When I was pregnant with Meghan I read books and pamphlets on breastfeeding, but what helped me the most was real stories from friends and family. I want to share my story as an attempt to help other moms, which is what this blog is all about.
My decision to breastfeed was an easy one. I have no judgement on moms who decide to formula feed, I think it’s a personal decision, but I never considered it. I couldn’t think of a good reason not to breastfeed. I was going to be staying home with Meghan, and it seemed like the most natural thing to do. My body was made to provide the best possible nourishment for my child, why would I not want to give her that gift? Again, I don’t want to be preachy and the point of this post is not to persuade anyone to breastfeed; I simply think my feelings about breastfeeding are relevant to my story. For me, it was never a question of whether I would or would not breastfeed. I knew, if I was able, I would.
Immediately after Meghan was born she was placed on my chest and I was in awe. You could call it love at first sight, but I loved her before I saw her. Being able to see her and hold her only solidified the connection that was formed while she was in my womb, an active baby before she even entered the world. I know not every mom feels this type of love right away, but I did. It was overwhelming.
She was washed and weighed and within thirty minutes put to my breast. She latched right away and without any issues. She had no problems getting my colostrum and nursed easily, although I don’t remember how long that first nursing session lasted. We were lucky to have such a smooth beginning to our nursing relationship.
Meghan was born on a Sunday night, and we stayed in the hospital until Tuesday morning. Although she needed to woken up to nurse most of the time, she continued to feed well during our hospital stay. The nurses checked her latch several times and declared her a nursing champion.
Even though I was told breastfeeding can be painful at first, I wasn’t prepared for how uncomfortable it would be. I winced every time she latched, my nipples in extreme pain. Luckily, that pain subsided after a few minutes. I had no idea, however, that the pain wouldn’t end with the nipples. I found the “after pains” the nursing stimulated to help my uterus return to its normal size to be excruciating. I seriously thought they were just as bad as the contractions themselves. No one told me that the pain would continue so much after the labor and birth were finished!
Meghan weighed 7 pounds 6 ounces at birth, and at her first weight check a few days later, she was at 6 pounds 10 ounces. This seemed like a lot to me, but her doctor assured me her weight loss was within the realm of normal. This put her between the 10-25 percentile for weight, and she actually stayed on that growth curve for most of her well visits through her 2 year visit.
I’m grateful that she had a smooth start to breastfeeding in the hospital, but unfortunately we had some rocky times once we got home. Let me make this perfectly clear.
Breastfeeding is hard.
Prepare yourself mentally, because there will be times, especially in the beginning, where you will want to throw in the towel. For me, the hard times started when my milk came in. I am a small-chested girl and it’s like the amount of milk that came in just didn’t fit. I remarked to Tim, “So this is what I would look like with a bad boob job”. They were rock hard, lumpy, and high like a shelf. The pain of the engorgement was the worst pain of all. I’m not kidding; I found the pain to be worse than childbirth. (Of course, I did have an epidural, so I’m sure that it why this pain was worse to me.) The t-shirt rubbing against the skin hurt. It hurt to move. On top of the horrible pain, the engorgement was so bad that Meghan could no longer latch well. When she did latch, the let down was so fast and furious it overwhelmed her, causing her to cough and choke.
It got to the point where she refused my right breast all together, the one that was more engorged. She would scream and cry at just the feel of the nipple. With her not taking any milk from that side, the engorgement worsened, and the pain became almost unbearable. I was unprepared for this and really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even have a breast pump. After some quick Internet research, I realized that I needed a pump. I had to relieve the pressure.
It was six o’clock in the morning the day after my milk came in and I had to go to the store. I remember walking through the store in a daze, vaguely aware that the world had continued on while I had been in the cocoon of child birth and the first days with my new baby. Even though the store was only a few minutes from our house and Meghan was home sleeping, it felt strange being away from her. I hurriedly grabbed the first pump I could find, a new bra since none of my small bras even came close to fitting, and rushed home.
I pumped just enough to relieve the pressure as I had read too much pumping would only make the problem worse. About 48 hours after my milk initially came in, the pain started to subside and I finally got some relief. While Meghan was able to latch on both breasts, she still had trouble with the let down. She would start out fine, but once the let down happened and the flow increased, she would pull off, choking, my milk spraying everywhere. It was quite a scene.
At the time I was counting feedings and wet diapers to ensure she was getting enough. One of the books I was using suggested that in order for a feeding to be considered a “full feeding” it needed to be at least 15 minutes. This stressed me out as she rarely fed for a full 15 minutes. It took me a while to realize that my healthy supply combined with her efficient nursing skills equaled a baby who didn’t need to nurse a long time. I had heard of so many mothers whose babies nursed 30-45 minutes at a time, I thought that was the norm and anything else must be wrong. The lesson here is to pay attention to your baby and what she is telling you, not necessarily what the books say. Meghan was getting plenty and I put a lot of undue stress on myself.
As Meghan got bigger, she became much better at handling my flow. By four months we were in a good groove. By six months she was only nursing on one side at a time and for only five minutes. My supply was great and being a small baby, she just didn’t need to feed from both breasts at a feeding.
I held off feeding her solids until she was six months. I wanted to get the full benefits of exclusively breast feeding (in short, it loses some of its potency once you enter solids into the equation) and wanted to give her digestive system time to mature enough to handle solid foods. Looking back, I could have waited even longer as she had constipation issues as soon as we started solids.
Although I knew I would breastfeed, I had no plans for how long I would do it. Most moms I knew weaned sometime between six months and a year, so I started out with a goal of sticking with it for six months. Once we hit six months, however, I couldn’t imagine quitting. By that point it was so easy, why would I stop? So I continued on, still without a plan of when I would stop.
Without a doubt, the first six weeks is the most difficult time with breastfeeding. If you make it through that period, you will find smooth sailing ahead.
Stay tuned for the next two installments of My Breastfeeding Story.