. You've read all the books on how to breast feed. You know this is a magical bonding experience between mother and child. You know all the facts and benefits of breast feeding: less allergies, less rick of SIDS, less risk of obesity, higher IQ, better SAT scores, and acceptance into Ivy League schools. You are prepared!  

With your nursing pillow tucked around your tummy, begin to access your breast for feeding your baby.  First a cover is needed for modesties sake. The cover goes over your head like a large bib an flows gently to your waist. Then you must move your shirt up, and your undershirt (the baby's cries are becoming more frantic and your fingers less nimble with every mounting moment).  Then the bra must be opened and arranged for mobility and comfort.  In this moment, the moment of fraught cries from your baby--who is sure you have deserted her forever, you hands become the hands of an inexperienced teen age boy.  No matter what, that bra is not going to open.  You can pull and tug at those tiny claps holding the front access closed to no avail. 

By now, it seems all who live in this home will starve to death! You cannot open the bra to feed the baby, and if she starves you will starve yourself in punishment! And then who will feed the daddy of the baby!  He will starve too!  Just as you reach your breaking point the bra opens and you shove the baby's face onto your engorged breast, the nipple already dripping with milk (because when a baby cries, any baby, your milk will let down). The poor dear is so keyed up and distraught she cannot even think of nursing now. Instead she simply wails and cries around the nipple. She cries and you cry. You are bonding!  

Finally she realizes that nourishment is within her grasp. She tries to latch onto the breast. She tries again.  Her poor tiny mouth simply slides around the nipple as there is hardly anything to latch onto.  In a last ditch effort  grab her head and smash it into the breast with one hand while holding your breast with the other. Success!  She continues to snuffle and snort as she drinks, looking up at you with disdain and contempt. Her little fist clutched on either side of your tender breasts. Her bottom lip is tucked in showing her displeasure at your inexperience, and ruining the latch. Now you must decided.  Will you continue nursing, knowing that an improper latch causes pain to you, poor nursing skills to the baby, and gives the baby less to eat; or will you begin the entire process again?  
The pull on your nipple begins to ache and tear at the skin, there is no other option but to begin again.  To do this you need to insert your finger into her mouth between her clamped gums and pop her mouth off your breast.  Be forewarned, she will be incensed.  

Off comes the baby and, as your milk has already begun to let down, out sprays your beast milk.  Breast milk in full let down can spray several inches away from your chest. Now your tiny one is being hit with that full force in her face. You can either try to re-latch her onto the boob while she is waterborded by breast milk, or you can cover your nipple with a breast pad and wait for the milk to subside before beginning again. I suggest the second option. No baby has ever drowned by breast milk, but very few are able to latch on in that moment of crisis.  

Try again. Keep trying until the two of you get it right. This may take several times each feeding. The good news is, at the end of six weeks you should have this down pat!  In the meantime, remember, breast-feeding is a beautiful and natural expression of love between mother and infant!  It is one of the most glorious experiences you can have as a mother!  


  1. Truer words have never been spoken.

  2. aw, a blog post! i'm about to do this breast feeding thing all over again, yes to the squirting-in-the-face surprises. how funny (not in the moment though.)