I really have a love/hate relationship with breastfeeding. It seems like every time I think I’ve got it together, some other problem pops up. Right now I feel like I have an oversupply issue and I’m worried I’m going to get mastitis or something. Better oversupply than undersupply I guess, but either problem warrants yet another trip to the lactation consultant.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I’ll tell you a bit about my breastfeeding journey, starting with the beginning.
As I mentioned before, breastfeeding SUCKS and is HARD. I was completely unprepared for that. We took a breastfeeding class, and they kept talking about how "breast is best!" and "breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world!" Then they scared the everliving daylights out of you: "you have to breastfeed if you want all of these wonderful benefits we’ve been discussing for the past half hour. If you supplement with formula EVEN ONCE, here is a chart of how you’ll never keep your milk supply up and you’ll basically ruin everything for yourself and your baby will have to be on FORMULA and won’t be as smart." Okay, so those weren’t the EXACT words, but they were pretty darn close. They also scared the everliving daylights out of us about pacifiers and bottles, two other EVIL things that will, without a doubt, ruin breastfeeding forever.
In the beginning…
Our hospital was really amazing, and the nurses there were wonderful at teaching me what to do. For the first day, I really felt like I got the hang of it, and so did Charlie. No real milk was coming out, of course, but the poster in the bathroom was encouraging: “Colostrum is LIQUID GOLD. You may not have milk yet, but your baby is getting all the nutrition she needs.”
The second day, however, things started to go south. She wasn’t latching correctly and it started to HURT. I kept trying to deal with the pain, hoping it would go away and my nipples would “toughen up” or something. Finally I gave up and called for a lactation nurse, who told me that I needed to give my nipples some time to heal, and to keep my supply up, I should pump. Then she said the unthinkable: “I think you should supplement with formula.” I basically burst into tears: the exhaustion of not sleeping in three days – coupled with my fears about formula – was too much. I told her what they’d told me in the breastfeeding class, and told her that I really didn’t want to use formula. I don’t remember what she said (I can barely remember anything, to be honest), but whatever it was, it convinced me that the baby needed to eat. It may have been because she was small and was at high risk for jaundice, but I don’t remember. There are two things I do remember: first, the nurse had a very cute Australian accent. Second (and obviously more important) was that she said, “breastfeeding is difficult and a lot of women have a hard time with it. Just because you supplement with formula doesn’t mean you won’t go on to breastfeed exclusively successfully. Many, many women have to supplement with formula. I did, and I had no problem exclusively breastfeeding for many months after that.” What?! An actual human being who supplemented with formula and went on to breastfeed exclusively? It felt like seeing a unicorn, and it gave me a lot of help.
So we decided that I would pump and we would supplement with formula. At the very least, though, I was not going to use a bottle – I think seeing her with the bottle would have been really upsetting for me in my heightened hormonal state. We might be using formula, but I wasn’t going to expose Charlie to the dreaded NIPPLE CONFUSION. I still am not entirely clear on what NIPPLE CONFUSION is, but I know that it is something Big and Scary, much like formula, and it has the potential to ruin breastfeeding forever (oy vey, right?). Instead, we tried finger feeding. What a pain in the ass that was! But I felt better about finger feeding than I did about a bottle, so we persevered.
When we left the hospital, we were given a follow-up appointment to have Charlie checked out two days later. The nurse who made the appointment had the genius idea to make the follow-up appointment with a lactation consultant rather than a regular doctor, so that I could get help from an expert after finger feeding for a couple of days. I was thrilled. Finger feeding took ages: we had to prepare the formula, get the tube and syringe set up, and spend a half hour feeding her. Then, Y would burp her and I’d spend another 20 minutes pumping. And, of course, at the end of the 20 minutes, I’d look down to see that I’d pumped absolutely nothing. And may I just say, pumping is kind of humiliating? I felt like a broken milk machine. It was incredibly frustrating.
Things started to turn around a bit the night before the appointment, when I looked down after pumping to find that I had actually PRODUCED something. It wasn’t much, but it was something! My parents were with us, and my reaction to seeing the fruits of my labor was apparently enough to crack up everyone in the room. I felt like I’d had a breakthrough. The next morning I started to feel the beginning stages of engorgement, which wasn’t very pleasant – but at least it meant something was happening.
