Monday, 22 January 2018

How women experience parenthood differently from men: Part 2 – the baby feeding bits.

If you weren't scared off with all the anatomical talk yesterday, here's some more for ya - another arena men don't "get" to fully experience when it comes to parentage...boobs!

Ye Olde Breasts
Two bags of tissue underneath the nipples, that come in various shapes and sizes that often don’t live up to media-driven expectations and make under- and over-endowed women feel bad about themselves. Breasts produce milk for babies.

So, you’ve somehow made it through the childbirth or adoption of an infant process. You wish to feed your infant as nature intended, from your breasts. Sometimes, this works and your breasts produce the right amount of milk and the baby figures out how to breastfeed, and breastfeeding is convenient for your life situation, and everyone is happy. 

More often than not, the breasts either produce too little (requiring formula – what an amazing, baby-saving invention) or too much (causing pain and misery for the mother, and angry babies who can’t understand why they are being water-cannoned every time they try to nurse). Or the baby can't figure out how to latch. Or gets too frustrated by the start-up patience required.
Ok that satisfied face is pretty dang sweet, though.

Aside from problems like these, blocked ducts are common and can be extremely painful (the recommended solution is to freaking massage the tender, painful part of your breast), and can lead to mastitis – a bacterial infection of the boob that causes a woman’s entire body to ache like she has the flu. Oh right, and for both of these, we are supposed to keep nursing.

Other problems with breastfeeding include:

a.     Raw nipples. Especially in the beginning before there is much milk, your infant may want to nurse constantly, and often incorrectly, causing all sorts of soreness and even cracking and cuts. This is an excellent way to start an infection, too.

b.     It takes forever. I think I spent about 8 hours a day nursing my infant son, because he was super freaking slow and would fall asleep and have to be coerced to wake up and eat more. Thank goodness for time off, a comfy couch, and good books.

c.     It makes you really thirsty and hungry. I can’t believe the number of times that I desperately begged my husband to bring me a cup of water, while trapped nursing for an hour, and he kindly brought it and then placed it JUST OUT OF REACH. Torture.

d.     It’s messy and awkward at first. Did you know that the baby has to suck for a while to get the milk to start flowing, and then it will “let down” and suddenly start coming out in force? Did you know that it comes out from both boobs at once? Useful if you have twins nursing together, but otherwise just a great way to soak through your nursing pads and shirt. The milk still continues to come out when the baby gets distracted and randomly unlatches, spraying everywhere.

e.     It can be embarrassing. We are generally raised not to flash our nipples in polite company. Despite the best intentions of those companies that make breastfeeding covers, I could never get my kids to nurse under a blanket. Once the baby is on, if they stay on, there’s not a lot showing, but the initial hoisting-up of the shirt and hoisting down of the nursing bra cup, etc. can be rather embarrassing. My most awkward encounter was when Ryder was 6 weeks old and I was at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reunion party at the American Geophysical Union conference. I retreated to a quiet corner, got set up to breastfeed, and just then an old male professor came up and started talking to me. I’m not sure if he was genuinely unaware of or unbothered by what I was doing, but he just kept talking to me as if it was totally normal that I was busy whipping out my boob at a work event.

f.      Babies get teeth. Enough said.

g.     Parental imbalance. The existence of and ability for mothers to breastfeed can create a sort of “well, you are naturally better at this so why don’t you do everything” attitude. I can’t count the number of times a crying baby was foisted on me with the words “s/he’s hungry” even if I was 99.9% certain s/he was not and I just wanted 5 minutes to take a freaking shower/eat/brush my teeth/stare at the wall alone.
This baby totally pretended to take a bottle up until I went back to work. Grr.

h.     It makes you sleepy. Breastfeeding releases hormones including oxytocin and prolactin, which can make a woman really tired. Therefore, even if we were really clever and could type while nursing, for example, we generally aren’t really 100% up to it because we are flooded with hormones that tell us "Stare at your cute baby! Relax! Take a nap!".

i.      Pumping. Moms who go back to work and want to continue to breastfeed generally have to use electric (or manual) pumps to simulate nursing. This alleviates the inevitable pain associated with over-full breasts at work, allows moms to bottle the milk to leave behind when they are away, and keeps the breasts producing milk as needed. But it’s time consuming, messy, and requires a lot of parts that have to be remembered, washed and stored properly, etc. It's also practically impossible for the milk to be released if you are stressed, such as if you have to pump in an awkward location like the bathroom or you are worried your colleagues might walk in on you.

Fun story: I flew to Hawaii for work while nursing, and brought all the parts except the dang power cord for my electric pump. I didn’t have my own rental car and was at the mercy of my male colleagues, who thought I was really weird for continually and frantically asking whether we might happen to be driving past an electronics store. Finally, 24 hours in and almost debilitated by pain, I thought to explain: “It’s a medical problem, and I need to buy a power cord immediately.” “Oh, I thought you just wanted to charge your phone. Let’s go!”

Another one: I had to pump on the plane from Australia once. There were no outlets in the bathroom, so the stewardess literally suggested, and I had to, pump in my seat with a blanket over me. 

I was lucky not to have to pump on fieldwork, but have heard many horror stories.

Also, pumping releases the same sleepifying hormones as nursing…just exactly what you want flooding your body in the middle of your work day.

j.      Boobs are great. My babies loved nursing so much, they refused bottles. Like, “I will starve myself all day and scream for as long as you try to give me that second-rate crap” kind of refusal. This led to one of my favorite stories:
Jessica: “Ryder will only take milk from me, so I'd like permission to work from home.”
Boss: “Why don’t you have Adam wear your perfume?” (Do you think I wear perfume?)
Jessica: “No, I mean he doesn’t want milk from a bottle, just from me.”
Boss: “Oh, you mean he wants the TIT!”
Jessica: * grimace *
Luckily she loved and still loves food, so she didn't starve herself at daycare despite not taking bottles (unlike my son).
k.     Weaning…ugh. I nursed Adelaide way past age two because she would cry so pathetically when I would tell her she was old enough and I wanted to stop nursing. Finally, I explained: “Producing milk for you is hurting my body, and I need to stop.”
Adelaide, contemplating: "Ok, can I have milk in a cup?”
Me: “Yes! Of course!”
      Not sure why I didn’t think of that sooner. The “hurting my body” part was maybe a little extreme – I was actually just vainly frustrated that my metabolism had gone to shit while nursing, and over it.

So, men, tell me how your taking leave to go to the park and the beach and read to your baby, and then jump on the computer and perfect that Matlab code without the necessity to nurse, pump, take care of f-ed up nipples, sleepiness related to said nursing and pumping, etc. is equivalent? 

Stay tuned for the last part of this uber-TMI series: the other bits!

p.s. if you are interested in learning more about the science behind breastfeeding in mammals - check out Katie Hinde's awesome Mammals Suck...Milk! blog

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