”Is he hungry?”
In the past few weeks, those three words have elicited excitement, apprehension, nervousness, fear, dread and sadness.
I never once for an instant doubted I would breastfeed. I read all of the information about how breastfeeding isn’t a walk in the park and the joys of feeding your baby included more pain than pleasure in the first few weeks. But I thought – oh well, I can handle it. It’s worth it. It’s temporary and I can manage.
I had no idea.
First of all, Owen was born with a tongue tie. This made his latch really painful for me because he couldn’t get his tongue fully over his bottom gums. But, at first, I called it “uncomfortable” but thought it was tolerable. In the meantime, we scheduled him an appointment with a pediatric dentist to have the tongue tie snipped and I assumed the “discomfort” would go away after that. The appointment came and went and despite our fear and dread, Owen didn’t seem to mind the 2 second procedure. The dentist assured me things would “feel much better soon.”
But they didn’t. My nipples began to crack. Then ooze. Then bleed. My emotions began to intensify such that the only time I was anxiety free was in the fifteen minutes or so immediately after he was fed. Then the anxiety would start mounting again as the minutes ticked down to the next feeding. I called the lactation consultant for a home visit. All was good while she was there and she gave me hope. But when she left again I was left with the pain and the fear. Getting him latched on turned into a dance of pain. Me offering the nipple, then pulling it away in fear and cursing myself for “teasing” my son. The consultant called it an anticipatory pain response and said it is very normal. I call it confusing my baby.
I began to have break downs. The first timed itself with my first experience with engorgement. I remember sitting on the couch holding my burning-hot-bowling-ball-boobs and sobbing my eyes out (post partum hormones definitely playing a role here) to my husband while my mom tried to comfort the screaming, hungry baby. I also began to have a negative reaction to my baby. In the beginning, I loved to hold him and gaze at him and just be with him. As time went on, it seemed that as soon as he got near me he wanted to feed and my only interactions with him involved pain. I was jealous of other people who got to cuddle and hold him without the dread that he would want to eat.
I tried it all. Ice. Heat. Cooling gel pads. Enough lanolin to cover my entire body in grease three times over. Breast milk baths for my nipples. Air drying. Different kinds of lanolin. Different kinds of gel pads. Showers. Hand expressing. Pumping. Um…any other suggestions? I’ve probably tried them. I got so frustrated with the breastfeeding books and websites that talk about bleeding nipples and say things like “prevention is the best cure” and “whatever you do, don’t stop breastfeeding.” Fuck you. Breastfeeding was turning an already different postpartum period into intervals of pain and fear. Not to mention, I was beginning to withdraw and get depressed and think that this isn’t a sustainable way of life. And worst of all, it was changing how I looked at my baby.
I gave up and tried nipple shields, per the LC’s advice. Even though I was worried they would “ruin the latch” or ruin our breastfeeding entirely. But, I couldn’t figure out how to use them and it still hurt when he nursed through them, so I ditched that idea.
Finally, I broke down. At B’s urging after looking at my nipples (or lack thereof – I swear all I had left where two oozing holes where my nipples used to be), we broke down and offered him a bottle of pumped breast milk. We did this three times in a row until my right nipple started to heal and I started to feel ready to feed him again. Each bottle we gave made me feel like a failure and I like I was letting him down. I began to get jealous of the bottle and the person feeding him. Finally, I let the jealousy overcome the fear and I was ready again.
But the pain continued. More crying. More pain. Another bottle session. It was hell for B and I. He wanted to fix the problem but couldn’t. He vacillated between wanting to comfort me and wanting me to be strong for our son. I mostly just cried and feared that I was going to fail completely.
Called the LC again. She spent a long time normalizing this for me. Explaining that my reaction was more normal than you’d think and, with her first baby, she didn’t even want to hold her daughter because she was so fearful and overwhelmed by feeding her. She reminded me of the things I’m doing well – I’m still feeding him despite the pain. He has gained a pound back from his lowest weight. He is able to switch between bottle and nipple with no problems. And then we came up with a plan – feed only from the healthier right side for 24 hours, whilst pumping the left side and supplementing with breastmilk bottles if needed. Luckily, I seem to have a really good supply and am able to easily pump 2 oz off the left breast at each pumping with little time spent. So we did this. I was cheerful and hopeful.
That was two days ago. I still haven’t transitioned back to the left breast. It is still open and oozing and I just want the skin to grow back. But I know I can’t keep doing what I’m doing. Right now, feeding the baby involves breast feeding on one side, a pumping session on the other, and a bottle. Even though B usually gives the bottle, the whole process takes 2-3x the amount of time that normal breastfeeding would take. Especially since, with only one breast to feed on, he needs to feed even longer to get enough milk. SIGH. I am not getting enough sleep.
