Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Breastfeeding Retrospective

I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed Henry, if it was possible. Of course there are the health benefits (both for the mother and the baby), but I honestly skipped over most of those chapters in my pregnancy, birth, and breast feeding books because I didn't need convincing. Breastfeeding just felt like one of the most natural, simple, and pure processes imaginable.

Although I still think it's one of the most natural, simple, and pure processes around, I also understand the less romantic aspects of it, too.

While I was pregnant, I did a lot of research about breastfeeding. I read books, rented DVDs, went to classes, attended a La Leche League meeting and took lessons from my friends (yes, for real). I still feel like all of that research gave me a solid foundation. And, honestly, I wish I would have done a little more (for example, I didn't learn anything about pumping or storing breast milk). I learned all about the importance of the latch, different holds, possible complications, etc.

Breastfeeding got off to a great start, once we got home from the hospital (after I transferred during my home birth) and my milk came in. I didn't have any engorgement or nipple tenderness. A week later, I was counting my lucky stars that my nipples still weren't tender. My midwife kept saying that if I could make it past the first week, I would be set.

However, at about the week mark, I started having difficulty. First, it was a plugged duct that I had to prevent from turning into mastitis. Then it was extreme nipple tenderness. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep Henry's mouth open and wide; he just wanted to suck on the very tip. Every time I would break the suction and re-latch him, I would be subjected to shooting pain that came at the start of every latch. To make matters worse, Henry wanted to eat for looooooong stretches of time. One day, he ate for a total of nine hours. Because I needed both hands (one to keep his chin down and the other to keep him close), I basically couldn't do anything except watch movies on Netflix (since we don't have a TV). I did try listening to an audio book, but it was boring and I didn't bother getting a different one. In the middle of the night, I needed to turn a light on to see what I was doing. The first week or two, I had to wake Matt up to help me get Henry latched on.

And my nipples were sore all the time. Drying off with a towel or putting on a bra was no fun at all. I kept asking the women from my prenatal yoga class, "When does the pain with latching go away? When will my nipples stop being so sore?" They said 3-4 weeks.

Well, 3-4 weeks came and went and I watched breast feeding get easier and easier for my friends. I had to use My Brest Friend religiously to position Henry right, and I still needed two hands (I prefer this pillow to the Boppy because it can latch behind your back and stay in place more easily; it just depends on personal preference.). They had one hand (or both!) free and looked as comfortable as could be. I finally switched from cloth breast pads to disposable ones, which definitely felt better on my sore nipples.

I went back to the hospital to visit the lactation consultant again. She answered some of my questions and gave me some advice (like just put lanolin on the protruding part of the nipple, not on the entire areola, so that the baby's mouth doesn't slip). I continued to get plugged ducts left and right.

I remember crying a lot. I really wanted to continue breastfeeding, but it felt like so much struggle and sacrifice. I was the only one who could feed Henry in the night (since I hated pumping). Matt couldn't do anything to relieve me of the constant responsibility of feeding my son eight times a day. Thankfully, I persevered to the 6-week mark when things got a lot better. My soreness decreased and the positioning got easier.

At three months, things really got better. Henry suddenly started eating much, much faster, and I was able to free up one of my hands. I stopped having to lug My Brest Friend around with me everywhere.

Now, I'm so, so thankful I persevered through the difficult times. They seem so distant. Even trying to write this post is a struggle because my mind is blurring out the difficult details.

In terms of some practical issues, I still highly recommend this bra. If I had known about it earlier, I would have worn it through my pregnancy (especially because the sizes are only S, M, L, and XL). As far as nursing tops go, I decided not to spend any money on specialized clothing. I tried to stick to tops that could be unbuttoned. I used this shield to cover up in public (which was hot and annoying but sometimes necessary).

Now that I'm more comfortable with everything, it's much easier to breastfeed in public by nestling into a chair and lifting up my shirt. I wish I loved nursing tanks, so that my stomach would be covered, but I find that Henry's body does a decent job of keeping me shielded. Nursing tanks just don't feel comfortable to me.

