Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Searching for the Truth About Breastfeeding

As Baby Agbai's arrival draws closer I'm reading more and more about breastfeeding. I plan to breastfeed her until her first birthday, and last night was our last childbirth class which covered breastfeeding. 

The lactation nurse who led the class was a grandmother-aged woman who was very austere and determined to make sure we all knew the benefits of breastfeeding and she also shared insights with us on the larger role breastfeeding plays, and should play, in the black community. She talked about formula and how it's relatively recent appearance is in stark contrast to the pre-formula days when we had no choice but to breastfeed. She also explained how black woman had to give their breast milk to the children they raised during slavery and even afterward as wet nurses while their own children had to drink animal milk and sugar water.

Besides this class, I have seen many discussions and talked to other lactation nurses black, white and Hispanic about what to expect when breastfeeding. Very similar to labor, I believe every woman's experience is unique, but one thing I read and hear over and over is a disparity between what the "experts" say about the breastfeeding experience vs. what the actual breastfeeding women have to say.

Essentially, the experts agree that if a woman says breastfeeding hurts then the woman is breastfeeding wrong - no ifs, ands or buts. However, the breastfeeding women say, "No! This hurts and my nipples bleed are cracked and it's awful!" Now I've watched the videos and read the diagrams about the anatomy of the breast and how a baby is supposed to take not just the nipple, which would result in agonizing pain, but the entire aerola, which does not cause pain. I understand about the positioning of the baby's body, the tongue etc. All that technical stuff.

What troubles me is the continued stark contrast between what the experts say and what the women say. Who is accurate?

This is a mystery I look forward to finding out.

In the interim, I understand that if I do incur pain I can wrap chilled cabbage leaves around my breasts, use Lansinoh (already packed in my hospital bag!) and I can even just squirt a bit of breastmilk on the nipple and aerola itself as it's a natural healing agent. I also have the contact info for several lactation consultants who can help me at a moments notice as well as Le Leche League's 24 hour hotline. I feel confident in all the support!

Women have been breastfeeding for thousands of years so this really shouldn't be so complicated, but I intend to post follow-up about what my experience is like. 


  1. As you know Quiana, I am very passionate about breastfeeding. I really wasn't at first, but when my husband and I determined financially it would save about 1000.00 per month and I planned out staying out for 6 months, I was like I am focused. My husband also said that if I stopped, I would have to go back to work:-) Now I know he was being factious, but, I used that as incentive. I breastfed Christen exclusively for 6 months and she did not every have formula. My plan was to stop @ 1yr, but due to her food allergies (her food allergies were inherited genetically) I decided to keep on until about 7 months ago as it minimized her re-actions to the point I did not know she had allergies.

    But on to your question. Absolutely, breastfeeding should not hurt. I never had cracked or bleeding nipples. It should only hurt when she first latches on then in seconds it should stop. Those lactation nurses at your hospital will be your best resource, if you are having an issue, they will let you come in and give you a personal tutorial. If you are not committed then it can be very frustrating. I had to go through great lengths to get my milk supply going that first week. My mom did not breastfeed us so she was not knowledgeable, but was sooo supportive of me breastfeeding. Most people are going to encourage you to give formula as in their opinion it is easier, less work on you etc. They will even accuse you of not giving the baby enough food. This can come from family and friends. I am certain with your TYPE A personality you will place everyone in their place. It was very difficult during our first Thanksgiving. Christen was 4 months and my in-laws all wanted to feed her yams and turkey I had to stand up to them and respectfully say, she will NOT be eating ANYTHING this weekend:-)

    I actually thought breastfeeding was easy after the first month. I could take her to the movies, during her nap time 10am sit in the back stick a boob in her month and no one knew she was there. We flew all over, never cried on the plane..Could go shopping for hours, didn't have to heat/make/mix formula, just go to the bathroom and pull out my cover and shop for another three hours. It’s a blessing Quiana!!

    Now on the flip side, hubby gets off the hook a lot. I was soo concerned about nipple confusion I did not pump milk for first couple of months. Christen did not take a bottle until she went to daycare. That was rough, but after a week of being hungry she took the bottle like a champ.

    I don't have a type A personality type, but I do have those traits on certain issues. This is one of them.

  2. I know what you mean. Everyone says it shouldn't hurt but umm...I felt real pain at times. No cracked and bleeding but sometimes he would latch on and it felt like fire. I remember rocking in the chair crying while he sucked happily. I don't know if that was the mysterious thrush or what but it wasn't pleasant at all.

    After I stopped nursing and decided to pump exclusively, I would randomly nurse a few times. I was shocked to find it pleasant. Nothing hurt at all. I could finally call it a pleasant bonding experience. I don't know what changed but I wish it had always been like that.

    I feel like things do have to toughen up. When they are newborns, the amount of action they put on that sensitive area suddenly gets is crazy!

  3. @Marie Thank you Marie for your feedback! I'm very much inspired by your story. I know I'm very close to the mommy side but still peering in from a short distance, but it seems like what I keep hearing from labor to breastfeeding etc. is that it really is mind over matter. I think it's a blessing we have the Internet to help keep women connected and sharing their personal stories of triumph. I'm motivated already =)