My Breastfeeding Journey

Written by Elena @The Art of Making a Baby on. Posted in BABY

Please also read:
  1. BREASTFEEDING PRODUCTS
  2. FOLLOW UP TO BREASTFEEDING POST
  3. BREASTFEEDING AT 8 MONTHS: WHAT IT’S LIKE NOW.

I’ve had this post in the drafts since  1 week postpartum. All I’ve had written here was the title. I had absolutely no time to make any notes at that time, which is unfortunate, because memories of what went on and how hard it was HAVE faded, but I will try to remember as much as I can and give an honest and detailed account of what breastfeeding was like for me in the first 2 months.

{I hate making these disclosures, because they take away from the honesty of the post and I feel these things are a given , but… Since the topic of breastfeeding often brings up unrealized feelings and emotions in women, I’d like to mention beforehand that the experience below is my own and that I don’t jugde (or care about, for that matter) any choices anyone else has or has not made. So if you used formula for whatever reason, more power to you. In this post, I’d like to discuss breastfeeding and its challenges, not argue breast or bottle debate. }

According to every source, the time after 2 months is the reward period of breastfeeding. And it’s true, I enjoy being able to provide food for my baby, I love not having to mess with bottles, I find it convenient to go anywhere and just whip up a boob. But I can’t say it’s still not without its challenges ….

I thought I was as prepared for breastfeeding as one can be. I gave up all dairy 2 weeks before delivery (see why in my next post), I read 2-3 breastfeeding books, I talked to nursing mothers, I “practiced” latching on with my fingers. And all of it DID help me persevere, but it didn’t eliminate some of the hurtles associated with breastfeeding.

Problem #1: Latch

 

So I’ll start from the beginning. From day one Alexis was called either a “hoover vacuum” by our LC or “my little piranha” by me. She’s a determined girl – she sees the boob , she launches herself at the boob, the rest is history. It’s really quite cute (if you remove the pain). Her eyes get super big, her breathing speeds up, and CLAMP! My nipples didn’t stand a chance- they were shot that first day at the hospital.
The problem has always been her shallow latch. Even the lactation consultant laughed with me as we watched  Alexis open her mouth, land properly on my boob and then promptly slide her lips together. Ugh!

Needless to say, the first 6 weeks of breastfeeding were utter pain. My nipples were cracked, bleeding, sore and incredibly painful. I hear that girls with smaller fair nipples tend to have that problem more than others.

The LC at the hospital helped me a bit. However, with Alexis being so stubborn about how she wanted to suck and me being completely new to it, it didn’t last.

One thing I never understood (and I am going to repeat about a million other women here) is for SUCH a natural thing breastfeeding is FAR from being natural for some (most?) mothers and babies. All the books say: “Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt”. Well, guess what? It does. And yes, I know, it’s because the latch is wrong, but try getting a stubborn newborn to change her latch – Ha! The advice of unlatching her and trying again if she’s sucking wrong just plain old stinks! The searing pain of the initial latch is so toe-curling  and they want me to unlatch the baby and have her latch on AGAIN? No, thank you, I’d rather have her suck with a bad latch, at least that doesn’t make the hair on my arms stand!

So while pregnant, I read 3 breastfeeding books. I was adamant to learn as much as possible about how it’s supposed to work before I try it, because of all the issues I’ve heard about. I couldn’t deal with online resources like kellymom.com and LLL, because you really have to be breastfeeding to properly navigate the website and understand it (and then it’s an invaluable resource).

So books were it. I read for pure information – from cover to cover. I wanted to know what to expect. I wanted to have the latch positioning down, as well as the baby positioning. I received a lot of GREAT knowledge and would recommend that anyone pregnant reads at least 1 book about breastfeeding (recommendations are in the next post). BUT…. and it’s a very big but, THAT WAS ABSOLUTELY NOT ENOUGH.

I KNEW I was supposed to bring the baby chin first/head tilted, I knew I had to wait for the big open mouth, I knew the nipple had to be at her nose level, I knew she was supposed to cover the areola with her mouth. But left with a crying baby, incredibly hurt nipples, fear of the pain that is about to follow if only I do something wrong and she latches on wrong, fumbling with positioning, almost crying because you’ve been dealing with pain for the past few weeks and are so so frustrated…. it just wasn’t enough. Alexis  simply never opened her mouth wide enough. She’d lie there with her lips barely open and I’d think “Is this what you call an open mouth?”.  But I had no choice: it was either wait for a big mouth forever and starve your baby or feed her and wince through the pain. I chose the latter. She also tucked her top lip in every time, which made it very painful as well. So I’d have to try and get the lip out without breaking the latch. And most of the time I’d just leave it in for fear of breaking that darn latch and having to latch her on again.

So let’s just say that no amount of theoretical knowledge will help when your baby doesn’t cooperate.

Do you know what helped? Honestly? TIME!
For me it was simply waiting out the 6-8 weeks required for my baby to get enough control of her body to suck properly and for me to learn how to assist her.

