By: Darla Read (Guest Blogger from MsMamaBearRead)
Looking back to my pregnancy, I don’t remember giving a lot of thought to breastfeeding. I had a few friends who breastfed, some who didn’t but, I don’t remember having many conversations about either. However, I do remember this: I was determined to have a natural, unmedicated birth, and that was because I knew the evidence said that it was easier to initiate breastfeeding if such a birth took place. That doesn’t mean women who have an epidural or c-sections can’t have great breastfeeding relationships (obviously – I know many such women who have), but it just increases the likelihood.
I did a lot of reading and preparing for birth and then once I had read all I could, I planned to read and learn about breastfeeding. However, I never got the chance, as my son was born nearly four weeks early. The knowledge I had was from one of our prenatal classes (hats off to my husband, APB, as he was the only male who attended the breastfeeding class – all the other men skipped that one!).
The early days and weeks
As this happened nearly 15 months ago, I’m a bit fuzzy on the details. I remember a lactation consultant came and spoke to me and my husband and wanted us to do 20 minutes of breastfeeding, followed by my husband finger feeding our baby while I pumped for 20 minutes. I think this was because Cub’s blood sugars were low and because he was believed to be premature. He was born at 36 weeks 3 days, yet he was very alert, and he was 7 pounds. To this day, I’ve wondered if my dates were wrong, as he didn’t strike us as a premature baby. Had I had more time to learn about breastfeeding in the early days, specifically about babies and low blood sugars, I may not have agreed to this without any thought, but I didn’t have the knowledge I have now.
I’d add this is the only time I’ve ever pumped. I commend mamas who pump regularly, as I’m not sure I could have done it.
At the beginning of every feed, Cub’s foot would be poked to take blood to test. Then he would nurse. We told the nurse we were concerned about the association of something painful and then breastfeeding and how that might negatively affect the relationship, but it’s how the test is done.
My husband and I agreed that after the finger feeding, we would return Cub to the breast in hopes he would associate being full or satisfied with breastfeeding. Once my milk came in, he nursed like a champ. I recall nursing in the middle of the night while watching a wild thunderstorm.
On the third day, the staff determined Cub’s bilirubin levels were too high. Phototherapy as treatment was suggested or rather just done (nurse came in and strapped the photo blanket to him). A mask was placed over his eyes. We found both of these really interfered with breastfeeding, and since we knew at that point that breastfeeding was very effective at lowering bilirubin, APB and I made the decision to remove both while nursing and if it meant we had to stay in the hospital longer, so be it. We were confident in our decision as parents.
On the fourth day, we were released from the hospital. From what I remember, breastfeeding at home went well. We breastfed on demand/cue and I spent a lot of time topless. I know this from looking back at photos of me where I’m either draped in a receiving blanket or have on a shirt that isn’t breastfeeding-friendly, but it’s because someone came over and I threw something on!
I remember long nights of cluster feeding. I read a lot of books, watched a lot of re-runs of HGTV’s Urban Suburban, and spent nights on our big comfy sectional. In hindsight, we should have upgraded our cable package and I could have also set up better and just nursed in bed, as that’s what we eventually did and still do.
It sounds so easy now, but I remember one night collapsing in a crying mess on the couch, wishing baby would stop nursing. I was and still am lucky to have such a supportive husband who took Cub and snuggled so I could get some sleep. Who knew 3 hours could feel so blissful?
Things were going well (Cub was growing and nursing well and sleep likely a distant memory) until Cub was about six weeks old (or so). At this point, I developed thrush. I recall excruciating pain in my breasts, like being stabbed with hot fire, to the point that I would howl and bawl when he latched. I went to my doctor, who gave antibiotics to Cub and I started using a yeast infection cream.
The thrush seemed to improve in a couple of days, only to get even worse after that. I called the breastfeeding consultants at West Winds in tears. The woman I spoke to asked if she could advocate on my behalf with my doctor, and I was more than happy to let her because I was a mess. We agreed I needed the all purpose nipple ointment, so she asked my doctor if she would get me a prescription. My doctor refused, saying she felt I had a painful latch.
