Monday, September 28, 2009

Adventures in Breastfeeding

I've been thinking about this post for a while now because there is a lot that I would like to include in it. Prior to Cecelia's arrival, I was very committed to breastfeeding (and still am) and wanted to learn as much as I could to ensure a smooth start for she and I. I'd heard many stories of people who couldn't nurse their baby due to latch problems, supply problems, etc. I'd also heard from others that all of these reasons were invalid...that baby can be taught proper latch and that your supply will always meet the demand. Unfortunately for all involved, even with pediatricians and lactation specialists, it seems that there's a lot of conflicting information out there and since you can't see in there, it's still a bit of a mystery as to how much baby needs and how much he/she is getting. With all that in mind, I reassured myself that women have been feeding their children this way for millions of years and I would too. I went to La Leche League meetings prior to baby's arrival and asked questions and listened to and participated in conversation and discussion. I learned about many of the benefits of breastfeeding. Among them: much less expensive (free!), no cleaning of bottles (except for those that you need to pump), no getting up in the middle of the night to warm a bottle (it's the right temperature all the time), better bm's (sorry for those of you that don't want to know about the contents of Cecelia's diapers, but breastfeeding bm's don't smell bad - and I'm not just saying that because I'm her mom), not to mention all the developmental benefits attributed to mother's milk. A few more that have come up since my pre-mommy days: breastmilk spit-up doesn't stain, and when baby does spit up (not all do with breastfeeding but mine definitely does) you're not getting aggravated that you spent money on that puddle, and you can do it anywhere, anytime without having to bring anything with you except for yourself. So, back to the meetings. I was informed that breastfeeding shouldn't hurt. It will be natural. Babies instinctively crawl towards their mother's breast when born and latch on instantly. I recently read a book "Unbuttoned" and its short stories paint a much more honest picture. I feel that in an effort to convince women to breastfeed, they're told that it won't hurt. But then when it does in the beginning (as it will), they feel (as I did) that they must be doing something wrong. Because it's not supposed to hurt. Or is it? As my body acclimated, it hurt. For about the first 2-3 weeks, it hurt. And my body did get used to it and now it does not hurt. That wasn't me saying that now my body is used to hurting, I'm saying that after approximately that period of time, it doesn't hurt anymore. At all. Is it surprising that most women start out with good intentions and stop within that time frame? In the hospital, I kept pulling the lactation consultant, and anyone else who would watch and give an opinion, into the room to watch my baby and reassure me that her latch was good. I knew all about the flanged lips and the amount of area that should be covered. However, when you're the one attached to the newborn, you can't really see the bottom lip. I should have set up some mirrors. Just kidding. I should back up. When Cecelia arrived, she had to be suctioned because there was a possibility that she had aspirated meconium. After she was suctioned, then she was handed to me and put in place. She took a look around, but wasn't all that interested in chowing down. I wasn't worried. It's nature. She'll get it. Back in the room, she was still rather un-interested in eating. Keep in mind that baby's stomach is the size of a pea, and they really don't need to eat for the first three days or so. I had read this and had to keep reassuring my mother and husband of this - that she was fine, that I was fine, that we would get it. In the back of my mind, however, I knew that I had these lactation consultations as long as I was in the hospital and I wanted them to teach me and Cecelia, hands on. It's one thing for me to do reading and research ahead of time, but nobody told the baby that she had to learn a new skill in order to survive...or else. When I asked the lactation consultants about the pain, she told me to count to 30 and if it was still painful to remove baby and re-latch her. This was helpful. To know that it will hurt when she first starts and then it will feel better. Once I got home, the visiting nurse watched her latch and asked if her jaw was moving just so...I don't know! She asked if I felt a tingling sensation. I didn't. She had lost weight, I was doubting myself. Later that day, I got shaky, chills and a fever. Something else that was never mentioned to me before. After researching in one of my many books under fever, I found out that this was a sign my milk was coming in. And did it ever! Another ouch. Cabbage leaves. That's all - use cabbage leaves. It will feel much better. This is all still part of those first 