Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mama Bean is tired of using nursing aids

Nobody told me my nipples would be inappropriate. And I'm a little bitter about it. I didn't know they were too large, and too flat, and too not-what-babies-want-to-suck-on. I have a well endowed chest; my breasts have been womanly since high school. It wouldn't have been a huge jump of logic for someone involved in my prenatal care to determine my nipples might, likewise, be quite large. Don't get me wrong, I loved our prenatal care, and find almost zero fault with it. Just this one little thing, I think, could have been addressed.

Lactating is not the problem, was never going to be a problem. I started leaking months before Bean was born. Every time I snuggled with Papa Bean at bedtime, the abundant oxytocin would trigger let down all over his arm, or the sheets. Of course, this would have been a problem with using nipple shells in the last trimester, as they would have triggered leaking, and that might get embarrassing at work. But I didn't know nipple shields were an option, because I didn't know my nipples needed shaping, because nobody told me.

My large, flat nipples did not perk up when Bean tried to latch on. And he was all sleepy newborn, so it was hard to convince him to keep trying. The first 24 hours, we dutifully woke each three hours, unwrapped and undressed the little creature to wake him up, and tried, in vain, to encourage my nipples to harden enough to stick in his mouth and trigger a suck reflex. Papa Bean stumbled out to Toys 'R' Us to buy nipple shields, but his sleep Majesty couldn't muster the energy to suck on that, either. So then I'd hand express into a spoon and give him that. It was not enough.

In retrospect, I would have kept working the pump until I got the hang of it, to get enough colostrum into the spoon to make that first day and night less absolutely terrifying. In fact, I would have washed and sanitized the pumping and bottle equipment well before the due date. Well, I would have, if I'd known I was going to need it immediately. But I didn't know, as we've gone over, because nobody told me. I thought my enormous breasts were going to make breast feeding so easy. So wrong, was I.

Our midwife gave us an SNS system, which is a large plastic syringe with a long, tiny tube attached, instead of a needle. I pumped before every feeding, filled the syringe, threaded the tube into the nipple shield, and encouraged Bean to suck, while dripping the milk slowly through the shield into his tummy. I did not have enough hands to do this alone, so Papa Bean had to help me, every three hours, for the first week. I recorded meticulously how many mLs we did each time. Then I'd pump again, and boil water and clean everything up. It took an hour, plus diaper changing, rewrapping, and convincing the child to sleep. Then I'd get 90 minutes tops, to sleep until next time. We did this for a week. It was exhausting, obviously, but that's why they're the Delirious Early Days for everyone. I felt especially bad for Papa Bean. He wasn't getting any sleep either, because I couldn't feed Bean alone, so he couldn't function or support me the way he wanted with the house stuff. And he had to go back to work.

After a week, I gave up the SNS because I was sick of it. I let Bean just eat through the nipple shield. It was hard, because I couldn't tell anymore how many mLs he was drinking. I obsessively timed the feedings instead, recording how long he spent on each breast. He got the hang of it, thank goodness. And we've been feeding with the nipple shield ever since.

Bean is four months old now. It's not that we haven't made progress. He used to be very messy, sucking long enough to fill the shield, then pulling off, allowing a tablespoon of sticky milk to fall onto the feeding pillow. I still keep a receiving blanket under his head, just in case, and to wipe my nipple and his face off. And to keep track of which breast I fed on. And it used to take 45 minutes, but lately we're down to 20 for some daytime feedings. It's just that I'm tired of it. I'm tired of schlepping this piece of molded silicon from room to room (or place to place). I'm tired of being afraid that I can't feed him unless I have the precious thing - it's like a security blanket, but for my boob. Bean, however, is not tired of it. In fact, he does not recognize naked nipple as the actual anatomy from which the milk summons forth. They have been softened and shaped, or whatever, by his sucking, but they still don't get very hard or big, so they still don't reach far enough into his mouth to trigger sucking. It seems I'm stuck with the thing.

It does worry me for our next child, too. I know we can carry forward our lessons and skills, so it won't be quite so overwhelming and delirious. But I do suspect I will not escape the nursing aids next time. I just don't think my nipples are good enough. At least the milk comes out. At least we didn't give up. I am truly glad I can breastfeed him the sweet milky goodness all the lactivists and baby-pundits assure me is the best. So there's that. But I will be pleased when he's on solids and we can slowly get rid of this thing.

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