GIRLS finale: parallel learnings about breastfeeding, pumping, and latching
By MULTIWEAR Co
I've never really been a Girls fan but since having a newborn a week ago and in need of some entertainment that doesn't require my full attention, I've watched the final season (season 6) of Girls as I'm nursing the baby at night.
I didn't expect to relate to the show at all yet the finale of the entire series is based on the premise of breastfeeding (Girls S6E10), titled Latching.
Spoiler alert ahead.
If you have experienced breastfeeding and have been through the many stages of suffering, denial and acceptance, you will find this episode to be very apropos - I found myself relating to Hannah and her friend Marnie and laughing throughout the show mostly because my own take on breastfeeding is so raw right now - though on one hand it is supposed to be such an innate and natural process, getting into the rhythm of it all when you're going through a complete reversal of hormones from pregnant to lactating, the first month of breastfeeding is SOO challenging and there are so many ways to feel like a failure.
First off, Marnie should give up her music career and become a lactation consultant because this:
Marnie reminds me of a few lactation consultants I met through the course of my three pregnancies. Some you like and some you feel really judged by because they can come across as condescending. First of all, they are an absolute MUST because there is very little about nursing that is straightforward or easy. In fact when I meet babies that are formula or bottle fed, I'm just kind of creeped out not because there's anything unnatural about them but my kids became SOOOOO ALLLL about nursing, always rooting for the nipple and wanting to nurse A LOT, weaning was really challenging, I just couldn't imagine a baby that didn't have that same sense of wanting to latch and be comforted. In some ways, I'm a bit jealous because sometimes you just don't want to nurse but there is definitely this surreal bonding experience that seems special to breastfeeding.
With my first pregnancy I pumped a lot because I was prepping to go back to work and so I ended up overdoing it and my daughter could not handle my flow and so she sort of rejected the nipple for the first few weeks. I ended up spending tons of time pumping and not bonding with her and was considering just pumping and feeding her through the bottle or 'exclusively pumping' just as Hannah did in this episode, but through the advice of my pediatrician who was trying to be objective in her encouragement, I decided to keep trying to nurse and finally was able to get her to latch pain free (I had mastitis really bad with first baby).
Exclusively pumping on steroids:
With my 2nd pregnancy, I thought I knew it all, so I brushed off the need to work with a lactation consultant and it turns out, I actually did not learn very much from the mistakes made in the first pregnancy. When it was time to nurse baby, I made many of the same mistakes and I didn't really work with any LC's - the one who stopped by in the hospital I didn't really like and i sort of cold shouldered her. I ended up again with mastitis and overproduction (again pumping and storing for work) - I did breastfeed more but I also didn't realize until way way late that my daughter had tongue tie (see this post about that experience) - it was about 3 mos when I realized she had tongue tie, she was in the 10th percentile for weight and I didn't get it fixed until we visited my parents and my mother, a dentist, fixed her tongue tie. After that, she was a champ and became so pudgy and cute and skyrocketed up in weight.
With this 3rd pregnancy, I again was ill prepared for nursing again and right after deliverying, the nurses were encouraging me to try to get baby to latch. The thing you sort of forget about a new born is that they have to learn how to nurse and even though there is something innate about going to the boob, the latching and sucking process takes time. The TOUGHEST part I found was getting baby to have the textbook nursing response of opening up really wide to latch. Most of the time they sort of want to slurp up the nipple rather than open wide and I ALWAYS fall for that because it's so much easier and you don't have to try so many different holds, etc. But oddly enough, that slurping actually REALLY HURTS after just a few tries. Even after 3 pregnancies, I ended up with soreness because I wasn't getting baby to latch the textbook way and I must admit after day 1, it was painful to nurse. The takeaway? It's hard for baby to learn and it's hard for mom to get baby to learn! They have no head control, they are always getting their hands in the way and you have to somehow get their hands out of the way so that they can nurse, they will latch and then get off and then on and then off....it's really hard to teach them and it's equally hard to learn how to properly do it. On day 3 the nurse told me that if the nipple looked like lipstick when I pulled it out after nursing, the baby wasn't getting a deep enough latch...sure enough....lipstick nipples.... It can be maddening knowing you're not doing it right and it can be downright discouraging.
That's why I empathize so much with Hannah in this episode as she's trying so hard to do it properly but she's on the verge of giving up. We've all been there! And then there's really annoying uppity condescending Marnie who doesn't have a child yet who knows exactly how to do it and keeps doling out advice that's unwelcome. With my newborn, although we've been successful at nursing over all, every single one of our nursing sessions begins with him right there at the nipple but crying first and rooting even though he's right there and in position, but he doesn't latch. Eventually, he gets tired and finally decides to latch. I've not figured out what it is exactly though I do know it is not overproduction which I had trouble with in the past. I do think that sometimes he can not latch when he's too tired and so he's rooting for comfort but not necessarily because he's hungry. The LC I talked to after I was discharged suggested putting my finger in his mouth to get him to suck first and then trying to latch. I did that once but it seemed to make him more annoyed - not sure if it's because of 'nipple confusion' or milk not coming out. Anyways, lately, I just keep trying until he finally gives in and latches. They do say to take them off, calm them and try again - sometimes it can take 10 tries before he gets latched. I think the reason why it's so easy to repeat the same mistakes with nursing is that I forgot how little control newborns have over their motor skills. Once you get nursing down, you basically just need to put your kid in the position and they do all the work - it doesn't really matter by then how they are positioned, etc. - they just make it work. But when you are dealing with a newborn, you are teaching them as much as you are relearning yourself and it can be challenging to work together with the baby to get it right especially when there is no verbal communication.
What eventually happens is that Hannah revolts and runs away for the day, leaving no milk behind for the baby and Marnie and Hannah's mom have to substitute with 'gasp' FORMULA! NOOO!!!!
Hannah eventually has her own epiphany about motherhood and all (maybe realizing that she doesn't need Marnie or Adam or anyone else but maybe just her own mom to help her) and she returns home. With less stress and anxiety, she picks up the baby from the crib and gives nursing one more go and the baby latches. The show ends with her surprise that she has been able to pull off the ever elusive latch she has been trying so hard to achieve.
As the scene unfolded I was actually nursing my newborn who was at the exact same time latching and fussing about it..and eventually latching...of course improperly, but luckily, he's been getting the milk he needs, he's growing in weight, making lots of diapers, and to me, that's all that matters! I guess sometimes doing everything perfectly when it comes to breastfeeding is just as nauseating as trying to achieve a perfect pregnancy and labor. In the end, the important thing is being a good mother in any way that you can.