Despite the difficulties I've had (though not as many difficulties as others), I'm so thankful for my ability to nourish my son. It's amazing to see another human grow and thrive, simply by feasting on something your own body produces.

In the hard moments, I try to remember these things:
  • My midwife said that babies are growing and changing so much in those first few weeks. Even if something is hard, it is likely to change very quickly as the baby matures (which has been true of Henry's latch and his sensitivity to cow's milk protein in my body).
  • Before I know it, Henry is going to be driving a car. These days go so fast, and I should try my very best to savor them and focus on the positive.

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Maureen said...

Sara, its SO awesome that you stuck with it!! Out of 10 women in my mother's group there are only two of us still breastfeeding. The rest had similar issues as you and quit after 3, 5 or 8 weeks.

Another milstone that makes for early weaning is mom going back to work. Pumping for an absence from your baby of 8 hours a day is much different than just pumping once a day to build up your freezer stash. I highly recommend the book Nursing Mother Working Mother. In addition, its wise to see a lactation consultant and make sure you are pumping right and with the right equipment! After 3 days back to work I wasn't getting enough milk. It was there, it just wasn't coming out with the pump! A visit to a lactation consultant showed me I was using flanges (breast shields)that were too small, that I needed to constantly massage the milk down and that more frequent pumping will ultimately yield more milk. She taught me some pumping preparation techniques as well.

Kelsey said...

Great post and beautiful photos!

Anonymous said...

Hooray for sticking with nursing! If you get where you don't need to look for latching on, you might enjoy the Reno Rose "pirose" nursing cover-up. I have no connection with the company -- just love the product because it is such a fashion accessory in addition to being a cover up. I feel pretty wearing it & that (to me) is important! Also, I'm finding wide scarves work great for nursing, too -- just criss-cross it across baby and boob while nursing (it covers the essentials) and then wear it as part of your outfit when not nursing! Just some ideas in case you or any of your readers are ever interested...

Lexie said...

I love hearing positive breastfeeding stories! I'm still nursing my ten-month old daughter, and plan to continue until she decides to stop, but I vaguely remember that I wasn't quite so passionate about it until she was about three months old. Now I love it, and feel grateful for every day that she doesn't decide to wean herself. I also feel so terribly sad for mothers (and their babies!) who decide not to breastfeed. They will never know what they are missing out on.

beth said...

I also had a difficult time breastfeeding. It made me feel guilty and negative when everyone else I knew was so successful. When my baby was 8 days old I switched to exclusive pumping until my nipples healed....which took 3 months. By then, I was determined to continue pumping until we got to at least the 1 year mark, but miraculously my baby didn't have any sort of nipple confusion and went back to the breast without any difficulties! She's almost 8 months and I'm still planning to keep going til she's at least 1 year old (husband says 2 years, lol).
Congratulations on sticking with it! I know how wonderful it feels. :)

Rachel said...

I don't really have anything to add other than I had a very similar experience to you. I wish more people talked about the hard times but then I guess, that might scare people off more. I have a pretty strong circle of family and friends who are pro breast feeding so I knew it would get better but breast feeding IS hard and those that stick with it do deserve a medal! We just made it to a year!!!

Laura said...

As always, thanks for your honest post, Sara! I appreciate hearing both the good and bad aspects of having children. I will definitely be taking your Purposeful Conception course in the next year or so, once we are ready to think about getting pregnant, as I always value your careful research and really like your thought process!

Kim @ vegan mama said...

I love that you wrote your breast feeding "story". I read so many birth stories during my pregnancy, but didn't think to look up personal breast feeding stories. I'm 3 months into my first breast feeding journey, and man, is it the hardest thing I've ever done! (I have low milk supply and have been trying to increase for 13 weeks). Way harder than giving birth. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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