Breastfeeding. This will (hopefully) be the last post I spend on this subject. But I decided, before I move on, that I would like to write more about my experiences with breastfeeding, in the hopes that maybe it will help someone else who reads this.
First of all, as I said before, I never anticipated that I would have a hard time with breastfeeding. Even though I read many accounts about how difficult breastfeeding can be...I never took it to heart. I took a breastfeeding class and was so excited to do it myself. In the hospital, breastfeeding started out just as I imagined. When my baby first latched on, I was amazed and shocked and so proud of my little baby. For those first few days I remember my nipples feeling kind of tender while he nursed, but that tenderness was overshadowed by the uterine cramping and blood pouring out of me every time I nursed.
When I got home, I had a lactation consultant from the birthing center come over to help out, but just because I thought it would be "nice." Not because it would be necessary. She showed us different positions to use in different places around my house and when she left I felt happy and confident.
I'm not sure what went wrong from there. I think that slowly the initial tenderness just became more and more painful until each feeding felt like shards of glass were ripping my breasts apart from the inside. Seriously. Especially the first minute of feeding. I would bite my tongue, curl my toes, and count down inside my head to get through the pain. I know this sounds dramatic, but this is how it was. It got so bad that I would dread having to feed my baby. I'm not going to go into details, because I explained it in another post, but basically the pain of feeding led me to question whether I could continue each time I fed. The first few weeks were interspersed with periods of me sobbing to my mother or husband about how I felt like such a failure. It was only sheer determination that kept me going. Pure and utter stubbornness because I didn't want to give up.
So. The purpose of this post is to talk about what worked and didn't work for me. It is not by any means a prescription for what will work for other women. It's just what worked for me. And if there is a take home message here, I think it should be that breastfeeding can be extremely hard work and you need to find what works for you.
Latching. This really is as important as they say. At first, I was convinced that my latch was okay. Why did I think this? Well, every time someone checked me (nurses, lactation consultants, La Leche League leaders, etc), they told me I had a great latch. So I would read materials that stressed the importance of a latch and I would roll my eyes in frustration. But, looking back, I believe this really was the key to my problems. I knew how to latch and was capable of helping Owen latch, but I wasn't consistently getting it right. The more painful the feedings, the more avoidant I was, which created a worse latch, which made me more fearful...enter vicious cycle. This was only worsened by nighttime feedings when I was extra-tired or cluster feedings on the hour. Finally, after another consultation with the LC, I remembered her saying "Just get him on there." From then on, that became my mantra. Stop playing around and just get him on the nipple. I also made sure to focus on scooping him up from below the nipple and really aiming below the nipple, instead of above. I think that this was the primary change that helped me.
Nipple Creams. I tried all of them. Medela Lanolin. Lanisoh Lanolin. Hydrogel Pads. Breast milk baths. Boob-Ease Cream. APNO Prescription Ointment. It started to drive me crazy when people would say, "Have you tried...." The answer was always yes. In the end, I think it was a combination of the APNO (1-2x/day) and the BoobEase (similar to MotherLove, natural with olive oil, calendula, etc). However, I can't really say if either cream made a difference because those also happened to be the last ones I used. Everyone swears by some type of cream. I guess my advice here is TRY THEM ALL and find out what works for you. Even now, I still put the BoobEase (seriously, what a name) on my nipples after a particularly voracious feeding session.
Latch Assist - I wish I had found this earlier. I have flat nipples. That is not something I was ever aware of before. I though all nipples looked like mine? Now 7 weeks in, they aren't as flat as they used to be. But, initially, I think part of the pain during initial latch was him literally sucking my nipples out. POP. The latch assist does this painfully in two seconds. I highly recommend.
Milk Saver This didn't necessarily help me with the pain of breast feeding, but again, I highly recommend this. The point here is to put the Milk Saver on whatever breast you are not feeding on, and it will catch the extra milk. In the beginning, before I regulated, this was a huge deal. It made the difference between being drenched in milk by the end of a 15 minute feeding session. By putting the Milk Saver on, not only did it prep my nipple a little, but I was able to get 3-4 oz per feeding out of just one breast. Amazing! Now that I'm more regulated, I don't need to use it any more. I checked today just to see, and I was only getting about half an oz.
