|be still, my heart!|
This is my story with breastfeeding (so far). The good and the bad! (I will warn you, this is a long one!)
Before and even during most of my pregnancy, I always said I would give breastfeeding a shot, but I wouldn't push it. If it didn't work out, no big deal. I wasn't passionate about it like I was a number of other things, such as my natural labor and delivery.
Emily Bohannon, my doula, recommended a breastfeeding book during pregnancy. Breastfeeding Made Simple: 7 Natural Laws for Nursing Moms. I highly recommend it to you as well! This book opened my eyes to just how important breastfeeding is.
There is information everywhere, and I'm sure you've all heard it. This is a personal story, not a persuasive essay. But I will say that it is the BEST thing for babies and is the ONLY thing babies should have until they are at least 6 months old (this is the recommendation from the World Health Organization as well as the American Association of Pediatrics). And it's the most natural way for your baby to eat.
After reading that book, I was determined to exclusively breastfeed. I knew it might not be easy. I had heard plenty of horror stories. But I knew it was important to me to do what was best for me and my baby.
Immediately after Grayson was born, I placed him on my chest for skin-to-skin contact. I allowed him to explore and root around and mostly find my breast on his own. (babies can totally do that! Just like other mammals, such as kittens or puppies. Look it up!) He found my breast pretty quickly and started trying to latch almost immediately (he's always been a little piglet!).
We had a little trouble during that first attempt. My nipples wouldn't stay erect, so it was hard for him to latch. The nurses gave me a nipple shield, as well as breast shells which help pull the nipple out (worn between nursing sessions). We used the nipple shield for the first day or so, and by day two my nips were having no trouble doing their thang!
Now let me tell you something about newborns. They want to be close to you all the time. They just spent 9 months INSIDE of you; of course they want to be close to you! The second night in the hospital, Grayson would cry and I would move to the chair to try and nurse him (I had trouble getting positioned in the bed at first). He would fall asleep in my arms, and I would struggle to keep my eyes open because I was running on a few mere hours of sleep. I would tip-toe, oh so carefully, back to his little bassinet and place him carefully down. I would ease my way into my bed and just as I was starting to get somewhat comfortable, he would wake up and start crying again. Rinse, repeat, this cycle went on for close to 2 hours! Up again, down again, the baby is crying again!
So what did my first time, new mom, sleep deprived, hormonal brain start thinking? I'm not making enough milk! He's starving!
In desperation, we called the nurse. Rather than encourage me and explain how completely normal this behavior was and that he probably just wanted to be held and wasn't hungry at all...she agreed that it's hard to know if he's getting enough when you don't use formula. She offered to go make him bottle right then.
Fortunately I maintained my resolve and said I would keep nursing all night if I had to.
The next morning the pediatrician came in, equipped with the story from the nurse about how my baby wanted to nurse for two straight hours and things weren't going well (not exactly the truth but my new-mommy brain didn't know a better way to explain what was happening). No discussions, no questions asked, he prescribed formula to be used immediately. Then he took Grayson away to have his vitals checked. I broke down in tears, feeling completely defeated. By the grace of God, Emily came in to visit at that very moment and I told her what was going on. She explained that Grayson did NOT need formula! Newborns have TINY tummies and don't need much milk at once anyway. She said unless he was severely dehydrated, I should not give him formula, if that was my choice. She helped me regain my confidence and I never gave him a drop of that formula!
Hurdle #1 overcome. Boom!!
The next phase was the constant, and I do mean constant, nursing. Combine that with my baby blues, and I was a real mess trying to keep up with his demanding feeding needs those first 4-6 weeks. Let me just say this, for moms who are or will be nursing soon...newborns nurse constantly! It's totally normal and what they should be doing. With their tiny tummies, they cannot hold much milk at once so they must eat frequently. If you supplement with formula, or even your own pumped milk, you could risk stretching their tummies and leading to a host of other issues and discomforts. Also, they are establishing your supply by telling your body how much milk to make. This is GOOD. If you supplement during this time, to give yourself a break (I know it's tempting!), your supply will not be what it needs to be and you may never recover from that. It DOES get easier. DON'T listen to people who tell you it's not okay. People will tell you that you need to supplement. That your baby is starving. That you need to get on a feeding schedule. That you need to distract him/her or offer a pacifier instead. Do NOT do these things! Just nurse like crazy!! It will establish a healthy supply and good BFing relationship with your little one. And eventually they eat less often and you'll feel like a real person again. I promise.
Just when I started getting over those darn baby blues, I had some nipple trouble. I guess Grayson had a bad latch because one of my nipples started having tissue breakdown. Parts of it were getting soggy looking. And it was really, really sore. And eventually those soggy pieces started falling off. Yes, you read that right. Parts of my nipple were falling off! In reality, it may not have been as severe as it sounds. But to this first-time mom, I was sure my whole nipple would soon fall off! Plus I was in so much pain that I would cry every time I fed Grayson, and would have to do labor breathing to deal with the pain.
