Breastfeeding is a natural occurrence that doesn’t always happen naturally. This is my story, the impediments I faced that I could not have prepared for.
Congratulations! You are having a baby, or maybe you are just thinking about it. At some point you are going to have to make decisions and answer questions about your child before you have even met them. Are you going to breastfeed? Are you going to pump? How are you getting a pump? Will you have formula in case you need it as a back up? What if you don’t produce enough milk? These are just some of the obvious questions, although still annoying.
Let me begin with my story. My answers to these questions were simple. Yes, I am going to breastfeed. My original plan for a pump was to rent one through our insurance. Luckily, my husband’s aunt, who is a lactation nurse, gave me one at a baby shower. What a life saver, but I will get into that later. I learned a lot more about pumping later, but duh, I have a pump now so I will use it. Formula? I gave away my samples that were sent in the mail. I had already decided it was not an option. I don’t have anything against formula, I had just decided for myself that I was going to do whatever it took to make my breastfeeding journey a success. Oh boy, and was that journey a tough one.
So let me skip ahead past all those glorious months of pregnancy (insert eye roll). After 12 hours of labor, my daughter made her grand entrance to the world 8 days early. One of the nurses asked me if I want to try and feed my daughter for the first time, way to put me on the spot. Saying you are going to breastfeed is the easy part. So I, uh, just put her on my boob and uh, nature takes over? If it was that easy, wouldn’t every mother be doing it?
I had no clue what to do at this point. I had read that getting the latch right the first time was the key to successful breastfeeding. So we tried, and we failed. We tried some more, but the latch was so wrong. Then one evening, my saving grace walked through the door; my husband’s aunt, skilled in the art of breastfeeding. She worked with me for almost 2 hours showing me different positions, when and how to create the perfect latch, and explained everything I needed to know in great detail. One key fact I can share that I had never heard of was the shape of your nipple when you break the latch. If your nipple looks like a tube of lipstick, with the angled end, then the latch isn’t right. That was one of the most frustrating experiences I had because every time we unlatched, we saw the lipstick nipple.
Three and a half days in the hospital and its now time for my party of three to go home and do this all on our own. Having a baby is exhausting, but there isn’t much time for rest. After she has been fed and goes to sleep, for about an hour at at time, now I must pump. My first pumping sessions were extremely defeating. I could hardly get an ounce out. Is this a reflection of how much my baby is getting? Once again, my husband’s aunt comes to my rescue. She explained to me that it doesn’t take much to fill my baby’s tiny stomach and that pumping is not necessarily a reflection of my supply. As she requires more milk, my supply will start to accommodate to her needs. So with that in mind, we began the continuous cycle of feeding, pumping, cleaning pump parts, and maybe a little bit of rest before the cycle starts over again. I fed her every hour and a half, if we made it that long, because that is what worked for us. I never knew exhaustion like this before.
After a very long week of the feeding cycle, I was ready to stretch my legs and get out of the house. I decided we should all take a trip to grocery store, that is when everything started to fall apart. As we were standing at the deli counter I had a wave of weakness overcome me. I started to shake from being so cold. It couldn’t be from the weather, it was May! I turned to my husband and told him we had to leave now, something was wrong. We went straight home and I went to bed, only waking up to feed my baby. My temperature was going up and was over 103 even hitting 104. I had flu like symptoms, but my right breast wasn’t quite right either. After googling and doing some research I realized I most likely had mastitis.
Okay, I have heard of getting clogged ducts but no one tells you about mastitis. My right breast was not emptying like it should, maybe I was favoring my left side more because it was my “good” breast. I called my doctor and they saw me immediately. After a round of antibiotics, I still had a knot and large red spot on the side of my breast. I was told to keep a heat pack on the lump and gently massage it to try and release the clog. At one point, it even peeled like a sunburn. So I was put on a second round of antibiotics and sent to a breast surgeon. She was convinced I was going to have to get those ducts drained because of the size of the knot. After viewing the ultrasound, which by the way looked so cool, she was able to see that the knot was scar tissue. So I was sent home to continue my the antibiotics, heat pack and massaging. The best thing that I could do in this situation was to continue feeding and pumping until empty.
I can remember feeling so engorged one morning, so I jumped in a warm shower. I can remember crying and squeezing my sore breast with no success. My husband calmly joined me and asked if he could try. It was like he had done it before, he gently began massaging and squeezing and then a stream of milk came shooting out. It is a relief I can’t even begin to describe.
So many mornings began like this, waking up to one or the other or even both breasts so full and so painful. There was no time to set up my pump because I needed immediate relief. I would grab an empty bottle and squeeze straight into it, because I did not want to waste a drop of my liquid gold.
Looking back, there were so many times where I could have given up. When I looked at my daughter, all I could think was that I wanted her to have to best and the best I could give her at the time was milk from my body. After months it became second nature. When in doubt, give the boob. It was the answer to everything. Not only did my breasts feed her with the nutrients specialized for her needs, but it provided comfort, pain relief, healing, and an overall bonding experience that only the two of us shared. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely.