The following is a post documenting my experiences with breastfeeding. It includes words like 'boobs' and 'nipples.' It’s certainly not meant to make those who weren’t able to, or chose not to, breastfeed feel guilty – I just wanted to finally share the first eight months of this journey in its entirety.
When I shared Gabriel’s birth story last fall, I briefly mentioned that he nursed shortly after he was born. What I glossed over, though, was that it wasn’t as easy or as intuitive or as beautiful as I’d been told it would be. The books I’d read, our childbirth instructor, and the breastfeeding class we took, all promised us that if the birth was unmedicated, the baby wasn’t bathed immediately, and the mother was able to hold the baby without delay – the baby could find the breast itself! The baby would latch on right away! Sunshine! Rainbows! Happy nursing! So natural!
What did happen: I got meconium (newborn poop) on my boob (full of post-birth endorphins, I happily chirped to my labor nurse, “I feel like a real mom now!”) and Gabe had zero interest in nursing. He didn’t latch on and he didn’t do anything except stare at me wide-eyed. So I just held his little body against mine for an hour, basking in the feeling of holding the one I’d felt inside of me for months. Basking in an indescribable love and newness and so much happiness I can’t even encapsulate it in words. It’s this rising feeling I get in my heart when I think about holding my fresh, new baby close to me, cradling his little body for the first time and gazing into each other’s eyes.
Getting swept up in the moment here. Ahem. Sorry about that.
After a while, the post-birth hormones waned and a wall of tiredness slammed into me. We both went to sleep. After all, it was 4 am, preceded by 24 hours of labor, including two and a half HOURS OF PUSHING (I’m not bitter at all about that anymore. Nope.). In the back of my mind, I was a bit concerned that he didn't really care about nursing, but brushed it off, since I was exhausted.
The next day, I attempted to nurse Gabe a few more times, but it just felt off. He didn’t really latch on well and when he did latch on, he sucked away like a little barracuda. (Mike had several hickeys on his biceps from Gabe.) I had no idea what I was doing. I was lost and a bit confused. And fairly concerned the first day or two would get totally screwed up by my lack of ability to figure out how cram the baby onto the boob.
Then, while my parents were visiting, the lactation consultant, Penny, came to see us (and with a mere, “Are you experiencing any nipple soreness?” had my dad ushering my family out of the room). She tested Gabe’s sucking reflexes, and determined that he was a 'vigorous sucker' but dealt with an 'uncoordinated sucking reflex'. (Basically: once he's got latched on, he'd suck like crazy, but so frantically that he didn't latch well.) Upon hearing that I was, indeed, experiencing major soreness, she toyed with the idea of introducing a shield or having me pump, but decided against it. She watched us nurse, had us try some different holds, and told us to aim for 30 minutes. I couldn’t get him to go more than three minutes, and was so, so defeated.
Although things weren’t perfect, Penny was amazing. She empowered us and I trusted her information. Since Gabe wasn’t keen on nursing, she showed me how to hand-express colostrum onto a spoon and feed him with it. She explained that recent studies showed that hand-expression led to my milk coming in more quickly. She showed us the best holds for newborns. She told us how to flip Gabe's bottom lip under to get a wider latch. She gave us a pile of papers filled with information.
We left the hospital 36 hours after Gabriel was born, eager to take him home. I was excited to leave; giddy about putting his impossible tiny hospital t-shirt (“I got my first hug at Lakewood hospital”) on his wee body and buckling him into his car seat. We drove the hour home in the sunshine, listening to lullabies.
Being at home with our new baby was wonderful, but the nursing thing was still so painful and I worried. Without a lactation consultant coming by several times a day, I cried to Mike that we should have stayed longer. That I needed help from Penny. That I worried. About how Gabe's shallow latch would destroy my nipples FOREVER. About whether it was a problem that he never wanted to nurse for more than ten minutes, but was usually done after five. About whether I'd ever be able to wear a shirt again. About why the heck it hurt SO MUCH when everyone told me it was painless unless something was wrong.
I felt lost. It was so much more difficult and less intuitive than I expected. And overwhelming! Not only do I have to recover from a super-intense, painful event; I have to learn how to take care of a teeny tiny baby; I also have to learn how to feed a baby with my freaking body!?
