2014-THANKSgiving

The Lactation Hotline Gone Wrong

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baby-boy-breastfeeding Image via Shutterstock

It was just a few days after bringing Penelope home from the hospital when I found myself locked in the bathroom at 1:30 in the morning, trying not to wake my husband. I was crying out from the shooting pain while desperately dialing the number on the sheet of paper I was clutching. I knew breastfeeding would be tricky, but felt reassured when the nurse at the hospital told me there was a 24-hour “lactation hotline” for me to use as a resource. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, and I was at my limit.

Earlier that evening, I screamed so loud while feeding her that my husband got nervous. I considered begging him to run out and get formula, so I could give her something else during the middle-of-the-night feeding other than my poor, beat-up boobs. Instead, I powered through and figured I’d deal with the next feeding later on. Which led me to my 1:30 AM desperate dial.

Finally, someone picked up.

Strike one: It was a man who answered the phone. A MAN. I considered hanging up, but one glance down at my bleeding, sore nipples and I figured I’d take a shot. I took a deep breath, cleared my throat, and asked to speak with a lactation consultant.

To my dismay, the man flatly explained that the lines were “backed up” and I would surely receive a call back from the lactation consultant in about four hours. FOUR HOURS.

I told him he didn’t understand, that I needed to speak with someone right away, but he assured me that he did in fact understand and would have someone get back to me just as soon as they could. I would have to feed Penelope again before that point, and would just have to suffer through it.

To the men out there, it may be tough to comprehend the predicament I was in. Let me explain it in a way that may help you put yourself in our shoes. Here goes:

Imagine you awaken in the middle of the night. You look down, and notice that your balls are on fire.

Before you have enough time to panic, you hear what appears to sound like a screaming piranha. You realize, to your horror, that the only way to get the piranha to stop screaming is to latch it on to your flaming balls. You are in quite the pickle.

You remember there is a phone number for you to call where you can speak to the only person who could help you put the fire out in your balls and calm the piranha, so, trembling in pain, you dial it. A woman answers.

WOMAN: “Hello, Flaming Balls Hotline! How may I help you?”

YOU: “MY BALLS ARE ON FIRE!!!!!”

WOMAN: “I’m sorry to hear that, sir. But our call log is backed up at the moment. I do, however, understand your frustration.”

YOU: “Lady, are you serious?! You don’t even have balls!”

WOMAN: “Yes sir, that’s correct, I do not have balls. But I can assure you that someone with balls will get back to you within the next four hours to help you put that fire out. You just hang tight.”

YOU: “FOUR HOURS!? What do I do in the meantime about the piranha?!”

WOMAN: “Well sir, the piranha needs to eat. Why don’t you go ahead and attach it to your flaming balls, or it will starve. Your call is important to us and will be answered in the order in which it has been received.”

Gents, does this paint a better picture? It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

It was in that moment, after ending the call, that I wanted to light that piece of paper I was desperately clutching just minutes before on fire. I wished that, instead of that number, I had a single number to reach every other woman up at this ungodly hour fighting through this same battle.

I just knew if they too had heard there was a wait time of four hours that our collective energy and fury would bring us all together, a herd of sleep-deprived women to descend upon the office of the lactation hotline. We would bust down that door, nips blazin’, with a crazed look in our eyes and say, “Are you sure you don’t have an earlier opening?!”

But then I also realized, that maybe they really were that backed up. Maybe they were doing all they could to help other women who, just like myself, were awake, alone, and crying on their bathroom floor right along with their babies. Helping them through this middle-of-the-night feeding that would make or break their commitment to breast feed. We couldn’t bind together like a herd of angry villagers, but knowing they were awake and going through the same thing made me feel just a little less alone.

And it wasn’t this guy’s fault that he accepted the unfortunate position of manning (no pun intended) the lactation hotline.

I do, however, have one request for the lactation hotline managers of the world: I’m all for equality in the workplace, but please, if that ever happens again, have a woman screening calls and delivering wait times. There are just some things that only we know how to say to one another.

