breastfeeding is no joke
*warning: this post mentions boobs and nipples*
so if you can't handle that, then don't read it.
i've been breastfeeding for almost eight months now.
i went into my pregnancy planning on exclusively breastfeeding. i believe in the benefits for both mom and baby, and i wanted my baby to have mama milk as long as i was able to provide it. breastfeeding isn't for everyone, and i totally respect that. mamas, you do what you gotta do to take care of yourself so you can take care of your babe. no formula bashing here. this is just what i wanted to do for me and for my babe.
i first breastfed as soon as i got to post op after my c-section. it was quite surreal. i remember lying in the bed with my boobs hanging out and the nurses bringing sabina up to me and positioning her to nurse, and then being really excited when she did it. it's kind of amazing that my body produces food for my baby; that i can be my baby's sole source of nutrition. also kind of terrifying. it's a BIG responsibility.
at the hospital things were going okay. we didn't sleep the first night because that was when i had the c-section. the days were a blur of crying, feeding, and drifting off to sleep to be awakened by crying. i remember night two at 2:00am or so caving and deciding to give sabina one of those pre-made bottles of formula and sending her to the nursery because david and i were about to lose our minds. the nurse explained that we could give her a bottle of formula every night if we wanted, that was fine. and she said i wasn't making milk yet anyways (true, but false that what i WAS making, colostrum, was not enough).
my baby was whisked away and my husband and i got a few hours of sleep after being awake for over 48 hours straight. i woke several hours later expecting to feed her, only to find out that at the nursery she was given another bottle of formula. when she was brought back to me, she didn't nurse for SEVEN HOURS. i was in a state of complete and utter panic. my baby was going to die. my boobs were not going to produce milk. it was the end of the world. or so it seemed.
that was the only formula sabina has been given since her birth. the next day the pediatrician and lactation consultant were in our room and we shared that story and they were like OH HELL NO. they got me a hospital grade pump and said i could pump my own milk for sabina if we wanted to send her to the nursery in the future for a few hours. they reassured me that i was making enough of whatever was coming out of my boobs to sustain her. so that was encouraging.
next time i'll be more assertive about what i do and do not want. but the first time going into this, i was just clueless. most of my struggles with breastfeeding have been a result of my cluelessness and my desire for perfection in everything (which led to paralyzing anxiety when i couldn't attain it). i did take a class before sabina was born, but hearing about it and doing it are two completely different things.
for one, they tell you that if you're doing it right, it should be "comfortable." COMFORTABLE?!?! what could possibly be comfortable about a tiny human sucking on your body part ALL DAY LONG?!?! is there a spectrum of "comfortable"? does "comfortable" mean simply, "i don't want to die while my baby is sucking on me?" sabina nursed every hour for the first two weeks, and then spread out to every two hours after than through about six months of age. when she was feeding every hour, i would give her only one boob at a time. but the booger would take 20 minutes to eat from one side, which ended up being 30-40 minutes when she spread out to two hours and ate from both sides. that is a LOT of sucking. i had some angry nipples for quite awhile. nursing was NOT comfortable. sabina had blood tinged spit up and one black spit up from digesting blood. i never saw any blood in my pumped milk, but i did have scabs on my nipples the times she did it. terrifying.
i know that you're able to tell if your baby is getting enough by how many wet and poopy diapers they have, but i just couldn't trust that for some reason. sabina was a very sensitive and loud newborn (characteristics that have not faded with age, ha). i was constantly concerned that i wasn't producing enough milk, that the milk i was producing was not agreeing with her, that i wasn't going to be able to produce enough when i returned to work 12 weeks later (because, of course i have to start panicking about that one week post partum). i was just one massive ball of stress, which clearly was helping the situation. not.
my nipples were sore for the first eight weeks. it wasn't until then that nursing really started to become comfortable and enjoyable (at least by my standards). there were so many times i wanted to give up. we called the pediatrician's office basically every day the week after my michigan family returned to michigan. we were worried about everything. once when we called concerned about sabina's fussiness, the nurse asked me what i had eaten that day. which wasn't very much because i was so stressed. but i did consume a chocolate chip cookie. the nurse told me that chocolate and caffeine can give babies stomach cramps and that i should avoid chocolate. give the baby gas drops and stop eating chocolate. so then i consulted dr. google who informed me of a million other things that could cause babies stomach pain. and i basically stopped eating anything besides chicken and rice. no, really. it was horrible. and you know what, i don't think my eating habits were damaging my child. if anything, it was all of the unecessary stress i was placing on myself and my fear of doing things wrong. truth is, i had no idea what i was doing and i felt like i had the most important job in the world: sustain a baby with my body alone.
when i was at the worst of my post partum anxiety/depression, i contemplated quitting breastfeeding. thankfully, i talked with another mom who had dealt with post partum depression/anxiety and she knew enough to inform me that dropping breastfeeding may not solve anything for me. in fact, it could make things worse. stopping breastfeeding is another major hormonal change that could have sent me into another downward spiral. and then i would have lost the thing i wanted so badly to be able to do, without solving any of the problems i had. so i pressed on.
now i hardly remember all of the hard days and nights. one night david had fed sabina all of my pumped milk and she was still crying and fussing. he tried everything and then brought her back to me, "i think she's still hungry." i lost it. my nipples we so sore. i didn't want to feed her. i had pumped all that milk and she downed it all and i was so frustrated. i threw my nursing pillow across the room. the buckles clapped against the floor and scared poor jake jake to death. i had a complete mama meltdown with lots of tears and frustration. and then. i pulled myself together. walked out to the living room. sat down on the edge of the couch across from my husband and crying baby. and said i would feed her. and i did. and you know what? we made it.
the most helpful thing for me was seeing a lactation consultant. i wish i had done it earlier. i was so terrified that i wasn't making enough milk. my appointment when sabina was about five weeks old gave me the confidence to know that i was in fact making enough. at the appointment the lactation consultant weighed sabina before and after nursing. the amount sabina took during the feeding was 3.8 oz, which was a very good amount considering it was almost 5:00pm. the lactation consultant reassured me that i was doing great, gave me some pointers for ensuring a good latch and taking care of my cracked nipples, and sent me on my way. and that was exactly what i needed.
if your goal is to breastfeed and you are struggling, reach out and ask for help! i was so fortunate to have other mommy friends who had breastfed or were currently breastfeeding. we went through a lot of the same struggles together. i would not have survived on my own. i needed the help and encouragement of my lactation consultant, friends, and family. feeding a baby solely from your body is no easy task. it hurts a lot initially (despite what they say), and there will be times when you just want to quit. my goal is to be an encourager to other moms like me, who just needed a bit of good information and a lot of support. it's hard, but it gets better. you're doing great. take it one feeding at a time.
i now have an 18 pound passionate and loud little wiggler who lights up my life. especially because i am a working mama for this season, i am so glad that i stuck out those first two months of breastfeeding. even if i can't be with my little munchkin during the day, i am comforted knowing i am still providing her mama milk. it's all worth it.