If my blog readership was previously 99% female, that figure is about to become 100%. Because this post is about boobies, and not in the way that men like to talk about ’em. ( . ) ( . )
Breastfeeding is hard. Not only do nursing mothers have to deal with crap like this (woman fired for needing to pump at work), and this (TSA embarrasses woman by requiring her to pump at security), and this (Target employees threaten nursing mother with ‘indecent exposure’), but we also have to fight the good fight against all of the struggles that breastfeeding presents, in general. One would think that something so natural would be easy. But, it’s tough and any mom that tries to say otherwise is lying or, in my personal opinion, a freak of nature. Oh, and that “it shouldn’t hurt” crap, is just that – crap. The pain…oh the pain.
There is an incredible amount of pressure on new mothers to breastfeed nowadays. Even the formula can says “breast is best.” The pressure begins in the first minute of the child’s life, with the hospital nursing staff stressing the importance of getting the baby to latch. So, I think there’s a lot of guilt when mom’s can’t/won’t/don’t breastfeed.
But, if you are able to start breastfeeding, I think it helps to start with a small goal in mind. It is really daunting to say I must make it a year. After all, you’ve just gone through 9 difficult months of giving up your body so that it can be invaded by another human being… You’re basically signing your body over for another entire year. For me, my first small goal was to get through the first two months and reevaluate from there.
Before becoming a mother, I was clearly misguided in thinking that my only body part capable of getting chapped were my lips. Cracked. Bleeding. Pain. Lansinoh’s Lanolin was my BFF for the first few weeks of Charlie’s life. There is no sexier feeling than that of slathering your teats with balm….Mooooooo.
On the plus side, the nipple chapping tends to subside after you toughen up…I think for me that took about 2 or 3 weeks. One might expect that the pain would stop at that point. And, I think for most moms it does…given that their child has a proper latch and that they don’t run into anything nasty, like mastitis or thrush.
I didn’t run into the nasties. But I had pain, and lots of it. I decided early on that I’d nurse through it and subscribe to the mantra “never quit on a bad day.” But it soon looked as though I could never quit, because every day was a bad day.
I continued to breastfeed Charlie through the pain for quite a while. It would mostly hurt when he would latch and then right after he was done. When Charlie would cry out in hunger, I would cry out at thought of feeding him. The pain made his little gummy latch seem like this:
It eventually got so bad that I was in pain all the time, 24/7. A burning, shooting, throbbing pain. No matter what I tried – a deeper latch, holding in different positions, everything I could read about or Google – I was still in pain. I began to wonder if I would ever be able to wear a shirt again without it feeling like sandpaper.
The final straw for me came on Christmas Eve. After Charlie’s evening feeding, I looked down and was startled at the sight of blood flowing out of my nipple. Merry Christmas, Mama – here’s a broken blood vessel for you! It was time to reach out for help.
I called Maine Medical Center and set up an appointment with a lactation consultant immediately. MMC nurses and the LC’s were really great while we were in the hospital, so I knew they would help me try to figure out what was wrong. So, in we went.
“How long have you been having pain?”
“About seven weeks now.”
Yep, that was how our conversation started. Note to all nursing mothers, do not wait 7 weeks to reach out to a lactation professional. Nursing through the pain isn’t good for you OR your nipples.
The LC watched me nurse Charlie. He had a good (but not perfect) latch, so she gave us some tips. Then, she watched as my nipple turned completely white, then blue, then red. (Is it weird to have someone watch your nipple? You might think so, until you remember that many someones watched a child shoot out of my crotchal region.) Then the burning started. Then the severe pain. And wouldn’t you know…I had me a case of Raynaud’s.
Raynaud’s Phenomenon “is a vasospastic disorder causing discoloration of the fingers, toes, and occasionally other areas. This condition can also cause nails to become brittle with longitudinal ridges. Named after French physician Maurice Raynaud (1814–1881), the phenomenon is believed to be the result of vasospasms that decrease blood supply to the respective regions. Stress and cold are classic triggers of the phenomenon.” Of course I end up with the weird syndrome of my “other areas.” I would expect nothing less of myself.
I was prescribed medication, and had to use lots and lots of hot compresses. After a few days, finally the pain subsided. Haaaaaaaaaaaaallelujah.
Even though it came with lots of pain, I had made it through my first short-term goal (2 months). So I decided to keep going and try to set my sights on 6 months. It has been difficult, especially with going back to work. Now, there is the pressure to find time to pump during stressful days when I have no time. Pressure to remember to eat my breakfast and lunch, and drink plenty of water, when I have so much work to do that I can barely find time to go to the bathroom in a day. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how much easier it would be to break into a can of formula – but still, we press on.
Lately, Charlie has been doing this thing where he cries while is feeding. He moves his head back and forth like Stevie Wonder, but instead of singing and playing piano, he’s screaming and swatting at me (aka, beating up the boob.) Today, the pediatrician confirmed our suspicion that Charlie has realized he has to work harder to get the milk from me than he does from a bottle, so this little game is his attempt to get us to give it to him the easier way.
Also, about two weeks ago, Charlie has started waking up during the night. For a baby that has slept 5-7 hour stretches at night since coming home from the hospital, this has presented as a new and exciting adventure. We thought, for sure, he must be hungry. So, we’ve ventured into the land of solid foods. That is, if you can really call rice cereal a solid food. (Which, yes, technically it is.) At his check up, our pediatrician gave the green light to proceed and just see if we may get longer stretches of sleep. This appears to be a controversial approach, because now some new “science” suggests waiting until after 6 months to give solids to babies. But, there is also a little thing called mother’s intuition. And I can tell that this child is hungry. The rice cereal isn’t intended to replace the nutrition he gets from milk, but our hope is that it will make his little tummy feel full longer. So my mommy-science says that anyone that judges our choice can bite me.
The doctor also suggested that we try to let Charlie self-soothe a little more. Nursing to sleep? Guilty as charged! But, it just works so well… there’s something to be said for being able to just plop a crying baby onto your boob in the middle of the night and drift off back to sleep. However, when Charlie hits 40 and still needs a boob to fall asleep we’re going to have some serious problems…well, I guess by then it’ll be his wife’s problem.
The painful challenges of the past and these new and improved challenges have led to lots of frustration. Concern over my supply, Charlie fighting the boob for his bottle preference, the sleepless nights. Each challenge makes me want to inch closer and closer toward formula. But, for it’s challenges there are also lots of rewards – the bonding, the health factor, the low cost! I’ve set my short term goals knowing that it will help me get to our long term goal of making it a full year. We have 2 months until we achieve the next goal…then we will reevaluate. No matter what happens, I’ve done my best and that’s all that counts!