And, I promise, I’ll never apply for a job at the “Flaming Balls Hotline.”

Deal?

Related post: Why Men Can’t Have Babies

The 5 Most Awkward Moments as a Nursing Mother

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breastfeeding

1. Your boobs are center stage… and not in a good way. The first days and weeks after your baby is born,  you will find that the only thing you talk about more than poop is your breasts— and not in a sexy way. Cracked nipples, clogged ducts, engorgement and leakiness will become main topics of discussion. And while your partner may enjoy your new DDD bust size, your boobs will have never felt less sexy. In fact, between the midwife, the lactation consultant and your baby… everyone BUT your husband will be fondling you.

2. Your milk lets down at the most unfortunate times. In the early days of engorged, milk-filled boobs, I couldn’t even predict when my milk would let down and subsequently soak through my breast pads, bra and shirt. The most awkward times that come to mind are: in the middle of a graduate school class, during a job interview and while knocking boots with my husband.

3. You will end up having to nurse in front of someone you never thought would see your breasts. Even if you are totally comfortable nursing in public without a cover, there are those unexpected moments when you are caught boob-out and mortified. I was working on the weekend with my newborn at my empty office and my boss walked in during a nursing session. My daughter turned to look and milk sprayed all down my side. Other awkward instances for me have included male family members (brother, dad, grandpa) and skeevy strangers.

4. Your baby thinks your nipples are a toy. There will come a day when you baby will notice your nipples. They have always been aware of them, but their instincts kicked in and they just latched on and didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what the vehicle for milk distribution actually was. When this day comes, your baby will be in the middle of nursing and pull away, furrow his brow and just stare. Then ever-so-slowly he will bring his hand up and (here’s the real awkward moment) he will tweak, pinch or flick your nipple, and then, just to add insult to injury, he’ll giggle. Because obviously you’ve realized by now that your nipples are hilarious, right?

5. Your baby becomes verbal and knows how to gain access. Eventually your baby will learn to say, and in my case sign, when he wants a drink. He will start demanding “milk” by yelling, signing with his hand (regretfully the sign for milk looks like you’re milking a cow udder) and burrowing his face in your cleavage. Beware of low-cut shirts, because you can count on your baby flashing the cashier at the supermarket when looking for a snack. Also, be sure to choose the word you use for nursing wisely, I’d much rather hear “milk” screamed in public than “boobies!”

10 (Mildly Shallow) Reasons To Breastfeed

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Reasons To Breastfeed

I breastfeed my kids. I’m passionate about it. I’m righteous about it. But I’m not entirely honest about it.

I advertise that I do it for the heartfelt and health-related reasons we’ve all heard from other moms and pediatricians a bazillion times. But come on. If there weren’t also some hardcore mama-centric reasons to let my kid nibble on my nips for a year, I’d never be able to endure the insane commitment. These are the reasons that see me through the worst breastfeeding days and get me to hang in there when I want to bail. They’re pretty damn shallow, but whatever. They get the job done. Need some reasons to breastfeed, too?

1. Milk boobs are awesome. Have you seen milk boobs? The new-mom, my-milk-just-came-in(!!) boobs? They’re glorious. They’re porn star glorious except they’re REAL. They’ll make even the staunchest feminist reconsider her rabid stance on breast augmentation. These fabulous tits were a fabulous surprise after my first child, and a highly anticipated perk (for both my husband and me) after my second.

2. I don’t have to work out. My baby weight lost itself because breastfeeding burns 500-800 calories A DAY. Even my best workout when I was in my twenties and maintaining a hot college body to bring the boys to the yard didn’t burn 800 calories. How crazy would I be to opt out of something that burns a shitload of calories while I sit on my ass, snuggling my baby, in my thirties?

3. I don’t feel remotely guilty about what I eat. I need to replace the calories nursing burns otherwise my milk production decreases dramatically. So heeeelllllloooo, Smashburger. Thank you for contributing to the cause of better infantile nutrition. And yes, I would like a salted-caramel shake with that. It’s all in the name of milk production.