I felt so alone and desperately wanted to call one of my aunts and ask them desperately, “Is it supposed to be this hard?” but worried they’d say, “No” and I’d be incredibly discouraged. I wonder if I'd have survived without the internet. Both Twitter and the Mothering.com forum boards were so helpful. I'd be in tears, frustrated and worried and in pain, and lightly say something about how hard nursing is. The responses usually made me burst into tears because they were so sweet. (Also because of The Hormones. Woah.) I'll always remember when Michelle told me that the first few weeks are challenging. And then Sarah said that the first month or two is hardest. First, why had NO ONE else mentioned this when I was planning to breastfeed? Second, A FEW WEEKS!? Seemed like an eternity. But, telling myself that my boobs would eventually stop making me cry gave me hope.
We went to the lactation consultant at the hospital when Gabe was eight days old (they usually do one home visit after the birth - but we lived too far from hospital to get in on that), and she was, again, wonderful. She affirmed us, she settled all of my worries, and even told me I didn't look like I had just had a baby. Good news, all around. I left that office thinking I'd actually be able to stick with this whole breastfeeding thing. I still worried and I was still sore when Gabe latched on for quite a few weeks (though I stopped crying every time he did so after two weeks), but I was encouraged. This will happen. I will be a nursing mom like I'd always wanted.
Remembering those first few weeks is still painful - how much uncertainty and pain I experienced. I've been nursing Gabe for 36 weeks, and I am amazed by that. Amazed because 36 weeks ago, a 'few weeks' sounded like an absolute eternity.
I had everything going for me, and it was still so challenging. I had a vaginal birth (with no epidural); Gabe was born at 40 weeks; I held him immediately after he was born and attempted nursing within an hour; my husband is ridiculously supportive; and my milk started to come in after two days. I have so much respect for women who deal with greater odds and fight like crazy and do ‘crazy’ things in order to make it work; like Tam, whose baby didn't latch on his own for ELEVEN WEEKS. Or Erin, who pumped full-time for TWINS for 6.5 months. I'm not sure I could have been able to fight that hard, wrestling with supplemental nursing systems and hospital-grade breast pumps.
Eight months later, I actually really, really enjoy nursing. I love the convenience, I love the connection I feel to Gabe, and I love the surge of happy hormones that are released when Gabe is nursing. And: I love that I get 500 extra calories a day with which to stuff my body. Sure, I don’t love the pumping when I work (or waking up 4:20 am in order to have time to pump before work when Gabe was two-months-old). And sometimes it’d be nice to spend the night away from Gabe (or maybe not, I am way attached to the kid). And, yes, I am scared for what my body will look like after nursing. But, mostly? I’m thrilled that it worked out for us.
Despite the fact that nursing is ridiculously convenient, I am a total and complete wimp about nursing Gabe in public. I’ve heard quite a few guys I know make comments about being ‘grossed out’ by the idea of breastfeeding; which, of course, makes me totally self-conscious about even nursing with a nursing cover around others. (I don’t understand my own reasoning, you guys. A nursing cover means there is one MORE layer over my boobs than usual.)
I am surrounded by women who nurse wherever they happen to be – talking to their brother, sitting next to their dad, or in a room of toddlers playing. I love seeing moms nurse in public; I think it’s totally badass and not at all inappropriate or weird. But still, I am a wimp. I’ll nurse around my mom, sisters, little kids, and aunts, but anyone else? No way. I’ve nursed in far more bathrooms than I’m comfortable admitting, which wouldn’t be that gross if there were a chair in the bathroom, but sitting on a toilet while feeding your child? Just seems wrong.
I’ve nursed in public twice (not counting a billion times in my car in parking lots): on campus last weekend and while on hike the weekend before. No one came by either time, but I’m still counting it. Baby steps, right? I still felt pretty awesome.
|Nursing on a hike. :) Brave, right? Except no one was around.|
This weekend we’re going to New York City, and I’m thinking this might be my big debut of actually nursing in public. I mean, I know hardly anyone there. And there are much more interesting things to look at than a mom nursing her baby, right? No one will even notice Wish me luck!