Breastfeeding is hard
I’ve been wanting to write this post since Cielo was born but I thought I’d wait a little to see how things pan out. One month in and I stand by the statement that breastfeeding is hard. And you know what? Every single mom that I have spoken to since Cielo’s birth has said the exact same thing. One even told me she thought it was almost harder than labor itself!
So why is this something I never knew before having the baby? Why isn’t this topic shared in more birth classes and prenatal appointments? Why didn’t my midwife tell me I may have a hard time with one of the most elementary aspects of being a mom? Breastfeeding has been the number one topic of conversation concerning the baby in my household. And after speaking to so many moms and hearing similar stories to mine, I thought it was time we had an open and honest conversation about the trials and triumphs of breastfeeding. I want to know your stories. Did you find it hard to nurse your baby? How did you cope? Were you more successful? What can you share with new moms to help them along?
I encourage everyone to comment on this post (the more advice, stories, knowledge, the better), but let’s all be supportive of each others thoughts and parenting philosophies (including mine). How you feed your baby can be such a hot topic and I don’t believe in parent shaming. We all do what we need to do to keep our kids safe, happy and healthy, right? Right!
So let’s talk about breastfeeding…
Less than an hour after Cielo was born, she was latched to my left breast with such ferocity. Her suck was so strong. She had done it all on her own and I was so proud of her. I thought to myself, we did it. We’re breastfeeding. I expressed my right breast and saw that colostrum was oozing out. It felt amazing to be feeding my baby from my own body. I felt superhuman. Not only did my body grow new life inside of it, I had given birth– an experience only those who have gone through can understand. And now, I was nursing my new baby from my own bosom. She knew her job and I knew mine. Nature is so amazing, I thought.
By the next day, I had nursed the baby about one million times (no joke!). My nipples were starting to feel a little sore. No one ever told me how often newborns liked to feed. And I was following the “feed on demand” or “breast on demand” philosophy, which states to nurse baby whenever she suckles or roots– this includes baby sucking on her hand, which Cielo would do non-stop! So, I obliged my hungry baby and nursed her…and nursed her…and nursed her. Although I received some guidance from my midwife on how to get her to properly latch and what sensations I should be feeling (deep tugs within my breast and contractions in my uterus), my actual lactation consultant (LC) didn’t see me until the middle of the second day postpartum. By then, my nipples were no longer just sore; they were cracked and almost bloody. I also started to notice that Cielo was getting frustrated when she nursed sometimes and would cry out hysterically, even with my boob sitting in her mouth. The LC decided to check inside of Cielo’s little mouth. She explained to us that the baby had a tight frenulum (tongue-tie) and that we should have it clipped. CLIP MY BABY’S TONGUE?!! I thought. Heck no! That sounded really awful! I asked to speak with my midwife immediately. She came in and I explained what the horrible LC had told us. Our midwife stared back blankly. She said it was no big deal, lots of baby’s have a tight
frenulum and that the procedure was totally routine and performed daily.A tight frenulum is often the cause of a poor latch which is frustrating for baby because her tongue doesn’t stick out far enough to let down the milk she so desperately wants. A poor latch can also damage the nipple. I had never heard of tongue tie and no one had ever mentioned it as a possibility so naturally, I was a bit skeptical.
From the beginning of our pregnancy, Evan and I made the decision that we would not allow anyone– be it a medical professional, a family member or a friend– pressure us into doing or feeling anything that didn’t fit into our vision of a healthy pregnancy and birth. And we wanted to continue that thinking once the baby was here. So, instead of hastily clipping the frenulum, we decided we’d wait, get more opinions and do more research. In all, we sought the opinions of three pediatricians, three lactation consultants, two nurses, one midwife and countless websites, and they all said the same thing– her frenulum was indeed tight and that we should have it clipped.
