As I continue to breastfeed a toddler, I felt compelled to write this. I should mention that I have truly loved our breastfeeding journey but it hasn’t been picture perfect from beginning to end (and no end yet). The early stages were not without their challenges and these final stages (as I think they may be) have been difficult in other ways. In my effort to be real and transparent on here and on my other platforms, I thought I’d share some of the “not-so-glamorous” moments of breastfeeding because I think as magical and amazing as breastfeeding can be, it’s also important to recognize that it can be challenging, difficult, undesirable, and conflicting (among many other words I’m sure people with different experiences could use). It can also be – not for you! Or just, not worth the mental and/or physical toll. Any experience is an experience that is valid and important.
P.S. Enjoy the series of photos of Maggie post milk!
The Journey to Breastfeeding is Wrought With Raw Nipples
The early days of breastfeeding are not always glamorous. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone – there are some of you who were kissing by the breastfeeding goddess; whose baby’s one goal after birth was to latch perfectly the first time. But for those of us who didn’t get that experience, it was a challenging time. Those of us meaning me, and I’m certain many other women as I’ve heard from others who went through slow starts too.
I’ll admit – the first breastfeeding experience I had with my daughter was beautiful. Sure, I probably looked like a creature from the black lagoon while doing it (see the photo on the blog graphic), but it felt beautiful. It was just a moment of bonding for us that I will always treasure. I realize that not everyone gets to have this experience though, or if they do it might not feel so great. Like I said, all experiences are valid and important. I’m not trying to make anyone else feel lesser or upset – I’m just sharing my story.
The first day was a bit of a blur – gave birth, got discharged after peeing, and got to go home within 3 hours because midwives. I felt like an exhausted mess, but I was also overwhelmingly happy to have my little baby out in the world with me! We all took a very good snooze after I destroyed a very delicious reuben that I’d been craving from a place down the street. The next day was when the fun with breastfeeding really started – and by fun, I really mean the pain.
Yes, getting that ideal latch was not easy for us after that first lovely feed. Suddenly everything began to feel uncomfortable. I felt stressed and worried – would I be able to feed my baby? My milk had not come in yet and I honestly felt like something was wrong with me. I cried a lot in those first few days and it was all pretty much related to my milk and breastfeeding.
By day 3, I can’t remember exactly now, my midwife came to see us and started to worry about Maggie’s weight. She was dropping more than she was gaining. She was still having lots of wet diapers and went to the breast a lot, but I was worried. The midwife stayed and helped us try and perfect our latch. We tried different positions, different pillows. The next day we had a follow up visit (day 4) and I tried hand expressing. Barely anything was coming out and I hadn’t got a pump yet because I wasn’t sure if I was going to actually use one or not. So I rung my breasts out like a wet towel into the Haakaa – that is literally what it felt like. Uncomfortable and to be honest, hard work when you weren’t seeing much results.
She suggested I try Fenugreek, get some All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO) for my now cracked and uncomfortable nipples, and seeing how little I was getting out from hand expression she suggested supplementing some formula – while still feeding of course, because she knew that was important to me; to be able to breastfeed. We went with tube feeds via the breast – where you put a tube into the formula bottle and line it up with your nipple so baby is sucking in the formula but also stimulating the breast at the same time. It was really difficult to do, and took two of us. My husband had to hold the formula and I had to hold the tube and it felt.. not what I wanted it to feel like. This wasn’t what I wanted breastfeeding to be. I cried more.
I’ll be honest – we did this for about two feeds after she left and then I just got tired. We gave Maggie formula from a bottle for the last feed before bedtime and I continued to try and breastfeed independently. I was very close to giving up hope for myself..
Glorious Day 5 – The Milk Arrives!
… and then I woke up with extreme engorgement. I was uncomfortable but I was relieved! I second guessed myself – is this engorgement? Maybe I have something else going on? I had never experienced it before and although knowing things about breastfeeding and the physiological mechanisms behind it has its use, it didn’t really help with this.
I put my bean bag ice pack on my breasts and later switched to cabbage leaves. I went to feed Maggie at some point in the evening, attached my Haakaa and felt instant relief because milk was coming out! My milk had come in on day 5!
I want to take a moment here to say that I had a lot of unnecessary guilt about potentially not being able to breastfeed my baby. I knew the guilt was unnecessary – I have always known that formula is amazing. I was always a supporter of all types of feeding. The feelings I had didn’t have anything to do with my feelings about formula feeding, they had to do with my expectations for my postpartum experience and myself. I guess I had this image of myself when I was pregnant, where part of “my motherhood” involved breastfeeding. So that is why I felt so upset and conflicted – because the way I had foreseen my motherhood experience involved breastfeeding. Not everyone’s does. Everyone’s experience is going to be so different – that’s life, right? But mine did, so when I felt that was no longer possible I felt like my experience was changing and honestly, I felt like it was my body’s fault.
My body had done this amazing thing – it had co-created and carried this baby for 40+6 weeks, gave birth, and then it betrayed me. That was how I felt.
When my milk came in – it was a huge relief for me, but breastfeeding still wasn’t picture perfect.
What the heck is a milk bleb?
I had a strange blister-like protrusion on my nipple but it was full of milk or what appeared to be milk. I swore I had never learned about that in school. If it was just something that looked funny, I would probably have ignored it and only worried about it if it stuck around but this thing hurt like, a lot. It made me come very close to screaming while breastfeeding. I kept googling it and thank goodness for Kellymom, where I found my answer. I tried the different interventions to relieve it but not much seemed to help.
So I kept on trucking. Crazy. I also, of course, called my midwife and made sure it wasn’t anything to worry about – it would pass. Lots of cream – I used coconut oil and Lansinoh cream to good effect. But it sure took it’s time going away, or it felt that way. In reality, I think it was only a day or two – but in the postpartum mind, days can feel very long! Especially because this bleb appeared after one of mine and Maggie’s first days alone when my husband went back to work. I was already feeling dazed and confused, so it was just the cherry on top!
Once this thing healed though – wow. What a difference. This would have been 4 or 5 weeks into breastfeeding now. Maggie had started to put weight back on (we were going for more frequent weigh-in check ups at the midwives). We were getting better with latching – I liked a football hold when she was really little, with a good supportive pillow (not a breastfeeding one, a big king size one for example). I found it helped her get a deeper latch. We used the burger hold or “sandwich” hold to help perfect it. I felt like we were getting in a flow on our own too. We were able to get out of the house which is surprising in an Ontario February, but it happened! I was very committed to walking daily, so if we couldn’t do it outside I went to the mall. I felt like I was getting “good” at breastfeeding. I felt more myself or more my new, mom self which was really just me with some different expectations, values, and a new person to love.
We entered what I would call, the “golden days” of breastfeeding…
More in my next post about the things that worked for me after the early days (aka – our best days of breastfeeding!) and onto the 7-9 months challenges! The third post in the series will be about our over one experience.