Peg

7 Truths that Every Working Woman Should Know Before Having a Child—Part V

Okay, so way back on November 30th, I committed to tell you about the fifth myth on my list of seven myths: 5. Breastfeeding is Easy and Natural. This was sort of the inspiration for the entire series. I was sparked to write the series when I realized that some of my girlfriends had no idea about what breastfeeding and being a working mom entailed. This realization also made me remember how clueless I was about the same subject before giving it a try myself.

Here are the truths: It is complicated, time-consuming, often painful, and anything but easy. I suppose calling it "natural" isn't a myth but just because something is in our nature doesn't mean that it is easy to juggle in our modern daily lives of raising a family and working.

So why is it complicated?

Well, the first thing is the politics of breastfeeding. There is a lot of debate among women about whether or not it is important to breastfeed. When my mother had me (in the 70s) breastfeeding was not a popular choice. She didn't and I turned out just fine -- great, even smile. In the 90s, breastfeeding was lauded as the best thing a mother can do for her child. It seemed that everyone was going to at least try to do it. The debate sparked a lot of judging between women who felt strongly that it was the best thing to do for your child and not doing it was selfish and those women that, for a large number of reasons, decided not to breastfeed or couldn't breastfeed.

Second, it is complicated because it is deeply personal. Decisions about how to mother are personal family decisions. I, for one, was never willing to discuss my breastfeeding choices outside of the confines of my own home and even there I never discussed it with my dad or my brother. I rarely talked about it with my husband. Afterall, there is a viable alternative - baby formula. Therefore, I felt like the decision (and the struggle) to breastfeed was mine alone. I took control of how it was done and how long I would fight to keep doing it.

So why is it time-consuming?

Well, this may be obvious but you're the only one that can do it. That means that everytime the baby needs to eat, you are there feeding it. It is nearly impossible to multi-task during feeding especially when the baby is young, small, and not that good at it himself/herself. One caveat, however. I breastfed my kids before having a blackberry. I am now pretty good at operating the blackberry with one hand so, today, I could see myself checking emails or textmessaging while feeding. (Is that progress? hmmm)

It is also time-consuming because if you ever want or need to break away from the need for you to personally deliver nutrition to your baby, you'll have to express (i.e. pump) milk. This process requires some sort of machinery, time to sterilize equipment, packaging, labeling, and refridgerating containers of milk. Also, a lot of the time, expressing milk can take longer than it would to just feed the baby. More about pumping below.

It is also time consuming because your body requires you to keep to a schedule. When your baby is small you can feed the baby when it is hungry and this will be just right to keep you body able to produce the milk the baby needs. However, if you want to store up milk in the freezer for when you go back to work, you'll need to express milk regularly in small amounts so as to not interfere with your baby's nutrition and so that you slowly build up your body's milk production. Once you are back to work or expressing frequently, you'll have to keep on a schedule. If you start skipping pumping sessions, you body will slow down production. Committing to doing something every 3 or 4 hours is time consuming. It requires planning and scheduling and interferes with other daily tasks that don't always come in 3 hour blocks of time committment.

Finally, it is time consuming because breastfeeding takes over many of the other choices in your daily life. You have to think about what you eat, how much you exercise, what you wear, etc. Oh, one thing about what you wear.... I was shocked when I discovered the problem of leakage. Ahhhhh, you will need absorbant padding for when you go back to work so that everyone in the office doesn't see your milk all over the front of your shirt.

Why is it painful?

I will leave out many of the details here. Let's just say that there is bleeding involved in the begining for many women. Also, engorgement from missing feedings or choosing not to breastfeed hurts, like really bad heartburn or chest pains. Some women also describe "let down" as being painful. Let down can best be described as when the ducts open to allow milk to flow. It happens whenever you feed the baby or express milk.

Why is it "anything but easy"?

With my children I was committed to breastfeeding them as long as I could keep it up. I completely understand the decision to not breastfeed that many of my friends and family have made. For me, I didn't have a good reason not to try to do it so I did. The first surprise was that the baby wasn't all that good at it. I could tell that he was hungry and he could tell that I had food but the two of us just couldn't make it work all that easily. At first, I had to be in a certain uncomfortable physical position and had to hold him in a certain muscle-tiring way just to get him to eat. Overtime (a few weeks), he (and I) got better at it and he could eat in any position and any place in the house. Before that however, it seemed like the two of us were fighting with each other just to make it work.

