Friday, February 5, 2010

"Nursing Through the Pain"

I always knew I wanted to nurse my baby, ever since seeing a picture of my mom nursing me the day I came home from the hospital. She always talked about how wonderful it was, how she wouldn't have done it any other way, even though it wasn't the norm when I was born and people thought she was crazy for doing it.
Leo arrived ready-made with a super-strong suck. The first time I put him to my breast, it was wonderful and strange at the same time, to know that I was nourishing this small person. But over the course of our hospital stay, things got difficult. The first day of his life, he slept all day. Then, that night, he tried to make up for lost time. He fussed and nursed on and off for over 5 hours. My nipples began to ache, a premonition of what was to come. When I thought he was finally done, a nurse came in and he was rooting. She looked at me strangely and said "your baby is STARVING". I cried, because I had been trying so hard.

The next day, he was circumcised. And would not open his mouth for the breast all day. He squeezed his little lips together and nobody, not me, not the nurses, not the LC, could get him to open up. When we got home, my husband tried to give him a bottle, but he wouldn't take that either. Then he cluster-fed all night.

Because of Leo's strong suck and an improper latch, my breasts became horribly injured. The left nipple boasted a deep wound and throbbed even when he was nowhere near the breasts. I would cry if I even heard him start to wake up, because I was dreading the feeding so much. Each time he latched, I would scream and burst into tears. It was, by far, the most painful, horrible thing I had ever endured. My nipples cracked and bled, and when my reflux boy would spit up, there were pink flecks of blood in it.

When Leo was ten days old, I couldn't take it anymore. My pump was on its way, but I decided to go to Target and buy a manual pump. For two days I squeezed that thing day and night and fed him with bottles, to let my nipples heal. Then, we met with an LC who helped me get our latch right and told me it was okay to rest my breasts as needed and just feed him on the right side, which was slightly less painful.

On the day Leo turned two weeks old, my mom passed away after an eight-month battle with lung cancer. My mom was my best friend, my rock, the most important person in my world. The weeks after she passed were some of the darkest of my life. I developed an allergy to oxytocin from breastfeeding, and this resulted in a rash all over my body, from head to toe. Leo was eating every two hours or sooner, and I remember sitting in his nursery, sobbing, aching with grief, my nipples screaming in pain, and my entire body itching to the point of pain. Even in the few short intervals when he slept, I couldn't rest because of the itching.

When he was three weeks, I remember reading that for most women, latch pain gets better around six weeks. I couldn't begin to imagine making it to that point. I set six weeks as my goal for breast-feeding. If I could just make it that far, I would let myself quit.

But lo and behold, by six weeks things were starting to get better, so I said "okay, two months". The rash went away, my nipples began to heal. I kept thinking about my mom, a young mom away from her family, nursing me, her first daughter. I knew how proud she would be if I stuck with it. And I'm so, so glad I did. And despite everything I've accomplished in my life, I may be most proud of this. It would have been so easy to quit. I had so many excuses. But I didn't. And I'm so proud of myself.

Now, Leo is almost seven months, and my supply is dwindling. I cried at work today when I only pumped three ounces and he needs six per bottle. But I know I can do this. I will take supplements, drink water, eat oatmeal, do whatever I have to do, because our nursing relationship is so important and special to me.

Kate, mom of Leo, 6.5 months


  1. You have amazing perseverance but I want you to know that it should not have been this hard or this painful. There is no doubt in my mind that you were set up to fail in the hospital where you gave birth. I can tell by the reaction of the hospital nurse! Best for Babes is working hard to put pressure on hospitals to help moms succeed and to follow the ten steps of Thank you so much for helping us spread the word and Congratulations on your success!

  2. Thanks for the kind words Bettina! ;) I hope one day this blog will have enough stories to help mamas all over know they aren't alone, and where they can go to get help too!