Prior to ever getting pregnant I had things I just *thought* I knew about breastfeeding:
*I would do it. And I wouldn't "give up" like so many women I had met or heard about.
*I would breastfeed for one year and then wean.
*I would combine pumping and nursing when I returned to work.
*It was hard.
And it was pretty much as simple as that. I thought I knew it all and I thought I was prepared. (And boy, was I ever judgmental.) I knew that it would be hard, I had definitely done some research. I wasn't prepared for how hard and how emotionally draining. I just didn't realize that there would be so many preconceived notions and emotions tied to breastfeeding.
Immediately after she was born, they placed my daughter on my chest for some skin to skin action. A nurse helped her latch on and she began nursing. Simple enough. It didn't hurt and it felt that it came pretty naturally.
Fast forward four days. My daughter nursed so frequently that I couldn't sleep at night. (I had to return to the hospital just two days after she was born due to high blood pressure). She wanted to nurse all night long. I had a visit scheduled at the hospital with a private lactation consultant. She weighed my daughter and while I expected her to loose some weight, I didn't expect her to have lost 12% of her weight in four days.
I began crying, "No wonder she's been nursing so much. She's hungry." And I already felt like a failure. I already felt horrible. The lactation consultant looked my daughter over and noticed that she had a tight jaw and tongue tie. In addition to that, after asking me a few questions, she basically told me I didn't have enough glandular tissue to ever fully sustain my daughter.
I wasn't prepared for the devastation I felt at that. My milk hadn't "come in" yet and my breasts weren't full. My baby wasn't gaining weight. I had all the cards stacked against me and I felt so tired and weepy that I didn't have the energy to face this breastfeeding battle.
But I had made up my mind that I would give it six weeks prior to giving birth and so we set up a plan of action and I promised myself to keep at it for six weeks.
In order to help me out, the lactation consultant first showed me some positions for nursing. She adjusted four different pillows behind my back, under an arm, and in all sorts of weird positions. I remember thinking, " How am I supposed to do this all by myself at home? Why is this so complicated?" That first nursing session in the delivery room was definitely too good to be true.
Our plan consisted of supplementing my daughter's intake and trying to increase my milk supply. We would feed my daughter a combination of donated breast milk and formula through an SNS feeder tube while I nursed. My husband had to help with this. He had to set it up and get it ready and help me latch. It was exhausting and frustrating and it seemed all our time was spent warming milk, pumping milk, nursing, latching, cleaning only to start all over again.
I was released from the hospital on three different blood pressure medications. I had alarms set to take them at various times throughout the day (and night) and a newborn to feed. I was so tired, emotional, and struggling to heal from childbirth. I felt like the world was caving in. At one week my daughter was holding steady with her weight but she still hadn't gained. My health care providers recommended a strict schedule of feeding every hour and a half followed by a twenty minute pumping schedule. "When will I sleep?" I asked teary eyed. They assured me that this would all be temporary. I felt like nobody cared about me and I didn't have the energy to care for myself. I had to use up every single ounce of energy to care for my daughter.
I was so ready to be done. I finally realized why so many women stop. Why it was so hard. It was beyond hard. I felt like such a mess and a failure. My world was turned upside down. At her two week appointment, my daughter had finally started gaining weight--and more than enough. My health care provider (a different midwife from the same practice) realized what a complete mess I was and suggested that we introduce a bottle and have my husband feed my daughter one time during the night and told me to sleep. She suggested I only pump a few times throughout the day. Thank goodness that SOMEONE finally seemed to be looking out for me.
I was a new mom and I suppose I needed the "permission" to go off course and take care of me. I needed to be reassured that my daughter would be fine no matter what. And I really just needed sleep.
My husband took my daughter for her late night feeding that night and for a week following. She gained weight and I continued to pump and supplement her intake as needed. Just after six weeks I went off my blood pressure medications and started taking a prescription medication for milk supply (I only took this prescription for one month and went off of it with the support of my daughter's pediatrician as her weight gain was fine.).
Around this time, the pain from nursing finally began to subside and we finally fell into a groove. In fact, so much so, that my daughter started a bottle strike that lasted until we introduced her to sippy cups. That's right--I was told I'd never fully sustain her but she nursed exclusively from 6 1/2 weeks to 12 1/2 months. She is 14 months old and we are still nursing, but we do give her whole milk in a cup with her meals. . I don't know where we are going next. I know what I'd like to do and I'm just hoping that as we prepare to wean eventually, my daughter will be ready. I'm so grateful for the opportunity I've had to nurse her. It wasn't easy at first and even later there were days that were hard (I was staying home with a baby that wouldn't take a bottle or pacifier. The first year went by super fast but some days were very long and hard.) But my daughter wanted me. She preferred me. And I was and still am, more than okay with that. I'm grateful that I can be that for her.
I have apprehensions about weaning. Fighting so hard to nurse her meant that I fed on demand for the entire first year--night and day. I wouldn't trade it for anything, but I am not sure where I'm going next. Breastfeeding goes so far beyond getting started, but so few people share their experiences past the "getting started" stage.
I am not a wealth of knowledge but I will tell you this. If you are a new mom or an expectant mom: don't give up--give yourself time to adjust--and you likely will. If you don't adjust or it's not happening, give yourself permission to care for YOU--body and mind. Do what you need to do to take care of you. For the first few weeks I felt like nobody was thinking about me and I sort of felt lost to the world--which didn't help when I was already so tired, weak, and emotional. So I when I say, "Take care of YOU!" I mean it, from the bottom of my heart. I also just want to let anyone out there know that the ONLY indication of sufficient milk supply is baby weight gain. Some women's breast don't change. Some women never experience milk "coming in." Some women never leak. Some women can barely pump a few ounces of milk in a setting. I experienced ALL of those things, but eventually (with the help, guidance, and supervision of many health care professionals) my daughter started gaining enough weight. I'd love it if you stopped by my blog--or at least come by to check out my 5 Breastfeeding Tips for New or Expectant Mothers.
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