Hey everyone, I'm Rebecca from The Lil House That Could. I live in NJ with my husband Mike and my one year old (whaaat?!) son, Easton. I have managed to breastfeed for a year and counting, though it has been no easy feat. One of the things I've learned in this process is that having a community and support (and the internet!) are huge factors in breastfeeding success. Julie's series caught my eye immediately. I felt like I should pay it forward and potentially help another mom that may be reading here. Here goes!
We welcomed Easton on May 23, 2012. Prior to his arrival, I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I also heard it was hard and an incredible commitment. I went into the process with a very open mind. My sister in law helped me in the beginning by telling me what to register for, because really, who knows the difference between a quick clean wipe and a micro steam bag when you've never used them? I also took a brief breastfeeding course which, without the baby wasn't very helpful to me.
My labor was long and hard and if I'm being completely honest, I barely remember the first time I nursed Easton. There were so many people buzzing around me and the lactation consultant literally just stuck my boob in his mouth. There was no peace, quiet or calm in the room and everyone said he was latched on fine, so I took their word for it. The remainder of my hospital stay was a lot of me learning on my own since I didn't find the lactation consultants at my hospital to be helpful at all. Whenever I called for help, it was a quick answer, or they positioned him for me without really teaching me anything. In hindsight, I probably should have demanded better, but Easton was eating well so I crossed my fingers.
The first full day I was home, my milk came in. No one warned me about this. All of a sudden, my husband's shirts didn't even fit me, I didn't have a large enough bra to bring Easton to his first doctor's appointment and I was beyond engorged. Back then, I didn't know what engorged was. All I knew was that my boobs were massive and I couldn't latch Easton on one side. My sister in law and my friend (whose baby was just 6 weeks old), told me to try pumping a little first then trying to latch him. I pumped before nursing that whole first day to no avail-- he still could not latch on my right side and I was not able to pump anything out either. I was nervous at this point because I was down a boob-- what if he couldn't get on the left either?! I decided to call the lactation consultant number I was given and... it was out of service. Since I didn't like the lactation consultants at my hospital anyway, I decided to ask my neighbor if she knew of anyone that could come to the house and help me. I felt like trying to describe what was going on was hard and embarrassing. Now I have no problem saying that my boob was big and hard and Easton couldn't latch. See? Just said it :)
My neighbor gave me the number of her doula, who she said was a lactation consultant. She was so incredibly helpful and supportive and said all the right things. She told me it was just my milk coming in and to stop pumping. She said I was overstimulating it and pumping would just make it worse. She said it was okay to feed him on one side and to just keep trying to latch him on the other side. I fed him on just one side for 24 hours and it worked. My right side balanced itself out and was fine.
After those first early days, things went smooth. Easton surpassed his birth weight by his first doctor's appointment. He continued to gain well at every doctor's appointment. I didn't experience soreness beyond the first week or two. I was tired, of course, but not completely overwhelmed by the commitment. I waited 5-6 weeks to introduce a bottle and hated pumping, so I avoided giving him a bottle at all costs. It was like a breast feeding dream come true-- he ate every 2 hours during the day for about 3 months, but always did a good stretch at night.
Then I went back to work after 12 weeks. You can read about that here.
I was back at work for 2 days, pumping 3 times a day, when I woke up on the third day with chills, aches and I couldn't move. I had mastitis. I had to take that day off of work while my husband took care of me (he works from home and has Easton during the day) and my mom watched Easton. I called my midwife and she told me to nurse Easton as much as possible, empty both sides with my pump, take Motrin, a hot shower, use a heating pad and if that didn't work in a few hours, she had a prescription waiting for me. Now that I'm well versed on the art of the plugged duct (more about that later), I believe at that time that I had double mastitis. I was able to clear it up without the antibiotic, but my supply did drop for a bit after. I determined that I was not pumping enough at each session at work and that Easton must have been drinking more from me than he did from a bottle. From then on, I always pumped one additional bottle in the morning. This allowed me to build a stockpile in the freezer as well. Over time, my supply evened out and I wasn't always able to pump extra.
