I've been meaning to talk about this one for a while now. But before I go any further, I'd like to preface this post. I think breastfeeding is awesome, natural, and the best thing for baby. I also think that formula is awesome, full of nutrients, and the best thing for baby. If you feed your baby the best thing that YOU can, I think you're an awesome mom who's made the best choice for her child, regardless of whether it's breast milk or formula. With that being said...
This is my breastfeeding journey, and I'd like to share in hopes of encouraging other mamas.
I don't know when I made the decision, but I kind of always knew I'd breastfeed. It might be because I saw my mom do it, but I honestly don't remember it. I was 7 years old when my youngest bio sibling was weaned, so maybe it's in my subconscious somewhere. Anyway, it was just a given that I'd nurse my children.
I did my research while pregnant. I read Dr. Sears' breastfeeding book (okay, I skimmed), I took the classes, I learned about the rainbow of poops colors to expect and how many poop and pee diapers to make sure my child was getting enough. I practiced the cradle hold, the cross-cradle hold, the football hold. I learned about nose-to-nipple and how important it is to have a deep latch. I bragged to friends about how one of my birth team members was a Lactation Consultant, so we'd be nursing pros from the get-go.
I had some fear that I would not be able to breastfeed, because my sister had been unable to, and I saw how much that broke her heart. I was super grateful for all of the support I had, and super excited when I started leaking colostrum at the end of my second trimester.
I'm not sure if the unexpected transfer to the hospital was the wrench that got thrown in the cogs of breastfeeding, or if it would have been just as difficult if we'd had our planned homebirth, but I wanted to give up SO. MANY. TIMES.
Either from the trauma of an unexpected c-section, or from the medication, or maybe both, I no longer remember the first time I held my son. I do know that I was asking for him, because even in my anesthetized brain I knew that the sooner he latched, the better. I remember having the bed propped and being surrounded by a fortress of pillows, with a nurse and my midwife on either side, trying to help Bean latched on. I also remember thinking, how the hell am I supposed to fit all of this in that tiny mouth?! (TMI - I'm a Bologna Barb, and the references always say to get the latch completely around the areola. My child would have to have the jaws of a snake to get around these dinner plates! *boob grab*)
My first big frustration was the second night after his birth. My milk had not yet come in (it generally takes 3-5 days, sometimes longer with a c-section), so Bean was cluster nursing (read: constantly attached to a boob) all. night. long. I was exhausted and still half out of it on pain pills, and his little cries broke my heart, so I let him nurse however he wanted rather than making sure he had a good latch. Unfortunately, he was shallow, as newborns often are, and I woke up with nipples red and purple from blood blisters. A nurse brought me some lanolin, and I asked for the Lactation Consultant on staff, as well as a breast pump. I knew I was not going to be able to allow him nurse from my left breast, it was so badly blistered. My right breast had plenty of blisters, too, but not quite as many, and I didn't quite feel the urge to scream as much thinking about Bean latching onto that side.
They say they brought me a breast pump, what it looked like was a machine from the age of the iron lung. I was afraid to touch it, much less attach it to my boobs! While Bean was in the nursery having antibiotics, Bear and I took a walk, and I called my friend to give her an update on Bean and to ask her help on breastfeeding. When I told her what the nurses had been telling me, her reply was, "Oh, honey..." She proceeded to provide me with a good deal of great information, including how to block feed, warnings about engorgement and ways to help relieve it, and a few other tidbits.
When we returned to our room, we discovered that my milk was coming in! I was thankful that I had labored as long as I had before being transferred, I'm convinced that's why it came in so quickly after my c-section. I texted my midwife to let her know, and she gave me some advice, reiterating several of the things that my friend had told me earlier.
While I was grateful that my milk came in slowly and I didn't become suddenly engorged as I had been warned, feeding Bean still felt like an issue, a challenge. Because I was so terrified of the ancient machine standing next to my bed, I hand expressed, using a syringe to collect the droplets of milk. It took me a good 20+ minutes to get 1/2 mL and a matter of seconds for Bean to eat it from the syringe. We continued this practice through the rest of the day. By the next morning, I was able to have him latch again, but only with clenched teeth. I was in agony every time he nursed, from either side, but he was giving us the allotted number of poop and pee diapers, and they looked just like the pictures and graphs all said they should, so I pressed on.
The worst day in the history of ever was that following Monday, when he was a mere 9 days old. We both had follow up appointments, him with his pediatrician and me with the OB who had preformed our c-section. His was first, and he did well, despite the fact it was way too early for any of us to be up. Thankfully, the OB was right upstairs from the pediatrician, so we were there minutes after his appointment was over. Admittedly, we were a few minutes late, but the office was packed and the receptionist assured me it was no big deal. I filled out my paperwork, and we waited.
And nursed while we waited some more.
Side note: While I am not ashamed to nurse in public, I am ashamed to say that I felt quite smug at the fact I was the only one nursing in a room full of mothers with babies. I have no clue of the reasons why they formula-fed, and it's honestly none of my business. So I am sending my apology into the universe, hoping it restores some balance.
When I finally got called back for my appointment (2 hours after my scheduled time), the OB got called out for a birth as a nurse was getting my vitals. I was told to come back in about 3 hours. Bear had to go to work to fill out paperwork, so we rode out with him. We had just enough time to go back to the house and feed Bean again before I had to go back to the OB.
By the time we got home, all three of us were stressed out. Bean kept crying and wouldn’t latch, but was obviously hungry. I felt like I was starving him. After hours of fighting to get him to nurse, I broke down, sobbing hysterically right along with Bean. I told Bear that I had failed, that I couldn’t do this, that I was starving him. Bear held us both and told me that it was okay, that if I needed to, we could supplement or switch to formula. In a way, that made me feel worse, like I had for sure failed, but it was a relief at the same time.
Thankfully, one of the women on my birth team was still nursing her youngest, and had left us some of her milk in the freezer. I finally remembered the donor milk, and we fed him by syringe again. We were using the syringe to avoid nipple confusion, and I figured it would be better to avoid bottles until I knew for sure whether or not we would keep breastfeeding. Once his tummy was full, he finally calmed down and we all got some much-needed sleep.
The next day, Bean was latching again, and I talked to my LC. She reminded me that stress can inhibit milk production, and the day that we had was enough to really hinder me. I took a deep breath and told Bear that I had decided to keep going. I had started out with the goal of at least 1 year, but I knew at this point that I would have to have smaller goals, too, in case we didn’t make it to a year. I set my next goal to 3 weeks, then 3 months.
I still cringed every time he latched for the next several weeks, but his latch got deeper as he got bigger, and so became less painful. This video was a HUGE help to us. We are now 4 months strong, and I am so proud of us. Bear tells me all the time that he is proud of us, too. We would not have made it without his support, without him getting me food and water and anything else I needed when I was tied to the couch during growth spurts.
We have had been through so many challenges and trials in such a short time, but now I know that my little family can get through anything, as long as we do it together.
Mama Bear of one Baby Bear, Bean, who both love Papa Bear, and live in a crafty, gluten-free cozy den.