4. I can’t forget my breasts when I leave the house. I’ve forgotten diapers, clothes, blankets, binkies, the stroller, the entire diaper bag after spending 20 minutes packing it, and even the friggen baby, but I’ve never forgotten milk. If you don’t have kids, having one less thing to remember as you herd your family out the door may not seem significant. If you do have kids, you know how significant it is.

5. I get guaranteed breaks during crappy social functions. It is completely acceptable to excuse yourself from a party to nurse your child in private. Even though I don’t really care about privacy, I sometimes take advantage of this understanding to avoid awkward acquaintances and annoying relatives and go play Angry Birds or check Facebook for awhile.

6. Aunt Flo goes on sabbatical. Thanks to breastfeeding, I made it 50 weeks sans Aunt Flo after my daughter was born. My son just turned one and I’m still waiting for her return. If you count her absence during my pregnancy, I haven’t seen her in nearly 2 years. TWO YEARS. I don’t miss that bitch at all.

7. I can instantly comfort my screaming baby without having to troubleshoot the actual problem. Sometimes I’m too tired or busy to try to figure out what the baby is crying about, so I just nurse him. Nine times out of 10, shoving a boob in his mouth calms him down immediately. Note: This also works with his father.

8. I can have unprotected sex for 6 months. When done correctly, breastfeeding can be a (somewhat?) effective form of birth control up to the baby’s 6-month birthday. You have to do it right, though, or you end up with Irish twins. like my parents did. D’oh!

9. Breast milk poop smells a hell of a lot better than formula poop. I have to change a lot of disgusting poopy diapers, so if anything can make them less disgusting, I’m in. Breast milk poop smells, but it doesn’t stink. Not like formula shit. I found this out firsthand when changing a friend’s formula-fed baby. I thought something died in her diaper. I almost called Animal Control.

10. When my kids have kids, I can hold it over their heads that when they were babies, I did everything right and know everything. The extreme commitment and effort of breastfeeding lends a lot of credibility to the future backseat parenting of my grandchildren.

Related post: 15 Things They Don’t Tell You About Breastfeeding

Unblocking Blocked Milk Ducts… With Vibration

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hot-water-shower

My boobs reached a “C” cup by the time I started high school. I feared they’d keep growing until they looked like my mom’s, whose breasts hung almost to her belly button like old balloons with liquid areolas taking up the base. They floated on their own in water.

When my daughter Emilia was born in my late 20s, my “D” cups swelled. “I can see your milk’s sure come in,” the midwife said at a postpartum check-up. My breasts, twice the size of my daughter’s head, eventually shrunk back down to how I remembered them, only a little…lower.

Seven years later, I had to buy “DD” nursing bras with the pregnancy of my second daughter. My boobs resembled my mother’s more and more. Single, and raising my children on my own, the thought of a man seeing my bare chest made me cringe. Then Coraline came, latched on open-mouthed and perfect 20 minutes after we got out of the birthing tub, and proceeded to nurse in a way that I can only think of as sucking me bone dry. She gained almost five pounds in the first two months. My breasts grew into beautiful orbs who worked hard to keep up with her demand.

But every so often, she doesn’t demand, and they don’t take time off. I get blocked milk ducts.

Not just in an engorged, swollen way. I get blockages that wake me up in the pre-dawn hours. I’ve learned how to get them out by hand, going through trial and error of different ways to tug at my nipples in a process I call milking myself. Tiny streams shoot across the floor, all over the towels I have laid out, the wall, and my face. Then the little bleb (yes, it has a name) squeezes out and I can go nestle back in bed without a painful, ridged melon attached to my chest, but with new empathy for sexually frustrated men.

It didn’t go as well last time. By noon the next morning, I still had to milk myself between feedings. Nothing worked. If I accidentally held my baby on the left side, her pressing up against me almost made me pass out with pain. There was no massaging to be had. I took ibuprofen. I tugged at my nipple and soaked towels with milk, avoiding brushing against swollen parts. Nothing chunky came out. I turned to my online mommy groups for help.

