The highs and lows of breastfeeding (and what they don't tell you)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

**PAIL Monthly Theme: "Feeding your child" - I am finally participating in my first (and hopefully not last) PAIL monthly writing prompt post!  This topic was selected because it is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month.  Enjoy!**

Before I had B, I remember thinking about how much I wanted to breastfeed, but how scared I was to do it.  I signed up for classes, consulted friends and family, and G.oogled like crazy.  I was very worried that I wouldn't have enough of a supply for my little man.  I spent a decent amount of time obsessing over this.  In the back of my mind I worried about things like the pain and pumping at work, but honestly the forefront of my nervousness was centered around supply.  Maybe I figured that since I had such a tough time with keeping pregnancies and being pregnant that this would be one more thing I would struggle with.  Little did I know what completely different types of breast feeding challenges that would lie ahead of me...

Like any other responsible mother, I had a birth plan.  I was adamant about sticking to that birth plan.  I printed out 20 copies of that freaking plan and distributed them to any and everyone on the hospital staff that would take one.  Amongst major plan points such as no epidural until I was screaming in pain, no pacifier for the baby to avoid nipple confusion, baby rooming with us 100% of the time so that we could bond, etc., was my insistence on having the baby breastfeed as soon as possible following his birth.  Oh and my greatest wish of all was nothing but breast milk for my baby.  PERIOD.  Everything that I had read warned of the "dangers" of introducing formula instead of or before breast milk.   My baby might not bond with me or he might grow horns or something.  Of course I would be the mom to let my baby lay on my chest following a picture perfect birth and let him leisurely find his way to one of my nipples as nature intended.  Then a silly thing called Murphy's Law came to fruition and I may as well have set that stupid birth plan on fire.

My unplanned c-section was a huge factor in me not following 95% of my birth plan.  Following my complicated surgery, I remember few things about those first hours of breastfeeding.  I remember shaking uncontrollably and struggling to keep my eyes open whilst my delivery nurse tried to shove my baby on my boob, try to make him latch, and explain to me how to breastfeed.  I couldn't even comprehend what was going on.  I was exhausted from a nearly 40 hour labor and 3 hours of pushing followed by the c-section.  The last thing I felt like doing was trying to get the hang of breastfeeding.  I wanted to be asleep.  Birth plan?  What birth plan?  Good night.

No one really prepares you for what to expect in those early days of breastfeeding.  Throw a c-section in the mix and you're screwed.  Add a raging case of PUPPPs and 2 blood transfusions and you're royally (pardon my French) F*CKED.  My hospital room became a revolving door for doctor's, nurses, lactation consultants, friends, and family trying to "help" me breastfeed.  During those first few days I found out that I had extremely small nipples, that milk doesn't come in as fast when you have a c-section, and that if your baby loses 10% of his body weight that they force formula on you.  Who knew?

Giving my son formula in the hospital made me feel awful.  Once again my body wasn't working right and I was going to forever change the optimal balance of bacteria in his little stomach with this "evil" concoction.  I cried as I pumped using the hospital's machine and saw only a few drops of colostrum fall into the cup after pumping for 30 minutes.  One of the nurses declared me an utter failure so I was determined to prove her wrong.  I pumped around the clock and had almost an ounce of colostrum saved up.  When I excitedly went to show my husband what I had done, I tripped and dropped the whole thing on the floor.  Don't cry over spilt milk?  Ummm I don't think that applies to colostrum.  I sobbed for several hours as the nurses and lactation consultants hooked me up with the SNS system and I watched my starving baby guzzle the formula.  F.A.I.L.

I thought that was as difficult as things would get with regards to breastfeeding.  My milk would eventually come in, my baby would get the hang of it, and we would all live happily ever after.  In a perfect world, this is what things might look like.  In reality, my milk came in with an evil vengeance.  My boobs felt like 2 hot rocks and my nipples were bloody with gross scabs.  I leaked (or rather sprayed) every time I took off my shirt.  I dreaded every 1.5 hours because it meant my barracuda baby would have to latch.  I tried the lanolin and gel pads, but thank God for nipple shields or I may have quit.  Thank God my mom was there to listen to me sob on the phone in pain.  She assured me it would get better...eventually.