2-3 weeks. I was also told in advance that there should be no cracking or bleeding. Well, sometimes your body has to scab to toughen up and that's natural. It shouldn't continue that way, but it happened to me on one side, so I started to pump on that side and feed on the other since my daughter was mutilating me, I thought that would be the best way to heal. And it worked. It also probably increased my supply unnecessarily but what did I know. So, word to the wise - if you pump in addition to nursing a living baby, you'll continue to produce extra. Be careful. I like to plan ahead, so my thought was that I would pump and store now for later. Another stellar idea. Pumping so early on showed me just how little was coming out. Now, pumping is easy, but since Cecelia's "schedule" is still erratic, I always worry that I'm going to pump, and then she'll want to eat shortly after and my gas gauge will be on E. It's not an exact science. It's also (still) not an exact science to know how much she'll need to eat. I try to leave pumped bottles with the amount a formula fed baby would eat around the same age. Each time I've left her with a bottle, she sucks it down in no time flat with a frighteningly fast guzzle, leaving me wondering if she needs more. Who knows. I know that each time she's been left with a bottle, she ate it, and seemed satisfied. On the topic of how I've mentioned in previous posts and even earlier in this one, Cecelia's a spitter. And sometimes it sure seems like A LOT! Which leads me to wonder, did she get anything? I'm reassured that babies spit up, and they'll get what they need. Which leads me to wonder, did I feed her too long? It's all a big mommy blame game. And that's probably the most natural thing of all - to blame yourself and question yourself. Fun. I tried lots of things to establish how much baby needed. Ahead of time, I knew to follow baby's lead, feed on demand, ignore the clock. So what did I do? Use a timer...religiously. To see how long she was eating on each side, how often she was eating, when her diaper was changed, when she was sleeping, how long since she burped. Talk about driving yourself nuts. I've more recently tried to relax. The fact that I have to try to relax is very telling, isn't it? Also, in the hospital and in much of my reading, I was instructed to "burp and switch". Which means, start on one side until baby stops, burp, and switch to the other side. In an effort to curb the spit up, I've started to feed on one side, burp, and at the next feeding, feed on the other side. Cecelia takes all these experiments in stride. She eats. She's growing. She's doing great. And onto logistics. Breastfeeding can seem like a logistical nightmare. Prior to d day, I became obsessed with finding good nursing clothes. In other words, clothing that could be positioned just so to get out what we needed and leave the rest covered up. Old Navy has some nursing tops, but I also would search out clothing with necklines that could just be tugged to one side. Another tip that was mentioned at a LLLI meeting - ribbed tanks (more commonly known as wife beaters). Get some, cut out the key area, and wear them under any old shirt. Then, you can pull up your "over" shirt, and you're still covered by the "under" shirt. I also have a nursing cover which is really more like an apron. While this helps in keeping modest, it can be tricky to attach baby and stay modest. I've also heard from moms of older babies that baby will often not cooperate with this and yank it to the side, defeating the purpose. Fortunately though, I'm not shy. I'll nurse just about anywhere. I've already nursed in stores, parks, restaurants, parties, etc. When I mentioned to a friend about being comfortable, she thought I mean emotionally comfortable, but I meant physically comfortable. I like to have somewhere to sit down and relax. If possible. Though before, my goal was to find a sling that I could nurse in comfortably, allowing me to walk, and use my hands. I couldn't. I tried slings that I should be able to nurse in, but it just didn't line up right. I used my Ergo Carrier for that purpose, but I still had to support everything to keep the flow going to its destination. I haven't given up, but I've relaxed about that too.

So, to sum it all up - it's not easy or joyous at first, but it will be. And it will be worth it. You'll never know how much your baby is getting. But they're getting enough. will never be the same again.


Wendy said...

I love this post! I agree with you 100%. On everything. And I always try my darndest to be frank with expecting mothers who might want to nurse. It's not a walk in the park, but you'll be happy you made the committment through the pain, sore nips, rock-hard boobs, and wonky "scheduling".

I remember in those first few months that one of the happiest times was when baby would let me sleep for more than 3 hours and relieve me from what felt like 10lb weight in the morning!

Keep on, keeping on Ellen!


august raby said...

Oh my god- what a great post!!!!!-