I will begin by saying that I’m not credentialed, I’m not in the medical profession. I’m simply a woman who had her first baby and decided that breastfeeding was the way to go. My son is now 5.5 months in, and I’m shocked at where I am in our breastfeeding relationship. We had an incredibly rocky start, and I’m surprised by where we are now. Not because I thought I would “give up” (I’m way too stubborn for that), but because for the first time since I brought him home, I think I finally understand the “joys of breastfeeding” – or at least I’m completely on board with it, and I truly would encourage other mothers not to give up and that it honestly does get better.
I looked back at what I had written 4.5 months ago – four weeks in from coming home from the hospital and it’s been quite a journey. I took a class at the hospital on breastfeeding, I had two lactation consultants at the hospital come by room and check me out. Something was just always off on my left side. I think it was a combination of things, but most of all my incredible awkwardness with holding him with my right arm that “doomed” me from the start. It was uncomfortable in the beginning, and I think I was nervous because everything I had heard from this point was “if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong”. While, I think everyone has their own level of pain and description of pain, I also think that statement is a little bit broad. Up until this moment, I had never had something clamp on to such a sensitive part of my body. Even on my right side, which was “easy” from the beginning – it certainly didn’t feel good, so I think the statement should be revised to “it shouldn’t make you cry out in pain, or you’re doing it wrong, but a little discomfort and soreness is all within the realm of possibility”.
Below are excerpts and additional thoughts of what I went through the first four weeks of coming home from the hospital with my son – and then the light at the end of the tunnel – where I stand now, 5.5 months later.
Everyone at the hospital said that everything looked great when I had them verify my latch on my left side. It was still causing pain, and it felt a lot different from the right side, so I wasn’t convinced. When I got home from the hospital, I realized pretty quickly that I needed more help. “I was sitting in the room crying while he cried because he was hungry, and all I wanted to do was feed him through magic because there was no way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks that I was letting him nurse on the left side. But, I knew that I had to give it a shot otherwise it would just mess up my body, especially since I was only 3 and 4 days in. I needed to nurse to get the supply.” By day 5 I was on the phone with another lactation consultant and scheduling an appointment for that afternoon. She watched our latch, and weighed him before and after, and he was getting an incredible amount of milk for being so new (1.5-2 oz., which I hear is pretty good – so at least I had that going for me). The appointment gave me so much confidence in what I was doing, in my supply, the incredible importance of breastfeeding my baby. ” She did note that my nipples were bruised and battered, which is an unfortunate side-effect, and did agree that my left side was pretty torn up, and I had a pretty awesome crack in my nipple. Yeah, a crack… WTF. With time, it was supposed to get better. Both of us (Colin and me) were supposed to learn and it was supposed to get better. “
Unfortunately, our learning curve was much more gradual than some. By that next Thursday (just over a week) my left nipple was so swollen I was sure that he wasn’t even able to get it in his mouth, let alone suck and get milk out. Engorgement was setting in, and I could have sworn that the crack was turning green. “I was going between hot compresses to reduce the swelling and ice packs to reduce the pain. I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t think it was going to be THIS hard. I was so miserable and every time he would cry I would want to hide because I didn’t want to [face] the pain. I could barely bring myself to feed him. Every time John would look at me or mention “hungry” I was getting so angry, and it wasn’t his fault. He was just trying to make the crying baby stop crying. Both of us knew the answer, I was the only one that truly understood the gravity of him being hungry.” Just when I thought I was hitting my low point, I had the early symptoms of mastitis, with a low grade fever – only staying above the 100.4 threshold for 5-10 minutes, so I didn’t want to call the doctor, but I was also still on my prescription ibuprofen – and redness and pain. The doctor and my LC both said to keep nursing through it, it was the best way to “cure” it – and if it still wasn’t better and I felt I needed it, I could call back and get a prescription for antibiotics. I declined the prescription and decided that I could make it through. I was starting to get so frustrated because everything (pregnancy, birth) had felt so easy to this point, and this was so incredibly hard.
I did end up with a prescription for Newman’s All-Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO) because I was worried the crack, which had grown to a chunk of missing tissue and skin, was never going to heal on its own, and I thought it was really starting to turn green. I slathered that on like a second skin, and couldn’t leave the house without it. At four weeks in, I was still in pain, but it was manageable. The mastitis had disappeared through nursing, ice, heat, and patience. “I wish I could say that everything is now rainbows and butterflies – and nursing is like riding on a unicorn through a land of cotton candy. Two weeks came and at least it became manageable. I don’t cry (at least when he’s hungry), but it still hurts for the latch. I don’t look at him with fear when he starts to cry and I know it’s not because he’s dirty or tired – he’s hungry.