“Put a hot washcloth on the affected area,” one said. I poured boiling water on a rag and held it up to cool. In a few minutes it was cold, so I had to repeat the process again, and just got frustrated and wet.

“I’ll bring over my double electric pump!” said another. My nipples had a history of closing up like brushed-over barnacles at the mention of an electric pump, but I was desperate to try anything.

“Take a hot shower and massage it out,” one lady said. I stood there, aiming my boobs at the hot streams of little needles hitting my nipples, milking, spraying the walls, and they softened a bit. Enough for me to, well, okay I sucked on my own nipple. I shut my eyes and imagined it a snake bite, spitting the milk dramatically by my feet. Ten minutes later I stepped out of the shower to an unamused baby, and with a quarter of my breast still full of unforgiving sacs.

“Get some kind of vibration on it to work out the blockage. Yes, that kind,” a woman responded next. Wait. What? And where was my vibrator, anyway? I’d bought a new one after finding out I was pregnant because, well, I doubted telling a man about my baby bump would lead to sexy times. But it’d been months since I’d even thought about it—sex or the vibrator.

So I’m sitting at my desk, rubbing my boob with a purple silicone six-inch rabbit, making faces at a grumpy baby in her bouncy seat. My boss emails about work the next day. I try different methods—swirls and slow lines. My older daughter’s pediatrician calls. I scrambled to turn it off and dropped it where it echoed on the wood floor. A lactation consultant returns my call. I can’t bear to tell her that just before I answered, she would have heard the low, pulsating buzz on the highest intensity. That one used to be my favorite.

I had to nurse my baby on the other breast the next time she was hungry. Even though it was through a shirt, it felt wrong to let her drink milk that had been shaken by a purple rabbit like tenderizing meat with a huge dildo. This turned out to be a good thing anyway, because my right breast in some sort of clenched fist, foot stomping tantrum, stopped leaking and decided to block up, too. Lady hump blue balls.

A friend dropped off the pump, which I hooked up and attempted to put to good use during books at bedtime. My 7-year-old watched in fascination. “Can I drink some?” she asked with wide eyes.

“No!” I said with alarm.

“Why? I used to drink it,” she said.

Sure, she had a point, but the thought repulsed me too much. I thought back to the shower and shuddered.

I switched to milking by hand. The right breast couldn’t hold on to its bleb for very long, and it came out in a “pssst” sound and pressured spray. I tried the pump on the right while I nursed on the left, and by the time my daughter finished reading her story I had two, floppy, flattened, pillowy boobs again.

“Mom, will my chest be like yours?” my daughter asked when I hugged her goodnight.

“Probably,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “You’re so soft.” She paused to size me up. “But I can be like half as big, right?”

“Sure,” I said.

Dream small, kid.

Related post: The 5 Most Awkward Moments as a Nursing Mother

What’s Hard About Covering Up To Breastfeed?

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breastfeeding

Anytime a breastfeeding story comes up in the news, especially one in which a breastfeeding mom is asked to leave an area to feed her baby, I break my own rule about not reading online comments out of sheer, morbid curiosity. In real life, I’m surrounded by people who are very supportive of breastfeeding, so it interests me to read comments and questions about the appropriateness of breastfeeding in public.

Of course, there are always some unnecessarily mean people, but some sentiments that come up frequently are legitimately well-meaning. As a mom who nursed three kids in all kinds of situations, I thought I’d address a few of these:

“I totally support breastfeeding, but what’s so hard about covering up to breastfeed in public?”

That’s great that you support breastfeeding. I actually would love to get to the stage when we stop calling it breastfeeding, and just call it feeding. That’s all it is. You’re not feeding a breast, you’re feeding a baby. It’s babyfeeding. Should women have to cover their babies to feed them in public? That sounds a little silly, doesn’t it?

