I decided to breastfeed for many reasons, but the two biggest reasons are the health of my child and the money I would save doing it. I am sure that seeing pictures of my mom breastfeeding me as a baby highly influenced my decision, and my husband was very supportive, as well. In preparation for my new role as a breastfeeding mother, I did a lot of research on the internet, bought numerous books on the subject, and read as many message boards as I could get my eyes on! Still, I was not as prepared as I would have liked to be – reading about breastfeeding is quite different from doing it!
I had prepared for a natural childbirth, and unfortunately had to be induced with cervidil and pitocin. The labor was hard, but I was able to get through it without pain medication. My son was born with his cord wrapped tightly around his neck and body – four times! Since he was so blue, the nurses gave him oxygen before laying him in my arms. After his color returned, the nurses helped latch him onto my breast and he suckled voraciously.
Jack loved breastfeeding from the start. On the second night of his life, he nursed for three hours straight, and cried if I unlatched him. After those three hours, I finally got up to use the bathroom and Jack started to cry again. Our nurse came in and took charge – she convinced us that she should take the baby out of the room and use a pacifier or a bottle of formula to calm him down. I argued initially and then, worn down, agreed. As she left the room with my baby, I bawled and then curled up to sleep. I awoke a few hours later when the nurse returned with Jack, who was asleep after crying and receiving a half-ounce of formula, so that she could “tend” to another baby. I have rarely felt such bitterness toward another person before. Tucking my son into bed beside me, sore from labor, I felt betrayed by a woman who had convinced me that my son needed something other than me. I can’t express how much I regret that night. I was determined not to repeat that mistake in the future.
We did not see a lactation consultant until the afternoon of the second day in the hospital. By then, my nipples were ravaged. My lactation consultant told me I had flat nipples, making it difficult for my son to get a deep enough latch. We did the best we could, and used a nipple shield when I could not establish a good latch.
It took three days for my milk to come in fully. By that time, I was struggling with thrush (due to antibiotics during labor), engorgement, and raw, bleeding nipples. I hated breastfeeding, and my son seemingly nursed non-stop. I cried every time he latched on. The books all told me that an average nursing session lasted 30-45 minutes, but my son would nurse for hours. I cursed the books and doggedly kept going (I’m nothing if not stubborn).
When Jack was 10 days old, we visited a breastfeeding support group. It changed my life. I know that sounds dramatic, but hearing the stories from other mothers, especially those women who were going through the same things or even experiencing much worse problems, changed my perspective completely. We weighed my son and I learned that he had gained two pounds since leaving the hospital 10 days before! I felt proud that even though we were experiencing trouble, my son was thriving on my milk. It gave me the motivation to keep going.
Armed with the support of the group that met weekly, and remedies for thrush and raw nipples, I kept nursing. It took months to rid myself of thrush (the only thing that worked for me was a combination of acidophilus supplements, a vinegar wash, and disposable nursing pads to keep my nipples dry). I made sure to focus on proper latching techniques, and I memorized everything on kellymom.com. When my son continued to nurse frequently and began having runny green stools, I sought out the ivillage lactation consultant message board, where I discovered rather quickly that I had an oversupply of milk. On the advice of the women there, I started block feeding. Not only did my son’s digestion improve, but he stayed satisfied longer.
I returned to work when Jack was 6 weeks old. By this time, we had turned a corner and breastfeeding was going much more smoothly. At work I pumped three times per day. My abundant milk supply has made pumping easy but because the breastpump is not as efficient as a nursing baby, I have had more than my fair share of plugged ducts and mastitis. These things just seem to come with the territory of oversupply, unfortunately.
When Jack was 4 months old, my milk finally started to regulate. Between a lower (but still plentiful) supply, a slower letdown, and the developmental milestones Jack was experiencing, a nursing strike began. Jack refused to nurse much of the day, so I resorted to moving to a quiet, dark room to nurse while standing, swaying, and shhhhing him. Luckily he still nursed at night, so I was able to keep him hydrated, but it was weeks before my determination won out and Jack adjusted to the change in my milk supply.
By the time Jack was 5 months old, I had stored 150 ounces of milk stashed in my freezer – extra I had pumped at work or while Jack was striking. I donated nearly all of it to a new mom in my community who was experiencing low supply. I continued to donate fresh milk to her and her baby on a weekly basis for 7 months. Between local moms donating, the small amount of milk she produced, and milk from the milk bank, this mom has been able to keep her child on breastmilk without supplementing with formula. Her son has thrived, and I feel proud that I have helped contribute to his health!
Jack is turning one year old in a week, and he weighs 25 pounds, which means he wears 24m clothing! He has taken slowly to solids, and milk is still the primary source of his nutrition. He is wonderfully healthy, and the happiest baby I’ve ever met. He now wiggles and pinches and stands while nursing. It is one more challenge to overcome in our nursing relationship – a relationship that I expect will continue until Jack decides he is ready to cut the ties to his babyhood. When he does stop nursing, I can honestly say I will miss it!
Disclaimer: Most nursing mothers do not experience all of the issues that I have while breastfeeding. Do not let my story scare you off – I am not the norm!