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Before I even got pregnant, I knew I would breastfeed. A lot of women go at it open-minded; they would like to try but are okay if it doesn’t work out. But, for me, I HAD to do it. First, I’ll share my experience with breastfeeding newborns, then give you some tips I’ve learned along the way.
Bekah was born at 9:13 PM on January 26th, 2008. There had been some light meconium staining, so they handed her to me for only a few seconds (I absolutely could not believe that such a big, real person had just come from me, and that she was now mine forever!). Then they took her away to clean her up and suction her and test her repeatedly. I know now this was not necessary, but I didn’t know that at the time. They also spent quite awhile sewing me up. They gave her back to me around 10. I didn’t know a thing about breastfeeding other than what I’d read in books and online, but I figured I’d try. So I pulled my hospital gown down and attempted to latch Bekah. She was just staring at me. The look on her face was clearly, “Where AM I?” She had absolutely no interest in breastfeeding; she did not root or even pay attention at all.
Bekah was taken from me again to bathe and not brought back until after midnight, when she was starving and extremely tired. I tried to latch her on, once the nurse had set up the pillows and positioned her, but she just yelled around my breast. Finally the nurse grabbed my breast in one hand and her head in the other and shoved them together. She latched and nursed well, for about 20 minutes. Then she slept for 4 hours, at which point I started to get nervous and tried to feed her again. After that she was wanting to nurse every hour or two. We left around 9:30 that night, just 24 hours after her birth.
I fed her around 10:30 that night, then tried to sleep, but couldn’t, and she wouldn’t. I was up with her most of the night. She was crying and acting hungry, but she wouldn’t nurse lying down, and I felt like I had absolutely nothing for her. Eventually I brought her downstairs around 6 am and held her and let her suck my finger and talked to her, telling her daddy would fix it. At 8, I woke Ben and told him to just give her formula, and I went to bed and crashed. At 10:30 I got up and tried again to feed her.
For the next few days I managed to nurse her a few times a day, with supplements. On day 4 my milk was in but she would not nurse. I tried ALL day but she just cried and cried. I eventually called the nurses after crying for awhile myself, and they told me to feed her however I could. I gave her a bottle of formula and she drank it like a starving child and went to sleep. I couldn’t believe I had inadvertently starved my child.
The next day I was really engorged because she wouldn’t nurse. She would start to, then pull back and scream. We went out that night and bought a good, double electric pump (Medela Pump-in-Style) and I pumped and fed her the milk in a bottle.
A Continued Struggle
For the next six weeks, I continued to pump and bottle feed her. I occasionally tried to get her to latch, but this was met with screams and meltdowns. It took 45 minutes to feed her and she seemed hungry immediately after. I felt like I just didn’t have enough milk for her. Most evenings she was very fussy and seemed hungry, so we ended up supplementing with a bottle of formula. She got usually 2 oz. or so a day. We had gotten Similac milk and soy formulas for free in the mail, so we gave her whichever was closer at the time. At the time I thought soy was healthy (!) and I sort of thought she did better on that (actually…she probably did. Because later she had issues with milk/cheese and to my knowledge she’s not allergic to soy).
I hated to think of having to pump for a YEAR, my original goal. I couldn’t see that I’d make it. So at 6 weeks I said, enough. I was determined to get her to latch. Suddenly, though, she didn’t scream when I tried to nurse her. I could nurse her lying down. I was in a lot of pain from the unaccustomed sucking, but I managed. The pain only lasted about 10 weeks, and was worst after a feeding. I felt so sore and anything touching my nipples at all was unbearable, for about an hour after each feeding. Just when I was feeling better, it would be time to feed her again. But, we made it through.
It couldn’t be that easy, though. I was not eating well and I was so depleted that when she was three months old, I felt awful all the time. I was tired, I had no energy, and I had horrible joint pain. I felt like she was “stealing my essence” every time I nursed (I’d felt this way, minus the joint pain, the whole time — and several times in the first few weeks I begged Ben to just take her away and give her formula and leave me alone). A year still seemed like an awfully long time. I was afraid to carry her around because I was in so much pain, I thought I’d drop her. Right after that I started to take a multivitamin and within a few days, the joint pain was gone. This was the start of my journey to a healthier lifestyle.
I grew annoyed with breastfeeding so often, even after we resolved the struggles. Bekah wanted to eat every hour usually. Two hours without a feeding was unusual. Sometimes it was less than an hour. She slept better at night, but still was waking to eat at least once (which of course is normal, but I didn’t know that). I felt like my whole life was taken over by breastfeeding. I was willing to let her nurse so often because I figured it would increase my supply — but it never seemed to. She was always hungry.
By 18 weeks (just after 4 months), I’d had enough and I started her on solids. This quickly became her main source of nutrition, at least for several months, although she continued breastfeeding. She still breastfeeds now, at 20 months. After she was a year, she breastfed more often than she had from 4 – 12 months, and still does. Probably half of her nutrition now comes from breastfeeding, at least some days.
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Then there was Daniel. He was born at home, and was able to latch on with 10 minutes of his birth. He seemed to know exactly what to do, and even unlatched himself and re-latched when he hadn’t done it right the first time. He nursed for 40 minutes! Then he fell asleep for 11 hours. After that, he nursed about every 3 hours. I always felt like I had plenty of milk, even before my mature milk was in. Once my milk did come in, I was so full all the time that I was begging for a baby or toddler, SOMEONE to feed! I begged for a pump sometimes, but never needed one as Bekah was quite effective and happy to nurse!
Daniel’s three months now, and he has never had anything but breastmilk, straight from the breast. I’ve never pumped for him, never tried a bottle. At this point, we’ll probably wait another month and then introduce a sippy cup with a small amount of water or pumped milk (if I feel like it). He’ll never get a bottle, though.
The only problem I’ve had is when Daniel was 11 weeks, I had clogged milk duct and my left breast was very sore for a few days. I massaged it, put hot compresses on it, nursed frequently (usually Bekah, as she’s more efficient and can get more of the breast in her mouth), and took some lecithin. The problem resolved itself in about two days.
What I’ve Learned
I learned several things about breastfeeding from these experiences:
*I had a forceful letdown, which is common in women with large breasts. This makes the baby gulp and choke and it upsets newborns a lot. It was why Bekah screamed, and why she could handle it when she was a bit older and bigger. You can nurse lying on your back so that gravity doesn’t help the milk flow faster to help solve this problem, or use a nipple shield (see a lactation consultant for specific help).
*Drugs used during labor CAN affect your ability to produce milk. They don’t affect all women that way, but I believe that was a factor for me.
*Eating a good diet, rich in healthy fats, is necessary for producing a good milk supply (when I was pregnant, I noticed I had more milk for Bekah when I’d eaten a lot of fat).
*The struggles are worth it to be able to breastfeed your baby.