Category Archives: Breastfeeding

Surviving Mastitis

Last month I had my second bout with mastitis. It is not pretty, let me tell you. But I got through it, again, without antibiotics or further complications. There seem to be some common conditions that bring it on, for me at least.

The first time I had it, Del had gotten his first round of newborn shots (at 8 weeks) and the pediatrician told me he’d probably be sleepy. That entire day, Del nursed only sporadically and yes, slept a lot. That night was the first time he slept “through the night” (a total of about 7 hours uninterrupted that night) which should have been marvelous. Except that my breasts got so full I was getting sore. Sometime in the night I thought it must have gotten very cold outside and our apartment was cooling down, because I had chills. By early morning I realized my chills were fever, and it was easy to tie the fever to the bright red, hot, hard and painful spot on my left breast, about the diameter of a Ritz cracker. My temperature was 101 and I was aching all over. Checking my breastfeeding books and the internet confirmed my suspicions: mastitis.

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Breastfeeding feelings and D-MER

Many thanks to Mothering Touch for sharing this video about a condition I had not heard of till now – Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER). The video is worth watching -knowing there is a physiological reason for negative feelings that come right before milk lets down can help many moms manage the condition.

The gist is that about 10% of breastfeeding mothers experience a wash of negative emotions preceding the milk let-down reflex. (For those to whom this is Greek: milk let-down occurs in response to the baby suckling – in the first few second/minutes of a breastfeeding session, the baby is not getting milk. The suckling stimulates the milk ducts to open and release the milk stored behind them. It often causes a physical tingling sensation, and is accompanied by a release of the hormone oxytocin – the bonding hormone – to the brain.) For 10% of nursing moms, the moments preceding milk let-down are accompanied by a brief sense of doom, failure, anger, panic and/or fear. Most moms who experience this don’t know it’s a physiological condition, and don’t find help.

Personally, in my early days of breastfeeding, I experienced a rush of sleepiness when my milk let down, and sometimes a feeling best described as peaceful sadness. The sad feeling has pretty much passed,  but I still often feel very sleepy in response to that dose of oxytocin. Not surprising – it’s the same hormone that makes us cuddle and sleep with our lovers. I always figured it was my body’s way of insuring that I get some rest, and that my baby and I snuggle and bond in a way I might overlook if not physically reminded to do it.

I want all moms who are willing to also be able to breastfeed – and to get help for any challenges they experience. I hope this post helps.


A few images of breastfeeding that I like

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Here’s what I think about the TIME magazine cover.

This week’s TIME magazine cover has sparked a media milkstorm you can’t avoid if you’re even remotely alive and connected to the outside world. From a dozen Facebook references to glimpses of the cover on the morning talk shows while I worked out this morning (yeah, bragging about working out this morning) to emails from friends asking what I thought.

I think several things, but you should skip it all and just read #6 because that’s the one that matters.

Can you accurately identify the problem here?

1) That mother is way hotter than most moms. (This is important later.)

2) It’s as much my business how long she nurses her child as it is my business who a gay man or woman can and can’t marry. That is: it’s my business to say this is something a responsible adult should be allowed to decide for themselves.

3) I might have been inclined to say that nursing that long is just too long, except that I recently saw this and it really touched me: http://mothering.com/all-things-mothering/baby-2/breastfeeding/extended-breastfeeding-from-the-mouth-of-the-not-so-babe  …so, probably longer than I will breastfeed Del but I am moved that this very little person in the video has a clear sense of how and why nursing is important to her.

4) This photo is completely staged for maximum reaction: a) the woman is young and hot and standing in a posture that is emphasizes her sexual attractiveness. Remove the child and cover the bare breast and she’s just a sexy woman making  eyes at the camera. Her sexuality is being highlighted – see #5 for more on that. b) Her child is standing on a chair. No one would ever nurse that way. Put this mom in her yoga pants and GAP nursing t-shirt on a couch holding a child the way she most likely nurses him and it’s a very different image. c) The child is dressed in big kid clothes including camo. The kid is what, three? Put him in his pull ups and t-shirt with big bird on it and several aspects of this image change. d) The child is a son. They heighten the viewers gut reaction by showing us a boy sucking a girl’s boob. My point is this: same mom, on the couch in her comfy clothes, holding a pig-tailed three year old girl in pull-ups and t-shirt, nursing — voila, far fewer people would look, care or react. It would hardly make a magazine cover, which is a shame because that would be a lovely image.

5) The image plays on the mental confusion of  most anti-breastfeeding-in-public types – their ingrained fear of the blend of sexuality and nurturing that public breastfeeding entails. It is just more than they can handle, because by golly boobs are for sex and I should not have to see them being used any other way (translation: because I don’t WANT to see them being used any other way). My point, if and how long to breastfeed is a decision for parents to make, but now all the uptight, don’t-show-me-that fogies are going to add their unnecessary voices to the kerfuffle.

6) I think it’s just plain shitty of TIME mag to put that kind of divisive title on an the issue preceding Mother’s Day. “Are you mother enough?” Let’s get mom’s to fight and judge each other. A Mother’s Day Cagematch. Ya know, we mothers already do a really good job judging each other. And most of us are doing an even better job judging ourselves. Way to go, TIME. This cover, with a few roses and breakfast in bed, would be just about enough to ruin any mom’s day. Nicely done.


Honesty, and four things I don’t love about breastfeeding

The TED talk video I posted yesterday has really impacted my thinking. The day before I wrote about four things I love about breastfeeding. In the interests, then, of honesty about parenting, here are four things I don’t love about breastfeeding.