I called the lactation counselor at the hospital and was told to stop nursing on that side until it fully healed. This helped avoid infection (thrush) and more breakdown. In the meantime, I pumped and fed him my expressed milk from a bottle, and I used a prescription called Triple Nipple Cream to help it heal. Grayson was 3 weeks old, and I would never recommend pumping or giving a bottle that early, but it's what I had to do. Fortunately we didn't experience any long-term problems (like nipple confusion or refusing the breast) because of it.
It took a couple weeks for my nipple to fully heal, and it was still sensitive while nursing for a week or so after that.
And THEN, once that was over, Grayson started getting gassy and refluxy. Another thing I feel like no one really talks about! Around 3 or 4 weeks postpartum, babies become more aware of their digestive systems and the effort it takes to pass gas or poop. And their systems are not fully developed at this point, so they are still learning how to process your milk. This can give them uncomfortable gas, painful reflux (with or without actual spit-up), and extreme fussiness. Not everyone experiences this, but it's extremely common. You will think your milk is poison. At least I did.
That same insensitive pediatrician told me to either switch to formula or cut just about everything out of my diet, including gassy veggies, onions, garlic, citric fruits and sauces, Italian, Mexican, anything spicy, beans, nuts, most green vegetables, and all cow milk products!!! I tried this for about a week, feeling malnourished and frustrated, and crying in despair thinking that I was poisoning my baby. (PS--we have since found a new, more supportive and up-to-date, doctor!)
Some babies DO have food sensitivities, but it's not that common. Most babies are just experiencing this fussiness while their bodies are still developing. Don't give up during this time! Chances are, they will have the same issues with formula anyway. If they DO have sensitivities, it is typically from dairy (cow milk). It's not the same as lactose intolerance. It's actually a sensitivity to the casein protein in cow milk. Babies do NOT get gassy because you ate something that made YOU gassy! That is outdated information and a common misconception.
After several trips to the doctor and altering my diet various different ways, we ended up putting Grayson on a month of Zantac, gave him Gripe Water as needed, and I have stopped drinking straight cow milk (I switched to Almond milk). But I have not given up dairy. I still eat cheese, ice cream, sour cream, etc. I just try not to eat to excess. I have found this seemed to ease some of his discomfort. Now he does not seem to have any issues with gassiness or reflux. While he still spits up a decent amount, it doesn't cause him pain. He is no longer on medication and he has NO trouble passing (very stinky!) gas!! ha!
The final hurdle I have faced is pumping. I returned to work and Grayson receives bottles of my expressed milk during the day. I pump 3-4 times a day at work. Fortunately this has hardly been a hurdle at all. My supply is awesome and I typically pump twice as much (or more) than Grayson eats while I'm gone. The only real challenge has been the logistics of finding time and a place to pump when I have certain meetings or events to attend during the day. For instance, last week I had to travel with a group of coworkers to an event in Atlanta (4 hours away). I had to pump in the car periodically during the day and evening. It wasn't a big deal, but was an extra consideration in my day.
Now for the good news (and there's a lot of it!).
It gets SO much easier!! Your supply regulates (less unpleasant engorgement). Your baby will eat less often and naturally get on somewhat of a feeding schedule. Your nips toughen up a bit and will be less sore (those first few weeks can be a beast, whether you have nipple trauma like me or not!). Keep coconut oil on hand for that! You just get more comfortable with it and it becomes second nature.
Your baby is getting the very best. He will become less fussy as he adjusts to digesting things. And you can rest easy knowing that he is getting exactly what he needs. Not only for nourishment, but antibodies for whatever illnesses you have been exposed to (so thankful for this as he goes into daycare and during this flu season! Each nursing session is like a shot of antibiotics!). And breastmilk changes in consistency as your baby ages, so it always delivers what your baby needs. No need to increase how much he eats because it naturally becomes richer in fats and nutrients, unlike formula which you may eventually need to give your baby up to 8 oz at a time. The breastfed baby NEVER needs that much! And it delivers the right nutrients and proteins for whatever stage your baby is at. Amazing!
Lastly, and definitely most importantly, it is a WONDERFUL bonding experience. I miss nursing him while I'm at work, but it's so worth it to keep pumping so I can keep my supply up and nurse him when I am with him. I don't even mind waking up multiple times a night because it means I get to have that closeness with him. He looks up into my eyes while he eats (or they roll back into his head in satisfaction!) and he grabs a hold of my shirt or my hand and he makes sweet little sounds of happiness. It's just so sweet. I would sacrifice all the convenience of formula feeding to have these moments. (Side note--formula feeding has its own inconveniences. Would you rather wake up at 3 AM and mix and heat a bottle while your baby cries, or just pull him into your bed and pop him on the boob while you doze off and on?) The pain and struggles may feel unbearable as they happen, but please do not give up in those tough moments. It is about to get SO good. Trust me.
**I realize some women have issues that prevent them from breastfeeding. I also realize it is simply some moms' personal choice to use formula instead. Babies can thrive on formula (I was formula fed!). This is just my experience. I hope that someone will read it and know that what they're experiencing is OKAY, and will see the end result as encouragement to keep going. **
** I have done extensive research on both sides of this issue (what else was I going to do during all that nursing??). If you would like links to cite any of my points or arguments, let me know and I will gladly provide! **