25 March 2012

You babies think you're so smart

This article about lactation consultant Freda Rosenfeld is real ancient now, but I've always remembered it because of one sentence:

She has coached novices so anxious they tried to schedule a session before giving birth (“Just enjoy being pregnant,” she counseled) and Hasidic women suddenly unable to nurse baby No. 7, 8 or 9.

That last part. That's what I remembered.

Baby 4 was the first time nursing went for me like it was supposedly supposed to. It was lousy for a few weeks, but not horrendous. That was the only postpartum during which I did not have meltdown after meltdown. I thought, I've got it. I know how to nurse now. It doesn't have to be terrible again. And then Baby 5 was a total bust: scabs, meltdowns, months of painful nursing. Sometime during those rotten months I read that article and had my big epiphany. 

(Oh boy, here it comes.)

Mothers have to learn to nurse, yes, and some get it more easily than others. Same deal for babies. Some nurse well and some don't. It's not always the idiot mom's fault. Boob Hell may have been all my fault, but there's really no way to know. I honestly don't know if BH Baby had a bad latch. The lactation people I talked to said that must be why I had so much damage and pain, but no one who observed a feeding could ever say, "This is what you're doing wrong. This is how to fix it." Looking back, I think that the best nursey-baby in the world could not have kept me from getting mangled. I had a bad time getting broken in. I think some people just do. I will always resent the suggestion that nursing, if done right, absolutely won't cause pain or injury.

But even being "broken in" is no guarantee. Not a lot of people do personal primary research on this any more, but if I've learned anything from nursing 6 babies, it's that there isn't a magical experiential knowledge of nursing that solves every problem. Nursing can be stygian on a first baby or a fifth, and probably a tenth too. 

Help us, Freda. Or Orpheus, or somebody?

"Asymmetrical! It has to be asymmetrical!"


  1. I think your professor friend mentioned in the book was onto something when he theorized that sensitive skin predisposes a mother to nursing problems. I also know from actually going to many LLL meetings in different places over many years that he is wrong about none of them being blonde. Maybe not all blondes and redheads have uber sensitive skin, or maybe they don't quit, but I've certainly seen the fair skinned community quite well represented there.

  2. Yeah, I think he was using hair as a proxy for skin type. I've never been brave enough to try a LLL meeting, even though I'm really curious. I know there is a group in my area. I'm thinking about it.

  3. You have to attend one--for field research and all.

  4. A church friend told me this week that she's heard moms say, "I'd never go to a lactation specialist! Someone other than me touching my boob?! I couldn't handle it!" I could fill a bunch of reasons why this perspective is so hilarious, but I don't think that's necessary. :D Needless to say, I've visited a lactation specialist after all three births, and I learn something new every time. Not getting smarter; just getting less dumb.


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