Friday 21 June 2019

Breastfeeding: a journey through love & hate

*Disclaimer: A fed baby is a happy baby. Unless you're feeding your baby protein powder mixed with gatorade, there is no judgement here and all opinions stated are my own, and how I feel about my own journey. There is a plethora of reasons why people choose to feed their baby the way they do, and unless it's how they're feeding your baby,  it is no one's place to judge. Motherhood is hard enough with unneeded judgement. Moving along.

It's taken me 3 months to gather this blog post; I wish I had found a post like this when I was in the thick of learning breastfeeding, it would've given me a bit more hope that the light was at the end of the tunnel. Let’s get this clear out of the gate: breastfeeding is really really hard. Anyone who tells you it isn’t, is lying. It’s hard for a litany of reasons: under supply, over supply, bum nipples, sore nipples, cracked nipples, shallow latch, baby won’t latch, forceful letdown - there’s no cookie cutter reason for why it’s hard, it’s a “choose your own adventure” type thing. Point is, it’s hard for the first little bit - anywhere from 2-8 weeks, maybe even more. But no one tells you that and even if they do, you don’t “know” what it means until it’s YOUR version of hard. For me? Forceful letdown witha burning sensation and continuous excruciating cracked nipple pain, chronic clogged ducts, a bout of mastitis, plus a little boy who tended to gum as he fed, would look around whilst keeping my nipple in his mouth, all the while fiddle fucking around to make the sessions last even longer. LOVELY. 

Breastfeeding was important to me, I knew it was the best choice for Myles, it would ensure he got a healthy dose of my antibodies, and let’s face it - it was the best way for us to bond in those first few months & it's the least expensive route. It was important to me, but I entered it completely naively. We didn’t take any classes prior to Myles’s birth, because in my opinion, there’s only so much you can learn about feeding your baby before your baby is actually here. I now feel like this was a really dumb idea, but hindsight is 20/20. Thankfully I had been warned that the first few weeks were going to be painful for your nipples, but much like childbirth you don’t know what “painful” means until you’re experiencing it yourself. I figured that this would be something we would just kinda stumble through the first few days or weeks together, but apart from some nipple soreness that this would be smooth sailing - it’s “natural” after all, it had to come easy right? I assumed I would have the 2 week sore nipple, smooth sailing type of journey. I did not, I have not. I can only safely now say at 14 weeks, that it is more often than not, pain-free. 

Our journey of stumbling began the first hours he was born - he actively refused to latch, and I stressed that he was going to start starving soon; thankfully newborns are born with a full belly, but that mama guilt gets hardwired in around the same time I birthed the placenta, it would appear. I met with lactation specialists in the hospital and every nurse gave me their own version of advice, and it got to the point where the feeding sessions were “okay” at best; he was still within the range of weight he needed to be, so something was clearly working ish. When we were discharged I was overcome with anxiety about how I was going to manage this in real life; to the point where I had Jake cancel all of the planned visits that week, save for our parents. He was still not quite getting the latch down, and I couldn’t find a position that was comfortable or worked for us. I didn't want or need the added anxiety of people visiting while I was trying to just feed my baby properly. 

My milk came in on Tuesday evening, 2.5 days after he was born. Engorged, sore breasts that were rock hard and made me feel nauseous. I didn’t even realize my milk had come in - I thought Myles was peeing on me until I realized it was my milk leaking onto my belly. Within 3 days I had cracked, painful nipples & a clogged duct which I had to feed it out, massage and pray it away. Thankfully 36 hours later it was on its way out and hadn’t gone into mastitis. By week 3 I had ductal thrush and by week 4, I had another clogged duct from Myles sleeping on my right boob and pinching a duct. Week 5 brought an intense crack on the side of my left nipple that hurt so badly, when Myles would latch on I felt like I had to throw up or bite down on a peice of leather. There were many times I told Jake I was done, I was either switching to formula or exclusive bottle feeding, that having this kind of pain numerous times a day wasn't good for my mental health. I finally bought a breast pump, and fed him via bottles every time I had to feed on the left side in order to let this horrible crack start to heal. For two days, I had amazing relief - then with the pumping brought on more supply (obviously), which brought on another clogged duct since my breast wasn't getting drained properly - which meant I had to feed more on the side with the horrible crack. When one nipple healed, the other would decide to get a crack. For 10 weeks I had no idea what it felt like to feed without at least a few minutes of agony, or without nipple pain. I’d say at least every 2 days I was considering throwing in the towel, and quite a few times I dramatically announced to Jake that I fucking hated breastfeeding and I was so done. Between him reminding me that i would regret giving it up, and my own stubborness, I relented and continued on. There’s nothing wrong with formula, I just really wanted to give it every possible shot before I went that avenue, and I hadn’t yet. The fact that I had enough milk to sustain him also made me feel guilty for even considering formula; it felt like taking the easy way out when I had no problem feeding him myself. Not to mention the convenience of whipping a boob out vs. heating up a bottle - when this little guy decides he's hungry, he's hungry now, and waiting 10 minutes for a bottle to warm up would hand me a screaming baby in no time. Not only that, but our Bubba has quite the sensitive tummy, and I could just imagine the nightmare that finding a formula that worked for us would've been. Breastfeeding had to work. 