One positive is that, with less pain (note I say less pain, not no pain) associated with feeding, I am no longer dreading each feeding. I now only dislike the first few minutes, but then settle in and feel ok during the rest of the feeding. And I don’t have so much terror when someone hands me the baby and tells me he’s hungry. Also, because B has gone back to work, I am doing more of the baby care now. This is actually a good thing because it means my only interaction with him is not just feeding him. Who knew that changing a diaper could help my relationship with my son? But it does. To do something for him that is not invoking fear and sadness in me is a GOOD thing.
So where does that leave me? I fear I am just a few hours away from backsliding into the bad, bad place. But I hope I am a few hours away from finding a sustainable, tolerable routine. I’m not sure which direction the scale will tip.
In sum, breastfeeding is second only to my ridiculous labor in the hardest thing I have ever done. In some ways, it is harder, because it is prolonged and drawn out and paints a picture of weeks and weeks of intolerable pain and suffering. If I didn’t really, really, really want this, I would have given in to exclusively pumping or formula in the first week. It’s almost like choosing an epidural after wanting a medication-free birth. The option is there. But it’s not something I want. It’s very, very important to me. And so, the fact that I’ve considered stopping shows you how absolutely awful this has been for me.
I wish I hadn’t discounted what I read about other women’s experiences. This is harder than you think. Unless you are super-woman and are lucky enough to be able to have a painfree experience or are strong enough to stoically push through it. If that is the case, then I hate you.
Right now, he is in the Mamaroo next to me (does anyone else feel totally guilty for leaving their baby in a swing for hours??) and I am already planning ahead for the next feeding. Sigh. But, I just looked over at him and he has both fists up by his head and he looks absolutely adorable. So, that helps.
I don’t know where that leaves me. I hope, soon, I will be able to feed equally on both sides and it won’t be such an ordeal . When I ask, “Is he hungry?” and the answer is yes, I want to be able to calmly take the baby, put him to my breast, and begin to feed him without stopping my conversation I was having. Until then, I remain feeling isolated, frightened, and overwhelmed by the entire experience.
Ok, you can hate me on the basis of my breastfeeding success. But know this - it was ugly at first. And I remember thinking one night, "I only have to do this 49 more weeks. 49 more mother fucking weeks." It is NOT easy even for those in which it comes easily, so you have my unconditional sympathy. And, while I feel you will do your damnedest to push through this, pumping is still breastfeeding. It still gives you an baby benefits, so pleas don't feel guilt or shame if you must pump. Good luck!ReplyDelete
Ha 49 weeks. I need to start my own countdown. I know you are right about pumping...but I'm not ready to go there yet. I can see the difference in him after he gets a breastmilk bottle versus nursing. He's just so much more sated and falls asleep more easily. But...I know it is a real option.Delete
I'm so sorry you're having this experience. We are not having a great breastfeeding experience either and this is my second time around! We have thrush again and our latch is not great. We've been combatting the thrush for over two weeks and it only seems to be getting worse! It's driving me crazy! And it's starting to hurt so bad that I'm also starting to want to avoid feeding my son, trying to do ANYTHING I can to keep him asleep so I don't have to feed him. It's not only painful but also frustrating. Sometimes things go okay, sometimes he gags and chokes and sputters. The whole thing just sucks. Your experience definitely sounds worse, but I do understand how hard it is to hate the one thing you have to do ALL DAY LONG. I really hope you can reach a place where it doesn't hurt so much. I really, really do.ReplyDelete
I'm so glad you wrote about this. I think it's so important that people read about other women's challenging breastfeeding experiences. It is so, so important.
I hope your story becomes one of triumph over a very difficult beginning, but I hope you know that you should do whatever you need to do. No judgement here.
Abiding with you during this painful time.
"Abiding with you." Such a good way to put it. I feel the same way when I read your posts.Delete
You should read esme's breastfeeding story- http://esmewins.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/feeding-feeding-feeding/ she eventually stopped which Isn't why I'm showing you, but rather because you are absolutely not the only one and it took a whole village to get her enjoying her son again- you have a marvellous support network and whatever it takes to have you both happy, then that's what we'll do. And give yourself some credit, it's only been two weeks, he's gaining weight and is healthy. Do whatever you need to to get through! xReplyDelete
Thank you for sharing this. It's frightening some of the similarities :(Delete
I'm so sorry that breastfeeding is such a struggle! BF'ing was my postpartum depression trigger and I hate that it's bringing you down, too. Praying for quick healing and patience. You are a great mom and doing a great job. So glad Owen is gaining weight!ReplyDelete
Yes, I can totally see how it can be a trigger. I feel it grabbing at me and I am trying to evade it the best that I can. I think being conscious of how it can bring you down is important so I can stop it from happening.Delete
I've heard that nursing can be extremely challenging and painful I think you are such a strong woman, you have been through SO MUCH these past few weeks, you deserve a vacation or an award or something!ReplyDelete
Ha! Thank you!Delete
I'm so sorry that you are having so much trouble with breastfeeding. It's difficult even when it is successful, at least I think so, so just remember that you are amazing for sticking with it.ReplyDelete
I'm sure you've probably already tried this, but just in case... have you tried APNO? It's All Purpose Nipple Ointment, by prescription only (has to be compounded) and it saved my nipples when lanolin wasn't doing anything.
