I’m No Expert but Experience is Golden
So when I decided to have a second child, I was dead serious about exclusively breastfeeding. I wasn’t successful at breastfeeding my first child mainly because I figured it “should be a natural process” and that it “should be easy”. I had no idea what the hell I was doing at age 22. I relied so much on my mother because I believed since she nursed me for almost two years, she should be an expert right?
So my first round of breastfeeding with my first daughter was a complete fumble. Like the worst failure I’ve ever felt in my life. Because you know, we all know, breastmilk is best!
It took me a long while to get over the fact that I had failed my first born child to successfully breastfeed her and not gain the bond that would have been promoted between us and I was ashamed that I had to formula feed my daughter. Now over these years, it didn’t matter if I went with breastmilk or formula, my daughter is a bright and excited 5 yr old who is a picky eater but still very healthy.
But now with my second daughter, I was even more dead set on establishing this breastfeeding bond with her because of my first failure. I wanted to feel that bonding between mother and infant as we breastfeed. So I read up as much as I could about the facts and what I should be looking forward to. Little did I know, reading articles about breastfeeding and other women’s experiences about it could not get me anymore ready for the pain, anguish and suffering I’d go through the first 7 weeks of my daughter’s life.
I was thinking, probably like any other mom, breastfeeding is going to be easy and beautiful. Not quite the fairy tale story in reality. The first two days of my baby’s life, she nursed every hour to two hours at the hospital. So that means, yes you’re thinking it right, I had little to no sleep during my stay at the hospital. Having no sleep at that time didn’t really phase me because I was too excited to have my baby finally in my arms. She was this brand new little person and I was so elated to see her in my life.
When I finally went home, that’s when things started to go sour. Day three came, and as the articles said, my milk should be coming in, but what the articles failed to say, or I may have missed it somehow, when my milk comes in, its not an instant “hey, there is some white stuff coming out now and no more colostrum”. The change is not instant. It took almost 3 days for the change to go through. In those three days, I had engorged breasts, but this time I knew how to relieve some of the pressure and nursed until baby was satisfied. But that didn’t stop the hard feeling of my breasts. It finally subsided when the change from colostrum to milk was complete. Almost.
On day 3 of my baby’s life, we had to take her in for a wellness check. The doctor asked me how often am I nursing her. Well to be honest I was going for 30 min each breast. She begins to explain that that may be a little bit too much on each breast. Huh, ok. She suggested 15 min each breast. This is the part where my gut flags came up and I should have listened to them. But because she was the doctor I listened and went with the 15 minutes.
So, we’re near 7 days since baby has arrived and my milk is finally in, but because newborns nurse like crazy within the first 3 weeks of their lives, I was beginning to feel the pain from the torture my nipples were receiving. (I say torture because to them they had no idea this was coming. My poor nipples, it was a hard reality check for them). But, I’m also beginning to feel a piercing pain through my breast as well. By day 9 I was feeling some awful pain getting my daughter to latch on. Cracks started appearing on my nipples. Every time she sucked, it felt like she was ripping through my nipple. So I started using Earth Baby Mama breast ointment to relieve the pain though all it did was give a “breathing” feeling. Day 12 and my pain was so excruciating that I couldn’t wear shirts or bras or anything over my boobs because my nipples were raw from all the suckling. I dreaded nursing times with my daughter and I felt so awful for doing so. I was scared, and I was crying when it was her time to nurse. I was going through toe curling pain every time she latched. At this time, I went and re-read all the articles I had passed by before I started breastfeeding to see if I had missed something. Why was I going through so much pain? The nurse at the hospital said I had a good latch. My baby is gaining weight so she’s getting the milk she needs. But why all the pain?
2 weeks after postpartum, it was time for my postpartum check up with the midwife. By this time, I was an emotional wreck. I was literally at the tipping point emotionally because I did not want to give up on breastfeeding after just 2 weeks. I didn’t want to stop but the pain was just unbearable.
The midwife examined me, asked me a few questions about my postpartum bleeding and such. And then she came around about the breastfeeding. I began to explain to her that its been so difficult. I’m crying every time she latches on. I have cuts and my nipples bleed. I almost lost it there in the exam room. I wanted to break down and cry because I wanted the pain to stop. She begin asking me questions about the pain, and asked to see what my breasts look like. So, I showed her and she began to exam them. It turns out I had the beginning stages of mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue that causes breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness. I was relieved to find out what the hell this was. She said that this happens commonly when mother doesn’t empty her breasts out completely, and its common in the first 3 weeks. But wait, the doctor said to limit her nursing to 15 minutes. What the hell? If I had let my daughter nurse as long as she wanted, I wouldn’t be feeling so much pain. Yeah, the cracked nipples would still be there, but the burning, knife stabbing pain I was feeling now would not have happened. Ugh. I was prescribed antibiotics to fight the infection. After 10 days, I was feeling a lot better.
As for my cracked nipples she suggested to go to a Lactation Consultant to get relief. My midwife showed great concerned with me through my whole ordeal. She wanted to make sure I would get seen for my cracked nipples. She went around the clinic to see if they had their consultant available for me to see. But I had received a letter in the mail that a consultant was already assigned to me by my insurance company so I was giving her a call while still in the exam room. Had it not have been for the caring concern of my midwife, I probably would have lost it. I probably would have supplemented which to me was a big no no.
Going back home, and after talk to the Lactation Consultant, it turns out that I was nursing my daughter in the same position every time, which caused my nipples to crack in certain places. But because I was nursing her in the same position every time, I wasn’t letting those crack heal. I needed to change up the positions in which I was nursing her. Wow. That was my “holy shit” moment. No where in the articles I read did it suggest to change up the positions. What they did say was that there are several ways to nurse your infant, find a good way you’re comfortable with. That’s it.
All the information we have about breastfeeding that’s out there, none of it had me prepared for what was to come. Breastfeeding is such an individual take that not one story or experience is the same. The breastfeeding articles that are out there are for basic information only.
I began searching for actual women’s experiences when it came to breastfeeding in the baby website forums. I kept running into the same situations with all different outcomes and solutions. What worked for one woman, didn’t work for the other. Some women’s nipples are inverted instead of poking out. Some woman couldn’t heal fast enough from the cracks so they quit, others kept at it after 4 months of pain. So many of these women went through hell trying to breastfeed their babies. Many bit their tongue and kept at it, others decided it was too much.
What I want to say is that there is not one golden way to breastfeed your child. But there are many ways to find your golden way through other’s experiences.