I’m now just over four weeks in, four weeks of being home. I have to say, breastfeeding is hard. All those bloggers were right. The only thing that makes me keep going is that I know all of the benefits of breastfeeding… and let’s be honest it’s good for me too – cheap AND burns calories. There aren’t many things in my life that I can say I can burn calories by sitting on the couch. I know that if I decide that I can’t do it and I turn to pumping and bottle feeding, that’s okay too. I know that whatever choice I make is what will work best for our family, but I really do want to stick this out – suck it up. I think that I realized what went so wrong – the seal break when trying to reposition him. I didn’t do such a good job, and so I think he was essentially stripping skin of my nipple and making the crack worse. I wish I could go back in time. I just really need to have this crack (which is now a chasm) heal. And I probably need my psyche to heal a little bit too.”
I don’t want people to be scared away from breastfeeding, obviously I’m not the norm. I’m stubborn, and I don’t like to “burden my doctors with my phone calls”. I was the pregnant lady who didn’t want to call the doctor when I was thinking my water might have broken, just in case I was wrong because I didn’t want to bother her. So, don’t necessarily live by my example. Call if you have questions/concerns/fear – that is what your doctor and your LC is there for. That’s what they are paid to do. To answer those questions, work out those concerns, and calm those fears. I should have done a better job of doing that. But, I do want to say – it gets better. And it is SOOOOOO much better.
I kept nursing, I changed and tried different positions from the football hold, to the cross cradle, to side-lying. Side-lying might have been our turning point. It was the one position that both of us could relax, and his mouth no longer aligned with the cracks, giving us the chance to reconnect, and my nipple a chance to take a break. I worked hard on making sure his latch was on every time – and at night when he was tired and it was the hardest for both of us, I would make sure to try and coordinate so that the middle of the night feedings would be from my right side so that I couldn’t do more damage in our sleepy haze. I broke his seal with my finger so that he wasn’t sliding off or scraping. I just kept trying, and kept learning. I followed breastfeeding groups (Breastfeed, Chicago!), and read every possible post on cracks and what people were doing. I did salt rinses (http://kellymom.com/bf/concerns/mother/nipplehealing/) when I was home, which I know sped up the healing process. I talked with my friend who said that assured me that sitting in the bedroom crying over how hard it was and the pain I was in, wasn’t crazy. That eventually it would get better and I wouldn’t feel what I was feeling right then. I think some of the best advice I’ve read on posts by other moms is “don’t give up on your worst day”. That is so very true. When I look back and remember how hard it was and how much I was struggling, I’m so glad I didn’t give up on my worst day because it wouldn’t have brought me to where I am now.
Within the last month, I have taken a shower… while facing the water and not making an umbrella out of my hand for my left nipple to avoid any and all water contact. (Big step for me) I actually volunteer to breastfeed my son if he’s upset to see if that will help calm him if he’s tired and we’ve waited too long for his nap. My husband can now say “I think he might be hungry” and my first thought isn’t “I want to punch you in the mouth” (disclaimer, I never actually wanted to punch him in the mouth – but I would have sealed his mouth shut so he never uttered the h-word again). I can nurse him when we are out and about because we no longer have to be in that “one particular position, with that one specific pillow” to make it comfortable. We have come a long way in 4 months.
Here’s a secret, I actually enjoy breastfeeding. The excuse it gives me to take him back from friends and family when I just want to sit with him (not that they need me to have an excuse, I could just say it – but it’s a nice reason that no one can refute), the way he puts his hands across my face while he eats, or when he’s hungry now and starts to stare at me if someone else is holding him and then starts pulling at my shoulder or sticking his hand down my shirt if I’m taking too long. Four months ago, I didn’t get it. I knew logically all the good reasons to breastfeed for mom and baby, but emotionally I was so exhausted from all of the complications that I was only going through the motions because I knew it was what was best for him, but struggling with how hard it was and how much pain I was in. Now I can see my 12 month goal as a reality, and no longer does it seem like a dream.
Megan McDonald is a professional civil engineer for a consulting firm in the suburbs, but resides in Wrigleyville with her architect husband. She is a new mom to a 5.5 month old little boy, and just started back to work. The original post on her early breastfeeding experience is on her blog, http://m-plus-j.blogspot.com/.