So. Breastfeeding. I've been wanting to write about it for a while, but my feelings about it change pretty much with every feeding. But I wanted to throw some thoughts out there, because I felt SO ALONE trying to figure things out for the first 2-3 weeks, which coincidentally was also the period of time when I was strapped on the crazy postpartum hormone train. And a disclaimer: these are just my thoughts. I am a pretty judgmental person, but I honestly have NO JUDGEMENT about the choices people make on the feeding front. Not after living through the process myself.
I came to the decision to breastfeed pretty haphazardly. It's encouraged by, well, pretty much everyone, and seemed to me, in the limited amount of time I spent thinking about it, to make sense. The natural order of things and all that. I took the prenatal breastfeeding class, which seemed at the time to be long on evangelizing about the wonders of breastfeeding and short on actual breastfeeding instruction. I read a little bit about it in my library of pregnancy tomes, but basically just thought I would figure it out when I got there. I mean, it's what nature intended, so how complicated could it be, right?
WRONG. Well, at least for me. I think breastfeeding can be pretty easy for some women, but I've only met a handful of these women. Every other new mom I've talked to falls into the "wow, this is way harder than I expected" camp.
Here's how things went for us during the first couple of weeks:
1. My first couple of breastfeeding sessions were completely unsupervised. A nurse basically dropped her off with me about an hour after I gave birth and said "you want to try breastfeeding?" and left. So, I hazily put her to the breast, and figured that even though it didn't feel very good, that probably was because I'd never had someone sucking on my boob that vigorously before.
2. When I finally got some guidance from a couple of different nurses, the message from both was basically "smash her face into your nipple, and she'll latch on eventually." By the end of day one, I had 3 blood blisters on my areolae, due to the Chicklette frantically latching wherever she could, with no meaningful guidance from me.
3. On the second day, a lactation consultant came by. She was appalled that the Chicklette hadn't "eaten" anything, diagnosed her with a "disorganized suck" (you think?) and immediately put us on a schedule of 5 minutes per side, pumping, and finger-feeding formula as a supplement. Which meant that each feeding session took about an hour and fifteen minutes, maybe a little less if the Mr. did the formula feeding.
4. On the third day, we went home, and then ended up back in the pediatric wing 3 hours later (due to a breathing issue completely unrelated to his whole feeding mess). The Chicklette didn't eat for most of that day, since we were in the ER getting ignored for a good chunk of it. We ended up back in the hospital under observation for three days, during which time I slept at home while the Mr. stayed with her at night. We only had time to try and get on the breast a few times during the day. Another lactation consultant visited us there, and pointed out (finally!) that she was only really taking the nipple and not any other part of the breast, and thus wasn't getting milk and was also damaging my nipples. I continued to pump after every "feeding," and my milk finally came in. We were able to finger-feed mostly breastmilk to her after a few days, which was nice.
5. We kept trying once we got back home again. When it got to the point where I had two significant, pus-y cracks on both nipples and my baby had swallowed enough of my blood that she was pooping it out in her diapers, I made an appointment with another lactation consultant, who showed me some techniques for achieving proper latch. She also told us to ditch the finger feeding and just use a bottle. After a few more days, a tube of Polysporin, and one more consult, we seemed to be on the right track. I might only feed her at the breast a couple of times per day, but they were good feeds and weren't damaging my nips any further.
Every day since then has gotten a little easier. I breastfeed her about 4 times per day, and we bottle feed pumped breastmilk the rest of the time. I pump about every 3 hours throughout the day and night, although sometimes I go a bit longer if she's had a good feed at the boob, or it's nighttime and I don't wake up. I'm not planning to try and get her breastfeeding exclusively, as it seems silly to do that, only to have to go back to what we're doing now once I go back to work. I don't really mind the pumping, and my supply seems fine (and seems to be increasing with her growth spurts, which I try to encourage through more frequent pumping during these periods).
Physically, there's no more pain, which has made a big difference. But the bigger difference? My mental and emotional outlook towards the whole thing. Once I was out of the post-partum blues (at about 3.5 weeks), I was able to utilize my own common sense and get over the guilt of not loving breastfeeding and trying to feed her at the breast exclusively. It wasn't enjoyable for me, it didn't seem to be all that for her either, and most importantly, the frustration of struggling with her 8-10x per day was almost completely eliminating any joyful time for us to spend together. And killing my sleep. Now, my husband can feed her once or twice during the night, and I can get a solid block of 5 hours or so, plus other naps between feedings.
(Oh, and my husband actually likes to be able to participate with feeding. Which is great for him, but also, in my opinion, fair. One of the other little things they don't tell you about the exclusively breastfeeding route is that it means that mom essentially has a baby tethered to her boob for half of the day and night. Which some women love, but it's not for everyone.)
Some of the women (including the lactation consultant) who facilitates one of my mom's groups discreetly roll their eyes at my feeding arrangement. Why am I not willing to go that extra mile to breastfeed her at every feeding? It's what's best for my baby!
To which I respectfully disagree. The Chicklette is gaining weight, occasionally sleeping through the night, and eating exclusively breastmilk. And even if she had to have a couple of formula supplements, that would be fine with me as well. She is thriving. And so am I. We enjoy our days together, and I'm able to focus on the parts of raising her that aren't just about feeding. And now that I'm sleeping more and feeling more rational and sane, I know that this balance is just as important as all of the other stuff. My daughter needs a mom who is not constantly at the end of her rope.
So, anyway. There it is. My breastfeeding manifesto. My advice for anyone getting ready to embark on this journey: do the best you can, use your common sense, digest the information that's out there (no pun intended), and make the decision that is right for you and your baby.