On nursing... (problems, pitfalls, and progress)

So, this post is entirely about breastfeeding.*  Consider yourself warned.  If you are disgusted or uninterested, I completely understand, but while I was on maternity leave and learning to nurse, I turned to all sorts of blogs and websites for guidance and encouragement.  Nursing is hard, but it is a good thing.  If my own personal experience could help one other mother, then the effort taken to write this post is worth it.  This is way more information than I typically would share and I am a little uncomfortable doing so, but alas, here it is.
First, I have a ton of friends who recently had babies.  Every single one of us has made an effort to nurse, and each one of us has found it to be initially incredibly difficult.  EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.  Some succeeded and others switched to formula.  All of our babies are beautiful and thriving, I am so thankful to say.

Why is it so hard if it is so "natural"?  In Breastfeeding Made Simple, the authors opine that it is b/c breastfeeding is done behind closed doors in the USA with very few (if any) witnesses, while in other countries, young girls learn how it is done from an early age because breastfeeding in public is not taboo and is commonplace.  I can testify to the fact that, although my mom had my two youngest siblings when I was 11 and 13, I do not remember her nursing (though she did).  My first experience (that I remember) of seeing someone breastfeed was the same year that C was born, while I was visiting a friend of mine who was also a new mother.  It kind of freaked me out, kind of grossed me out, and totally fascinated me all at the same time.  When C was born, and it was my turn to give nursing a whilr, I was completely lost.

My experience with C: When C was born at 7:40 p.m., the lactation consultant had already gone for the day.  Thank goodness my mama (who nursed 4 children, so she's kind of a pro) was there.  I made sure to nurse within the first hour of her birth because I had heard somewhere that my chances of successfully nursing were increased if I nursed within the first couple of hours.  So there I was, holding this tiny precious bundle in my arms and trying to figure out how in the world I was going to feed her with my chest. I felt like someone had given me a ticking bomb and expected me to deactivate it.  With my boobs.  Yeah - I was clueless.  The nurse on duty assured me that I was doing fine as the little Bean slurped away, but it hurt. BAD.  So very very bad.  For the rest of the night, C ate every 2 hours or so (I honestly can't remember), and every time, my nipples hurt worse and worse.  Not only had I been through 15 hours of labor, major surgery, had a huge cut across my abdomen, and now the boobs were cracked, bleeding, and bruised.  HELLO MOTHERHOOD!  Oh yes - there was an infant, too. :)

That first month with C was terrible.  Due to the epidural and the pain meds for the c-section, it took a full week for my milk to come in.  I had read all about "nipple confusion" so I was adamant that we not give her any bottles for that first couple of days.  Poor thing was so dehydrated, her skin was getting wrinkled and papery.  We tried cup feeding, with little success, and we gave in to using some bottles.  When my milk finally came in, I was using a nipple shield to help protect from further scabbing and blisters, and she wouldn't nurse without it.  Then, when I finally weaned her from the nipple shield, we both got thrush and I got a clogged duct.  By 6 weeks, we had finally gotten the hang of it and C had really chunked up.  She still didn't love to nurse, but she loved to eat, if that makes sense.  Unfortunately, when I went back to work, C immediately preferred bottles over nursing, and it got to a point where the only time I could get her to nurse was in the middle of the night.  Once she stopped wanting to nurse even then, I weaned her.  I was not willing to pump and then feed round the clock, so at 6 months, we made the switch to formula.

My experience with V:  Nursing V has been easier, but it was still incredibly hard at first.  She was born in the morning (with lactation consultants there all day), but I didn't get to nurse her until almost 4 hours after she was born.  Her blood sugar was low when she was born, and they kept her FOREVER.  Ugh - I get mad even now just thinking about how long they kept me from my baby.  With V, my milk came in 2-3 days, so that definitely helped with my nursing anxiety.  Also, I did have an idea about what I was supposed to do, although I still got the scabs and blisters initially.  For a few days, one side was so bad, I pumped on that side and fed V on the other.  I guess my girls are hearty munchers!  I tried a nipple shield, but V wouldn't have it.  She also didn't like a pacifier at first, so there were days where the only way she would go to sleep would be nursing.  I distinctly remember texting my sister in law about how I had spent the last 2.5 hours laying on my side, while V slept and nursed.  V was definitely a comfort nurser - She has infant reflux, and I think nursing (at least temporarily) soothed her throat, so she wanted to eat all the time.  In the evening, she would eat every hour.  The Knight would give V one bottle at night, so that I could sit on the couch for an hour, watch TV or talk, and not have a child attached to my chest.  She still likes to nurse a lot now, but thankfully, her feedings stretch to about 3 hours now.  THANK GOODNESS I can have my chest back, at least part of the time.  :)

V liked to nurse so much, I didn't have much of a freezer stash built up when I went back to work.  That is probably my biggest regret with V - I don't have much of a supply in the freezer, so when I'm done nursing, she'll also be done getting breastmilk.  Some of my friends who have an enormous supply have managed to feed their kids for another 3-6 months with frozen milk.  That would be wonderful, but I was not so lucky. 

