When I was pregnant, there was no doubt in my mind; I wanted to breastfeed my baby. I had heard it could be hard, and I accepted that idea, but in a very vague and abstract way. I had seen women breastfeeding my whole life, what could really be SO difficult? Put baby to boob, sit back, and relax! Right? I was so confident, in fact, I didn’t pay much attention to the lactation consultant at my Midwife practice as she told me about classes I could take in advance, and support groups I could join after the baby was born. I thought those things were for women with health problems or special circumstances. My idea of breastfeeding being “difficult,” was that it would be tiring, but doable. I had no idea.
I had no idea about cracked, bleeding nipples. No idea about babies having latch problems. No idea about lip ties and tongue ties. No idea about supply issues, mastitis, and engorgement. I didn’t know how to use a breast pump. I couldn’t have predicted the muscle fatigue in every inch of my upper body from holding my baby up to my breasts 12 times a day. And while we are on that topic, 12 times a day!? Nothing in the world could have prepared me for the all-consuming reality that is breastfeeding a newborn baby.
But all those things were yet to come. First, there was the first latch. That magical moment I had envisioned for so long. My baby would lock eyes with me as we met for the first time. Then, effortlessly, she would begin to nurse as I lay there, maternal goddess, in all my glory. Haaaaa!
Enter, reality. My introduction to breastfeeding was a jolt to my system. It was about an hour after my baby was born, and I needed to pee in a serious way. The nurses helped me waddle to the bathroom while my baby screamed, and they told me I should hurry because she was hungry. The only problem was, thanks to my epidural, I could not pee. Apparently this is a common side effect no one tells you about (there are others).
Maybe it was the hormones, or the exhaustion, or my brand new baby screaming her head off, but I started to cry. My body was aching and I was afraid. I had been through so much over the past 24 hours and all I wanted to do was go to the bathroom. The last thing I wanted was to be further poked and prodded, but that’s what it took to help nature along, and I lay down to get a catheder put in place. Then, quick! Sit up! It’s time to feed your baby! I remember thinking, “I guess this is motherhood.” When you are down, beat, at your physical and mental limit, the baby still needs you, and you have to show up.
It may not have been the picturesque moment I had hoped for, but I am very lucky that my daughter’s first latch was a success. I know for many, it doesn’t happen on the first try, and the initial days of breastfeeding are a struggle to get baby to take the breast. Thank you, my little barracuda baby. Since day one, you have been insatiable. My challenge was not in getting my daughter to eat, but in keeping up with her demand.
Within hours of delivery, my nipples were a cracked, blistered, bleeding mess. The pain of breastfeeding was honestly comparable to labor. We learned our daughter had a slight lip tie, and that was partially to blame for the pain I was feeling, since it stopped her from opening her mouth in an optimal way. I was also told repeatedly that red heads like myself are generally more sensitive. Well, how helpful. I was prescribed a special ointment and started layering it on like icing on a cake, only way less fun. By day two it was so bad, I cried during every feeding, and I finally got some relief from nipple shields. Little did I know, those very shields that allowed me to continue when I was ready to give up, would be the source of so many other issues down the road.
The day after we got home from the hosptial, I developed mastitis. For those who don’t know, and I sure didn’t, mastitis is a breast infection caused by a blocked milk duct. Imagine a bladder infection, in your boob, but ten times more painful. Plus body chills, fever, and flu like aches and pains. Fun times. The goal, besides taking antibiotics, is to get rid of the blocked duct by massaging it to no end. Massaging did nothing for me, and neither did a bunch of other tricks like heat, massaging with a comb in the shower, dangling the girls in hot water, feeding the baby in funky positions, etc. What did work: holding a… ummm…. “vibrating object”on the blocked duct 😜 There I was, 3 days postpartum, laying in bed with my baby in one hand, and an illicit object in the other, feeling more dead than alive. Now THAT is a portrait of what it is to breastfeed.
When I came down with mastitis a second time that month, I just about fell apart. And when I continued to have painful blocked ducts after that, I really started to lose it. I became terrified of getting mastitis yet again, and would cry each time a new blocked duct emerged. I would vibrate those suckers frantically and swear that any day now, I was going to switch to formula. Luckily, I learned that the nipple shields I was still relying on for every feeding, were likely the reason for my blocked ducts, and I started to wean off them. It worked like a charm, and I am now in my fifth month of breastfeeding, with only one minor blockage since!
Funnily enough, I still would recommend nipple shields, just as much as I would recommend breastfeeding to any one who wanted to try. The shields helped me continue, and while I wish I had weaned off sooner and saved myself a lot of pain and anxiety, I am so very grateful that I found a tool to enable me to stick with it. Breastfeeding has become one of my favorite things about being a mom. Talk about a twist ending, right!? But really, I mean it, I love nursing my daughter now.
When I was going through the first month or so of hell, I never believed moms who said they enjoyed nursing, and certainly didn’t think it would be possible for me. One of my main goals with this new mommy section of my blog, is to try to empower women in their own breastfeeding journeys. Let me be clear, I firmly believe that any way you feed your baby, is the right way! I have so much love for all moms, and am not advocating for breastfeeding as a superior way to feed, at all! I just want to reach out to other mamas who are on a similar journey as I am, and say, I’m with you mama! It may be hard, but you’ve got this! When you feel like a milk machine who does nothing but sit topless on the couch all day, trust that one day you will wish for nothing more than to share that intimate time with your baby again. When you curse your shitty wardrobe that revolves completely around how easily you can lift your top up in public, know that there is a glorious push-up bra and a sexy dress somewhere in your future. When you are aching and exhausted, thank your beautiful body for the incredible work it is doing. It means the world to your little one, and one day, looking back, it will mean the world to you too.