Yes, I just got this yesterday. Took a few tries to get the prescription called in. I'm hoping it will really make a difference, but we'll see...Delete
I'd somehow managed to forget how painful breastfeeding was at first - it did eventually get a LOT better, and I never had as miserable time as you're experiencing now, but damn it was still really hard.ReplyDelete
Even with the LC, I found it hard at the beginning to really understand what a good latch looked like. My doula suggested Jack Newman's videos - they show babies latching on with good technique and not so good technique and how to fix it. Actually seeing other babies BF made it so much easier for me to figure out how to fix things. It's worth checking out if you haven't already: http://www.breastfeedinginc.ca/content.php?pagename=videos
I hope things get easier soon, and you're back to enjoying every second with your sweet boy!
Thanks for the videos! Really helpful. Although I have to say that the baby-led latching looks terrifying to me right now. Before I started feeding I thought it was so neat, now the idea of just letting him root around and grab on on his own sounds so painful.Delete
I've been meaning to leave you a hug-filled comment about your birth story, and this only makes me want to hug you more! I can SO relate to everything you've said. I had to start pumping right away, since M wasn't able to eat by mouth until she was almost a week and a half old. So I thought since pumping was going so well and didn't hurt anymore that I'd be good to go when it came time to nurse. Yeah, right! So many blisters. And the hospital required that M be able to drink from a bottle without coughing (even thought she had gotten the hang of nursing by that point), which was emotionally painful, especially as the nurses were the ones to give most of the bottles.ReplyDelete
Also, I think my milk comes out faster than it does from a bottle, since she's using a premie nipple to slow down the flow. The result is that she sometimes bites me to slow down the flow! (Not a hard chomp, more a constant squeeze.) I've felt really guilty that it's so much more enjoyable to just pump a bottle and feed her that way. And I don't want to be tied to such a drawn-out process to feed my baby!
At least I've healed up. I stopped using lanolin and gel pads -- I think letting everything dry out was the key for me. And hot baths have helped a lot, too. Yesterday I started side-lying with M, which we both seem to enjoy more. At least I don't have to worry about a sore back on top of everything else!
I really need to figure out the side lying. We can't do it in bed because the LC said my bed is too soft so it would be dangerous for his breathing and plus he may just roll into my body and it won't work. But I'm thinking I can try it on the couch..Delete
I feel your pain. Literally. Breast feeding has been harder than I ever imagined and I went into it knowing it wouldn't be easy. I had so much anxiety (and still do) just thinking about getting them to latch. There was just so much crying. Like you, I felt so confident after meeting with the LC for 2 hours. She got both girls to latch at the same time and it seemed like it could actually work. Then I tried it on my own and the pain was too much and I ended up giving them a bottle every time. I decided to only pump to let my nipples heal but the pain just kept getting worse. Turns out I have thrush. I am hoping once I get a handle on that, I can revisit breast feeding. I hope it gets better for you soon.ReplyDelete
I cannot even imagine doing it with twins! Honestly that just amazes me. So sorry you ended up with thrush. How did you eventually get it diagnosed? Keep me posted on how it goes for you.Delete
I do not have much advice or experience to offer, but I want to send you a huge hug, and encouragement. Do what you need to do. Do not feel guilty, whatever you decide. Your sanity is important. I hope it will get better soon.ReplyDelete
Thank you for the support :)Delete
Just Me ~ Four weeks ago, Constantine's latch was making me sob every time he had to feed. I looked on his feedings with dread and just sat there and told myself, "You spent the last 7 years feeling like crap because his sister had a cleft palate and couldn't do this and you gave up on pumping for her, now do this for him!"ReplyDelete
Now I actually prefer breastfeeding to bottlefeeding him. With breastfeeding, I plunk my lazy ass down next to him on the bed or set him up on the Boppy, then feed him hands-free. With bottlefeeding, I always have to hold that stupid bottle, and my arm gets tired. Granted, things will change when he gets old enough to hold his own bottle, but that isn't now. Now that the pain is gone, breastfeeding is definitely easier.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there!
Wow I can't imagine feeding hands free! I would love to get there.Delete
BTW, this movie here:ReplyDelete
I saw it when I was pregnant and thought it was meh.
After a few weeks of breastfeeding, I changed my mind. It's the most terrifying movie I've ever seen in my life!
Whenever we praise someone, we give him a number, like if I appreciate your post from one to 10, I would like to give you the full number of 10 because you wrote your post very well. The word is very beautiful. I hope you will keep writing such excellent posts in your life and we will definitely comment by reading these posts.ReplyDelete
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