I really feel like nursing is a journey, with the destination being a healthy, well-fed little kid.  The internet has some great resources, but it can also make you feel pretty insecure.  With C, I was super crazy about making sure she was eating enough, and worried about all those things that the Le Leche site talks about - nipple confusion, milk production, overactive letdown...if it is an issue, I probably was convinced that we were dealing with that or doing it wrong.  I was convinced the formula equaled poison, and no way would I poison my baby.  Once C transitioned to formula, I realized that it wasn't so bad, she was still thriving, and it was kind of awesome that the Knight could feed her too.  I think that him feeding her tremendously helped them bond.

With V, I promised myself that I would not be crazy, and that if nursing didn't work, I would not get all sad about having to use formula.  So far, nursing has worked and is going pretty well, but I am still crazy.  Just about other things. :)

Back to Work:  First off, this website is immensely helpful for all kinds of advice, tips, and tricks: http://www.workandpump.com/
I've been back to work for a month and a half now.  I rented a hospital pump because I read that they were better than the ones you can get in the store.  I don't know if that is true, but it does seem to work well, and is quiet!  A friend of mine gave me her pump, and I replaced all the tubing, and keep that one at home.  It is nice that I don't have to lug home Bessie (yes, I named my pump after a cow), and still have a pump at home in case I don't pump enough during the day or V sleeps through a meal.  Here is my two cents on pumping at work:

1. Lucky Lock:  I asked my firm to put a lock on my door, rather than designating a "lactation room." I understand that is a luxury many don't have, and I am thankful.  It is probably why I am even willing to do it...since it really doesn't interrupt my day that much.  The best part about that is that I can just keep working while pumping. My pump is so quiet, you can't hear it even when I'm on the phone. 

2. Hands-Free: There are alot of hands-free bras out there.  Some are pretty expensive.  Guess what? You don't need them.  If you have four rubberbands, you are set.  Go here for how-to: http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/pumping/hands-free-pumping/.
3. Bottle-watching:  It is easy to get stressed about how much milk you are or are not pumping.  C ate 4 ounces a meal, and V eats more like 5-6.  Most days, with V, I have about 16 oz pumped. With C, I pumped around 12-14 oz.  My body made/is making just enough for each.  While pumping, I prefer to just keep working and not worry about the quantity.  If I watch and worry, I think I pump less.  If you are the curious type, I feed V one last time at 7:30 a.m., I typically pump about 8 oz in the morning (around 10 a.m.), around 5-6 at lunch (1 p.m.), and then around 3-4 (3:30 p.m.) in the afternoon.  I pick the girls up around 5:30/6, and feed V when I get home, and one more time before bed (7-730ish).  She usually eats at 1:30 a.m., then again around 4:30 - 5:30, and then again at 7:30 a.m. and we're off to work again.  I don't use the fancy freezer bags anymore for my daily pumping. I just send the bottles I pumped the day before with V the next day.  Less work, and you don't have the thawing/refrigerating issue that I sometimes worried about when I used the freezer bags.

4. Work productivity:  Although pumping does take time, I don't think the set-up and clean-up is that much of a hindrance to my productivity.  In some ways, pumping makes me more efficient, because I know I have to bill the same number of hours, no matter what, so I focus better.  I figure that the amount of time it takes to set up and clean up 3 times a day is equivalent to 3 coffee breaks or 1.5 smoke breaks.  I keep those pacifier wipes in my desk, and quickly wipe down the plastic horns after each pumping.  I keep a little lunchbag cooler with ice packs in my desk, so there are no long trips to the kitchen for storing or cleaning.  Each night, I take everything home, put the pumped bottles in the fridge for V the next day, wash the horns, wipe out the inside of the lunch bag, refreeze the ice packs, and pack up for the next day. So far, V still loves to nurse, so I'll stick with it as long as she does. :)
Thoughts on diet and exercise: With C, I trained for walking a 1/2 marathon.  I started training when she was 6 weeks, and she was 4 months by the time the 1/2 rolled around.  With V, I started walking at 4 weeks, was walking about an hour every other day by 6 weeks, and stopped exercising when I got back to work (just too busy!).  I have never noticed a drop in my milk production.  In fact, I think it is better when I'm working out.  Maybe because I'm happier and I feel better about myself?  I have other friends who say the opposite.  I don't really think it makes a difference.  I do think cutting your calories affects your milk, so if you are dieting, be careful and maybe talking to a dietician schooled in breastfeeding would be good.  As long as you are eating enought and drinking enough liquid (to satisfy thirst), I think your body knows what to do. 

The best and easiest nursing position: Do you nurse lying down?  If not, I highly recommend it.  Here are two websites that are very helpful in getting the positioning right: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/breastfeeding/rightstart-techniques/best-breastfeeding-positions and http://www.mother-2-mother.com/tut-layingdown.htm.
I think it is the number 1 reason why I didn't feel so sleep deprived with V early on.  Holding a baby, even a tiny one, is hard work on your shoulders and back.  You have to hold their floppy heads, sit just so, and wrangle those scrawny arms and legs all why trying to keep that demanding little snapping turtle focused on the right spot.  When V was first born, I liked to swaddle V, lay her on her side facing me, and lay on my side facing her, with my head on a pillow.  I usually put a pillow behind her to prop her up and a pillow behind me for the same reason.  I can snooze while she eats, and then flip her to the other side and continue.  She's comfy and I'm comfy.  My neck and shoulders don't hurt, plus I can't imagine that my body minds taking a load off every few hours.  Also, having a free hand to stroke her sweet little cheek is kind of nice too.  I don't nurse lying down all the time, but it is my favorite way to nurse. 

In conclusion...If I would give anyone trying to nurse some advice, it would be to trust your body.  It knows what to do, even when we don't. Also, try to find some friends to talk to about it.  If your spouse is supportive, he'll probably talk with you too.  The Knight is way more schooled on all the ins and outs of breastfeeding than I ever thought he would be.  If I was a nursing rockstar, he would be my roadie. :) 

If you are really hating nursing, or it isn't going so well, trust your instincts. My precious sister in law pumped for months because her babies just couldn't get the hang of nursing.  God bless her for her efforts - I simply can't imagine the time and effort that required.  If it hadn't worked out for me, I might have tried that, but also might have switched to forumla right away.  And that would have been okay, too.  If you really think that your baby isn't getting enough (and that is validated by no weight gain/ no dirty diapers) or you hate nursing so much it makes you cry all the time, then try something else.  We all want to give our kids the best possible start, but I don't think that feeding your baby formula is the equivalent of feeding them junk food. It may not be the "perfect food," but it is still pretty good. Most days, we can't be the perfect mom - pretty good is good enough, in my very humble opinion.  Also, no one knows you and your kid(s) like you, so to each her own. 
Okay, so that is my two cents on the whole breastfeeding thing.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to email me at curtsies (at) gmail (dot) com.  If you are offended or grossed out by this post, I apologize, but I did warn you at the beginning, so... your fault. :)

Nipples and neuroses,
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* I am not a medical provider.  I have no medical training, and am not a licensed lactation consultant.  I am writing solely from personal experience, and nothing I say is intended to be used as medical advice.  Just sharing personal anecdotes and anec-don'ts from one mom to another. :)


Sabrina said...

Like so many things that people never tell you after you have a baby, the difficulties of breast feeding is one of them.
I thought it would be so easy & natural. It was a nightmare. It got so bad I just pumped exclusively, until my son was 6.5 months old. It really sucked, but I felt guilty about giving him formula. But then when I started to give him formula I realized that he was doing just fine and that I shouldn't beat myself up. You gave great advice. Thanks for telling the truth! :)

Kelley B said...

My experience was very similar and I was an OB nurse. Thanks for telling your story. I am sure it is helpful to be transparent. What a great mommy!

Becky said...

I was blessed enough to not have a lot of problems with nursing (aside from nipple soreness for the first couple of weeks-oh the ouch!) I contribute my success with nursing to my mother who was an LLL leader. I was raised to know that my body was made to feed my babies that way and it instilled in me the confidence and assurance I needed to have a good nursing relationship with my daughter.

Thank you for sharing your experience beautiful mama!

kcochrane said...

Great post! Ive been an L and D nurse for 6 years, yet I struggled to nurse my oldest for 11 months. The second one has been much easier because I have been WAY more relaxed about it. Keep up the hardwork! (Breastfeeding IS hard work:))

Megan S said...

This is the most helpful post ever! Thank you so much for the advice! I am an attorney in Johnson City, TN (you were in my contract drafting class at UT, but I was a year ahead of you) and expecting my first child June 19th,and I am so stressed about pumping when I go back to work(I am hoping my employer will agree to the lock on the door).

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