nipple confusion

no, this post isn’t about miles going back and forth between a bottle and the breast.  he’s 100% breast fed.  the closest he’s come to any other sort of nipple is the pacifier he sometimes digs into the “kid” drawer in the kitchen to find and gums in a casual fashion.  not that I have anything against bottle feeding and even if I did, god help the person without a disclaimer stating “to each his own” after every stinkin’ opinion that might possibly slightly offend someone else (no, I’m not bitter:)

I guess I’m confused about what is so damn indecent about my nipples.  number one: a man can go shirtless and that’s totally socially acceptable behavior.  this is because women have more breast tissue than men and our breast tissue, though actually intended for feeding babies, has been distorted to have a sexual connotation in our culture.  ok, you want me to feed babies with my breasts in a culture where my breasts are supposed to be covered at all times or else dressed up as sexual items for public viewing.  sure, that’s easy (note: sarcasm).  not hard at all.

not only are my naked breasts only fit for perked up digital enhancement on billboards for advertising purposes but even the outline of my nipples through my clothes is supposedly scandalous.

now, breasts and nipples come in all shapes sizes and pigmentation.  that’s great.  I happen to have very pointy nipples.  they like to stand at attention…any time.  they just seem to naturally hold their shape more than some other peoples do.  this would all be well and fine if I wasn’t given the overwhelming message from a young age that female nipples are indecent, need to be hidden.  that my more firm than average nipples were a public display of indecency and I needed to cover them up, preferably with loads of padding in bras that would not only make them look bigger, but that would also hoist them up and distort their natural shape to boot (yay!  note: sarcasm).

this idea is what drove me nearly to distraction in my younger teenage days when I would spend hours stuffing my bras with toilet paper.  no, not to make my breasts look bigger, to try to conceal the outline of my nipples through my shirts.  this is what made me incredibly self conscious wearing the plain blue bathing suit I donned at 14 all summer long.  this is what has led me for over a decade to learn to stand with my arms crossed over my chest, to pull sweaters and shirts in ways that would bag them out in front, to avoid at all costs what would surely be a complete public embarrassment: if anyone should, GASP, notice or see the outline of my nipples through my shirt (!!!!)

I am 33 and I can finally say that it’s all bull.  the idea that my nipples are somehow indecent, immodest and unnatural is bull ( bologna…or bullshit for all you pg 13ers and up).  through having children and breastfeeding for many years, through coming up again and again against this idea of shame and modesty regarding my breasts and my nipples,  I can finally say that my nipples are not unnatural.  they are not indecent.  my breasts are not sexual objects, nor are they shaped anything like my culture says they should be.  the skin on my breasts is, after breastfeeding three babies, loose and stretch-marked, the underlying tissues soft and pliable.  and my nipples, in contrast, are hard and protruding and dark.  these are real breasts.

the appreciation I now have for my body in general and my breasts won’t sell anybody anything or look good on a billboard.  but it sure as hell brings me a lot of peace and contentment and appreciation.  because this body has done amazing things.  and I don’t desire to cram it into what amounts to modern day corsets or to feel bad about it or hide it.  for the first time in my life, I am not ashamed of my nipples.  I don’t wish them to be different.  I love my body just as it is.  call it indecent.  it’s just me.

a royal pain in the breast

I remember back to my very first breastfeeding class. there was a nurse at the front, going over all of the highlights of what to expect and troubleshooting solutions. the room was dark and we were all sitting with our bulbous bellies and spouses or partners in tow taking it all in like a relaxing cinematic experience when suddenly, a slide popped up about mastitis, or an infection of the breast. a woman in the back row raised her hand and when she was called on to speak, stood up with purpose and delivered an eerie speech about her experience with mastitis. she said that she had a natural childbirth and her breast infection was more painful. she looked at the nurse/instructor in a sarcastic challenging way, as though this woman wasn’t really and truly preparing us for the hardships we would encounter on our breastfeeding journeys.

that woman’s serious demeanor regarding breast infections has always haunted me. yet, I’ve managed to skate through five years of continual breastfeeding without many problems.

until a couple days ago. I woke in the night to a stabbing pain in my breast, one I couldn’t sleep through. and I didn’t feel quite right. something was up. what was it, I asked myself and I lay there awake. good god, could I be pregnant? am I having a heart attack? or could this be mastitis?

I wasn’t sure which one would be the worst case scenario. I mean, if it was a heart attack at my age, I feel like it would be pretty minor, right? my arteries can’t be THAT clogged. if I was pregnant….I don’t think I need to take you down that rabbit hole for you to fill in the dot, dot, dot. and if it was mastitis? that would mean antibiotics, pumping (did I even still HAVE all of the pieces/parts to my pump any more??), and trying to get miles to take a bottle. and to take formula. he’s only 4.5 months. would that even WORK? jesus.

