Item # 482 that no on tells you about becoming a parent: Breastfeeding doesn’t always come easily.
When I found out we were pregnant, there was no question in my mind that I wanted to breastfeed. My mother breastfed all three of her children, I had been around babies since I was little and knew that breast milk was really good for a baby. I also knew formula was really expensive. I had read the research, and never doubted for a second that it was the choice I was going to make.
I read books and articles on how to breastfeed. I learned about establishing a supply, and all the wonderful bonding that goes on between a mother and baby. I educated myself about the added benefits to breastfeeding, like added weight loss for post-partum mommy, reduced risk of SIDS for baby, adaptation of your breast milk for your babies nutrient needs as they grow, lower risk of obesity and diabetes in children, and a reduced risk of breast, ovarian, cervical, and endometrial cancers for mom. I even took the class at the hospital complete with my stuffed animal we were to bring along to act as a child. I brought a Cow, it seemed appropriate.
I just don’t understand why when you are pregnant people who have been there don’t tell you the hard stuff. Okay, maybe a stranger off the street coming up to you would be odd, but a friend, relative? It’s not like telling someone who isn’t pregnant yet, and then worrying you are the reason that they decided not to have children, we are already past that point. Our bellies are hard at work growing and developing a beautiful little human being. So why keep this stuff to yourself?
After Squish was born, I can’t tell you how many times I would say to a friend who already had children, “I didn’t realize breastfeeding would be so hard.” and got the response, “I know! I was surprised too!” Every time it happened to me, I wanted to scream, “If you knew it was like this, why didn’t you warn me?”
Besides not wanted to freak out a pregnant lady, I suppose people don’t tell you how hard breastfeeding is because they assume there isn’t much you can do about it until the baby is born. Or maybe it is because they think if they tell you that, and then you have an easy time making it work for you, you will think less of them. Either way I really really wish just one person had pulled me aside and said, “Listen, breastfeeding is amazing, but it doesn’t always go smoothly. This is what I found that worked for me.”
So by now I am sure you are grasping the concept that Squish and I didn’t have an easy road into the world of breastfeeding. Squishy was born via C/S at 38 weeks after I had labored for 26+ hours. I had wanted a natural birth, but after 20 hours of my contractions being less than 2 minutes apart, and making no progress with dilatation, I gave into the epi. 6 hours later I still had not made any progress. I was exhausted; Squishy’s head was swollen from being slammed up against my pelvic bone. We went ahead with a C/S. Squish was born 10lbs 2ozs. The first words out of my OB’s mouth were, “Oh My God!” to which I immediately cried, “What’s wrong?!” “He’s huge!” she replied. I was thinking… um hello this is what I kept telling you…
I knew things weren’t quite right when I didn’t really get to see Squish before he was taken to the nursery. I got to give him one kiss, and take a picture, and he was gone. My husband looked at me, and I told him to leave me and go with Squish.
After I was wheeled back into recovery, the pediatric nurse came in and told me that I would not be allowed to see my baby until after they stabilized his blood sugars, and the best way to do that was to let him have a bottle of formula. I wanted to see my child, so I told them to do whatever it took. (I did not have GD while pregnant, so his size and low sugars were a surprise.)
So much for not wanting him to have any formula, and breastfeeding right away. When I was finally able to see my baby, he did latch on pretty well, but he wouldn’t stay awake to eat. It took 2.5 days for his sugars to level out. During which time I was required to give him formula after every nursing session. I took him to the nursery once, because my husband was worried about me taking my first shower post C/S, and having to look after me and the baby at the same time. I fed him and wheeled him over. I told the nurses that he just ate, but if he needed anything to please bring him back.
When I returned 20 minutes later, I was shocked to discover they had fed him a full bottle of formula. I asked them why as he had just fed, and her response was, “You must be a first time mom, babies get hungry.” I think my husband had to pick my jaw off the floor, but I was too exhausted and sore to say anything. (I later told the lactation consultant about this when I came to see her 6 weeks later, and she told me that the hospital had taken a contract with a formula company while she was on maternity leave, and tried to push it on everyone.)
By the time we got home with Squishy, he wouldn’t latch on to my breasts and would scream until he got the immediate relief of the formula. I spent that night letting him take sucks of the formula bottle, and latching him on when he calmed down. By the 2nd day home, we were done with formula, but the damage had already been done. I would later learn that drinking the bottle was like not having to work for it, where the breast took some work on his part. He would latch on right and slowly slip down until he had a bad latch. My baby had become a lazy nurser. But since I didn’t know that breastfeeding wasn’t always easy, I just thought it was normal and let it go on.
When my mom came to visit, she said she didn’t go through what I was feeling, so when Squishy was 2 weeks old, I called the number the hospital had given me to call for questions. They gave me the number to a free lactation consultant. I took Squish in, and we nursed in front of the lady, and she told me he was a great eater. They did a weighed feeding and he was getting 4 ozs off only one side. She said I should try another position besides the one I was using to let my nipples heal a bit. She told me my nipples just had to get toughened up. I left feeling relieved and upset at the same time. If I was doing it right, why did it hurt so much?
I continued this way until Squish was 6 weeks old. I would dread having to feed him. I cried during most every feeding. My husband tried so hard to be supportive, but he couldn’t understand what I was going through. I felt like nursing was supposed to be natural and easy. I couldn’t understand what was wrong. My nipples were so sore. They were cracked and bleeding. My bras hurt, but if I didn’t wear one I would leak milk everywhere. I must have tried every kind of nipple cream on the market; I bought nipple shells to wear so my nipples didn’t rub on my bra. Even taking a shower hurt. I was exhausted and in constant pain. I felt like I must be the only one having this problem, because surely someone would have said something to me. If someone had handed me a bottle of formula right there – I just may have taken it. The guilt that I wasn’t enjoying this special bonding time was overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that my brain kept telling me to quit.
I finally decided I would try one more lactation consultant. And boy, am I glad I did. She realized that Squishy was a lazy latcher. That even though he was getting a lot of milk, he was sliding down the nipple while he nursed which is why it appeared that I had a good latch to start with. She corrected our form and had me stop and start Squish several times until he figured it out. She also advised I take a day off of breastfeeding and pump to let my nipples heal. (For reason even though I was pumping in the morning to create a stash, it never occurred to me to try the whole day.) She recommended Evenflo’s Breast flow bottle because they really required the baby to work for the milk like he did when he was on the breast. Finally a mixture of warm water and sea salt was to be applied to my nipples after every feeding. The sea salt doesn’t sting like iodine salt does, and it sure helped heal my poor cracked and bleeding nipples.
Shortly after that my nipples finally healed. I finally understood how joyful and special breastfeeding could be. I am so proud of myself that I stuck it out, but it would have been a whole lot easier of a journey to this point if just one person who didn’t have an easy go of it had said something. I would have prepared more; I would have bought the nipple creams and started using them right away. I wouldn’t have had it in my head that breastfeeding was natural and therefore easy. I wouldn’t have felt silly for asking for help sooner. Had I known it wasn’t always easy I would have found out that there were so many resources at my fingertips. My first weeks may have still been hard and painful, but at least I wouldn’t have felt alone and frustrated.
I later found out that a lot of my mommy friends struggled with breastfeeding. Some gave up, and were happier because of that, some stuck it out and figured out what worked for them, but not one person shared their experience with me until after I mentioned something to them. It was that feeling of frustration that drove me to create this blog. I wanted a place where women could share all kinds of different experiences in the hopes that it would help one mother to push through or just feel like they aren’t alone.
Emily 28, Mom to Squishy, 13.5 months and Creator of Simple Gift ~ Stories from Breastfeeding Mamas