On Being Unexpectedly Crummy at Breastfeeding

You really did not think this was going to happen, partly because you spent nine months being practically Gisele about EVERYONE SHOULD DO IT and WOMEN WHO SAY THEY CAN’T ARE LIARS BECAUSE EVOLUTION (not out loud, or anything, because you’re likable), but quietly and fatuously in your head. And you read The Politics of Breastfeeding and attended the LLL meetings and waltzed around feeling completely confident that you would produce such an excess of precious perfect nutrition from your body that you could probably add it to kale smoothies and donate it to nice gay male adoptive parents.

Natural childbirth, of course, you assumed you would crash and burn at, which is why you said not a single solitary word about it to anyone (except Edith, obviously), but any time someone asked you if you were going to breastfeed, you were all as a mammal, it seems likely.

But natural childbirth worked! And it took a couple of days for your milk to come in, which is completely normal. Expected! You expected it. And in the interim she lost about 13% of her birth weight, which is…more than normal, but not completely disastrous. And she was a little baby to begin with, so she started to look like a plucked chicken, but no big deal. But your milk came in, and you fed every hour or so, because that’s what you do, and you had to wake her UP to feed, because snoozy, but she always had a great latch, and looked satisfied and drunk when she fell off, so you assumed you were in business.

And then you brought her back in, and she had lost another ounce. So, obviously, you had a crazy weeping fit in your pediatrician’s office, and BEGGED for more time when she extremely hesitantly suggested you might need to start supplementing. Lactation consultant! Pump! Fenugreek! Blessed thistle! Nursing vacations! (You get in bed, naked, with your naked baby, load up the entire run of The Wire, have people bring you water and food, do nothing but nurse for 48 hours.)

She wouldn’t gain. It wasn’t great.

So you started supplementing. And the rotten thing about supplementing is how hard it is to stop. Your baby gains weight. No matter how wigged out you were about YOUR weight at fourteen, it’s got nothing on how you trace every inch of your underweight baby’s arms with your eyes to see if they’re filling out. It’s all you think about. You start to dream about it. So when your baby actually gains weight, it’s like crystal meth. You want more.

No one really knows how to supplement. Do you nurse, then top her up each time? Or do you nurse twelve times a day, and give one bottle? The math screws you either way. Every ounce of formula she eats is an ounce you won’t make the next day. You’re embarrassed. You’re a failure. You would have a DEAD CAVEMAN BABY. Your baby will be dumb. Your baby will have asthma.

Eventually, your baby is almost four months old. You nurse her every time she wakes up, and before every feed. She likes it okay, it’s pleasant. Maybe she gets a couple of ounces a day? Five, maybe. Not from your right breast, she hates that one. You don’t want to buy formula in public, so you use Amazon. Amazon does not judge you. No one else judges you, to be honest, except for the horrible awful bitches on this thread from Mothering, which haunts your dreams.

And you could have tried harder. There were nights you let her sleep three hours in a row so that YOU could. There’s a weird off-label non-FDA approved drug that increases your milk production with few side effects. There’s an FDA-approved one that turns you into a firemonster. Instead of a bottle, you could have supplemented with the leaky tube that you tape to your nipple. EVEN NOW you might be able to ooze her off, an ounce at a time. You’re probably a bad person.

Next time you’ll do better.

(Photo: Artificially-fed baby watches Kill Bill, is artificially fed.)