And before that, there was dread, pure and simple dread of each breastfeeding session. There was fist biting so that I wouldn’t scream out in pain and scare my baby while she latches on. There was crying from frustration at trying over and over again to get a good latch and not succeeding. Couple that with the fact that I was also dealing with a baby that feeds every 30-40 minutes  AND in the middle of establishing milk supply and worrying about my baby eating enough and you’ve got yourself a lot of misery and heartache. AGAIN, HOW CAN BREASTFEEDING BE SO HARD?

The only thing that kept me going was my resolve to breastfeed exclusively no matter what. What helped, as well, were my support group: my husband, who was very supportive and cheered me on every time and commiserated and never let me give up; my friend, who had gone through the exact same thing with the exact same toe curling pain, who was just as set on breastfeeding and who pulled through and was a GREAT example for me; my mom who sat beside me with eyes full of pain as I bit my lip and shook my head while Alexis was nursing. These people were invaluable.

So in the end I was waiting and hoping that the magical 6-8 weeks would arrive soon and that I would survive until then.

Problem #2: Milk Supply

Oh this one is TRICKY! Raise your hand if you breastfed (for whatever time period) and DID NOT have ANY doubts/worries about your milk supply. Now, stop lying! (ok, I’m joking! If you really had no doubts with your baby, I am impressed).

This falls under the “You just don’t get it until you have a baby”. When I was pregnant and reading blogs about breastfeeding troubles/issues, I became resolved to NOT be concerned with my milk supply. The statistics say that only 1% (or around there) of women have ACTUAL supply issues from the start, every breastfeeding blogger out there was concerned about it and it was fine, and it simply wasn’t  going to be a problem. I needed to remember that.

{Breastfeeding break during a disaster of a quick family photoshoot at 2 or 3 weeks.}

Fast forward to 2-3 weeks postpartum (or so), IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO WORRY ABOUT YOUR MILK SUPPLY! The most basic motherly fear and concern for her baby is the fear of said baby NOT getting enough food. It is on such an subconscious level that it is impossible to use logic with it. You’re deathly afraid of your baby not getting enough milk (I know you think you won’t , because you’ll know better, but mark my words).

Some time during the first month or so of Alexis’ life, she started crying during and after feeding, sometimes with jerky body movements and batting at the breast. First reaction- she’s hungry and there’s no milk. Because that’s what it looks like. So knowing that it can be a trap, I started paying close attention to her behavior (and at the same time re-reading breastfeeding books and searching kellymom.com). It mostly happened in the evening when milk supply DOES tend to be low. She would eat and swallow and then stop swallowing and suck and suck and cry and wiggle. It was obvious the milk wasn’t coming. That (alone with the pain of nursing)  was causing me to stress out which tends to impede the let down even further. It was a VERY stressful week. I second guessed myself and everything I was reading a million times. I was so worried she was hungry. My mom wasn’t helping things either, being from the older generation and knowing things only from hear-say and her own experience 40 years ago and not having solid knowledge of how milk production works. I constantly had to explain to her what I thought the problem was, while not even being sure that I was right and her doubts were making me doubt myself even further. That is why the best thing you could do is to surround yourself with people knowledgeable about breastfeeding, because you can’t help it but listen to people around you, when it comes to your baby.

I got THIS (*showing a tiny sliver between index finger and thumb*) close to giving her formula! I even ordered elemental formula ( because no way I was going to give her cow’s milk based formula {want to know why? In the next post} ) JUST IN CASE. I never had to resort to it, but having it close was the safety net I needed. Had I succumbed to it, it could have very well sabotaged my milk supply and I would have had to wean Alexis way too early.

In the end, what I was experiencing was pretty normal. Alexis was feeding so frequently that I had slow let down and low milk supply by the evening ( which is normal). She was setting my milk supply for the future, but that meant she had to feed more than I was able to give her at that moment. She WASN’T starving! Some babies behave that way because of a slow let down, others because of a fast let down, others because they have tummy problems – reasons are endless, but  “starving” is rarely one of them. The books and resources all repeated OVER and OVER again: The only indication of milk supply is DIAPER COUNT AND WEIGHT GAIN. PERIOD!
Not how much you can pump, not your baby’s behavior, not whether you’re leaking, not whether you’re engorged.  Why is it SO hard to come to terms with that when you have a crying baby who “appears” hungry? I don’t know, but it’s damn hard. Alexis was soiling 10-16 diapers a day and gaining weight like a champ, but I was still second guessing it. We tried countless methods of determining whether she was getting enough milk or not (pumping, bottles, etc), but in the end all we needed to do is trust in the diaper count/weight gain.

So after weeks of worry and pain, it all finally started settling down around week 5-6. She seemed to get enough milk (or more like wasn’t going crazy at the boob), I had good let down, my supply was where she needed it. Once again, the books and online resources were right: she was setting my milk supply and now I was able to meet her needs.

As a matter of fact, because of her crazy eating habits in the beginning, I was stuck with an oversupply and fast let down for a few weeks there and guess what the symptoms of it were? Fussy baby at the breast! Lol I just can’t catch a break. She still occasionally chokes at the first let down, but it’s finally evening out.

