Breastfeeding my first child was extremely important to me. Not only for the health benefits of it and the bonding/closeness breastfeeding brings you to your baby, but because it would prove to me that my body works. See, we had issues getting pregnant. We tried for a couple of years and eventually had to seek help from a fertility specialist. We did conceive, but it took an emotional toll on me that I wasn’t able to do what a woman’s body is supposed to do – make a baby. So, I was DETERMINED to breastfeed.
I loved every minute of the pregnancy. I went into labor on my own – and, almost 36 hours later, I had to have an emergency c-section because the baby was in distress. Another failure of my body to do what it’s supposed to do – birth a child. This made me even more convinced that I HAD to breastfeed. While in recovery, my husband stayed with our baby until he could be brought to me. When the nurses and pediatrician were trying to push formula on him, Mike said no. When, they tried to give him a pacifier, Mike said no. When they gave Mike a guilt trip for not allowing them again to try formula, Mike strongly said no, that he and his wife want their son to be breastfed.
Once back in the room, I was able to try to nurse our son. It did not go well. Everything I learned from our breastfeeding class and the books I read didn’t help. Mike was a trooper and supported me to no end. He went and got a nurse. He demanded the lactation consultant come (she did – but the baby was supposedly nursing fine). He asked for a new nurse when the first one didn’t really help. He again shooed away formula. Finally, an older nurse came in and was on a mission for our son to get breastmilk. She manipulated and moved my breast in ways I never thought possible. She made me pump to prove to the annoying pediatrician that I indeed was producing colostrum so he would shut-up and stop insisting we give our baby formula. The baby nursed. It was amazing to see his little jaw working and getting something. But once we got home, things changed.
He started screaming at every single feeding. It was horrible. When he saw my chest, it would throw him into a fit of frenzy. We went to our pediatrician for his first check-up, and he was not gaining weight. We went back several times and he still wasn’t gaining as he should. After a few weeks she strongly encouraged us to supplement. I was devastated. Once again my body was not doing what it should – nourish my baby.
My friends and family were as supportive as they knew how to be. Most of my family did not breastfeed, so they couldn’t help with positioning or suggest different techniques, but they tried very hard to be there emotionally. I had a couple of friends suggest La Leche League, but I had heard rumors that they were breastfeeding militants and would make me nurse my child until he was in middle school! So I never sought their help. I went to a new mom’s group where there was a lactation specialist, but she spent about 5 minutes of time with me. Mike was still right there by my side being my biggest cheerleader. He had the breastfeeding class notes and book out, he would try to help figure out positions for us to try. But nothing worked. My nipples were raw and cracked. They were so sore I had to mentally prepare myself for the pain of getting my son to latch. I turned into an emotional wreck, crying right along with my screaming son every time I tried to get him to nurse.
No one told me this could happen. No one said it wasn’t going to be easy. No one told me the agony I would feel not being able to breastfeed. The general consensus was that we were lucky to have a beautiful baby boy, it didn’t matter how you fed him. Eventually, I stopped trying to nurse and ended up pumping while supplementing with formula. I thought if he won’t take it directly from me, I will damn well make sure he got some breastmilk, even if it’s only ½ an ounce. I did this for 5 months before my supply dried out. I never sought emotional help – just worked through things on my own. I never thought of trying a different lactation consultant or trying those LLL militants, I had never even heard of a postpartum doula to get different support. I just thought, well, I need to suck it up and move on and be grateful for what I have. And I did.
The moral of this long story is breastfeeding might not always be easy. It might not go as you thought it should. But seek help. And if that help doesn’t work for you, try someone else. Be persistent. Be demanding. Ask questions and more questions. If you are emotionally drained, it’s okay to talk to someone. Don’t give up.
When my second child was born, I was determined to NOT have this happen to me again. I utilized the great resources Chicago has to help make breastfeeding work for us. We hired a postpartum doula who also happened to be a La Leche League leader (And – gasp! – she was not a militant!). I took a different breastfeeding course; this time led by a International Board Certified Lactation Consultant – and, I asked questions, lots of them. I switched providers and found a midwifery group that was pro-VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). We hired a labor doula (in-training, so she was actually free of charge). This doula had great follow-up care and helped immensely with getting our new baby to latch correctly. She would come over to our house for nursing sessions, encouraging me to continue nursing and assuring me the initial pain will soon dissipate (it did!). I prepared myself for the fact that I might develop postpartum depression (something I think I experienced with my first, but never admitted to myself or anyone else). Unlike after the birth of my oldest, I did not hesitate to call my midwives when I had questions about breastfeeding, newborn care, or the baby blues. And, most importantly, I rested. My mom and my mother-in-law also came over and helped after the birth – they focused on taking care of our oldest son, while I spent time resting and getting to know my youngest.
My firstborn is beautiful and thriving and driving me nuts at 3 and a half. With him, my body did not fail me – the lack of support and my poor knowledge of who could help me did. So I am thrilled that with my second, I found a strong, positive support network. Even after a rocky spell in the beginning, we are still nursing strong 10 months later. My body works.
Jennifer is a stay-at-home mom to two crazy boys. She dabbles in being a postpartum doula, an activist in the developmental disabilities community, and working as a short-order cook for her 3 year-old. She also blogs about her boys’ lives here (http://10littletoes.wordpress.com/) when her eye isn’t twitching from lack of sleep.