I was determined to breastfeed my baby. I knew how nutritionally beneficial breast milk is, and how important that bonding experience between mother and newborn is, so in my mind there was nothing that was going to prevent me from that. I luckily had several friends who have exclusively breastfed their babies, and so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. What I didn’t understand though was just how much technique was involved for something that is so “natural”. Breastfeeding is natural, but the technique involved… not so intuitive as it turns out. Your babies ability to suck, natural. Your ability to produce milk, natural. Putting those two things together, takes some work.
A few days after we got home, my milk came in and I started having some pain while breastfeeding. I knew that I should expect some pain as my nipples got used to the constant use. So I didn’t give the pain much thought at first until day by day it got worse and worse. By day three of increasing pain, I called our midwife. She came to our place and helped me with my technique, checking Cedar’s latch, she also checked to see if we had signs of thrush or mastitis, which thankfully we did not.
I continued to work on getting a deep latch with Cedar over the coming days, but the pain just increased. Our midwife came again to see us and we started seeing the lactation consultants twice a week. Cedar had a shallow latch so he was only getting on my nipple, causing extreme pain. I know I had just gone through labour, but this was a million time worse. The pain was searing, piercing, blinding; it radiated through my whole body. There was no breathing through this pain, it shattered me. Everything I tried didn’t seem to work, I would learn something new at each meeting with our midwives or lactation consultants, but none of it was helping. Whenever I would latch Cedar the pain was so unbearable I would yell out in pain and burst into tears. It was taking it’s toll on me, I was emotionally drained. I was afraid to nurse Cedar because of the pain, but I wasn’t willing to give up yet.
In addition to dealing with the pain, and working on Cedar’s latch I was also pumping after every feeding. Cedar wasn’t gaining weight, he was maintaining, but not gaining, so I nursed him every 2-3 hours and pumped after every feeding. I didn’t want to supplement with formula, so everything I pumped we would supplement Cedar with by cup feeding or lactation aid (small tube inserted into babies mouth while they’re nursing). This whole feeding, pumping process would take about 2 hours and so it basically felt like I was continuously nursing him. I was exhausted. It takes tremendous effort to get up in the middle of the night, when you’ve only gotten an hours sleep, to wake your sleeping baby, knowing that what awaits you is pain.
The pain I had nursing was not the only challenge, I was also worried that I wasn’t able to produce enough milk. Cedar was constantly cluster feeding, he never seemed satisfied, and so this was also wearing on me. I was taking fenugreek and blessed thistle, domperidone, eating oatmeal regularly, and Adam was making sure I alway had lactation cookies close by, but I still worried that I wasn’t producing enough. After a few weeks of the pain and the constant nursing/pumping I didn’t know if I could do it anymore.
One evening as I sat in pain, nursing Cedar, I talked to Adam about my fears. What if my body couldn’t do this. It was so painful, how much longer could I take. We, neither of us wanted to give Cedar formula, but ultimately the decision was mine whether to continue or not. I cried because I wasn’t willing to give up yet the pain was so bad. Later that night Adam made me call our Midwife, he thought I was going to pass out from the pain, I needed more help. I called C and cried on the phone with her. She was so patent listened to my fears. She asked me what I needed and then came right over to help how she could. This was my breaking point.
Before I had Cedar, my wonderful friend said to me “Breastfeeding might seem like it’s going to get worse and worse, and you are going to reach a breaking point where you think ‘I can’t do this anymore!’ If you can push though that, you’ll be on the other side. It WILL get better.” This is exactly what happened. After C came to visit things started to get better. Not in leaps and bounds, but every day it got a tiny bit easier. Cedar was gaining weight well, I was able to cut back pumping to 4 times a day, then 2, then nothing. Then I was able to stop feeding on our “every 2-3 hour” schedule and go to baby-led feeding. Finally, I was able to cut back the domperidone till I didn’t have to take it any longer.
It took Cedar and I about 7 weeks to figure out breastfeeding. It was REALLY, REALLY hard. I completely understand why some women don’t persist. I was lucky to have my husband home with me the whole time, literally spoon feeding me while I was either nursing or pumping. I also had the care of three midwives, and 2 amazing patient lactation consultants that we saw twice a week for 6 weeks. Not everyone has that kind of support, that team of people in your corner rooting for you. I don’t know if I could have persisted without them.
Now I get to enjoy every minute breastfeeding my baby. I look forward to it, because I get to have uninterrupted cuddles. We get to gaze into each others eyes, and I get to see all the funny little expressions he makes, and laugh when he pops off with a huge grin on his face, then rest his head on my breast and falls asleep. I also feel like superwoman, because getting through it all was literally the hardest thing I have ever done in my life both mentally and physically and I’m fucking proud that I stuck with it.