I had about 10 weeks of vacation with the first baby so after 6 weeks, I started to pump milk to store for the times that I wouldn't be available to feed him once I went back to work. I didn't want to get a huge electronic machine that required a large carrying case and batteries or an outlet to operate. So, I used a hand-operated pump system that actually worked pretty well for me. I was fortunate because my body cooperated with the pump from the beginning. This may be because I didn't expect too much from the start and slowly built up the pumping sessions a little at a time. In any case, pumping is not easy for most women. The trick is the "let down". Your body has to let down the milk or nothing will come out. I know women who have to be in a quiet dark place and looking at a picture of their baby to achieve let down in order to express milk. I know women who have recorded their baby's crys on their IPOD in order to achieve let down at the office. In any case, let down is as much mental as it is physical. You have to find the right circumstances for you personally to acheive let down and I would say that being rushed, frazzeled and uncomfortable won't do it for most women. This makes pumping at work harder than it could be.

Even with my relative success at pumping, breastfeeding my first only lasted 4.5 months total and with my second only about 3 months. I was in a career that was even less friendly to breastfeeding mothers than the law. I had an office with a door (but no windows) but a bunch of people that worked for me that were used to having access to me at all times. I also had the sort of job where I was out of the office frequently for long stretches of time. I started to miss pumping sessions and each time I missed a pumping session (scheduled for every four hours or so) it seemed that my milk supply decreased from there on out. Eventually, my body just stopped producing milk. This happened when the first baby was about 4 months old and I had about 2 weeks of milk stored in the freezer. We stretched that milk out by alternating feedings with breastmilk and formula over the next month or so and then the baby was on formula full time.

What's the takeaway from this post? I chose to try to breastfeed as a working mother. I made it work for as long as I could and I would do the same over again. I didn't breastfeed for one year or even six months but I feel good about the effort I gave it. In the end, it was too hard for me to juggle it. My career would not allow me to dedicate the constant attention required to the effort. It isn't easy to do and it can be time consuming. It is harder for some women and impossible for some. I guess I just wanted to let everyone know that breastfeeding and working is an undertaking. You will likely be surprised at how unnatural it seems at times.

