Happy World Breastfeeding Week! In honor of this week, I wanted to share our own somewhat tumultuous journey over the past couple of months. It has a very happy ending, so if you’re facing challenges breastfeeding, stick with it. It’s worth it!
Three days after Elizabeth was born, my milk “came in.” Right on cue. But wait, I was in serious pain when she latched (or tried to latch) and things didn’t feel right. I knew she needed to eat, I could tell by her wails, and I needed to get my milk out somehow. I figured I could pump and we could give her bottles until we could see an LC (it was Memorial Day), so I opened up my breast pump and for some reason (ahem… pregnancy hormones… ahem) I was completely overwhelmed. Between all of the fun post-partum stuff happening, plus the pain and lack of sleep… I didn’t have the brain capacity to clean the parts, put them together, and read the damn manual. So I did the next best thing: hand expressed milk into a Pyrex bowl while sitting on the side of our bed and then gave it to Elizabeth with a spoon (it made sense at the time and got the job done!). I was still in a lot of pain, and at one point saw blood-tinged milk come out of my breast. Crying baby, crying mom. YIKES!
This wasn’t exactly the peaceful, angelic picture of breastfeeding I had envisioned. While I was hand expressing like a boss, I couldn’t help but think back to one of my early prenatal visits when my midwife asked me if I planned to breastfeed. The obvious answer, to me, was “Yes! Of course!” She then threw me a curveball and asked, “Do you feel like you have the support you need to breastfeed?” I asked her what she meant by that – support? I was just going to breastfeed, simple as that. I even thought (which now seems ironic), “How hard could it be?”
Anyway, I needed support that morning, and I needed it immediately. I reached out to a local La Leche League Leader and she helped me wrap my head around what to do next, including how to get through the next couple of days until we could see a lactation consultant. She was a lifesaver and talked me off a ledge that morning but I got really sad thinking that maybe there was something wrong with me, that I couldn’t provide for my daughter, and felt like I was headings towards failure – my goal had been to breastfeed for a year and here I was, a few days in, and having doubts.
To cut to the chase, it turned out I had a nipple infection (yes, OUCH!) because Elizabeth had a posterior tongue-tie and was basically using her gums to breastfeed. It prevented her from latching properly (read: chomp chomp!) and was a relatively easy fix once our LC figured out what was going on. We saw a specialist, Dr. Dahl in New York City, who was great – she clipped the tie for us in mere seconds and had me feed Elizabeth right in her office, moments after the procedure. It took us longer to get off the FDR and across town than it did for us to have the entire office visit. It felt immediately better, and it was there that I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It took about six (long) weeks, multiple sessions with the LC, and lots of time dedicated to nursing until we hit our stride. I’ve nursed her everywhere – from restaurants to the car to airplanes – and every way – standing, in the baby carrier, lying down, sitting. It’s pretty cool now! But back to that “support” my midwife asked me about… having the support of the LLL, lactation consultant, and midwives was indispensable but what really meant the most to me was having support from my husband. Not once did he tell me to give up, suggest we switch to formula, or say he didn’t think we could get through it. Instead, he was right next to me as I spoke to the LLL leader, sat for hours in our lactation consultant appointments remembering everything the LC said so that I didn’t have to, drove the family down to Dr. Dahl’s office in NYC, reminded me to treat the infection in my breasts, cooked for me, brought me glass after glass of water, made sure I was taking care of myself so I could take care of the baby, and held my hand when I cried out of frustration, pain, hormonal mood swings, and finally out of pure joy once things started to get better.
But, most importantly, he frequently reminds me how cool it is that my body, quite literally, keeps our baby alive and he thanks me for feeding her. In those “thank yous” I know he means much more – thank you for being dedicated to feeding our daughter, for the time you spend nursing, for the time you will spend pumping back at work, and on and on. I never thought he would be anything BUT supportive, but just hearing him say it out loud makes me feel great.
To all the pregnant mamas planning to breastfeed – my best advice is this: have a support system in place before you give birth – talk to your doctor, your pediatrician, go to La Leche League meetings, watch women breastfeed in real life, and learn how to use your breast pump, you know, just in case you need it right away.
Cheers to all you mamas out there who breastfed/feed your babies, and cheers to all the support people who help along the way. It’s a labor of love but hey, I hear that’s what parenting is all about anyway!