I feel like I finished a marathon and can now reflect on those early months. It was too hard to take a step back and articulate the experience at the time.
Breastfeeding on demand is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I remember reading and hearing about people who couldn’t breastfeed, had a hard time with it and/or quit early in the process. I was naive. I thought they just didn’t do it right, weren’t committed enough, didn’t know enough beforehand, etc. For the record, I don’t care if someone breastfeeds or formula feeds. I am a believer in doing whatever is best for you, your baby and your family. I really wanted to breastfeed and am 100% committed to continue until Thijs weans himself. I feel like that is possible now, but a few weeks ago I was a hot mess and didn’t know if I’d make it six months.
I probably thought about quitting breastfeeding almost everyday the first few months. I thought about reaching out to a lactation consultant. But, I was barely surviving and didn’t have the emotional or physical ability to get say I needed help.
I thought I did everything right. I read books while I was in the hospital on bed rest the days before he was born. I watched latching videos online. We chose to birth at a “baby friendly” hospital. We did skin-to-skin in the operating room while they stitched me back together and again in the recovery room. He latched on but didn’t really suck in the recovery room. A lactation consultant came to our room later and again a couple of days later, and said everything looked fine and gave us a few tips on how to keep him awake to eat.
Then he had low blood sugar and wouldn’t stay awake to eat. I hand expressed colostrum those first few days and fed him with a spoon so that they would stop jabbing him with needles to test his glucose and because I didn’t want to give him formula. My nipples were in so much pain, which I assumed to be normal for the first few weeks because it only hurt when he initially latched, not the whole time. My milk came in the day we left the hospital, which could be considered a fun and awesome experience if you ever wanted to know what bowling balls attached to your chest felt like. I won’t even get into how weird it is to have huge boobs, I’ll save that for another day.
I thought everything was fine, but then he was still jaundiced and not gaining enough weight. So the bi-weekly weight checks started. I had to start pumping when he was 10 days old and give him bottles of 1/2-1 oz of pumped milk after he nursed for 10 minutes on each side. He wanted to keep nursing, but he was using more calories than he was getting. I hated pumping (still do) and having to start so early was difficult. It was also nearly impossible to pump while holding him, since he cried if he wasn’t nursing those first few months. Finally, I was given the green light to stop the pumping and supplementing with bottles. Hallelujah!
My right nipple just barely stopped having a permanent healing and then reappearing blister. Only the right…the left only got one once. I don’t know if his mouth was too little or it was the 24/7 nursing that caused it, I’m just glad it’s gone.
There were days I was resentful and mad that Wifey didn’t want to induce lactation. I felt like I was doing it all by myself and that it wasn’t fair. Now that things are better I think I’d be kind of sad if I had to share the breastfeeding with her. I like that it is something that only I can do and that he gets so excited when I get home and he can nurse, even if he just ate.
When I first went back to work I wasn’t pumping enough milk and he was getting overfed because he is a fussy baby. It was exhausting. I had to nurse from when I got home until I went to bed, pump as soon as he had been asleep for an hour, nurse again all night, and try to squeeze in a pump before we woke up. I tried fenugreek, lactation cookies, sooooo much water, and cutting coffee. Nothing seemed to work. Then, magically when I went to work on Monday I pumped enough. And then the next day and the next!
I wanted to quit so many times. It was so hard emotionally and physically. I felt bad for making assumptions about women who stopped trying breastfeed. It’s seriously so hard. I feel like we climbed a mountain together, Thijs and I, and we are now sitting atop a beautiful mountainside looking at the view, talking and telling funny jokes back and forth.
Now that the blisters and vasospasms are gone, breastfeeding is now a fun, beautiful bonding experience for me (hopefully him too). He is still tiny(5th percentile) but staying on the growth curve. He loves nursing and I love being able to comfort and feed him.
Our journey in photos: