This week is World Breastfeeding Week, and "Mother Support: Going for the Gold" is this year's theme. I so firmly believe that woman-to-woman support is the best recipe for a successful breastfeeding relationship.
Breastfeeding has never been a choice for me, rather it's just something I knew I would do, without a doubt. My mom nursed me until I self-weaned at a little under two, and I grew up thinking that breastfeeding was a normal, healthy way to feed one's baby. However, I'll admit that, despite all the reading I did, I never imagined that it might not be easy. I had a fairly easy birth. I was in labor for 20 hours, but it was all-natural, and those drug-free babies are supposed to nurse easily, right? RIGHT?
From the beginning, nursing was a struggle. Luke did not want to eat. I was able to have skin to skin contact pretty quickly after he was born, and Louise [our doula] helped me try to nurse him, but he just refused. We gave up after awhile and I let them take him to the nursery to get cleaned. When they brought him back, Louise and I tried again to get him to eat, but he wouldn't. It continued like this through most of Tuesday [the day he was born]. Because he was a big baby, they were testing his blood sugar every four hours, and his blood sugar was always fine. However, on Wednesday, he continued to refuse to eat. By this point, I was getting really frustrated and feeling like a huge failure. When Louise stopped by to check on me, she told me not to worry, that even if he never, ever latched on, I could still breastfeed with bottles. Still, the nurses were stressing me out a LOT. I know it's their job and they want babies to eat, but I feel like it was somewhat detrimental to me getting him to eat, simply because I was so tense. Every two hours, someone would come in and ask if he had eaten, and every two hours, I'd have to tell them that no, he still really wasn't eating much. He would maybe latch on a little bit, but then he'd stop. One of the nurses said, If he doesn't eat more soon, we'll have to start testing his blood sugar again. The way she said it came across as accusatory to me, and it just made me sob because I was TRYING SO HARD. I wanted nothing more than to feed my child successfully, and it wasn't working. Unfortunately, the lactation consultant was off on Wednesday, so I just had various nursery nurses helping, some of whom were a little forceful and made me feel like a monster when he'd scream his head off at me. I finally broke down and let them put glucose water and formula on my nipple to attempt to get him to latch. I really didn't want to do that, but I just felt so hopeless at this point. However, he wasn't interested in either.
At about 9 that night, I had a nurse who was a little more gentler with Luke and me. We were able to get him to latch for about 10 minutes and eat a little. I was thrilled! She actually stayed past the end of her shift at 11 to get him to eat again, and he ate much better. At this point, I was utterly exhausted. I didn't sleep much at all on Tuesday night because of endorphins and because Shane was snoring so freaking loud, and I obviously didn't sleep at all Monday night while in labor. I trusted the nurses enough to know that they weren't going to give him formula, so I let them take him to the nursery, and I took a pain pill. A new, but very calm and gentle nurse brought him in to me at 3. I had three hours of sleep, plus I was really relaxed from the pill. I was able to get him latched on to both breasts, and he ate for an hour! She came back in at 4 and took him back to the nursery. A new nurse brought him in at 7, and I was again able to feed him for an hour.
In hindsight, I know that I let the nurses on Wed. stress me out way too much. They made me tense, which I am sure Luke sensed. Neither my midwife nor Luke's pediatrician were overly concerned on Wednesday, so I should have taken that as a sign. Sheryl's comment was that he was stubborn coming in to this world, so she wasn't surprised that he was stubborn about eating. His pediatrician just said, he's not jaundiced, he's a good sized baby, blood sugar's fine, you could probably leave him on a rock for two days, and when you returned, he'd be fine. I can understand some amount of stress about a baby who is not eating well, but they knew I was staying until Thursday. They also knew that he'd barely lost any of his birth weight. I just feel like treating me like I was inept or making accusatory statements about having to start checking his blood sugar again was the worst thing they could've done to help us establish a feeding relationship. Also, one of the nurses tried to get my parents to leave the room before we tried to feed him, which rubbed me the wrong way. She acted as if it was something that I'd need privacy for, when I would think a pro-breastfeeding hospital would want to support how natural it is. When she did that, I just said, They were here when he was born, I would like them to stay. It helped to have my mom there to calm me down a little, honestly. She just said, Oh. Fine. The dichotomy between nurses was incredible. We either had fabulous nurses or ones who seemed to not care at all.
When we left the hospital, Luke continued to nurse well. The first night home, co-sleeping made all the difference. I got into bed with him in my underwear and just held him against my body, letting him nurse when he needed, letting us both sleep when he wasn't. It was all new to us, but it felt so right. For the next two days, he continued to nurse well, and then my milk came in. Rather, it came flooding in with the force of fire hose. Suddenly, we were back where we started. I was engorged, and he couldn't latch. I would hand express milk before every feeding, but still, he'd choke and splutter and refuse to nurse. I have a clear memory of sitting on the floor of the guest bedroom with my husband using the manual breastpump on my painfully engorged breasts (totally not how I ever pictured us using my breasts!;p). At this point, Luke hadn't nursed in so long, and while I knew that pumping would only cause my breasts to fill back up, I needed the relief. We pumped and fingerfed some to Luke, allowing us to get a few hours sleep. The next day, my husband returned to work, and my mom came over. With her help, I was able to get Luke to eat a little bit better, though he was still choking on my letdown. After this, my right nipple became cracked and bloody. My right breast was always fuller, so he had a harder time latching. I ended up biting into my cheek pretty hard to keep from screaming when he'd latch, but every day, it got a little better. We mastered sidelying nursing, which made all the difference. Things went swimmingly until Luke was three months and got his first tooth. Three months is fairly early in terms of teething, so when he began biting, I was unsure of what to do. Most of the tips I read seemed as though they'd work for older babies, yet it was hard to make a three month old understand not to bite. Still, I wasn't about to give up, so I kept at it. Unfortunately, his biting did give me a milk blister, which led to a plugged duct, which then led to mastitis. I was able to make it through mastitis without antibiotics, though I did run a fever for two days and was more sore than I ever thought possible. As he grew (and gained more teeth), I was able to better tackle the biting issue.
When Luke was six months, I returned to work full-time. It wasn't easy. I'm a teacher, so I have very scheduled breaks, and unfortunately, my first break was not until noon (I leave for work at 6:20). My first break is lunch, so I mastered pumping and eating at the same time. By the time noon rolls around, I'm usually very engorged, but my supply did take a bit of a hit due to going all night without nursing, then another 6 hours without nursing. However, I took enough Fenugreek that I smelled like I was drowning in maple syrup, but I was able to pump just enough to meet his needs. My second break was only two hours after the first, so I never got very much from that session. It definitely was not ideal, and I would've loved to take three evenly spaced breaks a day, but it wasn't possible.
When Luke turned a year old, I took the day off of work. He tried, and loved, a sippy cup of organic cow's milk. With a great deal of relief, I packed away the pump. My supply, by this point, was nothing like it was when I first returned to work, so I was able to go through the day without pumping pretty easily. But the first thing I did when I got home was nurse Luke. At 17 months, he's still going strong, and it's hard to remember that my "num num" (his words, not mine) monster EVER had trouble with this whole breastfeeding thing. But looking back, I am so thankful for all the support I had, knowing that it made all the difference in our relationship.
Breastfeeding a toddler is dangerous business. Helmets recommended!