Thursday, June 19, 2014

Beginning Breastfeeding: a.k.a. A Glimpse Into Hell

As I prepared for the birth of my first child, I discovered that there were really two main schools of thought regarding breastfeeding.  The first stated that breastfeeding was a beautiful and natural thing.  As with many things in childbirth, its motto was "Trust your body.  Trust your baby."  The second stressed just how difficult breastfeeding would be.  It taught proper positioning and techniques.  I fell firmly into the first camp.

Growing up, all I heard from my own mother was how easy breastfeeding was.  She said she never had any trouble, and she loved every moment of it.  In fact, when other women discussed the troubles they'd had with breastfeeding, she'd often tell me she just didn't understand.  How could anyone have any trouble with something so natural?  I didn't have any reason to not believe her, so I felt the same way.

Before I go any further, let me say that breastfeeding is beautiful and wonderful and amazing and completely natural...sometimes.  Here's the thing, I do, in fact, love breastfeeding Anna.  I love how content she is.  I love that I'm able to provide her a comfort that no one else can.  I love the time alone we get to spend because of it.  I love a lot about breastfeeding.  However, it is in no way, shape, or form easy.  At least not for me.

Getting Anna to breastfeed in the first place was pure hell.  Let me paint you a picture.  Imagine being in a hospital, on the world's most uncomfortable bed (seriously, the floor was better), with a newborn who came 2 weeks and 1 day early, accompanied by at least one nurse who is just trying to help but who is actually stressing you out beyond belief, trying to get said newborn to latch onto a breast that really isn't ready.  It doesn't help that Anna's birth was extremely traumatic for her.  Nor does it help that we didn't have the bonding time in the beginning that I was so looking forward to (NICU had to check her out first).  And then, each new nurse had a different bit of advice and much of that advice clashed with what we'd learned in breastfeeding class.  It was so frustrating!

Honestly, the first day wasn't a huge concern.  I was pretty drugged up, and Anna was tired from birth, so neither one of us really realized there was an issue.  Plus, both the lactation consultant and the nurse said it could easily take 24 hours or so.  When 24 hours passed, though, and Anna was still having a lot of trouble, I started to get a little stressed.  She was getting cranky because she was hungry, I still wasn't producing much, and Anna was dropping  Then came the first really stressful night.

Anna was fine, just a little cranky, but the nurse REALLY wanted her to start nursing.  So, she pushed me to do a lot of things I really didn't want to.  Some of those things, I was able to really stand up and stop, but the fight itself was exhausting.  First, she wanted to put sugar water on my breast to entice Anna to nurse.  If this had worked really well, I wouldn't have argued.  However, it didn't do much other than give Anna a taste for sugar (and make her crankier).  Then she told me to just force Anna's head onto my breast and hold it there until she latched.  Again, if this had worked, I wouldn't have argued.  However, it really stressed Anna out and it made me want to cry.  I asked for a pump because I decided if worse came to worse, I'd give her a bottle (I didn't want to, but she had to eat somehow).  The nurse said I should give her formula, it would be fine.  This was an absolute deal breaker.  No!  I asked the nurse if she thought Anna should be suctioned again.  She seemed to have a lot of fluid still left.  The nurse said she was fine.  Five hours later, when the lactation consultant came back, the first thing she did was suction her (and she latched just fine).  The nurse was well-intentioned, but she was overzealous and very stressful.  I feel that one night, really set us back.

Fast forward two days.  Anna had her first pediatric appointment.  Hans and I had been up ALL NIGHT LONG trying to get her to nurse.  I was to the point of tears.  I wanted her to nurse so badly, and she was hungry, but she just wouldn't latch.  The pediatrician came in and asked if she'd eaten yet.  I said no, but it was almost time for a feeding.  He told me to go ahead and nurse her, and he'd be back in a few minutes.  I tried to explain my difficulty feeding her, but he just said to take my time and let him know when I was ready.  Thirty minutes later, I was still trying to get her to eat.  I did finally get her to latch, and she ate just long enough to be slightly contented, but it was a horrible experience.  Upon leaving the pediatrician we were told that if she didn't start gaining weight, she'd have to be readmitted to the hospital.  I immediately called the local lactation center (to see my 5th lactation consultant since Anna's birth).

When I got home, I said, "F*** it!"  I couldn't go through the pain of breastfeeding anymore.  I needed a break.  So, I pulled out the pump, and I decided to bottle feed until we saw the consultant the next day.  This was probably the best decision I could have made.  It took a lot of stress off of me, and Anna was much calmer after she ate.  The following morning, before heading to the lactation center (a place I like to call Heaven on Earth), I decided to try breast feeding again.  I pumped first, fed Anna a good bit of food to keep her calm, and then positioned her near my breast.  It was almost instant success.  Victory!!!!

The lactation consultant really just said I was doing everything right.  She gave me a few good tips, and even told me that until we really get the hang of it, I should pump for a few minutes before nursing to stimulate the milk.  We finally had a rhythm.  Sure, I had to take my pump with me if I went anywhere, and I had to be near an outlet if I wanted to feed Anna, but we had a routine, and Anna was eating.  She gained 2 ounces in 24 hours.  VICTORY!!!

After 48 hours of this, Anna really started to get the hang of things.  All of a sudden, I didn't really need to pump any more (other than to build up milk stores).  But there are other challenges.  It's still extremely difficult for me to breastfeed in public.  I've done this successfully one time, and I'm pretty sure that was shear luck.  I've heard this is normal, and it can sometimes take months to get used to, but goodness!  It would be so much easier if our culture was different and I didn't feel so exposed when breastfeeding.  Even with a cover I feel awkward.  Plus, there are still days when Anna just seems to struggle with latching.  It's not as bad as before, but it's horribly frustrating.  Oh, and I'm learning to not compare myself to others.  I don't feel my milk "let down."  I want to, I try to, but I got nothin'.  This is very frustrating when other mothers talk about the sensation and how it really helped them to learn how to feed.  ARGH!

All in all, I really just want other people, particularly other mothers to know, that it's not easy.  Honestly, it's been one of the most emotionally taxing things I've ever done.  I love it, and I won't stop any time soon, but I really wish it was easier.  Who knows, maybe it will be some day.  :)


  1. I don't get a let down either. Or at least not one I am able to discern. I told you that E2 was about a month old before I felt like we really were getting the hang of it. Do what you need to do and seek support wherever you can find it. It really does get easier.

  2. What an honest take on breastfeeding. I could never understand why something so natural (as in milk does not appear until after a baby is born) has so many unnatural parts to it. The baby is new to the concept of sucking, the breast is huge (because there is milk in it) whereupon it has to be inserted into the tiniest mouth you'll ever see. I had as many nurses and lactation specialists working with me with my first as I did with my second. I'm glad to hear you are figuring this thing out.