Mamas on Bedrest: Breastfeed, Your Boobs Are Gonna Sag Anyway!

August 1st, 2011

“I didn’t want to breastfeed because I didn’t want no saggy boobs!”

This was my mother in law’s response to me when I told her that I intended to breastfeed my daughter. It was quickly followed by,

“Well then you’re gonna be stuck with all the feedings. If you bottle feed, people can help you.”

Mamas, August 1-7, 2011 is World Breastfeeding week and I am here to plead on behalf of you and your baby that you make every effort to breastfeed your baby for as long as possible.

Breastfeeding is not easy. My daughter, a late term preemie, had difficulty nursing initially because she could not breath and nurse at the same time. Everytime she nursed, her oxygen saturation would drop into the 80’s and her monitors would go off. I’d have to break the latch, pat her on the back so she’d breathe (actually, so she’d start crying) and then we’d start the whole process all over again once her oxygen saturation went back up near 99%.

It would have been so easy to quit. Because my daughter was a preemie and low birth weight, we were very concerned about her growth. The neonatologist wanted her on bottled formula so that they could measure how much she was taking in. Because of his “tenor” the entire NICU staff was very unsupportive of my efforts. For example, I had specifically said that my daughter was not to have a pacifier (which they wanted to give to her to strengthen her sucking) and several times when I arrived in the NICU, the was a pacifier near her bed. My husband and I threw several away and they soon got the point.

Likewise, I gave clear instructions that my baby was not to have formula. In the early days before my daughter was able to latch on and before my milk came in, the staff insisted that I give her formula.  I refused. One day, as I was close to tears a wonderful lactation consultant appeared and asked, “Why hasn’t this mama been offered a breast pump?”

Everyone kind of stood there, red faced like kids caught in a cookie jar. One nurse spoke up, “Her baby still needs milk now and she can’t possibly produce enough.”

So this fierce advocate stepped up and replied, “Then she can get donor breastmilk.” I had never heard of such a thing and was thrilled to learn that our insurance would infact cover one bottle of donor breast milk, plenty for my tiny daughter and enough to feed her until I pumped and stored little vials of breastmilk for her in the NICU refrigerator . (To learn more about donor breastmilk, listen to our podcast with Kim Updegrove, Executive Director of the MilkBank Austin and the accompanying blog.)

There is an art and skill to breastfeeding and if a mama and baby don’t receive the support that they need, breastfeeding is often aborted for the “easier” pathway of formula feeding. I am a strong advocate of breastfeeding and was fiercely protective of this when I had both of my children. But I want to make it clear, there are some instances in which it is not possible for a mother to breastfeed. In these cases, I hope that people around mama will support her in pumping and feeding her baby (ies) bottled breastmilk. For those mamas who can’t pump or for which their breastmilk is not available/suitable for their babies, there is donor breastmilk and again, I refer mamas to our podcast and blog on the topic. In my opinion, formula feeding should be a last resort, not first-line, when it comes to feeding a baby!

One of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding is support. When a woman is banished to another room to feed her baby, told “Well I didn’t breast feed and you/my son turned out just fine!” or otherwise made to feel wrong or abnormal for her decision, she is not likely to fare very well. Additionally, if she has any sort of difficulty or the baby struggles in any way (i.e. simply cries as he/she learns to latch on effectively) she will likely question her decision. In these times, she needs a strong support system to help her through. Here are some of the resources that I used when I was nursing that helped me to nurse for nearly 11 months and 8 1/2 months respectively with my children.

Father/Partner. One of my fiercest advocates was my husband. When I told him that I intended to nurse exclusively, he really didn’t have any objections. But being the computer nerd that he is, I directed him to the literature on the benefits of breastfeeding. He was immediately hooked! Most nights, he took the late night care of my daughter. I’d nurse her and he would change her, burp her and hang out with her until she went to sleep. So when my mother in law made her comment, he gently replied, “Mom, it is what we have decided to do.” That was the end of the discussion.

Family Members/Friends. My sister nursed both her boys and she was an invaluable resource for me. I must have stayed on the telephone with her 24/7 when I had my daughter getting tips and support.

A Doula/Lactation Consultant. In addition to the wonderful advocate that I had at the hospital, I was really lucky to have a friend who was a doula and lactation consultant who came to my house and helped me with my technique. When I was more ambulatory, I would get assistance from the wonderful staff at Special Addition Maternity and Nursing Boutique, a local maternity boutique in Austin. Not only do they have lactation consultants there in the store, they have a wide variety of products such a breast pumps (for purchase and to rent) slings, breast pads, nipple creams, nursing bras and camisoles, maternity clothes and so much more! I have heard from countless mamas that such support boutiques exist nationwide, so I encourage mamas to seek these places out in their cities.

La Leche League. This now international organization has one sole mission: to assist mothers who want to breast feed to do so. They offer a wealth of information on the benefits of breastfeeding and also offer individual support to mamas around the world. Here is how to contact them:

La Leche League Intenational

La Leche League USA

As far as saggy boobs go, this too can be averted (or least minimized). I started wearing maternity bras by about 16 weeks into both of my pregnancies. My breasts became so heavy, sore and sensitive it was a must for me.  Know this for sure: You won’t nurse successfully if it hurts! Get yourself well supporting nursing bras and you will be on your way to successfully nursing.

Another great nursing product is The Shower Hug. This ingenius garment supports mamas’ breasts while showering or just lounging. Made of Cotton Terry, they are soft and offer excellent support during pregnancy and nursing. For this week, The Shower Hug is being offered with fee shipping.

In subsequent posts this week we’ll discuss the benefits of breastfeeding to both the baby and to the mama. It’s essential information if you are on the fence about whether or not to breastfeed.

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