Post IV Post VI

10 Comments

kateeb

<span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>I have to say that my experience was quite different. I think that we need women to overcome shyness and share their experiences because it is the only way we'll ever get past the extremes (which is usually what I hear - either  "it was bliss" or "it was hell" (just my shorthand - your relatively moderate experience sounds like a version of "this is hell".  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>My experience was not easy but quite different from yours. First of all I have no problem with "natural". It IS natural. That doesn't mean it isn't a skill you need to acquire. It is about as natural as reading - which almost everyone can do but they do need to learn it first. Yes our brains are made to master reading the same way our bodies are made to master breastfeeding, but that doesn't make it easy.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>Assertion: it is complicated time-consuming, often painful.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>I don't know that it is that complicated, I think it is as complex as you make it by stressing about it. And while I made it complicated for myself for about the first 3 months, after that I just stopped worrying. It didn't get "easier" but it was not as complicated by my wasting energy stressing about it. The turning point was that I met a friend I hadn't seen for ages and she told me her big secret - that she said she wished she'd been told before breastfeeding. It was: latch is not the secret cure-all for breast pain, it just happens and if you tough it out it will stop eventually even if you absolutely nothing about latch or anything else. So I was still seeing lactation consultants, going to support groups and asking friends (even my mother-in-law) for tips before that in the hope of cracking the Great Latch Technique. When I stopped worrying about it and just gritted my teeth I noticed that around 2 weeks later (exactly when my friend had said "between 3-4 months" ) it stopped hurting. Bingo.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”> As for the politics - well I just never bought into that. I took the attitude that I was feeding my kid the best food around and that was nothing anyone should see as a problem. I am full of sympathy for those women who are physically unable to breastfeed (and for medical reasons was expected to be one of them so I was prepared for that)...but I think its only a problem politically because mothers let it be. If breastfeeders stopped being coy about it and were matter-of-fact and open and non-breastfeeders stopped projecting their guilt or resentment then we'd all be happier. I worked in a large firm at the time and I went to see the partner and told him that I would have to be out of the office for 30 mins twice a day to feed the baby (either pumping or breastfeeding, no I didn't go into that detail but it was pretty obvious what I meant). I don't think false modesty is called for and frankly what's there to be shy about? I come from a country where you can see mothers breastfeeding in alfresco cafes in the main central business district any day of the week, it just didn't occur to me to be embarrassed. Tactful yes, but not so much as to hide the truth or hide from it. As an aside I think Americans have a bit of a warped view of breasts and bodies generally. A little more exposure to the rest of the world might help. I guess that means I disagree with you that it is DEEPLY PERSONAL. It is personal in the sense it is not intrinsically work-related. But its hardly like telling your boss what brand of toilet paper or contraceptive you use. The first question my friends and acquaintances asked when I told them I was pregnant (after all the congratulations) was "do you think you can breastfeed? If you can how long are you planning for?". As it turned out we all ended up breastfeeding about the same time - 10-15 months.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>I guess that leads to agreeing with you that it is often painful, but that this is not something that is NECESSARILY a "problem" that can be "fixed". After all you are doing something considerably rougher to your body than you ever have before. Why we'd expect it not to hurt is a bit of a mystery.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>Is it time consuming? I think this is totally a matter of luck. My baby used to feed no more than 5 mins on each side every single feed. Yes in some global sense when you're feeding every couple of hours it takes time but it is hardly tying you to a chair for the duration of the newshour. Gradually as he got older he fed longer, topping the clock at 20 mins (10 mins each side). In other words even when I was at work and dashing out to feed him (more on this later) I could do the whole thing in a 30 min roundtrip.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>Honestly my advice to working women is that eating healthily isn't a breastfeeding decision (and shouldn't add to the negatives) it is a life decision. Almost no baby actually needs you to change what you eat that much (avoiding things if they have an allergy is pretty rare and its a myth that spicy or other foods somehow affec them or give them gas). The biggies are alcohol and caffeine but after pregnancy you are probably used to that. Also don't stress about exercise while you're breastfeeding, if you are eating sensibly you really shouldn't have to exercise at all and any you do is a bonus given how many calories you burn doing it. I am an anti-exercise freak and I lost all my pregnancy weight in 3 months and then some more slowly after that. What you wear? Again, when you get more skilled at breastfeeding it matters less what you wear. I could breastfeed discreetly in a pull-up top or a button up blouse and just was easily in an ordinary bra or the maternity variety. In fact I ended up finding that pulling my shirt down after feeding and then being able to adjust my bra without showing flesh was much easier WITHOUT all the clips and stuff.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>Leakage is something you need to be aware of but is REALLY easy to stop being a problem. Disposable pads are very effective. I needed them for the duration of my breastfeeding (13 months) though I went from 5 pairs per 24 hours in the first month to 1 pair overnight only at the end.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>One piece of advice I'd give is that you should buy the best pump you can afford - and that means electric if you can. It is SO much easier and quicker and less painful (both to the breast and the carpal tunnel on the pumping hand). I used a hand pump when travelling and couldn't imagine why anyone would choose it as a regular option unless price was an issue. I was able to get a full feed (the volume varied at different ages and stages) in 5-10 mins, about the same as a feed plus a couple of mins to stick it in the fridge. You can just get the tops for the bottles that go on the pump so that there's no pouring it into bags until you have time.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>“I had about 10 weeks of vacation with the first baby so after 6 weeks, I started to pump milk”. To me this sentence says everything you need to know about working and breastfeeding. In the first 4-6 months you are exhausted. Babies just don’t sleep for long stretches at that age. To be going back to work at all in that time seems to me a recipe for disaster. I went back to work at 5 months and that was too early to be easy (for other reasons not directly related to breastfeeding). In most civilized parts of the world you get 1 year or more to get settled back to work (often women start back as early as 5 months after birth but go part time for several months). The idea that you can just pop the baby on a bottle at 10-12 weeks (and many firms have 12 week paid maternity leave policies) and get back to normal working life is ludicrous. The problem isn’t that breastfeeding is hard it is that it is just DIFFERENT to working and the 2 don’t mix very well. To combine the 2 you’d need a firm that didn’t dump new work on your at 1pm and 6pm sharp, which in my experience is the only time you see the partners. You’d also need the opportunity to work on non-transactional advice work – yes it is out there – while you get your schedule in place. And the ability to work from home where you can stop for 10 mins, feed the baby and go back to work without all that messing about traveling to childcare. Also one thing that new mothers ought to be told is that unless you give the baby a bottle very early on and regularly he/she may not take a bottle EVER. And even doing it promptly is no guarantee. There are babies who will simply refuse bottles unless they are weaned completely from the breast (a step that a woman who has made the commitment to breastfeed for the health benefits is unlikely to want to make). I gave my baby a bottle at 4 weeks, the recommended time to allow for establishment of supply (pumps are just not as good at this as a baby though nipple confusion is mostly a myth). Nonetheless he refused a bottle (formula or breastmilk) and would just starve himself until I was next around. This led the childcare director to make the horrendous (and traumatizing) claim that “all babies take bottles”. I looked into that. It is just not true. What is true is that babies will eventually take a bottle rather than starve but the eventually may take (very stressful) days and mean you can’t continue to breastfeed at all. So if you plan to rely on bottles do start early – but mind that you will have a supply drop from starting in the first few weeks so give extra feeds to compensate. I can imagine that like me there must be heaps of women out there who went back to work with babies not reliably taking bottles and that is very stressful for a new mother and breastfeeder. Firms can make it easier by allowing you maximum time to work from home, thus allowing you to breastfeed as a short interlude to work.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>Once again I can’t imagine your experience of let-down trouble is typical. All the women I know just had to think about their baby’s birth or look at a photo and relax with a cup of tea to let down. For many the fact they were expressing every 4 hours whereas their baby might feed every 3 hours on their days off was enough to make them let down instantly. Also you continue to let down (usually without feeling a thing) during pumping.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>I am sorry for you that your experience only lasted 4.5 months at most. To me that is not success, that is workplace induced (ie their fault not yours) failure. No wonder your supply dropped if you were missing pumping times, that is one of the most basic pieces of info.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>In the end it wasn’t breastfeeding that made me leave my job 4 months after returning (when my baby was nearly 10 months old and 3 months from weaning). I could have weaned then. We had other family reasons I decided to leave but the breastfeeding was going fine even though I had to walk to the childcare centre and feed him twice a day because he wouldn’t take a bottle.  </span><span 5pt; font-family: Verdana”>Anyway, I think your story is heard a lot, but it isn’t the only story out there and a lot of the negativity about breastfeeding is about how you perceive it. No its not easy, but it isn’t that hard either.  </span>

