Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Let's Talk - About Breastfeeding - It Hurts!

I have been wanting to start this series for a while. It has been on my heart to share some of my experiences with you so that maybe I can help some of you. Some of these experiences were easy and will be lighthearted posts simply sharing some tips and tricks with you. Some of these experiences were hard and will be more deep sharing. I will try to be open and honest because I know that that will help the most people. I will try to give you as many details as I can remember, some of these experiences happened over a year ago. I would also like to hear your experiences. I would love for this to be a safe place to open up and share our stories.

For some reason feeding Little Man has been one of the hardest things that I have had to deal with as a mother so far. (And for some reason I am just the type of person to chose my hardest experience to share with you first :) And yes I do have some tips for you and I will give you hope too.

When I was pregnant I did a decent amount of research on breastfeeding. I knew that was the route that I wanted to go. I was totally convinced that breastfeeding was the only way to go (and I admit shamefully I was judgmental about those who chose not to. Yes, I have changed that view, I still think that breastfeeding is best and it would be best if women would at least try it, but I do understand what would make a woman give up on it). So, with that research, I thought I knew what I was in for. It seemed that yes, some women simply are not capable of breastfeeding for various reasons, but for those who are it is fairly natural. Yes I read some articles and such that said that breastfeeding can be hard, and it is not easy for most moms and babies, that it takes some work and it is something you have to learn to do. But I don't think that those articles correctly expressed exactly how hard breastfeeding can be. They made it sound like if you just work at it you will get it and it will become easy (yes that is true in my case, but just work on it makes it sound quick and easy, it wasn't.).

In the hospital when I first tried breastfeeding I had the had the hardest time getting Little Man to latch. No, that doesn't describe it correctly. I could not get him to latch. I would get him up there and he would suck for like 1 second and then fall off again. The few times he would stay on he would fall asleep almost immediately. So like I was told in the articles I asked for the lactation Consultant, knowing that that should just solve everything (or so I was told). The Consultant eventually showed up about the third or fourth attempt at feeding. She showed me a few techniques and basically forced Little Man to latch and it worked! (well he ate for a few more seconds at a time and she helped put him back on when he fell off). I thought my problems were solved. I tried again later without her and found that in order to implement her tips I would have needed at least 3 hands. So I kept trying on my own for a while but most of the time I just ended up asking one of the nurses to help me. So I finally got fed up and asked for her to come back again the next day.

When she came back I asked more pointed questions and asked her to tell me what to do instead of just doing it herself, so I could learn to do it with just the 2 hands I had. I knew that I needed to learn to do it on my own because I wouldn't always have helpful nurses around to provide the 3rd and 4th hand. The lactation consultant (LC) gave me some more tips and tricks which didn't really work, so I was starting to get discouraged. One of the things I asked was for them to watch to see if he was latching correctly the few times he did latch. Because when he was eating it hurt a lot. Everyone (the articles and the LC) kept saying that if I was doing it correctly it shouldn't hurt, just a tugging sensation, and maybe a little soreness as I was getting used to it. So I figured I must be doing it wrong since I was experiencing A LOT of pain. After watching for a while they said that the latch was correct. So what I learned from that is no matter what they say breastfeeding can hurt even if he is latched correctly. I kept trying at the hospital, and never did get it exactly right, but I thought I had it figured out enough that with practice I would get it. I was wrong.

I am not sure I can accurately describe how hard those first months were. I knew that breastfeeding was best for little man, and I really wanted to give him the best. But it was hard. I hated breastfeeding. Not just didn't like it, or didn't care for it, I hated it. It hurt a lot every single time. I was so sore and bruised. I was feeding him every three hours even over night so the bruises never had a chance to heal. It would hurt from the moment he latched on. And the hurt never really went away, it just dulled when he wasn't eating. I was daydreaming daily about stopping and just giving him a bottle. And I mean every day, every feeding, every time I thought about feeding. I honestly was not sure the breastfeeding would make it through the first month, or the second. I only made it by sheer willpower and God. I took it one feeding at a time. I told myself that I would make it through that feeding, that was it. I did that every single feeding.

Another thing that was hard those first months was the sheer amount of time consumed by feedings. Little Man would take a minimum of 1 hour every feeding (minimum, meaning sometimes he would eat for 1.5 to 2 hours). And like I said I was getting him up to feed him every 3 hours, so literally 1/3 of my life was spent feeding him. I simply could not keep him awake while I was feeding him. The "experts" (articles) advice for this was to just force him to stay awake. They gave all sorts of tips and tricks to keep a baby awake, and trust me I tried all of them. I did the wet washcloth, running my finger up his spine (that worked the best for me), talking to him, etc. It all worked, for less than a second, then he would go to sleep again. I would have to sit there running my finger up and down his spine (or whatever trick I was doing) to get him to eat very much in a row, and eventually he would become desensitized and sleep through even that. I was doing everything I could and it was not working, so I gave up and just read or watched tv while I fed him so that I could at least bear it and tried not to fall asleep (it didn't always work).

I tried everything I could think of those first months to try to make things better. I really wanted to succeed at breastfeeding. I tried smothering on lanolin and using breast pads for the pain. I tried everything I could to keep him awake. Nothing was working and I was losing willpower, it was just too painful. I even thought about just pumping and feeding that to him (because at that point pumping was less painful) but that took even more time because the pumping took an hour and then he would take forever eating it, and I wasn't producing enough when pumping so i would have had to supplement anyways. At some point I broke down and bought a nipple shield. I had read about them and had asked the LC at the hospital about them but she said that it was only for people who had a specific problem (I don't remember what, it was over a year ago) and that if I started he might get addicted and not be able to feed without it and I would have to wean him off it. So I tried going without it. But I finally decided to try it. I figured if it saved breastfeeding it was worth it.

And I was right, it was worth it! I think that one little device saved breastfeeding for me. And Little Man didn't get addicted to it, I did. It didn't take the pain away completely, but it masked it a lot. I stopped getting bruises, and as Little Man slept a little longer at night they started healing. I found that I could make it through. I still daydreamed about switching to formula, but it was less often. And as little man was getting older he started staying awake longer which meant eventually feeding took less time (that took several months, but it did happen eventually, by the time he was a year old he only took about 15 minutes to eat).

After things got better with the nipple shield I had some hope, but I was still worried about Little Man. I was worried because after doing some research I found that the nipple shield caused a decrease in lactation and my milk supply could go down. I was worried because I wasn't sure if Little Man was getting enough food. And I was really worried because Little Man was slow in gaining weight. I did go to the dr. but they were just monitoring it, they wanted to wait a little while to see if I needed to supplement. So after a while I went back to the LC. One of my friends had told me that the LC could weigh Little Man before and after the feeding to find out exactly how much he ate. And I wanted her to show me again how to feed Little Man without the nipple shield since everything seemed to be saying that I would have to learn that eventually.

Going to the LC was a great decision! It was a different one than the one who helped me in the hospital and this one was way more helpful. She did weigh him before and after the feeding and that gave me the reassurance that he was getting enough food. She also gave me the wonderful news that I could continue using the nipple shield the entire time he was breastfeeding as long as I pumped 3 times a day too. She also gave me several tips and helped me feed him without the shield and without pain for the first (and only) time. I tried what she showed me later at home and found out that what I was doing there didn't work at home with any of the furniture I had. So most of that didn't help, but like I said it was worth it for the reassurance and finding out I could keep using the shield.

She did help me realize a few things about Little Man's eating style. He was a lazy nurser, he was trying to suck like he would with a spaghetti noodle instead of the chewing sucks he was supposed to be doing. He also had a tendency to pull his lips in, they were supposed to be spread wide like a fish. She helped me work with him on both of those. That helped sometimes, but I sometimes got lazy and let him nurse how he wanted. If it hurt a lot I would change it but most of the time it was just easier to let him eat. That part was my fault, I was lazy. If you want you can do better on that than I did. It is possible that if I worked harder it might not have hurt after that, I don't know for sure, but it is possible.

So learning that I could continue using the nipple shield the entire time I was nursing, and that Little Man getting enough food made it a lot easier because I didn't have those things to worry about. It still hurt, but the pain was bearable. It was generally just a dull ache with an occasional sharper pain. And as Little Man was staying awake longer and getting the hang of nursing better, the time factor also got better. Little Man was a champion sleeper and was sleeping through the night by 7 weeks old (he probably would have earlier but I was getting him up on a schedule for the first several weeks in order to establish nursing well) so I was finally getting sleep and didn't have to sleep as much during the day. And he reduced the time he took to eat also. By 6 months it took an average of 1/2 hour (It may have been earlier, I don't remember exactly). I think he went down to 15 minutes of eating somewhere around 9 months. Let me tell you having time in my day again was amazing!

As nursing got easier I stopped hating it. I stopped having daydreams about formula after those first couple months. By 6 months I couldn't imagine stopping, I didn't really see the point. I had worked so hard to get to that point, there was no way I was giving up just when it got easy. And I managed to make it to 1 year! We had kinda a mutual weaning that started about soon after his birthday. So I did it, I succeeded! I made it to 1 year (that had been my original goal, before all the difficulty)! It was a hard long journey, but I did it!

So I made it, but at what cost? I don't mean at the end. It was easy by then. The hardest thing then was just the inconvenience of trying to nurse a squirming 1 year old (which is extremely difficult in public, trust me). What was the cost at the beginning? I couldn't enjoy my first few months with my son. Instead of enjoying the cuddle time I was wincing in pain and wishing I could give him a bottle. Would I do it again, knowing what I know now? Probably, because I know about the nipple shield now. I know I can use it from the beginning if I need to. I don't have to just sit there in pain. I will probably start off without it to see how it goes, but have it with me just in case. If it is as bad as it was last time even with the shield I don't know what I will do. Maybe I will keep going, maybe I will switch to formula, maybe I will pump and supplement, we'll see. But whatever I end up doing will be a win because I tried, and because the baby would still be getting good food.

So what's your story? What was your goal? Did you make it? Was it hard for you? Did it hurt? Would  you do it again?

* I am not saying that it will work this way for everyone, or that everyone should even try. I would love to have you comment and leave your story, but I hope that you will be nice and respectful, and take this as it was meant to be - an open sharing of my story, not a judgement or even a comment about you. Negative comments against me or any of the previous commenters will not be published so please don't take the time to write them.

Linked Up To:
The Frugal Girls, Monday Funday, Cornerstone Confessions, Blissful and Domestic, The Thriftiness Miss, While He Was Napping,
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