To help boost the supply I thought might be low, I ate oatmeal every morning, I added brewer's yeast to everything, I chugged Mother's Milk tea, and made batches and batches of lactation cookies.  I even attended a weekly breastfeeding support group!  I would not let my baby and I become victims of a low supply.  No way!

It was around a month after my son's birth when I noticed him spitting up a ton around the clock.  He would choke on my milk when he was drinking and would writhe and wiggle with pain after each feeding.  I was lucky to keep him eating for more than 5 minutes on each side.  His poops were bordering on mucousy green.  The lactation consultant dubbed him a "BK drive-thru baby" and told me that I had an overactive letdown and (gasp) a potential over supply. She told me to stop the oatmeal, lactation cookies, and tea.  The pediatrician told me that it was either acid reflux or some type of an intolerance to what I was eating.  She told me to stop eating dairy, soy, wheat, eggs, and peanuts and to give the baby Zantac.  Oh, no problem!  Now I am that pain-in-the-ass person who has to look at the special menu or needs to lie about being allergic to soybeans because I am sure Johnny Server really doesn't want to get into a discussion about how what I eat affects my milk.  The kicker with all of this is that my baby still spit up a ton (poor kid lives in his multi-colored BRU terry cloth bibs) and still cried after he ate on many occasions.  So much for those solutions to the problem!

Breastfeeding in public is an art that I haven't been able to fully master.  Trying to position a squirming and crying baby on a boob under a hot cover-up is like trying to thread a needle in a low-light sauna.  Not comfortable and not easy.  Dealing with people staring at me makes me more angry than self-conscious.  Yes, I have boobs.  Yes, one of them is out of my shirt.  Yes, my baby is sucking on one of my boobs.  Take your stupid stare elsewhere and let me feed my hungry baby in peace!  Sheesh!

I came to find out that three month maternity leave goes by so very quickly and wasn't the 3 month vacation from work that I had imagined.  I blinked and I was back in the office.  Unlike coming back after a 3 month vacation, nice and rested, I was exhausted and loopy.  I soon learned that I had to fight with the daytime nappers to use the lactation, or "quiet" room, as my company calls it. Pumping every 3 hours during the day at work is tough.  Lugging the bag full of milk home from work is even tougher.  Cleaning all of the pump parts 3-4 times a day is a huge P.I.T.A.  For the first time, I realized that I missed nursing my baby.  I missed the comfort of looking at him happily sucking away and hearing him gulp.  I missed him lovingly rubbing my belly and pulling off to look at me with milk running down his smiley face.  I missed breastfeeding my baby.  

The truth is, my relationship with breastfeeding has been rocky.  It started out rough and then got rougher.  Through it all, I have learned this, nothing ever goes as planned, so put that silly birth plan in the circular file.  You need to learn to be flexible, adaptable, easy-going.  Just like any other skill, breastfeeding takes time to develop.  All of the planning, research, and classes in the world are not going to prepare you for your breastfeeding journey.

So if you are planning on breastfeeding your baby (high five if you are after reading this post :-), my one piece of advice to you would be to NOT listen to those people who claim that breastfeeding is a natural thing that just happens as soon as the baby is born.  Breastfeeding is hard and hurts and in the early days it just plain sucks.  Sometimes you need to supplement with formula.  Sometimes you need to switch from the breast to formula completely.  It's all ok.  You do what you gotta do to keep your baby healthy and growing.  Some of the smartest kids I know were straight formula fed.  I am happy that breastfeeding is finally working for me, but it may not be working for you, and that is ok.

If you are still breastfeeding than I am sure you can relate to some or all of this post.  There are ups and downs, but once you finally get into a groove it really does become second nature and possibly even an enjoyable way to connect with your baby.  Personally speaking, I am glad that I have stuck with it for (gasp) the past 4 months.  I hope to be able to continue until it makes sense for me to stop.         

share this on »

9 Responses to “The highs and lows of breastfeeding (and what they don't tell you)”

  1. Um. Wow. What a horrendous experience for you! I'm so sorry you had to deal with all that! I'm a little scared now, so I am going to close my computer and kill my brain cells with some reality TV. ;)

  2. Ugh, I'm sorry you've had such a rough go of it.

    A few things that helped me:
    1) breastfeed without the damn cover. I gave it up after a week and never looked back. It was SOOO much easier and honestly, more discreet b/c you're not struggling & the baby isn't freaking out about being under a hot cover. I lived in nursing tank + same covered overshirt for months in the beginning and rarely did ppl even realize I was nursing Stella.
    2) Don't clean the pump parts all day! I pumped 3x/day at work, and between pumps, I'd put the flange/connector/valve/membrane in a ziplock baggie in the fridge and reuse - then just sanitize once at the end of the day at home. These were also handy if you wanted to clean mid-day (

    Good luck!