See, no one likes it. image from manolaw.blogspot.com

1) Leaking. My boobs leak. Not all the time, thankfully, but sometimes a lot. I can’t really sleep topless anymore because when Del sleeps long stretches of the night, at least one breast will get very full and begin to leak – especially if I happen to be lying on that side or on my stomach. I awaken in the wee hours in a little puddle of breast milk. So I have to sleep in a top of some kind all the time. And even then, when my milk lets down as Del begins to nurse, the breast he’s not eating from leaks. If I don’t have breast pads around, that means a wet pajama top or a damp bra. *sigh*

2) Nursing bras. Don’t get me wrong, mine are great. They are comfortable and open and close easily with one hand. They are absorbent. They are good colors – nude, black, hot pink. But they’re not exactly miracle bras. Support does not equal lift. And sexy they ain’t either. I really look forward to putting the girls back into a nice, low-cut push-up bra that shows off their non-nutritive attributes.

Dollface here LOVES her nursing bra. She is very happy. image from bebybaby.com

3) Sensitive nipples. The better books will tell you that breastfeeding should never be painful and if it is, something is usually wrong that can be corrected. This is really true. But even though breastfeeding isn’t painful, I still end up with nipples that I am just aware of. They usually feel a little like chapped lips, and a little overly warm. Pretty much all the time. I look forward to one day just not feeling them.

4) Having to pump. I am pretty sure that every breastfeeding mom hates pumping. If not hate, at least a tolerant annoyance. I am somewhere nearer annoyance than hate, since I really don’t have to do it all the time. Pumping now and then to build up milk supply is not a big deal to me. It’s the pumping when I’m out away from Del for more than a couple of hours – like, oh, photographing a party or a wedding, or having more than one or two sessions scheduled back to back. Remember #1: full boobs leak. Yeah, also full boobs hurt. And having to take breaks during a long photo shoot to pump milk from your swollen breasts is just a thing I don’t love.

I have it easy, I know. I have had no major challenges breastfeeding Del, and many many women do have challenges that they persevere through to successfully breastfeed for whatever length of time they can. And some women just can’t make it past the challenges and choose to give it up. I am grateful that Del and I have had an easy and satisfying breastfeeding experience. I know I will miss it whenever it comes to an end… but I won’t miss the things on this list. And look out, Victoria’s Secret, I’ll be beating down the door for your hottest double-Ds.


Four reasons I love breastfeeding

A week or so ago I sat in a bright classroom in downtown DC with about twenty other mothers, all of us with our babies on our laps, in slings, or on the floor in front of us. All of the babies were between 4 and 9 months old, and most were first babies, a few were second babies. It was a class at the Breastfeeding Center on breastfeeding your 4-12 month old. The moms in this class were mostly calm, mostly at ease with their chubby, curious babies, and mostly in love with breastfeeding. By way of contrast, just a month or so prior I had attended the weekly meeting of moms whose babies were 0-3 months old – sleepy-eyed, stoic, with delicate infants clinging to them. In that class, moms gather like soldiers on day-leave, drinking each others’ support like liquor to steel themselves for the return to the front. By the 4-12 month class, these moms are confident and composed, battle-tested officers at ease in their field. It’s a rite-of-passage, getting from earnest new mother to comfortable mama. It shows in the faces of those who’ve made it. It feels good to be here. Continue reading


A bottle for breastfeeders

I’ve delayed letting Del try a bottle until now, even though it meant missing seeing Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, in order to give us advantage in breastfeeding.

Not that we have had any problems – the kid is a natural. Before he was an hour old he was happily nursing at my breast – an accomplishment which I know went a long way to soothing my sadness over our lost homebirth. Del nursed happily on demand and still does. The only “complaint” we have is that he eats so fast he gives himself gas and gets overfull, leading to some  uncomfortable burping and spitting up that is his personal 9 on the 1-to-10 scale of how-bad-is-it.

As easy as breastfeeding has been for us, I’ve still guarded it pretty closely, waiting more than six weeks to pump and experiment with the bottle. And in order to prevent any risk of nipple confusion or preference for the ease of eating from a bottle, I researched nipples and was very happy to find Medela’s Calma nipple. (Doesn’t it sound like an like an IKEA name? Calma.) The ingenious work of Medela, makers of all things breastfeeding-supportive, the Calma nipple is designed to require that baby create suction before any milk will flow. Normal nipples will release milk with only a squeeze of baby’s lips, but the Calma actually has a valve that requires baby to suck before milk will flow, and if baby pauses, milk will stop (mimicking the behavior of baby and the natural action of the breast). It was on the pricy side – $26 for one nipple with bottle from Amazon, but to me, as an investment in a healthy year or more of nursing, it’s worth it.

So we tried it with Del. I pumped while he slept and when he woke, and was a little bit hungry but not wildly so, I gave him the bottle. He seemed curious about the new texture and shape in his mouth – not mom, and not his paci, but gave it a tentative suck. I encouraged him using the same tone and words I use to praise him at the breast and he kept up sucking it, and soon was getting milk out. When he seemed happy with the situation, I passed him to Zach, and Dad got to feed him the rest of the bottle. He drank up the whole 3 ounces.  I will admit I had really mixed emotions while he was using his bottle – happy that he took it with no resistance, pleased to see him getting some precious time with Zach, and also a little worried that he was somehow getting gypped out of the sweet, warm bonding that is nursing (and that I was too!). And maybe a little shock that he’s already big enough for this.

So, while I was overall glad that first bottle attempt was a success, I was also glad when he was hungry again a couple of hours later, and snuggled up to my boob and sucked away contentedly.