So finally we did, but it was a whole six days after her birth. We’re proud of ourselves for having the wherewithal to follow our guts and do more research on the topic, but sadly, days one through five of our breastfeeding life become progressively worse as a result. Cielo became increasingly unhappy the days following our homecoming from the hospital…as did my nipples. By night three, I was dripping blood from one nipple. I decided, I shouldn’t breastfeed. Instead, I would just pump. Pumping was proving to be more successful. We were feeding Cielo with a syringe to avoid nipple confusion. Between pumps, I would lube up with Neosporin and sit around with no top on so that my nipples had enough air to breath and heal faster. Cielo was still fussy, but she seemed to be getting enough milk to keep her satisfied for the time being. It wasn’t until our fifth night with our newborn that shit really hit the fan. While I was pumping, my left breast began to spew blood into the bottle, then, as if cued by the left, the right one followed suit. Both of my breasts were now pumping large amounts of blood. Too much to feed the baby. It was the middle of the night. Cielo began to cry. I began to cry. How was I going to feed our baby?! That was my job, she was trying to do hers. I was devastated. And scared. I had no idea how to put food in my baby’s belly at that moment. Then Evan blurted out the F word…FORMULA. I looked at him in horror and cried some more. Formula was not part of my vision. It was not part of my plan. I was a natural mom. I labored for 26 hours and not once asked for pain medicine. I spent nine months eating healthy and exercising. I was a breastfeeding mom, not a formula mom. But in that moment Cielo was all that mattered and she was crying out in hunger…and I couldn’t bear it anymore. It was 3am when we hit our breaking point. Evan threw on his pajama pants (inside out– we can laugh about this now) and drove as fast as he could to the nearest open drug store. We hadn’t even opened the three bottles we had purchased “just in case” we ever needed one.
The moment the bottle touched her lips, Cielo was sucking as hard as she could. She inhaled the formula. And then she stopped crying. And then she curled up and went to sleep. She had been up for hours crying, rooting, sucking on her hands…she was hungry that whole time. My heart still breaks thinking of this. In that moment, I understood that maternal instinct of needing to do whatever it takes to keep your baby safe and happy. I would kill. I would die. I would give my baby formula forever if it meant that she was better off.
I left my formula feeding prejudices behind that night. In fact, I left all of my parenting prejudices behind that night. Happy, healthy, safe – that’s my new philosophy. And whatever road it takes to get there, I’ll venture it with confidence.
We formula fed for the next two days while my nipples fully healed. Cielo turned into a whole new baby. She was content, she was full, she was sleeping– she was the kind of baby we had hoped to have all along.
When I finally felt ready to get back to nursing, I started off slow. Nursed a little, pumped a little and continued to supplement with formula as needed. In a matter of a few days, I was back to breastfeeding full-time. Cielo’s latch is great now and I know when she’s getting enough milk. My supply has come in healthily and continues to grow each day. I now even pump once a day for the freezer and I’m still able to feed the baby sufficiently.
AND, if we ever need to use formula again in the future, we will. No qualms about it.
I’m a happier, more confident mom now. Evan has been able to participate in feedings more directly and connect with Cielo during that intimate time. In retrospect, there are a number of things I could have done differently to have avoided all of our breastfeeding woes, but we’re happy with the cards that were dealt to us. We learned a great deal about ourselves, our baby and what kind of parents we want and need to be to keep her happy, healthy and safe.
A few suggestions (take them or leave them):
1) Find a lactation consultant that you like and trust, and consult her as often as necessary. Many LC’s will make house calls or talk you through any dilemmas over the phone.
2) Find a support group. Whether a friend, family member or postpartum group, seek out your peers to help you. These are women that have gone through or are going through a similar scenario to you. Help each other.
3) Make sure to have the necessary tools for successful nursing– nipple guards, creams and ointments, soothing pads, ice packs, a good pump, plenty of bottles or feeding utensils (there are many alternatives to bottles), etc.
4) NEVER feel bad for the decisions you have made when it comes to keeping your baby happy, healthy and safe. You don’t have to defend yourself. You are the mom (or dad) and ONLY YOU know what your child needs.
5) If nursing is your end goal, DON’T GIVE UP!!! Breastfeeding is hard, but the more you do it, the better and easier it gets. Take your time and keep at it.
I hope my story is helpful to any other moms who are having trouble with nursing. Know that you’ll get through it and YOU’RE NOT ALONE!!!