At the appointment, I explained to the lactation consultant (who, oddly, was an old friend of the family and actually helped deliver me! Her name is even in my baby book!) why we were finger feeding. I also explained that breastfeeding was very important to me, and that I hated having to supplement. The lactation consultant (who was wonderful) helped me to get Charlie latched on correctly, but it still hurt a lot. At this point, she introduced me to the nipple shield (basically a plastic thing that goes over the nipple and has holes in it – the baby latches onto the plastic thing instead of the nipple so it doesn’t hurt). It was a strange concept to put a little plastic thing over my nipple, but I can’t explain the elation I felt at actually being able to feed my child. It was wonderful.
After about a week and a half of successfully using the nipple shield, my nipples started to hurt again. A lot. I made another appointment to go back to the lactation consultant. This time I saw someone else, who was equally as wonderful. As it turns out, I wasn’t putting the nipple shield on right, so only the nipple (instead of the areola) was in Charlie’s mouth. Oops. It was the dreaded Bad Latch. I was taught how to do it right, and all was well with the world.
For about a week and a half.
I started to notice that although I was putting the nipple shield on right, it was sort of sliding up after I’d put it on, so it was no longer on right. No matter how many times I attached it, it was like the nipple was receding inside the shield. When Charlie would latch on, she’d have a Bad Latch. I stupidly ignored this for a few days. By the time I called for help, I was having a LOT of pain. The only way I can describe it is that it felt like one part of my nipple was being sucked out of one tiny hole in the shield.
This time, the lactation consultants at Hippy Hospital were all booked up, so I went to the hospital closest to us. I saw a new lactation consultant, and she wasn’t very good. She told me that the nipple shield should only be used as a short-term solution and that I needed to stop using it. She helped me latch Charlie directly onto my breast once, and then sent me on my way.
Well, as it turns out, it’s not that simple. Although I had Charlie positioned right, I couldn’t get her to latch on when I got home. After extensive googling (which, really, is my forté), I discovered that she was basically ADDICTED to the nipple shield, which is huge and hard and very easy for her to nurse with. My nipples were tiny in comparison and she didn’t recognize them as the source of her food. And of course, my appointment had been on a Friday afternoon, and lactation was closed for the weekend, so I had no help. I worked my ass off trying to get her to latch on correctly, reading a lot of stuff online and watching a lot of videos. I was lucky that Charlie caught on relatively quickly, and by Monday I was pretty confident that we’d be able to work things out.
For, like, a week.
And then I ended up with another problem – for some reason Charlie was refusing to latch on correctly, after having done it right for a week. She was also screaming her head off – a lot. WTF? I called the lactation consultant, who was super busy. We talked on the phone, and she said she thought I was “hosing” Charlie. What is hosing, you might ask? Basically, it’s a laymen’s term for overactive letdown, meaning I had too much milk coming out too fast. Charlie was trying to slow the flow by clamping down on my nipple. In addition, the fast flow was causing her to swallow a lot of air, which was giving her gas. To be honest, I thought this was load of hooey. I didn’t see any evidence of my “hosing” the poor kid. But I did what the LC said to do anyway, which involved acrobatics during feeding time in which I somehow would maneuver Charlie to be on top of me instead of below me, thus making gravity work against the milk so it wouldn’t come out as fast.
To be honest, I’m still not entirely convinced that I am “hosing” her. My best buddy has overactive letdown, and her description of what it’s like (spraying milk, baby choking and coughing) is not happening to me. She coughed while nursing for the first time yesterday. I still do the acrobatics, mostly in the super early morning when my milk supply is supposed to be the highest, just in case.
Over time, Charlie has gotten a lot better at latching on. My nipples hurt a lot less than they used to, although I have one major problem: nipple vasospasm. What is a nipple vasospasm, you might ask? It’s basically a migraine in your nipple: the blood vessels contract and your entire nipple turns white. Oh, and it hurts like hell. I was given medication for it, but unfortunately one of the side effects is headache – and as someone with a history of chronic migraine headaches, I (of course) suffered from the side effect and had to stop the medication. Right now I’m just kind of dealing with it because I have no choice. I think I have a mild case of it, too, which is lucky.