Peg

I am sorry but your story sounds even harder than mine.  You were home for 5 months, went to a lactation specialist, had to walk to the daycare center twice a day to feed, etc —all things that would be impossible for me and other women that I know.  Obviously, you made sacrifices that I was not willing to make.  And I thought I made sacrifices!
There are most certainly cultural and societal pressures that we working women in the US face that we would not face in other countries.  However, that fact alone does not make these pressures any less real or lessen their impact on our lives.  To some how say that they are invalid because "the rest of the civilized world" does something else or has another set of priorities or different culture is unfair.  I have lived outside of the US for extended periods but that really doesn't change my US experience whatsoever.  You claim to be above the fray of the politics of breastfeeding, yet you comment starts with the assertion that you fed your baby the "best" food.  That is a judgment call that, like it or not, is both political and personal in this country.

kateeb

Peg to say breastfeeding is the best food available (when it is available) is not a judgement in the negative sense you ascribe. It is simply a scientific fact proved over and over again by US scientists (amongst others).
That's not to say everyone can do it. Many cannot and good alternatives exist for those women which should have no shame attached becuase they did not control their whole situation.
I think it is hilarious that you think I had a terrible time breastfeeding. I agred with some of your negatives and disagreed with others but overall it was not the breastfeeding that was hard at all. Which just goes to prove my point - that it is all about how you percieve things - so tell women they are victims and breastfeeding is awful and that is how it will be viewed by them.
I am only arguing that it is a lot more complex and varied than your original post acknowledges.

bangalee57

I'm glad to see you gave it several months, but I wanted to add another supportive comment for women who are deciding on nursing while working.
I was still an undergrad when I had my daughter, and partially for cost reasons I decided to nurse.  It was painful at first, but constant application of Lanolin saved me from much of the cracking and bleeding.  After about two months, the pain would subside as soon as I let down and the blissfully fantastic hormones that accompany let-down would wash over me.  I never had trouble with let-down,  except for the pins and needles sensation, but even that prickly feeling decreased over time.  In fact, I worked as a waitress and any crying child in the restaurant would trigger me to let-down.  After a few more weeks, the pain went away completely.
Yes, you do need pads in your bra because leakage is embarrassing.  I carried extras with me at all times, just like for other needs.
I nursed my daughter for 14 months before she weaned herself, and I eagerly anticipate nursing again with future children.  I dropped my baby weight quickly, I ate like crazy, and I (truly) didn't have trouble with post-partum depression (now exhaustion… whole other story and I had lots of that).
I encourage every woman who expresses an interest in nursing and offer to provide advice upon request (rather than just giving the advice unsolicited).  I also give out lots of tubes of lanolin and those gel hot/cold inserts for bras.  I am so glad I stuck with my decision to nurse, even though I had to work a bit at scheduling since I was in class much of the day away from my daughter.
Before law school, I was a claims adjuster and worked long hours at a frantic pace, as did the rest of my coworkers.  However, women in my office who chose to nurse - and there were several - were fully supported by the boss.  In fact, the call center on the other side of town had a lactation room built into the facility.
It is unfortunate that the decision to work and nurse come into conflict.  I wanted to offer my story so that women who read this post get a balanced view of both the challenges and rewards.

