August 23, 2012

My Breastfeeding Journey
Since August is National Breastfeeding Month, I’m dedicating a post to share my breastfeeding journey with you all. It is my hope that any of you who are reading that are currently expecting a baby or nursing a newborn for the first time (or any time, for that matter) will be encouraged by my experience. Also, for anyone who doesn’t want to read about boobs, breastfeeding, and the word engorged, you’ve been warned.

From the moment my doctor looked up at me and said, “Veralynn, reach down and pick up your baby!” I was in awe of my body. To think that for the past nine months, my body had grown this little person and successfully brought him into the world was just amazing. To know that now my body would be responsible for his nutrition and growth was daunting, but I was excited to begin the journey. During pregnancy, I honestly hadn’t given too much thought about breastfeeding. Sure, I read Ina May’s book on the subject to make sure I had the general idea squared away, but I was so focused on giving birth that I didn’t look into too many other books or articles except one I distinctly remember emphasizing the importance of sticking out the first three or four weeks. After that, it said, everything would become much easier. I cannot stress enough how true that is! I kept those words at the forefront of my mind in the first weeks of our breastfeeding journey.

The day after Miles was born, I experienced being- ugh- engorged (I hate that word). The milk was in with full force! It was not fun. It was actually painful. The lactation consultants at the hospital came in at various times (side note: more people saw my boobs in the first twenty-four hours after Miles was born than I'd ever expected!) to talk with me about breastfeeding, and each one had a different philosophy. One said to only let him eat about ten minutes per side and then the meal was over. The other said I would probably not be able to breastfeed because I had gotten the “evil” epidural (her words, not mine). I was confused, my boobs hurt, and it was making me beyond annoyed to not have a straight answer as to how to feed my baby- Miles and I were already having a hard time communicating as to how to latch. One of the lactation consultants even went so far as to hand my husband a disassembled pump and demand he put it together before she would sign off on us being discharged from the hospital. As soon as she walked out of the room, I grabbed the bag and assembled the pump, frustrated that she had so little to offer in terms of actual advice to help me breastfeed that she was ready to have me pump instead of nurse.

Once we were home from the hospital, I spent the next two days in tears and at my wits’ end. Latching was horribly painful, and we were spending forty-five minutes to an hour trying to get things going at each feeding. I had an overabundance of milk, poor Miles was overwhelmed and unable to stay latched, and we would both end up crying in frustration. Only three days into motherhood, I spent New Year’s Eve pumping and rang in the New Year by kissing my sympathetic husband and giving Miles his feeding in a bottle. I was heartbroken but relieved (literally- I’ll never take normal, pain-free boobs for granted again!). Flipping through the papers the hospital had sent home with me, I found a flyer that showed a phone number for nursing mothers to call 365 days a year if they had any questions or needed help. I decided to call the next morning.

At Kathleen's store on New Year's Day.
I woke up bright and early on New Year’s Day and dialed the number on the flyer. I left a voicemail and then pumped so Miles could eat his breakfast. When my phone rang, I answered on the first ring. I was already emotional, but as I explained what was going on and what a difficult time we were having with latching, the response came: “Oh, honey- it shouldn’t take you more than five minutes to get a good latch and start the feeding. When can you stop by today for an appointment?” I burst into tears. Miles and I drove up to see Kathleen (author of The Nursing Mother’s Companion) at her store, Simply Mama, where she had a little area tucked away for mothers to be able to nurse privately and have consultations. Within minutes of meeting her, she found that Miles was tongue-tied (no one else had noticed) to the point that it was causing him trouble with latching. However, she also guided us with a better technique so that Miles could latch on easily within about a minute and I could manage the fast flow of milk, if I was using both hands to help him. It left me a bit indisposed, but I was so happy to be able to have Miles nursing again that I absolutely did not care- I was on cloud nine. (Another side note: when I go Kathleen's store now, I still get emotional because I so clearly remember the feelings swirling around inside me that day.)

Thus began what I like to call The Honeymoon Phase of our breastfeeding journey. Sure, I was still sore, but that began to wear off after the first few weeks and soon enough we were in a natural rhythm (just like the article had said). We even had some hilarious moments- like, for example, when we stopped on our way down to LA to nurse and it was the first time I had nursed in public. It was not discreet, milk was flying, I was in tears laughing so I couldn’t concentrate, and I have never seen Parker look more wide-eyed (at least Miles took it in stride). But on our normal days, I treasured our moments during feedings. Miles would get drowsy and rest his little hand on my chest, making contented sounds as he nursed. It was beautiful and I benefited emotionally from those quiet times together as much as he did.