After I was finally able to successfully feed Charlie, I was able to focus on other things because breastfeeding wasn’t so all-consuming. And the main thing I noticed was that my baby cried a lot. And when she cried, she wasn’t just crying – she was absolutely screaming in pain, kicking and writhing and punching the air with her little fists. Absolutely nothing we did could console her. Did we have a “colicky” baby? Or was something else wrong?
Lucky for Charlie, my friend K (the same one who told me about overactive letdown) had the same problem with her first baby. I remembered K describing her daughter’s crying as “screaming in pain,” and wondered if Charlie had the same issue: dairy allergy. My suspicions started to grow after I ate some delicious fudge and her crying worsened.
I know this might sound strange, because it’s not like I was feeding Charlie dairy directly, but quite a few women I know have had the same problem – dairy in the mother’s diet sometimes causes extreme gas and pain in their little nursling. So I decided to cut out dairy. And would you believe it, her screaming fits stopped. She still cried, but nothing like before. She was like a whole new baby.
For like, a week and a half.
As you can imagine, eating dairy-free is really hard, especially for a vegetarian. I had to suck it up and eat a lot more meat. And, because I really don’t like meat, I was eating a lot more soy. As it turns out, something like 30% of newborns with a dairy allergy/intolerance also have an intolerance to soy. Charlie and I are apparently part of that lucky 30%. Trial and error has shown us that she can tolerate small amounts of soy (like butter substitute, a Tofutti Cutie, etc), but a meal made with primarily tofu is a no-go.
The #1 question I get asked when I tell people that I can’t eat dairy or soy is whether she’ll have this allergy for life. Apparently most infants grow out of it, which is a major relief, as this diet really, really sucks. It takes all of the interest out of food, makes dining out close to impossible, and has me eating a lot of stuff I don’t like — I would hate if she had to spend her life eating like this. But really, it makes sense that she is having issues with digesting food – she’s doing it for the very first time ever, and her digestive system is really immature. For the same reason that all babies have reflux to some extent, a lot of babies just can’t tolerate foods that are even slightly irritating. As time goes on, I may be able to reintroduce dairy slowly and see if she can tolerate it.
The second question I get asked is how long I will breastfeed. I don’t know the answer to that question exactly, but I guess “as long as I can” is good enough. Despite all of it’s difficulties and annoyances, I really enjoy breastfeeding. It makes me feel good to know that I’m the one helping her to gain 11 ounces in a week, and I love the bonding time with her. She’s so darn cute. I also like the idea that by breastfeeding, I’m saving us a LOT of money. Formula costs somewhere between $100 and $200 a month, which is an expense we’d obviously rather avoid. I’m not working as much right now, so I’d like to help in any way I can. Plus, can you imagine trying to find a formula made without dairy and soy? Lord help us.
I’m no longer worried about all of the things the breastfeeding class scared me about. Sure, “breast is best,” but I don’t really know if I believe in NIPPLE CONFUSION (we gave Charlie a soothie pacifier at 2 weeks to shut her up and have been using it ever since) and I certainly don’t believe that “you supplement once and you’re up formula creek without a paddle.” Every woman does what’s right for her, and breastfeeding is HARD. There are so many factors involved (as you can clearly see from my experience) and if you add any other stressors – having to go back to work, for example – it just gets that much harder.
I know that breastfeeding comes easy to some people (*cough cough* Gisele), but for others it’s a difficult process. I don’t want to scare anyone who hasn’t tried it yet, but I also think it’s important to know that it isn’t always “the most natural process in the world.” If it’s hard for you, you’re not alone, and you’re certainly not a failure. I completely credit the support of wonderful lactation consultants for my success thus far. Ask for help, and ask for it RIGHT AWAY. Don’t wait, not even for a couple of days. The problems only get worse or develop into other problems.
And that, my friends, is my story (and my number one piece of advice for success)! Any questions?