I’ve decided to write up my thoughts on breastfeeding, so that I might be able to remember what happened and know what to expect if I end up trying it again with future babies. So here we go, in several installments.
My daughter, Eliza, was born in October. Prior to her birth, I was much, MUCH more worried about breastfeeding than I was about labor, or really anything birth/child related – I have had non-cyclic breast pain as far back as I can remember, not bad, but bad enough: my boobs have always been off limits in intimate situations, I never ever stand facing a shower. Exercising has always been a tricky business – how many sports bras can I wear at once without making it impossible to breathe? (Answer: two, sometimes three.). I own probably 20 sports bras in a variety of colors because I wear them almost exclusively, to minimize movement and friction. So, going in, I am terrified, and have been voraciously consuming breastfeeding information on the web. And frankly I thought the majority of it was crap guess work (relevant: I’m a research scientist, and very little of the breastfeeding info out there is remotely evidence based).
In the hospital shortly after she was born, I latch Eliza on and commence squirming in pain, but I expected it to hurt, so I just deal with it. There is blood, there is crying (me and Eliza), I can’t really hear the baby swallow, but I know she does because later she pukes up blood. BLOOD from my BOOBS. I keep trying for the first 24 hours. The lactation consultant is called in on her day off, takes one look at my nipples, and tells me to not even try for four days because they are so purple and unhappy. We start giving Eliza formula when she is hungry, and I commence worrying about nipple confusion and the fact that if we were nursing, she’d only be getting a few milliliters at a time, versus the two ounce portions she is now wolfing down. The LC helps me get started with my pump, which hurts just as badly as the baby – I remember yelping in pain when I turned it on the first time, at the lowest setting. I pump every three hours, getting only a single milliliter or two of colostrum. I remember feeling proud and excited when I realized I could use a 1cc syringe to feed it to the baby – antibodies! My milk finally came in on day 5 – I figured that out after my mom accidentally elbowed me in the breast and my my milk let down hard and painfully.
Five days later at my post-partum check up, I meet with the LC again. She said the baby’s mouth is too small, and informed me that I have enormous nipples (who knew?). She said it could be six weeks before the baby will be able to latch well. She said I should try to nurse the baby once a day if I can stand it, and pump 8 – 10 times per day to keep my supply up. She was surprised that the bruising hadn’t abated more – my nipples are still aggressively purple. I wonder if they weren’t always that color, as I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to them before. My breasts hurt all the time – though much worse when I was pumping or trying to nurse. I’d say it was about a 1 – 3 on the pain scale most of the time, 3 – 5 during let downs (which happen every hour and half or so), and 6 – 8 when pumping or nursing.
At the beginning of week two, I went back to the LC. She remained surprised about the bruising and the pain that wasn’t getting better. It’s a deep, radiating pain. She mentioned thrush, and I mentioned Reynaud’s disease, which is a vasospastic disorder that has previously affected my fingers. Basically, when I am cold, the circulation to my fingers occaisionally shuts off. My fingers blanch white and go numb – like a limb that falls asleep – and when they warm up, I get some pins and needles, but it doesn’t hurt. I had read that this can happen to nipples and breast tissue, and though I have trouble associating the painless phenomenon I have observed in my fingers with the incredibly painful issues I was having with my breasts, I felt it worth mentioning. As soon as I said it, the LC’s eyes lit up. She was convinced that is the problem, and sent me immediately to my doctor for a prescription for a vasodilator, nifedipine. He also put me on an aggressive two week course of anti-fungals for possible thrush, as the two issues have overlapping symptoms (deep, radiating, intense pain). I also started taking fenugreek and blessed thistle to attempt to increase my supply, as well as doing power pumping sessions in the evenings – 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off for an hour, instead of the normal 15 minute sessions I did the rest of the day.
I did not get any immediate relief from the nifedipine, but I did get a wicked headache as a side effect. I continued to pump every three hours, and attempted to nurse the baby once a day for fear of her developing nipple confusion. She seemed thankfully content to suck on anything near her mouth hole. I reeked of maple syrup from the supplements. I randomly burst into tears at least once every day.
I was determined not to let breastfeeding make me crazy – early on I read the whole “step one, feed the baby. step two, enjoy feeding the baby.” credo and at least the first step stuck with me. Eliza got about 25% formula and 75% expressed breast milk from the day my milk came in. I remember wanting to delete all the photos where you could see her drinking formula, or out of a bottle, in the first few days because I felt judged (by WHOM??). I was very glad that my husband could (and would) help feed the baby – I would pump every three hours, and he would feed the baby on approximately the same schedule (determined by her). I was so glad that he could do it, enjoyed it, but I was also PISSED because he got to hang out and bond with the cute little baby, and I got to hook my tits up to a machine that HURT. Even after the initial trauma to my nipples healed, it hurt. It hurt so much that I would cry the entire time I pumped, and eventually I would start crying before I pumped because I knew how much it was going to hurt, every three hours, every day. I thought about stopping constantly, how much longer could I handle this, but I wanted very much to make it work. If it had been a matter of flipping a switch, if there were an off button instead of the necessity of ramping down the milk production, I would have stopped. But I really wanted the bonding experience I’d heard so much about, I wanted the immune system boost for my daughter. I was worried about the impact on her future – obesity risks, intelligence, things I knew were absurd except at the population level.
More than any of that, though, I wanted simply not to fail.