Drowsy, content baby.
When Miles was a few months old, I went back on birth control (the mini-pill). I was under the impression that it would not affect my milk supply but it definitely did. The worst part was that I had no clue just how much it affected my supply until Miles had started losing weight (the worst feeling in the world). I still feel terribly about that time, but as soon as I knew there was a problem I fixed it. I went on herbal supplements; I took all of Kathleen’s suggestions (and she’s the expert!), and nothing. Thankfully, I had a lot of milk stored in the freezer so it was a gradual transition from breastfeeding to formula but it was still disappointing to me until I realized that the most important this is that Miles is happy and healthy. We have so many other wonderful ways to bond and I’m so thankful for the months that I was able to breastfeed.

That being said, here are my top 5 pieces of advice for mothers starting their breastfeeding journey:

1. Take time to prepare yourself during pregnancy: I recommend Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding and The Nursing Mother's Companion
2. Don't be afraid to ask for help (and keep searching for the right answer if you don't find it right away): This is so so important! The first lactation consultant in the hospital told me to basically give up on breastfeeding because I had an epidural- worst reason ever. Calling Kathleen was the best decision I made at a point where I was vulnerable and ready to give up.
3. Invest in good accessories: At first I used the Boppy pillow, but it didn't provide nearly as much stability and support as this one. If you're switching back and forth between pumping and nursing, this bottle is awesome and helps the transitions go more smoothly.
4. Treasure your moments breastfeeding: Because breastfeeding is a time-sensitive source of bonding (whether you only breastfeed for the first days or until toddler age), I really made a conscious effort to soak it up- this made even middle of the night feedings a joy.
5. Don't beat yourself up if things don't go as planned: I know that if Miles is happy and healthy, all is good in my universe. I gave breastfeeding the most effort of anything I've ever done and it's not the end of the world (collective gasp from all the hippies in the room). It's certainly not the end of the love and bonding Miles and I share- he loves his mama and I love him so much my heart feels full to bursting on a daily basis.
The end.  

Whew! That was long and strangely cathartic. Hopefully this will be a source of support for anyone struggling with breastfeeding- it does get easier


chrysal said...

I actually had ZERO problems BFing, I also never read a book or took a class. I feel like they confuse you more because they all say something different. I was told after my csection by the lactation lady I wouldn't be able to bond with my son because i had a csection and he would never latch or feed, well 1sr try he latched and that was it and my husband told her to eff off and leave.

Chantal said...

This was a great post. My baby latched on wonderfully, though I remember having such difficulty the first few times. The one LC didn't help much... but we figured it out! She's still breastfeeding like a champ (well, a wiggly champ) at 8 months!

Sadie Dear said...

I love this post! I'm so glad you shared your story. I had a very similar experience! The LC's at the hospital where I delivered were also not on the same page with one another, and the nurses were threatening to send my son to the nursery for a bottle because he was losing too much weight (he was smallish for the first month), and we went home with a bad latch and no clue what was wrong. I was persistent and he wound up breastfeeding for two years, but the early days were very challenging! I miss breastfeeding so much: though I don't look forward to another third trimester, labor, or sleepless nights... i want another baby very soon.

lisacng said...

Thanks for sharing your journey! I read "So that's what they're for: the definitive breastfeeding guide" by Janet Tamaro. It was funny, but it was also empowering. I "drank the juice", so to speak. Just like I "drank the juice" for a drug-free birth. And you know what happened -- I had a C-section and I only breastfed for about 3 weeks. I felt like a failure. Probably carried those disappointment/resentment feelings through the 1st year. I'm happy that you found help and stuck to it. For my 2nd baby, whenever that is, I will try to breastfeed longer (and not pump, unless I'm going back to work) because I want to give my baby the best. But I will also not beat myself up if it doesn't work out, just like you said in point #5!! And you are right when you said that the most important thing is a happy healthy baby, whether that is breast milk or formula. And looking at my son now, I can't even imagine why I was so upset a year ago. Tks again for sharing your story!

Megan said...

This is a great post!! I never was able to really bf but pumped for 3 months. I wish it could have been longer but my supply didn't last very long but I was able to give Olivia milk for almost 4.5 months since we had a freezer supply. I think this post will really help others. Everyone thinks bf is easy but it is a lot of work, I am always jealous of those who can bf/pump for a whole year!