Her face pretty much says it all. I went into breastfeeding without any idea of how hard it could actually be. Even though almost everybody I had talked to warned me that it could be very difficult, I just assumed there would be no problems. I wasn't breastfed as a child — something that I gave my mom crap for all 29 years of my life until I recently learned that I have a tongue tie that never got resolved (sorry Mom for giving you crap and for having a tongue tie) — but how hard could it be? This was a natural process that all women are supposed to be able to do and all the bloggers I follow wax on and on about how much of a joy it is to nurse their babies in their perfectly lit photos. Ooh boy, was I in for a rude awakening...
I started nursing Keira soon after she was born. After quite a bit of skin to skin time, the nurse came and helped us get started. Keira was sort of confused at first. She knew how to suck, but wasn't quite sure how to latch. After about 15 minutes we got it right and she never looked back. The nurses said it might be hard to get her to nurse over the next 24 hours because she would be so sleepy, but that was not the case at all. Little miss had her first taste of the boob and wanted to nurse constantly and aggressively. The postpartum nurses said she could teach lessons to the other babies on the floor. She had such strong suction that in the days before my milk came in, she managed to wreak havoc on my nipples even though her latch was good. Once we were home from the hospital, they were inflamed and one was infected and it was literally like being stabbed with knives and also the burning... oh the burning. It got so bad that I would hear her cry and hide in the bathroom because I was so scared of the pain. This was after a very fast and intense natural childbirth with back labor. I told Damir I'd rather do that over again 10 times than nurse even once more. I couldn't even stand the thought of bras or fabric or even air touching my nipples (and showering? No thanks). Still, I soldiered on, with the support of other women who had gone through similar experiences. Over the last 8 weeks, I've been obsessed with the health of my nipples and the flow of my milk. The first 6 weeks were incredibly painful. My nipples were cracked and bleeding. I got tons of blisters after getting lazy with her latch so I learned my lesson with that. I've almost quit nursing everyday finding ways to justify turning to formula (I have nothing against formula at all. I was a formula baby and I'm great! I just didn't want to give up on this thing I started). I've cried a lot over feeling like a failure because it has been so hard on me, when it comes so naturally to lots of other women. I was actually pretty devastated because it affected my relationship with my baby at first. I was scared of her because of all the pain she was able to cause me. I decided to heal one nipple at a time by pumping that breast and nursing with the other, which gave me a lot of peace of mind. I got a prescription for All Purpose Nipple Ointment, which was a lifesaver. I took ibuprofen around the clock. I started binge watching Parenthood to give myself a distraction from the pain. I wore a neck warmer while I nursed to try to relax my body because I was so tense. We saw 2 lactation consultants and a craniosacral therapist. And I just kept taking it one day at a time, until it clicked. Once it clicked, my milk supply doubled and we started dealing with a fast letdown, resulting in a choking baby (which later becomes a gassy baby). It's been one thing after another, but we're still going.
To be honest, I don't know how long I will nurse for, especially since I have to go back to work. I'd like to nurse as long as possible now that I'm starting to feel the bonding that everybody talks about. I'm pretty horrified by the size and state of my breasts (and the constant leaking - another thing I wasn't prepared for) but I try to remind myself that they are providing food for my child, and heck, I can always get a lift and a reduction later if I need to (I probably never will, but the possibility makes me feel better). I see pictures of new moms sweetly nursing their babies, and looking down with all that love in their eyes and I'm a little bit jealous of them and a little bit angry because I feel like nobody talks about this part of the experience (which is true for a lot of women, as it turns out), but I have to let go of that. There are sore boobs, milk is literally everywhere, and my not-so-flat belly hangs out almost constantly, which upsets me more than it should. But at the end of the day this is my experience and I have to accept it and make the best out of it. My baby is healthy and growing very well, and I am actually very thankful that I have been able to feed her from my own body.
I do want to say how proud I am of myself for getting to this point with nursing. I never thought I would be able to nurse pain-free and so easily. It was truly one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life, getting through those first 6 weeks and I can't believe I did it.
I wanted to share some of the things I have found really helpful over the past 8 weeks as I struggled through the early stages of breastfeeding.
- Bamboo Nursing Pads — I tried the disposable ones initially, but my nipples were too damaged. They got stuck and un-sticking them is what nightmares are made of. These soft, reusable bamboo pads are lifesavers. I cannot possibly have enough of these. I have recently started using these disposable ones during the day or when I'm out, and these at night.
- Breastmilk Collector — My friend Morgan told me about this product and I am so glad she did. I was collecting about 2 oz every night just from leakage out of the non-nursing breast. It's a must have. It keeps things so much cleaner and it doesn't waste that precious milk!
- Herbal Microwaveable Neck Pillow — Nursing does a number on my posture and my neck. I actually threw my neck out for a few days because of all the tension and constantly looking down. My neck warmer was a necessity.
- Water Bottle — I don't go anywhere or do anything without my Klean Kanteen. Nursing makes me crazy thirsty. Like, get me some water before I die thirsty.
- Mother Love Nipple Cream — I tried lanolin, coconut oil, dry heat, and more... and the only thing that actually healed my nipples was this stuff and breastmilk, in combination. And a better latch, of course.
- Soothies Pacifiers — According to a lactation consultant I saw, these are the recommended pacifiers for breastfeeding babies. Oddly enough, it is the only pacifier Keira will keep in her mouth. I know some people are vehemently against pacifiers while establishing breastfeeding, but having a break for my very sore nipples was necessary. I love pacifiers.
- Milksnob Nursing Cover — I'm still not that comfortable nursing in public, but a cool nursing cover definitely helps sometimes. I don't always use it, but I like to have it on hand, especially if I'm feeling uncomfortable. I have this one.
- Pumping Bra — My flanges do not stay on my breasts. I wish they did but they don't. So to maximize pumping efficiency (and also get work done while I pump), I bought this pumping bra and I am so happy I did. It has cut my pumping time in half and I actually get more milk because I'm more relaxed.
- Soft Nursing Bras — I live in these. I leak a lot so I actually can't go even a few minutes without nursing pads (spontaneous letdowns and all that). These are soft enough to sleep in but I can also wear them under t-shirts unlike other nursing bras designed for sleep. Huge fan. Thanks H&M
- Not pictured: ibuprofen, copious amounts of Netflix, and a very supportive husband.
Please share your nursing experiences and secrets! I'd love to read about them.