I haven’t written much about our breastfeeding journey but now after three months of exclusive breastfeeding, I think it’s about time.
Let me start by saying this – breastfeeding is tough, yo.
When I was pregnant, and for long before that, I knew that breastfeeding would be extremely important to me and that I would want to do all that I could to ensure that baby and I were successful at it. I was fairly knowledgeable in the ‘workings’ of breastfeeding and understood that it wasn’t necessarily something that would just come naturally and easy for baby and I.
But still, despite that knowledge, it was difficult in the beginning.
Thankfully, what saved me, was the extensive support from those around me. I had my midwives, my husband, my mother, and my mother-in-law all on my team.
Without that support, I can’t say that I would or wouldn’t still be breastfeeding, but I can say that the beginning stages would have been much more difficult.
For the first two weeks or so, I couldn’t breastfeed on my own. I needed a second pair of hands to hold Evalyn’s arms down. Let me tell you, for the first few weeks of her life, my modesty went out the window. Eva is, and always has been, a hand sucker, and so it took a while to help her learn that she needed to keep those wild things out of the way in order to get the good stuff. Once I was on my own, I often had to swaddle her to nurse so that I was able to manage holding her in the proper position, getting the latch correct and nursing her without worrying about her flailing arms.
We also had difficulty with nursing on my left side for the first while. From what I can assume, the letdown on my left side is very quick. Much quicker than the right side. When my milk had just come in and was in abundance and not yet regulated, I think this fast letdown was very overwhelming for my babe. She couldn’t keep up. Because of that, she would pop off multiple times per feed. She needed to come up for air. As a result, my left side was being worked 10x as much as the right side, and this took a toll on me. I had a fairly large crack that was bleeding and quite sore. When she was just a few days old, she spat up a huge pile of blood everywhere and this scared me. Every time I nursed her on that side, she would pull my nipple in that direction and break open the sore once again. I was pretty sure it would never heal.
It got to the point where I absolutely dreaded feeding her on my left side. It would take me a good amount of time to work up the courage to put her on that side and when I did, I often spent the entire feed with tears in my eyes. Thankfully, for the first few weeks, I always had someone there with me to help. Many feedings involved my Dude sitting beside me, rubbing my back, helping me get through it. Eventually, he helped me sort out some positions for nursing that allowed her to be latched on at a different angle, so the sore wasn’t being rebroken with each feed. After 11 days of nursing using football hold and/or laying down when she was on the left side, the crack was healed. And then, we started to re-learn how to nurse on that side using a cradle hold.
There were days when she literally wanted to nurse every 45 minutes to an hour. And those days were long. And exhausting. There were times when the Dude would take her so I could go to bed, only to bring her to me 15 minutes later, saying she was hungry again. And I would say “No. I don’t want to feed her yet”. But I did. With him laying beside me. And really, my difficulties were nothing in comparison to what some women face.
And each week it got easier and easier. I kept reminding myself of one important piece of advice that was given to us in our prenatal class … “Most breastfeeding issues resolve themselves within the first 6-8 weeks”.
Eventually, my milk started to regulate itself so my baby wasn’t being attacked with a pressure hose every time she latched on. She started to figure out that she would get her food a lot more quickly and easily if she kept her arms down. I started to learn how to position her properly so that the latch would not hurt. And together, we learned how to complete a feed within 10-15 minutes rather than 45-60 minutes.
And we used a lot of nipple ointment and breast pads along the way.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the people who were supporting me never said, “It looks like that really hurts. Why don’t you just quit?”
If they had said that, I don’t necessarily think I would have thrown in the towel, but what I’m trying to say is that having that level of support and encouragement made it easier to push through.
After my Mom left, she would call or e-mail almost everyday to see how nursing was going that day. My MIL told me stories of her breastfeeding days and somehow, that helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. My friend, a L&D nurse, came when she was four days old and helped me with our latch. The Dude often sat with me while I pumped and/or fed and his being there made all the difference in the world.
And now, three months in, Eva and I make a great team. Nursing is easy, natural, and fulfilling. I love those moments together.
If you are a new mama, or a mama-to-be and breastfeeding is important to you, my hope is that you have a strong support system around you. And if you don’t, and you feel like you need it, shoot me an e-mail. Of course, I won’t necessarily be able to be beside as you as you go through the motions of figuring it all out – but I can try to give you the support that was given to me.