Retro Posts: The baby is now a few months old, but there are several subjects that I want to be sure to record in this little blog. I’ll be posting ‘retro posts’ like this to make sure everything is covered.
Breastfeeding is one of the topics I feel most strongly about, and my experience with it was really tough. I want to be sure to write about my experience to offer encouragement to others who may be having a hard time.
It’s no secret that breastfeeding takes time and patience. Despite the fact that it’s so natural, it does not necessarily come naturally to either baby or mom. Don’t despair! If you set your mind to it, you CAN do it.
Here’s what happened to me:
I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to breastfeed. I know it’s what’s best for my baby, and I wanted to do everything I could to make it happen. While I was pregnant, I acquired a very nice breast pump through my company (Hooray for working for a company that supports breastfeeding mothers!), and my husband and I attended a seminar about breastfeeding. When interviewing my pediatrician, I made sure to choose a doctor who would support me in my choice to breastfeed. I’m also lucky enough to have a mom who breastfed and an aunt who is a certified lactation consultant. Everyone was on board!
Within an hour after birth, Baby J started ‘rooting’ — opening his mouth while lying on my chest and looking for a breast. I was excited that he was as ready as I was to try this out! We got him latched on, and everything seemed perfect. It hurt a bit, though I really remember breastfeeding in the hospital hurting more in the pelvic area than the nipple. It causes your uterus to deflate, which is awesome! — but it can be super painful… similar to very bad menstrual cramps.
Baby J would get rather frustrated at the lack of milk (it hadn’t come in yet), and I was feeding him almost constantly. While I was in the hospital (I stayed for 2 days), I saw two lactation consultants. I learned the ‘football hold’ and they gave me a little bottle of lanolin. Both LCs said that he had a great latch for such a little baby. We were apparently doing very well, which was good to hear. It was time for us to go home!
The baby had lost several ounces of his birth weight, and was very slowly gaining them back, so the pediatrician had us come in every day early on for weigh-ins. She continued to support my decision to breastfeed, though, and put off prescribing formula for as long as possible.
Then my breasts became engorged — they were HUGE and painful. (I had to use a DD bra, and I’ve always been an A cup.) This was good, though — my milk was coming in, and hopefully Baby J would start to get the milk he needed to gain some weight back. They got back down to a somewhat normal size (C-D cup), and Baby J was, in fact, getting milk. The pediatrician was pleased with his weight gain (yay!), and he and I were both getting much more comfortable with breastfeeding — or so I thought.
But after a few days, my nipples became extremely raw. It was awful. It felt (and looked) like someone had taken to them with a cheese grater. Every time the baby latched on, I screamed, squeezed my husband’s hands, stomped my feet… anything to get me through those 15 seconds of pain. The right side in particular leaked a lot, and both would bleed. I dare say it was worse than labor pains — at least then I knew there was an end in sight. This went on for weeks.
And then the worst happened — mastitis. The baby was three weeks old, and I started to get extreme chills and fever — it got up to 102F before I finally called my aunt (a lactation consultant herself) in tears. She assured me everything would be ok, and to call my OB immediately to get some antibiotics. The nurse-midwife on call put in my prescription, and my husband went out at 11 pm to retrieve it for me. Mastitis is terrible. It was like the flu on steroids. The infection may be in the breast, but you feel it everywhere. And I still had a baby demanding to be fed every two hours (or more).
A couple of weeks later, mastitis struck again — this time, in the other breast. Luckily this time I knew the symptoms, and I called the nurse-midwife as soon as I realized I had a fever of 99F.
But shortly after that… my nipples finally healed. I can’t say for sure, but I believe the cure was keeping lanolin on them all the time and changing out my breast pads for new ones every few hours. Keeping them dry and protected helped tremendously. My aunt (the LC) came by my house, too, and showed me the cross-cradle hold, which I think helped Baby J with his latch, and put him in a more comfortable position for me.
After just a couple of weeks, I got to the point where breastfeeding didn’t hurt. In fact, it’s become one of my favorite activities. It really is an incredible bonding experience. Even though he won’t remember nursing, it’s amazing to me that I’m able to provide the optimal nutrition for my son while holding him close. I’m sure he’s learning what it’s like to feel loved and protected each time he nurses.
The first five or so weeks were really hard. I dealt with raw, infected nipples and two bouts of mastitis, and I was very tempted to quit. But I stuck with it for the sake of my baby, and I’m so glad I did. There were times when I wasn’t sure it was worth it, but now I know that it definitely was!
So here we are, 5 months later, and Baby J is extremely healthy — perfect weight and height, with adorable leg rolls and puffy cheeks — and we still exclusively breastfeed. He has not had a single drop of formula.
Now to begin the adventures of introducing solid food… The fun (?) never ends!