I got up after a few hours of tossing and turning pretty sure I was dealing with mastitis. after I consulted dr. google, I was most definitely sure that’s what it was as I had begun to feel the shakes coming on, like an impending fever and my body was sore and just…off. shit, I thought, well, this is random.

because mastitis is usually something that occurs early on in breastfeeding, while you’ve got a newborn and are still pretty engorged all the time and working on technique and holds and schedules. it’s caused by insufficiently emptied milk ducts that become a “breeding ground for bacteria”. yipes. bacteria, of course, can be introduced into the milk duct through the openings in the nipple from your baby’s mouth or just the little buggers hangin’ out on your skin. it can also be exacerbated by wearing tight clothing that pinches the ducts all weird and stops them from draining. so, another argument for having floppy breasts just hangin’ out in open space like god intended? I think so.

in any case, as the day went on, I felt sicker and sicker. I mean, I felt terrible. I was weak, sore, tired and nauseated. and it felt like someone knuckle-punched me in the breast. that shit HURT.

I called greg, “hey, just wanted to tell you that I have mastitis. I’m ok, though. the kids are watching tv, but I feel like hell warmed over. and I have a fever of like 100 point…something.” the fact that half of his team was falling apart was all he needed to hear before he left work early to take me to the walk in clinic. I’ve begun to realize that as much as I need greg to do what he does, he is equally dependent on me to care for the kids and hold down the home front. we make a pretty decent team. when we’re not fighting.

we dopped ruth and joel off with my in-laws and took miles along to the walk in clinic which is something I HATE to do. “miles is gonna catch the plague in this place,” I said as an elderly lady nearby in the waiting room coughed up a lung. I shuddered to think of all of the germs lurking about, but there was nothing else to do because he can’t make it more than two hours or so without breastfeeding and I read online to KEEP BREASTFEEDING. that it can help to flush out the infection.

“can I see a woman doctor?” I whispered discreetly to the receptionist who took our insurance information. she nodded. it’s not that I have anything against men doctors, per say, but they don’t have breasts, were definitely never mothers, and probably have never had a breast infection before themselves. plus, it’s a little awkward to have a man investigating your breast. in my experience, they seem deathly afraid of any indication of harassment or a lawsuit and barely want to touch you but instead just whip out their prescription pad and send you on your way. I wanted a real dialogue.

we were escorted to a room, my vitals were taken and I donned a fancy hospital gown with easy access in the front which was helpful not only for the doctor, but for me as I ended up having to feed miles before I was seen. and that’s just when the doctor came in the door (they always have the best timing, don’t they?)

“I see you’re still nursing. that’s great! many women I see get an infection and immediately stop breastfeeding.” she was a young arab American doctor that I had never seen before, but instantly I liked her. she seemed progressive enough to actually talk with me about options here. she looked my breast over. “it doesn’t look too bad. it’s not mrsa. I can prescribe you some antibiotics and it should clear up quickly.”

“listen,” I said, “I read online that sometimes it can clear up on its own without antibiotics if you just keep feeding the baby, emptying the breast, massaging it and using warm compresses.” I was expecting her to revolt as so many doctors do, to any alternative plan that so much as smells of letting the body heal itself, letting the immune system actually try and do its job. for most, this reeks of liability.

“sure, you can do that. how about this: i’ll write you the script and you can wait 24 hours to see if it goes away on its own?” bingo. hell yes. that’s what I’m talking about.

and you know what? damn if it didn’t clear up on its own the next DAY. I woke up feeling like a million bucks, no fever, the redness in my breast faded to an impotent pink.

what is my point? I guess for all of the problems and issues women expect from breastfeeding, probably our biggest hurdles are our own fears and worries about it, the EXPECTATION that we will have problems. it’s a pretty damn perfect system, if we just go with it. sure, there will be bumps along the way, but if we just hang on tight, things will be back on track…in no time. I’m just totally amazed at my body and its capabilities and I wish this kind of awe and respect of the human body for all women and all people. our bodies are amazing healing machines. we are strong.

I mean, you might not understand the bullet I dodged by simply waiting. if you’re a breastfeeding mother you will. otherwise, let me just tell you that on top of caring for the kids all day, I was looking at 10 days of pumping my breasts twice or more times per day to keep up my milk supply (that’s if I could find all of the pieces to my pump), sanitizing and washing bottles numerous times per day in order to feed miles (assuming he would drink from a bottle. assuming he would drink formula), and buying formula, which is like…40 dollars a can or something. not cheap. and, like i said, he eats frequently and i have no idea how many ounces at a time. plus if he would have taken the bottles, I would have been worried about a potential reaction to the formula. I don’t like that stuff. I don’t trust it. I would use it in a pinch, if I had to and I’m thankful it’s there but I don’t prefer it myself.

but I’m just super relieved. and super thankful. to my freaking body for being so efficient and strong. and to that doctor who dialogued with me. so rare. but so important.

so, just keep this post in mind if you ever find yourself with a case of mastitis. take some Tylenol. get a prescription for antibiotics, but, if you can, wait it out a bit. keep feeding the baby, massage the breast, let it hang loose, use a warm wash cloth, and see if your body can heal itself. it’s totally worth it.