July 3, 2013

breastfeeding: the beginning

The beginning of breastfeeding was challenging for me but Alden was great at it. The nurses kept telling me that he really knew what he was doing and that it was impressive for a newborn to take so easily to nursing. I guess that means the challenges we had were because I  had no idea what to do :/

I'm pretty confident that most of the physical issues I had in the first 3 weeks (more on that later) were because of the first 12 hours of Alden's life. After he was born, he spent the first hour of his life (for the most part) on my chest, skin-to-skin. He rooted and found the breast on his own within about 20 minutes of his birth and we nursed for the first time in the recovery room. I had the nurses check his latch immediately because I wanted to make sure we got off on the right foot. Turns out, I should have called the lactation consultants instead of assuming that the nurses 1) were experts and 2) had enough quality time in the midst of post-birth chaos to really check out what we were doing. My nurses were fantastic, I mean, really, I was sad when one of them had to leave at the end of her shift but I just don't think they were the right resource to use at the time.

So...his latch was a little shallow and nobody caught it until we had had about 8 nursing sessions and by that point, I was in some serious pain. Like, tears in your eyes, clench your teeth, remind yourself not to throw your baby across the room kind of pain. I'm sure my mom remembers those pitiful moments at the beginning of nursing sessions when I would battle to get him latched correctly and then have to sit very still with my eyes closed to get through the initial pain. I have a pretty impressive pain tolerance and am generally not the type to complain or have trouble dealing with painful stuff but this was intense. I remember thinking that it was worse than childbirth, simply because there was no end in sight. I was scared that breastfeeding would hurt like that forever and that I wouldn't be able to handle it. I was frustrated, in pain and feeling a little like a failure ("Isn't this what my body is made for?! Why can't I do this?!").

On top of the painful nursing, Alden was asking to eat ALL. THE. TIME. Like, almost every hour for the first night and then very often that close together in the first few days. It was bad enough that my mom asked our pediatrician about it at our 4 day checkup. We had not given Alden a pacifier yet because we had been taught that the pacifier shouldn't be introduced until breastfeeding was well established and at the minimum, after two weeks. I wanted so badly for breastfeeding to work out for us so I was very cautious to do anything that had the potential to mess it up. After speaking with our pediatrician about it, she told us that Alden was using me as a pacifier and that some babies have a stronger desire to suck than others. Since it appeared that Alden was one of those babies who used sucking as a comfort mechanism and since he was so successful with his latch and nursing overall, she advised that we start the pacifier ASAP.

Cue the rays of sunshine and the parting clouds! Hallelujah! The pacifier is amazing.

Seriously, giving him a paci changed our lives. Much less crying (both him and me) and, finally, a break for my very sore nipples!

There was still a lot of uphill battling, I have very dry skin so my nipples are also very dry (surprise, surprise, right?) and I ended up having a lot of cracking and some bleeding. (Some of this is simply from nursing so frequently but some of it is also because saliva can be drying as well) Even though we had straightened out his latch, it took a while for my nipples to completely recover from the soreness created in those first days.

Also, emotionally, you are on a roller coaster of hormones that wreak havoc on your mood in the days following childbirth. I was also very anemic and exhausted. The lack of sleep, hormonal changes, and the general stress of having a very tiny person to take care of are heavy things to get through. It's a wonder any of us manage to get through it without developing some form of mental illness (seriously). I felt very isolated and overwhelmed. Since I was so anemic, I could barely walk across the room by myself, much less be involved with what was going on in the house. I should have spoken up but I didn't really. I would hint and then be upset if Nick didn't realize that I was trying to tell him that I was struggling. (This was, of course, not his fault. He, along with my parents, were literally doing everything and there was no way he could have just "guessed" what was going on in my head on top of all he was doing) I forced myself to take on a lot of the emotional baggage by myself and it was not a smart thing to do. I am very lucky that after I started feeling better physically, I was able to find ways to cope with the emotional changes and not get stuck in a rut. I very easily could have gone the other way and ended up battling postpartum depression, all because I didn't want to talk about it.

To all the other Mamas out there:

Don't do that! Tell someone, make a joke about it, cry, or talk to the Internet (there are lots of online forums and chat boards where you can find support). Being a Mama is hard, don't make it harder :)

The good news is...

over time, with religious use of my Earth Mama Angel Baby nipple butter, soft Bamboobies nursing pads, avoiding getting soap on my nipples in the shower (also drying), lots of comfortable clothes, diligent work on maintaining a proper latch, iron supplements, a little bit of extra sleep and very supportive family members, it got better. Every day I would feel a little better, both physically and emotionally, and eventually the cracks in my nipples started healing, it hurt less and less when he latched, I stopped worrying so much about whether I was doing it right or whether he was getting enough milk, and now, at 5 months later, I can barely remember what it was like to have to clench my teeth every time we nursed and just hope it would get better.

There are still challenges, but they evolve with us and are usually because Alden is growing and changing and our nursing has to grow and change too.

If you are a new mom or are getting ready to be a new mom and are nervous, scared, or skeptical of nursing, know this:

You are capable. You are strong. You have support.

It will be hard (and if it's not, you are lucky!) and it will take time. But, it will get better!

I LOVE nursing Alden and will be so very sad when he decides he is through. I was terrified that I would never be able to say that because I had read so many horror stories of women who "just couldn't do it". There are always exceptions, and I am not demeaning any woman's experience, but at least have enough faith in yourself to try. Be willing to get help and to share your experience and understand that this, too, shall pass.

I don't care if I've known you for years or if I've never even heard your name, if you have ANY questions, concerns, fears, etc. that you want to talk about- reach out to me! Mamas and their babies are what get me out of bed in the morning :)

much love, L&N

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