  3. Crumbs, you have had an awful time of it. But congrats on making it! I also had to do formula at the birth and it gutted me. Plus the first few months when I had supply problems. I am just amazed I am still going at 14 months, let that give you hope!
    Love what you said about the cover! I have resorted to leaving the room. He doesn't like the cover at all but I have done it on occasion.

  4. I loved this post. I agree and had a similar experience. I do cringe a little when I hear pregnant moms say they're not even going to try to breastfeed, but I will never, ever judge another parent for what/how she feeds her child.
    Good for you for persevering through the hard parts and telling it like it is for those who really want to know.
    I also agree with Josey...I never sanitized or even rinsed in between pumps at work. I probably should have, but it never had any repercussions. I just packed it all back in the ziplock to maintain some privacy.

  5. Oh my god. Reading about that spilled colostrum brought tears to my eyes. Literally. That must have been freaking awful.

    Your experience reminds me a lot of mine. I also had oversupply and we had to work around that. Then we had thrush. For three months. I had longer before I went back to work but have to return after three months this next time and it's really helpful to hear how that worked for you. I won't be able to pump at work (I'm teaching for four straight hours with only one 15 minute break) so who knows if my supply will withstand a big 6 hour break). Anyway, it was really nice to read about your story because mine was similarly "not ideal" and I appreciate hearing that I'm not the only one. Thank you for sharing.

  6. I agree with all/most of what you said. I was worried about supply but realized very early on that I had oversupply (like by day 7 after she was born). It's been challenging and we are still nursing the second kid at 6 months so it's doable if you can be persistent through the yucky parts. We used a shield with the first kid for 4 months because she resisted latching and then one day she just got it. From the other side, having nursed to 13 months with the kid (now 5 years old) it was probably worth it so stick with it through the lousy parts.

  7. You've perservered through so many challenges and I'm glad breastfeeding is finally at a good point for you. Sounds like a real challenge to pump at work, especially when you have to fight the lazies to have some privacy. When I was pumping more, I would refrigerate and reuse the bottles etc. too for the next session - glad to hear I'm not alone on that! It's a great way to cut down on the time and hassle of pumping. I also never use a nursing cover (sometimes a blanket if I happen to be seated on a park bench next to a particularly pervy-looking specimen), so you could try without to see if you'd be more comfortable that way. And I hear you on the over-supply issues ... it's good to have enough milk, not so good to deal with the difficulties that come along with having too much of it!

  8. I nearly cried when you spilt the hard fought colostrum. I lost about 500mls of expressed milk in a freezer mishap so can sort of relate. Good luck with the rest of your breastfeeding experience! Thanks for sharing your story.

  9. I have to thank you for this post! I am unable to breastfeed due to a physical issue and I tried and tried so very hard in the early days! I also had a C-section and it seemed my LO was getting absolutely nothing at each feeding but I was fortunate to have a very encouraging lactation consultant and she assured me he was getting what he needed even if it was a small bit and to just relax and keep it up. It was painful, it was frustrating, and finally by day 3 of our hospital stay it seemed he was getting more than a measly quarter of a tsp! I was overjoyed! Until we went home and at his first ped appt they said he had lost more than 10% of his body weight and we needed to supplement. That's when it all went downhill! He got nipple confusion and getting him to latch even with the shields was near impossible, I got mastitis twice and clogged ducts several times (talk about pain!!!!) due to fibrocystic breasts (the ducts are all out of whack with all the extra nodules in the breast tissue) and we just realized we had to stop. It killed me and I obsess over what nutrients he is getting and immune support and all that but at the end of the day he is healthy and thriving and that's all we can ask for. Not all of us are able to do what we were made to since environmental and health issues come into play. I get so frustrated when I feel like I have to defend myself to all the women that want to look down their nose because I'm not breastfeeding (gasp!) lol.