But to answer your question, there are several reasons why moms might not cover up in public:

1. It actually is hard to cover up and feed a baby at the same time. Especially when you’re a new mom, and you’re trying to wrangle a squishy baby into a comfortable position where they can latch on correctly. Even with my third baby, keeping a cover over my shoulder while latching on wasn’t easy. And really, the only time one would “need” to cover up due to possible nipple exposure (if that’s the reason you think moms should cover up) is during the latch-on. And balancing a blanket on your shoulder while trying to see what you’re doing to get the baby latched is a big pain in the butt. Truly.

2. Some babies hate being covered. Most of the time, my babies would try to pull the cover off. I wouldn’t want to eat with a blanket over my head, would you? Especially when it’s hot. Ugh, it makes me claustrophobic just thinking about it.

3. One of the benefits of breastfeeding is the eye contact between mom and baby. The location of the breast is designed to put the baby within the vision range of mom’s face. Yes, you can have the same eye contact when you’re bottle feeding, which begs the question – would you cover up your baby’s face while cradling and bottle feeding, rather than looking at your baby and smiling at him/her at regular intervals? That would be silly.

4. When I was nursing, I actually felt like using a cover drew more attention to what I was doing. Uncovered, most of the time, it just looked like I had a baby cradled in my arms, sleeping. No breast could be seen once baby was latched. Nothing screams, “Hey, I’m breastfeeding over here!” like a draping a blanket over your shoulder while awkwardly trying to get your baby into a comfortable breastfeeding position.

5. Covering up implies that there’s something inappropriate about feeding a baby. There’s not. It’s feeding a baby. That’s it.

“I breastfed all my babies, but I never did it in public. Why don’t women just pump if they’re going out?”

That’s great that you breastfed all your babies. That’s also great if you were able to pump and that your baby took a bottle. Not all moms can pump successfully. Not all babies will take a bottle. After working at it for a while, I could pump, but my babies never took a bottle. That wasn’t for lack of trying – they just wouldn’t. I’m sure if their lives depended on it, and if I wasn’t around for a long time, they would eventually take one, but having a baby is hard enough. I wasn’t about to go through that much unnecessary effort so that I could bottle feed in public.

I’ve known some women who couldn’t get anything from pumping. Some women can’t relax enough with a machine hooked up to their body to get a letdown. Totally understandable.

But the real answer to this question is, they shouldn’t have to. Think about what you’re suggesting: that a mother skip a feeding to pump, or pump regularly enough to have the extra milk to pump outside of a feeding, then find a way to keep the milk cold in transport, then find a way to warm up the milk once she is where she’s going, then feed the baby with the bottled milk, then deal with the leakage or discomfort of the full breasts she has from feeding with the bottle instead of the breast for that feeding, and then wash and sterilize the bottle afterward–all instead of just taking her baby with her and feeding the ready-to-go milk she has on hand in her own body?

Doesn’t that seem a little ridiculous?

Most women who successfully pump have a system and a routine for it, and usually it’s because they’re away from their babies for a certain amount of time on a regular basis. More power to them. I’ve known lot of working, pumping moms, and I think they’re amazing.

But the idea of pumping just to go out in public with your baby, when your breasts are right there with you, is goofy to me. How long have breast pumps been around? How long have humans been feeding babies? When did we get to the mindset that feeding babies in public is better done with machinery and accessories than with mom?

“I don’t mind if moms breastfeed in public, as long as they do it modestly. Especially if there are kids or teens around.”

That’s great that you don’t mind if moms breastfeed in public. But let’s discuss the modesty idea. I hope you have the same feelings about modesty when you see a woman in a bathing suit, or a low-cut top, because 99% of the time, that’s all you can see of a woman’s breast when she breastfeeds.

Granted, there might be a couple of seconds of nipple showing. If you really don’t want to see that, pay close attention to moms with babies. Here are the cues that a mom is getting ready to breastfeed:

1. She starts to lift her shirt or adjust her bra. There you go. As soon as you see that starting to happen, look away. If you’re really concerned about your children seeing a woman breastfeeding, take that cue to show them something in the other direction.

