Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Let's Talk About Breasts, Baby

Fair warning: I'm going to talk about boobs. More specifically, breastfeeding. If this bothers you, or you're at all squeamish/uncomfortable about this topic, you may want to sit this one out. Now, I'm not going to get all graphic, or preachy, or anything like that. I'm just going to tell y'all a story. So gather 'round, kids!

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had big plans. I was, of course, going to be the "perfect mother" who breastfed exclusively and didn't ever let nasty formula anywhere near my daughter. I went to the breastfeeding class, bought my nursing bras, all the time expecting that it would be so easy. They make it sound easy, don't they? And women have been doing this since we humans started populating the planet. Heck, if hippos can do it, so can I. Right?...

Well, all the classes, videos, and literature I had tucked under my belt never really prepared me for what was to come.

My daughter was born at 9:36 pm. I had woken up that morning around 4:30 with contractions, so by the time we were situated in our hospital room I was exhausted. I thought I would try to feed her before getting some sleep. Easy, right? Wrong. She wouldn't latch. I held her up to me, tried to get her to eat, and she just fussed. After a couple attempts, I threw in the towel. Maybe she just wasn't hungry yet? I'd try again later.

Well, later came and went and still no luck. The next afternoon her pediatrician informed us that she was getting jaundiced. The best way to get rid of the jaundice is by eating, and thus expelling all the bad enzymes. The problem? She still wouldn't eat. I did everything I could think of, worked with the lactation consultant, tried pumping (with miserable results). Finally, I was faced with a choice: give her formula or let her jaundice get worse. I broke down and gave her the formula. She drank heartily and I cried on the inside.

We left the hospital on a Friday night. After we got home and got settled in, I tried to go to bed for some much-needed rest. (Who designs those hospital beds anyway??) I couldn't sleep, however, because apparently my milk had come in. I was engorged. My breasts were HUGE, hard as rocks, and throbbing. That night, and the following morning, I tried feeding my daughter, I tried pumping, but nothing was working. I finally broke down and visited the lactation consultant at the hospital. She worked with me for over an hour and gave me a few tricks to use, but I still wasn't feeling much better. Over the next couple weeks, I continued to try nursing, and every time I ended up pumping because my daughter just wouldn't latch. I started going to a nursing moms support group where I was given a nipple shield to try. I was skeptical, but later that day I tried it at home. Success! Well, sort of. It didn't work every time, but it worked sometimes, and that was better than nothing. After having more constant success with the shield, I eventually discovered a big part of the latching problem. I discovered it completely by accident, but it was one of those d'oh! moments - she didn't like the lanolin that I was using to soothe my sore, cracking nipples. I could have screamed! It was such a simple, stupid thing, but nobody had thought of it! After that discovery, her feedings were going much more smoothly. Well, aside from all the pain. I kid you not, there were several times I would have rather gone through labor again than continued breastfeeding. If you've never had to deal with cracked nipples, yeast, and a child who takes an hour to eat (on one side), then I envy you.

Eventually, my daughter and I worked out a pretty decent system. I was never able to get her off formula completely (my supply was never big enough) , but at one point she was only getting one bottle a day. But soon I was going to have to go back to work and that meant I would only be able to pump on my lunch breaks. Rather than deal with leaky-boob syndrome at work, I decided to start cutting out the mid morning and mid afternoon feedings. After about two days of this new schedule, I woke up with a fever and a breast that felt like it might explode and shoot off my chest like a deflated balloon. Yep, that's right kids, it was mastitis! Thankfully I was able to call into my doctor's office and get it taken care of before it turned into an abscess, but after being on antibiotics for a few days, I developed yeast again. Having one or the other makes you miserable. Having both at the same time? Completely out of my skull. I was in so much pain, I couldn't even hold my daughter. And all this the week before going back to work.

Fast forward a few months: we were lucky enough to have a babysitter that was able to come to our house during the summer, but after she went back to school we had to find a daycare. We managed to find one that was not only close to our house, but not too expensive. (Every working parent's dream, right?) Pretty soon, though, the colds started. My daughter was picking up every single germ she came across, and of course she was spreading them to mom and dad. Every time I'd get whammied with a cold, I would lose my appetite and my milk supply would dwindle. And I didn't ever have enough time to recuperate between colds. Eventually I was down to just nursing my daughter twice a day: first thing in the morning and right before bed. This arrangement was working well for awhile, until I got hit hard by the baby blues. I thought it was just a funk at first but it doesn't seem to be lifting. I've never been a fan of pharmaceuticals (with the exception of things like antibiotics which, when used correctly, can be extremely helpful), and if my family history is any indication most of them wouldn't work on me anyway. So I have two choices: do nothing, or stop nursing my daughter and take the herbal supplements that have helped me in the past. I'm still teetering between these two choices, hoping something in my head will click so I can make a decision.

Whatever decision I end up making, I know this: my daughter is a beautiful, special person whom I love with all my heart. And to paraphrase an article I read recently, how you feed your child isn't as important as how you love your child. And really, how could you not love this face?

There's a lot more I could write on this subject, but in the interest of brevity I'll just say this: if you're one of those people who can breastfeed for three years, more power to you. I am not one of those people. If you decide from day one to formula feed, you won't get judgement from me. Breastfeeding is HARD. And its such a personal decision. I think we as mothers need to stop worrying about what other people are doing, stop judging each other, and just SUPPORT each other. You have to find what works for you and go with it. Every baby is different. Every mother is different. But we're all in this together.


  1. Great post! I agree that every mother is different and should be allowed to decide what is best for her and for her baby. Your daughter is adorable and very obviously well-loved. That is all that matters. I'm sorry to hear you are dealing with the baby blues. I hope you can get that worked out soon.

  2. What a face indeed! I love that face. I'm sorry for your feeding troubles. Having a new baby is stressful enough already without added pressure and health problems. Cracked nips? OUCH.

    Lactation consultant sounds like a fun job. Can men apply for that? I don't mean for me. I'm asking for a friend.

  3. Wow, that was a great post, my friend. I can only imagine the stress and feelings of inadequacy that come with not being able to breast feed or having to make those difficult decisions. For a non-mother it seems like a no-brainer- just stop! BUT I know that it's not that easy. Your daughter is beautiful and obviously well loved! I love your honesty, thanks!!

  4. Thanks, all! It's nice to finally get some of this off my chest. No pun intended ;)

    And Cary, I'm pretty sure lactation consultants are usually women. They're also nurses. So I don't think your friend would qualify :P

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