A particular low moment came for the first time around 3am at 3.5 weeks, feeding Myles and gritting my teeth & doing labor breathing through the pain of cracked nipples & thrush, I was overcome with a heavy resentment I didn’t expect to feel. Resentment towards Jake and his useless nipples that couldn’t just take a turn, resentment that my sleep got interrupted only to be in agony, resentment towards my nipples for being so god damn sensitive and not toughening up faster and worst of all, resentment towards my baby for not having this down to a science yet, for not just getting in and getting out, so to speak; resentment at him for being hungry. When was the supposed “beautiful bonding experience” going to kick in? Because right now I just want him to finish so I can have a break for at least an hour. I started to hate nights and dread them, because those were the loneliest moments of pain, and I started dreaming of the days when at least one of those feedings would get dropped. I even dreamt about the days I was done breastfeeding altogether and he was eating solid foods; ahh sweet freedom that will be. This resentment made me feel horrible, like a horrible person and a terrible mother. I told Jake that if this wasn't better by 12 weeks, we were done.  

The first few weeks he got better every day, but there were times he would just be so overstimulated that he just wouldn’t latch properly & either milk would go everywhere or he would take on a really shallow latch and it would be agonizing on my nipples. In those moments I had to remind myself : these moments are fleeting, they will pass, this is what’s best for him. This will get easier, we just had to tough it out. Because after those resentful moments, once he was on and going and I could hear those gulps accompanied by his satisfied coos, I would look down at his squishy, sleepy face and be so proud of these formerly itty bitty breasts who had risen to the task of providing him life. Who made milk like crazy, and who nourished him to gain weight like crazy to the point where he was doubling, tripling the expected weight gain when we would go in for checkups. 

I tried earth mama nipple cream, Jack Newman's Ointment (prescribed), coconut oil with lavendar, just airing them out (which resulted in me nearly drowning in my own milk as I slept), rubbing breast milk on them, and you know what finally, finally caused me relief? Lanolin. LANOLIN. The stuff that smells like it would grease your tire bolts, that your mother, grandmother and great-grandmother used. The stuff I avoided like the plague because ONE pinterest bitch told her followers it "created mastitis". I put that shit on, and all of a sudden it doesn't hurt as much the first day. And then the next day it hurt even less, and so on and so forth. After a week, of not worrying that it was time for him to feed on "that" side, of not worrying that he was due to feed soon, of not actively dreading it - it was finally better. We had finally gotten to the point where I was enjoying this? Actually enjoying it. Looking down at his sweet face as he gulped and made the most adorable, satisfied noises - kid is such a noisy eater. We had finally reached this point everyone told me about - they weren't just blowing smoke up my ass! I was no longer counting down the minutes, days and weeks until I could retire the old boobies. Myles wakes up from a nap and is hungry - okay here you go babe. Growth spurt? No worries, you eat however much you need to grow big & strong. 

This motherhood business has felt like one big, long game of tetris - finding out which pieces "fit" for our baby, which routine works and what doesn't. Breastfeeding has been our biggest hurdle, and no longer having it be the bain of my existence feels like such a relief. So here we are, 14 weeks deep & I’m no longer counting down the days until I can retire my boobies - and as I post this, I’m nursing through yet another clogged duct (6th one in 3 months, but who’s counting). I no longer have to slather myself in nipple cream hoping to create enough of a barrier for it to not be excruciating, just sore. In fact I haven’t used nipple cream in weeks. Breastfeeding was by far, the hardest hurdle to overcome on this whole motherhood journey, and yet I know I will be so sad when it’s done. If I can be of any advice to future mamas stumbling across this post at 3am feeling the same resentment I was it would be this: give it your all. Try absolutely everything you can, and just get through it. It isn’t for everybody, but it does get better. I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass. I promise, you & those nipples will make it, mama. Keep up the good fight.