But really, if kids are going to have any exposure to breasts (and they already have, if you have ever taken them to the grocery store and waited at the checkout stand where they keep the magazines), isn’t that the kind of exposure they should have? Don’t you want your children to see what breasts are primarily for? They’re getting plenty of messages on billboards, television, and other media that breasts are sexual. Seeing them used in a decidedly and awesomely unsexual way can only be good, in my opinion.

“Can’t you just go to the bathroom to breastfeed?”

1. Bathrooms are gross. Would you want to eat in there?

2. Many bathrooms don’t have a chair to sit in.  This leaves Mom with the option of sitting on the floor (yuck) or on the toilet (double yuck).

3. If a mom wants privacy to nurse because she feels more comfortable that way, that’s great. I’m a big fan of having lounge areas for nursing moms. But it should be for her comfort, not for yours. When I was nursing, I occasionally removed myself to nurse because it was too loud or I wanted a little space, but the times I removed myself because of my worries about other people, I felt exiled. When a mom feels that she needs to hide to breastfeed, the message is that there’s something shameful or wrong with what she’s doing. And that’s not right.

Along with the presumably well-meaning comments, I’ve also seen a few more, ahem, “strongly-worded” sentiments I’d like to address:

“Breastfeeding is totally natural, but so is going to the bathroom / having sex, and people don’t do that in public.”

Going to the bathroom is gross, stinky, and unsanitary to do in public, which is why we don’t do it. Feeding a baby is none of those things. Sex is an incredibly private, intimate act. Feeding a baby can be intimate in that it’s a bonding experience between baby and mom, but it’s more of a holding hands kind of intimacy–not something that needs to be confined to the privacy of a bedroom or home. The comparisons are apples and oranges.

“If you want to breastfeed, that’s fine, but I don’t want to / shouldn’t have to see it.”

Then don’t look. And I don’t mean that in a snarky way. You really don’t have to watch a mom breastfeed. (See cues in third question above.) Just look the other way and move on.

“Women who breastfeed in public are just trying to get attention / make a statement.”

Actually, 99% of women who feed their babies in public are just trying to feed their babies. Having been around hundreds of women who breastfeed, including dozens at a recent La Leche League conference, I can attest to the fact that most women are very matter-of-fact about feeding their babies.

I’ve known one mom who exposed much more breast for much longer than any other moms I’ve known, but she was raised in Africa, so that explains it. I’ve known of one other mom (don’t know her personally) who sounds like she has some exhibition issues and takes the opportunity to show more breast than necessary any old time she can. That’s by far an exception, and not the norm. Most breastfeeding mothers don’t “let it all hang out.” They do what they need to do to feed their babies, no more, no less.

“This isn’t a village in Africa. It’s culturally inappropriate to bare your breasts in public here.”

I’m curious about what this says about villages in Africa, or other places where breasts are common sights. Why is it culturally inappropriate here? I don’t necessarily think it should be, I just want to walk through the reasoning for our cultural views of breasts. Is it because our society views breasts as primarily sexual in nature? Are African breasts not sexual in nature as well? Would you shield your eyes from a National Geographic magazine showing bare-breasted women in Africa? Would you hide that from your children? If so, why? Are African women inappropriate? Is there some kind of fear that if we start accepting breastfeeding in public without freaking out about covering up, women will eventually start walking around bare-breasted all the time? Lots of questions pop up from this statement that are worth examining.

I personally think it should be culturally appropriate for women to bare a breast for a brief second in order to latch a baby on, no matter where in the world they are. There’s nothing sexual or inappropriate in that act. I think it should be way more culturally appropriate than, say, going to Hooters. Our priorities are a tad bit skewed when it comes to what’s culturally appropriate regarding breasts. If we want to get all righteous about the appropriateness of breast exposure, let’s direct our energies at movies, music videos, billboards, magazines, and other popular media. Leave moms who are trying to feed their babies out of it.

And if you really don’t want to see a woman feed her baby in public, don’t look. Don’t make her feel ashamed, don’t exile her to the bathroom, don’t make erroneous assumptions about her motives, don’t compare feeding her baby to defecating, don’t make hypocritical cultural statements, don’t make it harder to do than it already is. Just don’t look. It really is that simple.