Position This is also highly important. Have you noticed how obsessed the lactation consultants are with positioning? Every time I would have the LC come over, she would show me ways to put arms, footstools to use, and origami designs of pillows. Eventually I learned that not only was it important to be ergonomically correct, but it was much more important to just be comfortable and relaxed. My favorite position started to be Laid Back Breast Feeding. Google it. It's awesome. But basically, I would lie back with the baby on my stomach and let him latch on from below the breast. This seemed to be a good position for latching, but also just emotionally because I felt relaxed. So, what am I saying here? I guess just find a position that you would like to be relaxing in if you didn't happen to be breastfeeding. Get comfy and cozy. Make the best of it!
Getting Comfy. Related to getting comfy in positioning, you also need to have all of your "extras" with you. For me, that was a soft pillow, a bottle of water (it makes me SO thirsty!), the Milk Saver, my cell phone, and TV. Yes, TV. TV was pretty much the most important thing for me because it distracted me and allowed me to enjoy the breastfeeding when it wasn't initially so enjoyable. I know it sounds silly, but I'm pretty sure when I started inviting Netflix to the breastfeeding relationship, it all got way better.
Taking a Break This was the hardest thing I did. When my left nipple got so bad (literally - NO skin) that I couldn't handle it anymore. I ended up giving my left side a break. This was really, really hard to do because it meant that every time I fed the baby I also had to pump. So picture this - middle of the night feeding on the right side, then rock the baby to sleep, then I'd still have to pump. The other really hard thing about this is I never knew if he was getting enough milk from just one side and so we also were supplementing with bottles of breast milk (thank you Milk Saver!). So, then there was the added stress of bottle feeding and guilt of giving my little baby bottles at 2-3 weeks of age. But, in the long run, this was SO worth it. Watching the skin grow back on my nipple was amazing.
Mindset. This is important too. I got stuck in a mindset that it would always be this way. Then, I read something on Esperanza's blog about approaching each session as it's own session. Even if the last session was terrible, that doesn't mean the current one will be bad. And vice versa. It also doesn't mean the pain will go on forever. As a therapist, I had to remind myself to stay away from words like forever, always, worst, unbearable... You get the idea.
Time. Everyone says, It gets better with time. The problem with this is, every one has an answer to a question of how much time. At first, everything I read said two weeks. After two weeks it will be better. I remember in the beginning the pain was so bad that I couldn't imagine it going on for two whole weeks. HA. In the end, it took me five weeks. The thing is, the amount of time is different for everyone. But it won't go on forever. The question just is, can you outlast the pain?
I'm sure there is more I could say about this, but I started writing this post almost two weeks ago and I just want to get it published. I will do my best to respond to comments on this post though, so maybe we can get a conversation going. So feel free to ask questions about anything I didn't mention. For example, nipple shields? Yep, tried them. Didn't work. Ouch. Or to leave suggestions on what worked for you.
Before I post this, let me leave you with a Where I Am Now Picture. At 7 weeks, I am in SUCH a different place that even finishing this post - something that seemed so important to me two weeks ago - was hard work for me. Breastfeeding is so easy for me now. I love that I have exactly what my baby needs and it will always calm him when all else fails. I love that I can seduce him into a breastmilk coma in a way that a bottle never can. I love stroking his hair and watching his eyes slowly close as he swallows. It has become so connected, so intimate and...so easy. Thank god. It is also convenient. No more cleaning bottles, pumps, etc. Nothing to bring with us when we go out. I just have everything he needs. And feeding him in the middle of the night? So easy. I just pull him into bed, feed him, and put him back in his bassinet. This is how I hoped it would be.
In sum, I hope that people reading this can see two things. One, if you are having a hard time, you are NOT alone. And two, there is hope at the end of the tunnel. If I can go from crying, sobbing, and feeling like a failure, to feeling like a pro, then there is hope. If you want to make breastfeeding work, the best thing you can do is keep trying to find the unique combination of things that work best for you and your baby and then just give it time. But, if you feel that isn't bearable and you cannot wait it out. Then I totally understand. Every single day I walked the line between quitting and continuing. Whatever each woman decides should be her own choice and she should be respected for that choice.
Wow. This post is disjointed. I wrote it over three periods of time in between baby naps. But you know what? I'm going to post it anyhow. Maybe it will help someone. And I hope it starts a conversation. Please leave comments with what worked for you or what didn't work for you. OR why you decided to keep going or decided to switch to a different method of feeding. And if you have any questions, I will do my best to answer.