Feb 2, 2005

does a body good

Right after your baby is born the mom is supposed to breastfeed. I guess the sooner you start the sooner the milk starts coming in. I was surprised by this. I assumed your body would be producing away on the weeks up to the actual birth, but things are not so simple. When the baby is born only a substance called colostrum resides in the breasts which has a different composition than breast milk. It's low in fat and easy for the baby to digest. It also has a laxative effect which gets this crazy stuff called meconium out of the baby's digestive tract. It's black and thick like tar.

Anyway the reasons to actually breastfeed are innumerable apparently ranging from improving the immune system of the baby to reducing the chance of breast cancer to reducing the time it takes for the uterus to contract. Check here if you're interested.

Problem is there isn't much of this colostrum. And so you baby essentially starts starving to death as soon as she is born. For day one this is fine. She's plumped up and can get by. By day two or three they start getting a little cranky. Thankfully the fatty breast milk starts to come in at this time and in sufficent volume. That is, if everything goes right. And for a lot of mothers it does not go right. We ran into most of these problems and it turns out most of my friends' wives also had similar issues.

First off a C-section shuts your entire body down so it can heal. This includes the milk making function. So the milk comes in on day 5 or 6 hopefully. But even that is not guaranteed. Some women never produce. So your baby is starting to starve to death. And there's no way to know how much milk or lack thereof is getting to your baby. It's invisible and largely silent. By day 3 or 4 you wonder what happened to your baby. The cute cooing thing is now a screaming red bundle of energy. And boy can they scream. It's not just the volume. The pitch and tone are all perfectly designed to make you try anything. It is a horrible sound that cuts right to your gut. It has a very clear emotional effect on you and this becomes wearing before not too long. In fact emotionally the woman here can really lose it here as my wife and many of my friends' wives did. I'll get to more of that later.

The second thing is the baby doesn't always latch well. It's surprising and not surprising. I figured the instinct would be so well defined that this would not be an issue. But when you consider the baby can barely use their own muscles, can't see well, and is likely screaming at this point; well it's not that surprising. There's not much you can do here. No videotape to play for them so they know how to do it. It's just trial and error. And it can take 10 minutes to get a good 'latch'.

Third, bad nipples. No, not a local rock band. I'm talking about non-perky, non-erect nipples. I joked with my wife that the perfect female mate for a man is a big hipped, perky nippled woman who has worked previously as a nurse in a maternity ward. Nipples, if not perky, can be flat or inverted. And most times a woman can have a mixed combination of 2 of those 3. Non-perky nipples are BAD. Take your uncoordinated baby and slap them on a flat surface and they generally don't know what to do. 10 minutes becomes 20 minutes. And even then the latch comes off more easy so the full feeding can take 45-50 minutes instead of 20-30.

Fourth, sleepy baby. One of the best things about babies is also the most troublesome at times. When they drink a full load of milk they become like drunken old men. They can barely stay awake and they just look, well, drunk. A drunk uncoordinated baby has an even worse latch rate. As you feed, it effectively gets worse. But their drunken faces after they are done are definitely worth the price of admission.

Why not just bottle feed formula until they become a little more coordinated? Any bottle introduced within the first 2-3 weeks will shut down the kids desire to breast feed. Can you blame them? It's apparently 10 times as easy to suck the formula through the bottle nipple. Do it once and your baby will never breast feed and your wife will never really lactate. Their suction is significantly more effective in starting milk production than breast pumps.

How do you get through all this? Lactation consultants. Masters of breast feeding that hopefully your hospital will have. And no they don't use words like synergy and strategy. Different type of consultant. They are quite pleasant with a good sergeant-like ass kicking capability when needed. The key for us was a plastic hypodermic syringe with thin surgical tubing that I would feed into the baby's mouth when she 'breastfed'. I would slowly inject her with formula so at least she got some food. She just thought sucking on the breast was the way she was getting the milk.

All of this, however, is stressful. Your wife is all set to 'provide' for the baby and one thing after another goes wrong. Pretty soon the baby starts losing some serious weight (ours went from 7lbs 10oz to 6lbs 15 oz) and your wife will start to feel inadequate and that they are a bad mother. Add to this the very real problem of nipple pain. They interviewed some 15 mothers or so and all agreed nipple pain was worse than labor pain. Who tells you this beforehand? My wife likens it to have a scab on your nipple ripped off. Each time the baby feeds. 8 times a day. Add to this, I'm sure you've forgotten, the pain of the C-section or your nether region slowly healing after a bowling ball has passed through. It's mighty uncomfortable and will likely lead to tears and bouts of hysteria. So you stand there like and idiot and say 'good job'. Now, it's your turn to feel inadequate.

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