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