Pumping hatred and awkwardness aside, things were going okay until I was hit with excruciating pain while nursing. I would dare to say that it was worse than labor, and it continued after Easton unlatched. I called my midwife again and she said she thought I had thrush. I was given a prescription and it went away. Just the thought of that pain gave me the chills.
Then a few weeks later, it happened again. Easton had never showed any signs of thrush, but this time a different midwife answered my call and she told me that Easton may have been carrying it and that he should have been treated. She assured me it wouldn't harm him, so I gave him drops and took another doze of Diflucan for myself. This went on for weeks. Thanksgiving turned to Christmas and I was still in a lot of pain. I would bite my arm through nursing sessions, I was bruised and raw from Easton getting upset when my supply dropped (because really, who can even have a letdown when it hurts so bad?) One time, I called my husband into the room to take Easton because I was bleeding and crying.
Thankfully, I had enough milk in the freezer to supplement with during this time. I made constant calls to my midwife's office, I was in twice because they couldn't believe I wasn't getting better when finally, after me basically begging for help, a bunch of them discussed me with some OB-GYNs and they decided to try a different cream for me. In the meantime, I made sure Easton's latch was okay. I moved to a larger breast shield when pumping. I sterilized my pump parts and Easton's pacis every single night. I did everything I could to get rid of the pain and finally, at the end of December when Easton was 7 months old, it went away. Another in-hindsight-thought, I think I definitely had a stubborn case of thrush, which was confirmed by one of the midwives who is also a lactation consultant, but I think some of the other things I mentioned were contributing to my pain. My breast shield was probably too small, Easton's latch probably got sloppy as I was in pain and I was probably over pumping because my letdown was so slow. It was like a horrible snowball effect of pain.
I have been through so many plugged ducts since I started (one of which made us miss a flight), weeks of thrush, teething... you name it, I feel like I've had it. But I'm at such a bittersweet point right now. I've made it past a year. I haven't had to supplement. I managed to return to work and continue breastfeeding (though I went down to 30 hrs/week in the fall to help that along). A few weeks ago, I stopped pumping at work since Easton suddenly stopped taking a bottle. If I didn't plan to use my pump for future kids, I would have spun that thing by it's handles into the closest dumpster I could find...with it's little white flappy parts that I always lost close behind. I am finally over the hump and can breathe easy.
I feel like I have so many more stories I can share here, so many more that are happy and positive. Whenever I told friends/family about another battle of thrush, or a plugged duct, they would always ask me if I wanted to quit. I never wanted to quit, but I was always scared I would be forced to quit. The more I breastfed, the more I wanted to continue. The older Easton got, the more I wanted to make it to the next milestone. The emotional bond, the milk drunkness and the cuddles are things that no class can prepare you for. Of course, I was incredibly fortunate in that Easton also thrived on breast milk and it was me that struggled. Had he not, I'm sure I wouldn't have hesitated to supplement.
The advice I give people now is to take nursing day by day. You never know what the next week will bring that will make you change your plan. Sometimes it's for the better and sometimes it's worse. It is hard, hard work. It takes a lot of dedication, time and energy. But those every 2 hour feedings turn to 3 hours, then to 4 hours the suddenly, you're at 10 hours and wondering how your baby is running around the room instead of wanting to nurse.
I think a lot of breastfeeding is instinct, a lot of it is tenacity and even more of it is out of your control. There is no right answer and no identical story out there. If only it was this easy...
I don't know how long I'll continue to nurse Easton, I don't have a plan in mind and I'm just taking it day by day. I'm thankful to still be able to nurse him and to be ending on a high note. These days I take every feeding in, as I know that it won't last forever. He only eats 2-3 times a day now, which makes it so much easier to leave him for the day or take him places. I think that this age and time right now is my favorite so far. If I could bottle it all up at this point, I would. I know someday breastfeeding will be a distant memory.
Thank you Julie for letting me share and for your wonderful collection of stories here!