This is a long one, so if you’re not interested in breastfeeding, this one probably isn’t for you! Also, I’d like to be clear that while I am a total breastfeeding advocate and feel really fortunate that it worked out for us, this isn’t a Breast is Best post looking down on anyone who formula feeds for whatever reason. It’s just my experience with it. Ok? Ok.
Welcome to my breastfeeding journey…
I read a lot about breastfeeding while I was pregnant (The La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is fantastic). I knew it was something I wanted to experience, and the list of benefits was very enticing. All the health and developmental benefits for Owen, how cost-effective it is (free!), the convenience of being able to feed anywhere, the special bond I would experience with my baby, and even weight loss for me. I was excited to experience something generations of women throughout time had experienced.
I also had no clue how to do it.
Our hospital offered a breastfeeding class, but I decided not to take it because it really seemed like it was a skill to be learned hands-on. I figured doing my own reading would leave me just as prepared as the class would, plus save me the $55 class fee! So I read up, bought some nursing bras, and hoped for the best.
Within minutes of being born, Owen was at my breast. It took a couple tries to get him on there, but with the help of my nurse he latched on and began to suck away. It was nothing like I expected it to be. It didn’t hurt, exactly, but it felt…odd. And natural, at the same time. Over our two-day hospital stay, we worked a lot on breastfeeding, he and I. But by our second morning there, I had developed a blister on each nipple and I knew from my reading that he wasn’t latched on correctly. I requested to meet with the hospital’s Lactation Consultant, but I asked at a shift change and I think my request got lost.
I kept at it, offering my breast whenever he seemed to want it and he would suck away, getting as much colostrum as he could. In the middle of the night between day three and four, my milk came in. Before I knew it, my chest was huge — fully engorged and hard as a rock. And this is where it got difficult. While Owen struggled between trying to get my milk to let down from the boulders, I struggled to learn how to guide him to the proper latch, to hold him comfortably, to know when he had enough.
On top of that, while my right breast seemed to get the message, my left was rebelling. The left side HURT. I had an aching, shooting pain throughout it and I would wince each time he latched over the not-yet-healed blisters. After every feeding I would let them air dry, then cover them with Lansinoh hoping for some relief. I also used round gel soothing pads that could be chilled in the fridge. Oh, how I loved those. (Actually, come to think of it, I think they’re still in the fridge. Right by the eggs.)
It took three weeks for the pain to subside. During that time I leaked like a faucet, waking up in drenched t-shirts and puddled sheets. Once, trying to guide him to my breast by the light of a night light in the early morning hours, I watched a stream of milk shoot across my bedroom and hit the wall. Hit.The.Wall. That’s some powerful stuff, right there. I also experienced a melt down when he had trouble gaining weight between two of his early check ups. It was recommended that I start pumping after a feeding so I would have more to offer him. I felt like a failure. I wasn’t providing enough for my baby.
In the end, I discovered that when he fell off the breast all milk-drunk after eating, instead of accepting that he was done, I had to rouse him and offer him the other breast. Most of the time, he gobbled it right up. Huh, what do you know. After that discovery, he became a weight-gaining champ. A learning process, for sure.
It was during those first three weeks — those three weeks where I was also experiencing intense baby blues and sleep deprivation — that I understood why women give up breastfeeding. Maybe some are lucky enough with their first baby to have them pop right on and nurse happily ever after, but Owen and I had a lot of learning to do together.
After those first few weeks, we started to get in sync. We got it. It became easier. I had worried while pregnant that I wouldn’t be able to tell when he was hungry or how I would know when he was done, but in the end, I did. I began to understand what all the fuss was about. Breastfeeding is awesome! Before I knew it, I was hooked. A total junkie. A card-holding, flag-waving, ribbon-wearing breastfeeding advocate.
I have a lot of respect for the breast. It represents so much — sexuality, power, lust, happiness, sadness, sickness, survival, life. I became obsessed and fascinated by my own body — the ability to provide exactly what my child needed, when he needed it. No questions asked.
The first time I fed him in public was at the bank. He was only a few weeks old and we had some business to attend to that would take a little while. Since they eat all the time when they’re that small, I knew I would have no choice but to do it. I was terrified. The a/c was cranking in there, but I started to sweat when I realized it was time.
I set up in an empty cubicle, draped a blanket over us, and tried to discreetly guide him to his snack. It took some gymnastics, but we got it. I’m sure it’s on a surveillance tape somewhere! But that baby step gave me confidence to keep going with feeding him on the go.
I’ve fed him everywhere. The bank, restaurants, countless parking lots sitting in the car, in the back seat of the car in the middle of an hours-long stand-still traffic jam on the Mass Pike. At a wedding, on friend’s couches, on a rooftop decking overlooking the ocean, at a handful of Starbucks, on a lawn chair in the garden department of Lowe’s. I’ve gone from using a blanket, to using nothing at all; now skilled at popping him on and off without giving anyone a free show. (Of course now, he’s at the stage where he’s distracted by everything and is known to whip his head around without warning!) I also no longer care if anyone sees anything. It’s not like I’m waving my bare breast around. I’m doing the most natural thing my body can do — feed my child.
Have I received dirty looks? You bet. And surprisingly, mostly from women around my age. But I disregard them, because hey, the baby needs to eat. Deal with it.
After a few months of regular nursing, my breasts regulated and the engorgement went down. I no longer experience a dull ache when it’s time to feed him, nor do I leak very often. (Mostly only when he sleeps longer than usual and they have to adjust to a different routine.) He’s fairly routine with his feedings, and I know when he’s going to need to eat before he gets fussy.
An additional positive to the nursing has been the weight loss. It was slow and steady, but today I weigh eight pounds less than when I became pregnant, putting me at an all-time low. A negative was a period of time where I experienced multiple episodes of clogged milk ducts, leaving me in awful pain. I spent many hours applying warm compresses, expressing milk and dislodging clogs. I can now recognize the feeling of one possibly coming on, and take a Lecithin supplement to ward it off. (It’s a vitamin used to promote a healthy heart, but it also works to keep your milk viscus and flowing easily.) I was lucky to never experience Mastitis — an infection of the breast.
I love, love, love breastfeeding. I love the time we spend together, just me and him. He’s more efficient now — not taking long to eat except for a couple solid feedings a day, but that’s ok. When he looks up at me, pats my face, or pauses to pull off, laugh and smile, my world is lit up like a Christmas tree. I hope that we can continue to nurse for a full year. He may have other ideas and wean before then, but I’d like to make it that far.
It’s been such a journey and I feel like I’ve joined the ranks. Earned my badge. And I love to talk about it. Clearly. I also like to help when I can. I had great family and friends who offered help and advice during those early days and while I try not to offer advice unsolicited, I’m always happy to answer a question if I can and be like the women who helped me.
So that’s my story. And I look forward to adding more chapters to my personal nursing story with our future children. Because breastfeeding?
Do you have a breastfeeding journey to share? I’d love to hear about it.