In honor of world breastfeeding week, I thought I'd share a little bit about my adventures in nursing. Growing up, nursing was foreign to me. There were no older siblings to watch, my mom nursed my brother only a few weeks and in the 80's breastfeeding just wasn't that popular. Thankfully, I married into a family that promotes breastfeeding and I felt comfortable and supported as I prepared to nurse my first baby. Sigh. If only it were that easy. You see, I'm one of those people who thinks they know everything about everything. Because I do. No really, it's true! Hahaha. While pregnant for the first time, I read everything I could find about birth and nursing and knew when the time came I'd pass the test with flying colors. Then came the swift kick to the behind called "you're a new mom" and I realized I knew nothing. All of the reading and studying helped me feel calmed and prepared, but that was where it ended.
Adalyn (First Try)
After an exhausting, but natural birth (a story for later) Adalyn latched on easily but I only nursed her for a little while before heading home from the birth center. Eight hours later we both woke up and I offered her the breast and she refused. At the time I wasn't worried about it, knowing that it takes a while before a newborn to get hungry. At my home visit that day the nurse couldn't get her to latch either. She cried and turned away. So we tried a nipple shield. She still wouldn't latch. At 24 hours my milk was in and I was completely engorged and in a ton of pain. Goodbye dreams of ever having a boob job! I was told to pump and use an SNS (supplemental nursing system) in which the milk was put in a syringe and pumped through a small tube into the nipple shield. So. Freaking. Exhausting. This was every two hours. On day five, the SNS broke. It was 2am. I called the birth center, completely freaking out and my oh so wise midwife told me I didn't need it. And she was right. Adalyn nursed with only the nipple shield. At this point Adalyn started to become very fussy, mostly at the breast. There was lots of crying (not just from her), begging and praying that is would get easier. She was also awake most of the night crying. When I went in for my two week postpartum visit my midwife told me I could either begin an anti-depressant or start getting more sleep. I started pumping in the evening so that my MIL could watch her from 7-11 and I could get a few hours of sleep. This helped me a lot, but Adalyn was still miserable. One day I noticed her poop was green and frothy. Google to the rescue. Hind milk, fore milk imbalance! Oversupply! Overactive letdown! All of the answers were right there. Pumping had sent my supply into overdrive. Next we tried to fix the problem. Block feeding, no pumping, B6, birth control pills, sage tea, cabbage leaves. You name, we tried it. Nothing worked. I was terrified of pumping at this point, thinking I would make the problem worse. I didn't realize that the fore milk has A TON of lactose and that was making her really, really sick and uncomfortable. The lactose overload eventually damaged her intestines enough to cause a dairy intolerance which was hell to deal with. We weaned from the nipple shield at six weeks. The engorgement didn't fade until she was about 9 months and eating solids regularly. I was then that nursing became some what pleasant although Adalyn never really enjoyed it. She never once fell asleep at the breast. It was something she was forced to do (she would never take a bottle). When she weaned at 16 months it was bittersweet. I felt relieved, but guilty that it didn't go better.
Ethan, four weeks
When Ethan came along he latched and nursed perfectly. My milk came in and the crying began. All day. All night. I waited about six weeks and worked closely with a lactation consultant to try and get my supply down. Once again, nothing worked. I decided I wanted a happy, healthy baby more that I wanted to nurse. That night I went to Target and bought a set of bottles. I pumped once in the morning and once at night (both sides) and never offered the breast. Because the milk was mixed in the bottle, the hind milk/ fore milk imbalance was no longer an issue. Twelve hours later I had the sweetest baby ever. It was such a miracle. Over the next few months, I would pump and then let him nurse to make sure he would still latch on. At about four months, I could tell he had no interest in nursing and it became a struggle to get him to latch on. For most moms, it wouldn't have been a big deal but I wanted SO badly to nurse my sweet boy. I hated washing bottles and pumping equipment. So, I threw it all away. Every single bottle. We were going to make it work. Before he nursed I would trigger a letdown and then express an ounce or two into a cloth before letting him nurse. This worked pretty well and he remained healthy and happy. He weaned at 16 months but still nursed once every other day or so until he was about 22 months.
Simon, six weeks
Simon nursed amazingly well from the beginning. Once again, my milk came in full force at 24 hours and the engorgement was here to stay. It wasn't until day three that I started to experience a lot of pain when he would latch on. My right nipple ended up with a horrible crack which took about two weeks to heal. For those two weeks, I would nurse on the left and pump on the right. At four weeks postpartum I tried a seven day course of birth control pills to lower my supply. They worked well, but we all know what happens when you stop taking the "active" pills. You start your period. Well, my uterus wasn't completely healed and that resulted in a pretty severe hemorrhage and me in the ER. Don't try this. I knew from nursing Ethan that sugar increased my supply but didn't realize how dramatically until this time around. At six weeks, I began counting calories while avoiding sugar and highly refined carbohydrates. And what do you know... perfect supply. I could nurse on one side for only ONE feeding. Not 12 feedings! Just one! I still have to pump first thing in the morning but that's it. If I eat sugar I pump 12 oz in the am. When I avoid sugar I pump 4 oz. That's a big difference! Nursing Simon has been heaven. It's everything I've dreamed of. It is romantic, beautiful and relaxing. I feel so blessed to be able to nourish him and keep him content.
It would have been easy to give up; I'm so thankful I stuck it out and figured out what worked for me. Lessons learned: Nursing takes hard work and determination. If you want to nurse your baby, you can*! It DOES get easier! With that being said, be easy on yourself. Nursing is a sacrifice. Only you will know what's best for you and your baby. And now I'm off to cuddle my sweet boy :) Happy nursing!
*I realize that there are some situations in which nursing is not the best choice. Deciding how to nourish your baby is personal decision. This is only what worked for me. The most important thing is that it's a mutually beneficial relationship. If you or your baby are not happy, please consult your doctor or a certified lactation consultant for help.