I spent hours and hours this week searching for a term in another language- a term for a feeling that sometimes occurs when you’re breastfeeding a child or pumping milk. A feeling that, itself, doesn’t have a term in English.
Can I explain it in English? Let’s give it a shot.
Breasts don’t sit around full of milk all day long like the water dispenser in your fridge door. Your breasts store a small amount of milk from feeding to feeding, but most milk is made on demand when a baby nurses or your breasts are stimulated with a pump or your hands. Your body says “oh hey, that’s a hungry kiddo out there- let’s make some milk RIGHT NOW and get it into baby THIS VERY SECOND.” The nerves in your breasts signal oxytocin, which makes milk squirt into your milk ducts and then out through pores in your nipple.
In English, we call this process a “let down” or “let-down”. Technically it’s referred to as the milk ejection reflex, but when I’m working with a family I’ll say things like “oh, do you hear baby gulping quickly? That’s a sign that you’re having a let-down!”
Still with me?
Cool fact- some nursing parents can actually feel when this is about to happen. And it’s a very, very hard feeling to describe in words… sort of “you’ll know it when you feel it” kind of thing. People say it feels like
- a sneeze in your breasts
I never felt even one let-down in the year I nursed my first child. With my second child, I started feeling it when I went back to work and was pumping full-time… and for my third child, I felt it starting in the first week after birth.
So imagine a parent coming to you and saying “I feel something strange when the baby is nursing”. You explain the let-down reflex and you list all these weird feelings that people have compared it to- and then you say “does that sound right?” and they look at you sort of funny and say “um, maybe” and then you come up with a few more verbs, and you wave your hands around in the air, and they say “I guess so” and change the subject because you’re freaking them out a little.
Then imagine the same scenario, except that you and the person you’re helping have differing native languages and you’re quite certain they have no idea what the heck you’re going on about- they just think something is wrong with their body and all of your flailing about is not even remotely reassuring.
What do you do?
You can’t really google- because “let down” isn’t a synonym for a tingling itching burning tickling buzzing boob-sneeze. Google just translates it as “disappoint” and that sure as hell isn’t the point you’re trying to get across.
You reach out to a few people you know who speak the parent’s native language and ask them for help. But because there’s no word in English for that feeling, it’s near impossible to describe it to your bilingual friends in a way that they understand exactly what you’re asking for.
You start posting randomly on some large Facebook groups you’re in, hoping you can find anyone who just happens to know the other language and also has some sort of knowledge about breastfeeding. And then people try to help you and you keep (kindly and politely, I hope) saying no, that’s really not what I’m talking about… no, not that either…
And finally, FINALLY you find someone who is also an IBCLC in the country where the parents you work with are from, and she knows EXACTLY what you’re talking about. She writes out the term for you, and you thank her profusely and immediately write to the family you’ve been working with, convinced you’re providing such amazing service and they’ll immediately say “oh Rachel, that’s what you were talking about, that makes perfect sense, yes that’s exactly what I’m experiencing!”
And the parent says “… I don’t know if that’s what I’m feeling.”
(I still love my job so, so, so much. But I’m on a mission to give that tingle itch burn tickle buzz boob-sneeze a real name. Actually… maybe it’ll just be boob-sneeze.)
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