jessie

Thanks to Peg for this post and this series. As someone who has not started a family this has all been pretty enlightening.
As for comments that breastfeeding need not be a complicated commitment, both physically and politically: I can attest that as someone relatively unfamiliar with the demands of child rearing it sounds incredibly complicated to me.
I mean, the counter-posts are supposed to be comforting or reassuring because they were only in pain for weeks not months!?! Ahhh! You had to wear pads in your bra?!? You tingle?!? THERE'S BLOOD?!?
I recognize that the first reaction to my alarm might be to conclude I'm just not cut out to have children, period. I mean if I can't handle the description of breastfeeding how am I going to give birth, right? But actually, I suspect my apprehensions and ignorances are shared by many women who have not yet had or even considered having children. It's all pretty foreign and women don't talk about these things to us "outsiders."
That's why Peg's series has been so fantastic. So thanks.

iowa

Breastfeeding is a personal and complicated decision.  I believe in "best you can do".  When I was expecting my first child my physician told me I could not breastfeed because it put me at risk.  I was fortunate to have the support of my child's doctor who specialized in pediatrics nutrition.  When I had to supplement the breastmilk "to soon" because my child was hungry, I was reassured by the peds nutritionist that I had already given my child great advantage.  I respect another mother's evaluation of "best she can do!"

Karen H

There is a post about the judging that goes on between women and the subject of breastfeeding at The Juggle today.  The comments are quite eye-opening.  Ladies, give it a rest!

what206

Breastfeeding is easy and natural. I have found that unless you are a percentage of a FEW women who really can not breastfeed (there are not many) then if you decide to give up you were not trying hard enough.
You do have to learn it. You have to want to do it. You have to be committed for the best for your child.
Peg, I read your article and was laughing the entire time. It is very clear, particularly from your comments, that your child does not come first. Just say it, don’t rationalize it or make excuses. It is what it is and we would prefer you don’t try to sugar coat it.
For anyone reading and worried, breastfeeding does not hurt, you do not bleed and it is not time consuming. You may be a little sore in the begining but your nipples will get used to it. Instead of lanolin try expressing breastmilk on your nipples after you feed. I never had any infections or cracking.
I read your story and it’s a joke. When you have a child your children come first. Some women have to work but then there are others who are probably better off not having children. I suggest readers looking for real information to go elsewhere regarding breastfeeding.
For me, pumping was harder to do. Cleaning bottles, labeling, bringing the pump. It actually messes up your natural schedule. Despite of that, pumping is still NOT hard either.
If your milk supply is too low that means you are doing too much and you need to rest. Drink water.
My child came early and there were a ton of times I could have stopped and said, “oh I couldn’ breastfeed” and would have had a pretty good excuse for quitting. I see how so many women quit and just give up. But for some reason they can run a marathon or work 80 hours a week. If you want something you want it.  You will find a way.
You said it so clearly when you said that you were not willing to make certain sacrifices for your children. You are selfish. Period. It’s as if you are the kind of woman if science were to be able to let us have the option to not get pregnant and just have babies you’d opt out of being pregnant so you could go to work.
Sorry for the rant but this women is giving terrible advice. Ladies please see a lactation consultant when you are pregnant, and a few times after the baby is born. Breastfeeding is easy, IF you are prepared and educated about how to handle certain situations before they arise.
That is, if you really are committed to doing it in the first case. Ms. Peg was not.

Peg

Wow, if it’s so easy and natural, why do you say that you have to learn it, want it and be committed to it?  (sounds like one of those tough work-out regimens or a really crappy diet program—neither of which are easy and natural) Why are you telling people that they need to hire somebody to tell them how to do it (e.g. a lactation consultant)?  Why are you telling working women that pumping is too difficult. 
Your comment is  doing a disservice to women that need to know the truth about the challenges of being a working mother and breastfeeding is one of them. 
I for one, did not expect it to be so hard so I was attempting to share my experience so that others can avoid being as surprised as I was by the whole experience.  My post about my experience, is just that, it’s my experience.  You cannot claim to know better than I what I went through.  For example, I experienced bleeding.  You, obviously, didn’t. 
  Say what you want about me being selfish.  I work.  If you want to say that is selfish, go ahead.  I’m not giving advice about being a stay at home mother.  I’m not giving advice about working in a career that will let you always put your child first.  I’m sharing my experience about being a working mother in a demanding career.  That’s my reality.

Peg

Another great post up at The Juggle about this:  http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/2011/06/01/study-longer-maternity-leave-more-breastfeeding/

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