While I may have been a new mom, I knew this was not just a painful latch. Since my doctor wouldn’t help me, I went to the health bus and spoke to a nurse practitioner, who not only wrote me the prescription, but gave me her cell number in case the pharmacy had questions about the compound ointment.
I speak about this matter of factly now, but I was devastated. I was in pain and my doctor wouldn’t listen to me, which made me feel so defeated. Luckily, it was the LC who, after I asked her what I could do, suggested the health bus as a means to get what I needed. It shouldn’t have come to that, but at least I got the help I needed. I switched doctors after this but that’s a post for another time.
I remember I texted my two doulas often while battling thrush. They kept encouraging me, promising me it would get better. One would text lactation educators for additional ideas to get rid of the thrush (that led to washing bedding every. Damn. Day.). The other suggested I be honest and tell people I was struggling. I did: I posted exactly that on my Facebook page. I was touched and overwhelmed by all the support and responses I got from close friends but also friends I hadn’t seen in ages. It helped a lot. Don’t underestimate the power of women helping women.
During all this, Cub was thriving. He became the chubbiest baby in the neighbourhood, if not city/province/country (?), rocking out at the 100% percentile for weight from about 3 and a half months onward.
Instead of partying New Year’s Eve, we had friends over New Year’s Day. I felt crummy, like I was coming down with a cold or something. Tired and achy. I noticed while nursing that my one boob was hot, sore, and had a rock – hard spot. I tried to massage it to the point that I bruised it. I tried hot compresses. I tried hot baths and showers and dangling my boobs in the tub.
By the time I went to the doctor on January 2nd, I felt like I had the flu. Zero energy. She told me I had a mild case of mastitis and I shuddered to think of women who get a severe case. She gave me antibiotics since it was a weekend, saying I could take them or keep doing what I was doing and it would go away in a couple of days. I took them and was cleared up just as she said.
Now for the good stuff
When I started my blog, it was because I wanted to document and remember my parenting journey. I figured if anything I wrote helped someone, that was a bonus.
I share my breastfeeding journey for both these reasons. If I can help one mom who feels lost or overwhelmed, I will feel I’ve done some good.
Sure, I’ve had sleepless nights. All parents do at some point, whether you breastfeed or not. I’ve had shit to deal with while breastfeeding, as you’ve read. But I wouldn’t change any of it.
I love breastfeeding my son. Somewhere along the way, I began to mother through breastfeeding without even realizing it: it didn’t just provide my baby food, but comfort and love, too, whether he was tired, scared, lonely, sad, whatever. I only realized that was how I felt after reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and it talked about that philosophy. I read that book when Cub was 11-months-old. I wished I’d read it sooner, but then again if I had, maybe it wouldn’t have resonated with me the way it did.
So you’ll have tough days, bad days, days where you think you have nothing left to give, physically and emotionally. You might wish for more sleep, but frankly, there’s no guarantee you’d get more anyway, so if you want to breastfeed, breastfeed. These tough moments will pale to the days where you remember the sweet cuddles of your baby falling asleep at your breast or gazing up at you as you nurse them. And when I’m feeling exhausted, I remind myself of the saying I’ve seen floating around social media: you’ll never feel this loved again. It’s likely true. One day he won’t want me to hold him. He won’t want to nurse. And when it comes, we’ll both be ready, but that day isn’t here yet, so I accept and embrace everything that comes with it.
APB says there can be a romanticized version of breastfeeding and says I sometimes fall into that. Maybe, but I think I recognize it can be tough, and that it’s hard work. I think the cliché “nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight” is true here.
I went from not giving much thought to breastfeeding to being an advocate. Or at least I hope I’m one. And I went from apparently telling my doula that I’d breastfeed for a year to knowing we will do full-term breastfeeding and Cub will wean when he’s ready. It would break his heart, and therefore mine, if we did otherwise.
I was told it would get better. It has. It’s not perfect – nothing is – but it’s great. And it’s not over yet…Our breastfeeding journey is to be continued…