I’ve been inspired by a friend to write about my experience with breastfeeding. It’s World Breastfeeding Week so now is as good a time as any.
Note: My experience is not the norm. Most people don’t have this much trouble, but knowing that it can will get better can give you hope to keep going through the rough patches. I suffered for the first 2 weeks because I was too proud do admit that I needed help, once I got help it got easier. There are resources out there to make this enjoyable.
I always knew I was going to breastfeed any babies I had. I just knew it. I was surrounded by it growing up- my mom nursed 7 kids for at least 2 years each, my sister nursed 5. It was normal and natural and easy, right? WRONG!
It is normal and natural, but it’s not always easy. At least not at first.
I had a good start- support, books, the internet. I was determined to make this work. When Tbird was born she latched within 30 minutes with the help of my amazing midwife and her assistant. It hurt, but it was new and I had heard that discomfort in the beginning wasn’t unheard of so I plowed on and didn’t complain.
Tbird was a champ. She nursed every 2 hours and had tons of wet and diry diapers. She only lost 3 oz from her birth weight so I knew she was eating well. But my boobs hurt!! I had a cracked nipple on my right breast and the pediatrician suggested a different hold to help. It worked a little, the crack started to heal, but then I got another one. Two weeks in I had two cracks on the same breast and every time I nursed I wanted to scream. I cried each time Tbird would latch. It was immensely painful, toe-curling pain. THIS IS NOT NORMAL! (note: if this happens, get help)
I realized that I needed serious help when I finally admitted to my husband that I would rather give birth again (another natural, unmedicated birth) than nurse her on the right side. So after many tears and convincing myself that asking for help did not equate with failure I broke down and contacted a close friend (same one who inspired me to write this). She asked her doula for a recommendation for a lactation consultant and I got the info for Mellanie Sheppard with For Babies’ Sake. She came over the next day to help me, and I’m so glad she did. She watched Tbird nurse, gave me some pointers, and checked her mouth. No tongue-tie, but she did have a misaligned palate. This is why I had so much pain on one side, but not the other. Apparently this can happen when the second stage of labor is very long or very short. She suggested a chiropractic adjustment to help realign her palate, nursing on the non-injured side first, and pumping if I needed to.
Luckily I was able to get an appointment within a few days to fix the palate. Unfortunately I developed a plugged duct on my already painful breast the same day, the first of many. It was literally the size of the palm of my hand (literally). I had it for 36 hours before I was finally able to get rid of it. This was so stressful. I was afraid it would end up infected. I should be nursing one side first because of the cracks, but on the other first because of the plug. I plowed on.
Smooth sailing from here right? I mean, 2 weeks in and I’ve had latching problems, a massive plugged duct, and cracks. It’s time for some sweet relief. Nope, after the plug was gone and cracks were starting to heal I continued to experience horrible nipple pain. Nursing still hurt, my shirts hurt, the water in the shower hurt. What was wrong with me??
After much time spent on internet research I realized that I had thrush. Tbird’s only symptom was a slight diaper rash that wouldn’t respond to normal treatments, but my symptoms pointed to classic thrush. I called the midwives at my birth center and was advised to use gentian violet to treat it, and wash all bras in hot water with vinegar. After the first treatment I started to experience breastfeeding as it should be, but it wasn’t until 3 days of treatment that it was truly pain-free.
We continued to struggle with latch and positioning for several more weeks, but around 6 weeks things started to click and by 8 weeks we had this whole breastfeeding thing down.
So after facing problem after problem within the first 4 weeks why didn’t I quit? I’m stubborn. I had done my research and knew how good breastfeeding is- the immunity, bonding, perfectly balanced nutrition. Not to mention the benefits for me- lower risk for breast cancer, losing baby weight faster, not having to buy and mix formula at all hours. Sure, I had that “friendly” formula sample sitting on my table, waiting to be donated to someone who would use it. But every time I let myself think about how hard it was I heard all naysayers and wanted to prove them wrong (“there’s no reason to breastfeed past a few weeks” “You won’t last long, it’ll hurt so bad that you’ll quit by 6 weeks”). HA! Prove them wrong I did!!
Around 3 months I suspected that Tbird had a sensitivity to dairy and it was confirmed through an elimination diet. But this didn’t bring the end of our nursing relationship, just a brief avoidance of many foods that I love. It’s ok, her love is better than ice cream, chocolate, and cheese.
Tbird will be 9 months on Saturday. We’re still going strong and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. My original goal was to make it to 12 months before thinking about weaning, and that is looking like it’s going to happen. I pumped at work for about 5 months before school got out for summer. I would wake up early to pump before leaving. Pump through my 25 minute lunch. Whatever it took to keep going.
Despite our ups and downs I’m glad I persevered. I wouldn’t trade all the snuggles for millions of snacks. All the milky smiles for… glasses of milk (real, whole, cow’s milk, not that almond crap). My husband was by my side through all of the problems and he was always willing to help or encourage me to keep going. And now he’s reaping the benefits- healthy, happy baby, happy momma, no bottles or late night formula runs.
Tbird is very funny when she nurses. She gets so excited if I ask her if she wants to nurse , smiling and bouncing. She reverse cycles, so I get lots of late night sleepy snuggles while nursing. She’s the most distractable child ever, so I laugh a lot while she pops off to look at the dog/ her dad/ me/ her hands/ the fan/everything and nothing, and my milk sprays on the side of her face. She’s a lightning fast nurser now, 5 minutes and done, ready to play again. But I love those 5 minutes!