 

Problem #3: Boob is God!

I don’t really consider it a problem, but I thought it’d be worth mentioning and I wonder how many exclusively breastfeeding women had/have the same issue.

Just recently I discovered that I cannot leave Alexis with anyone for any extended period of time ( 2 or more hours). I’ve had two outings where I was away for 3 hours and both times she SCREAMED without any consolation until I got home (that’s considering she never screams or really cries for longer than the second it takes us to give her what she needs). After the initial feeding in the first hour or two, she’d refuse any more food and just scream and scream and scream. I left her twice with my mom and my husband with plenty of pumped milk and she wouldn’t have it when she realized that mommy wasn’t going to be there for a while. I thought the first time was a fluke, but this second outing to see Hunger Games (which I loooooved btw) was just as hard on Alexis. Let’s just say, I am not leaving her alone ever again until she’s ok with that emotionally  ( probably until her main food source isn’t the boob), because the stress that I caused her by being gone twice just isn’t worth it.

Here’s what I am wondering, for those of you who breastfed/breastfeed exclusively and had to send your babies to day care or leave them with family members/babysitter, are they completely fine being left with someone else at 8 weeks? Or is it just one of those things: “You do what you have to do”?

 

CURRENTLY:

It still hurts, because Alexis just LOVES to close her mouth after she latches on, but about 50% of the latches are now good and painless and the ones that aren’t great, the pain is definitely bearable and she readjusts the latch midway through nursing. I’ve mastered the side lying position after weeks of not even being able to fathom how to do it with the way she was latching on.  Now it’s our favorite position. She does choke sometimes and has milk come out of her nose, but she doesn’t seem to be bothered by it much (which blows my mind. I’d hate to have milk coming out of my nose). We ended up having an LC come out to our house around week 2-3 or so and help us with the latch and she was great help, a huge step forward, but certainly didn’t solve it all. The only thing that solved it, I am sorry to say, was waiting till Alexis figured it out on her own at 6-8 weeks.

 

All that being said, I don’t want to scare anyone into not even trying to breastfeed. I’d love to do quite the opposite. I am just being honest about the experience I had to go through and from what I hear it’s not that uncommon. Of course, there are women with perfect sized dark nipples and babies that latch on without an issue, but it’s important to be prepared for a fight, even if you never end up drawing the weapon.   

 

So my advice to currently pregnant women, based on my own experience and breastfeeding traps I’ve encountered,  for what it’s worth:

  • DO NOT GIVE UP: it’s to easy to say “I’m done”, but please remember it’s for your baby and it WILL get better
  • IT WILL GET BETTER: most babies improve their sucking at 6-8 week and believe me it was like clockwork. 6 weeks came and it started getting MUCH better. If you can ONLY get through that time, I promise it’ll be SOOO MUCH BETTER.
  • SURROUND YOURSELF WITH LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE: Peer pressure is real, especially for some people. Do not listen to “well wishers” who tell you that you need to quit, or that you’re making it harder than it has to be. Any good friend will support you regardless of the choice they personally made, breastfeeding or formula. Find breastfeeding role-models!
  • EDUCATE YOURSELF: maybe it’s me, but reading breastfeeding books and online resources helped me so much. Helped me realize my baby’s behavior was normal, helped me get rid of my fears.  And because the fears and doubts are ongoing, I literally had to re-read things multiple times over the span of 6 weeks so convince myself everything was ok.
  • USE GOOD PRODUCTS: My life was made a lot easier by using certain things that helped me get through the first 8 weeks (and some continue helping me). You can read about them in my next post.
  • DON’T GIVE UP: I know I am repeating myself, but it’s THAT important! 60% of women breastfeed less than 3 months ( out of the recommended 6 months) and I can TOTALLY see why. Until I went through it, I didn’t understand why women would take the “easy” way out. But breastfeeding is THAT HARD and THAT FINICKY and sometimes they don’t have a choice, which brings me to the next advice…
  • DO NOT SUPPLEMENT UNLESS YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO : Not because formula is bad, but because by supplementing you’re sabotaging your supply (main reason most women give up breastfeeding). It’s so easy to get your supply out of wack and then you’ll truly not have enough milk for your baby.
  • REMEMBER: DIAPER COUNT AND WEIGHT: Those are the only 2 indications of milk supply and whether your baby is getting enough.
  • and finally once again: IT WILL GET BETTER {believe me I couldn’t imagine it getting better at the time, but it’s true}

{wearing a Boob Design Nursing tee}

If I didn’t cover something you’re curious about, feel free to ask in the comments. I’ll do a separate post just answering those questions.

In the next post I will go over the products and books that I found very valuable during the initial weeks of breastfeeding and of course, host a giveaway of a few of them. Also you can look forward another Boob Design giveaway with 3 winners that I am super excited about!

Please also read:
  1. BREASTFEEDING PRODUCTS
  2. FOLLOW UP TO BREASTFEEDING POST
  3. BREASTFEEDING AT 8 MONTHS: WHAT IT’S LIKE NOW.

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