Oh, breastfeeding. People talk about how amazing and easy (compared to making bottles) this incredibly natural act is. I must say, though, it truly is incredibly difficult those first few weeks, way beyond the difficulty of childbirth. Breastfeeding has taught me what it really means to sacrifice myself for the sake of my child. I wanted to give up every single day. I would watch the clock nervously, knowing that the next feeding was just a few short hours away. I began to resent my daughter’s cry of hunger..really. It was that bad. I hated breastfeeding. I am pretty sure that the only thing that kept me going was my own stubbornness. I wanted to prove to myself that I could nourish my baby all on my own, like it was supposed to be done. So I kept going. Let’s start at the beginning:
The first week really was amazing. As you might have read HERE, I had the perfect birth experience and went home the very next day to a house full of people I love making me food and keeping me company. I was sore, but I accepted that as part of the breastfeeding experience and went along happily. At Charlie’s 1 week appointment, she had gained 4 oz. YES! I was doing it right! I was thrilled and encouraged to keep going. So I did.
The second week was a little rougher. Instead of just being sore, I found out that Charlie had a really shallow latch and she was actually hurting me. I watched countless videos and read many, many articles to learn how to correct it, but it just seem to get worse. I figured she was just little and awkward and she just needed some time to grow a bit, so I kept going.
Weeks 3 and 4 were the bottom of the pit for me. On Sunday I decided I was feeling good enough to deep clean my house and rearrange my living room (I was only 16 days postpartum). I also cooked a wonderful dinner for our friends, the Witte’s. The next day I woke up with angry red lines running down my left breast, an achy body, and chills.
Sam was set to leave for a night the next day, so I prayed with all my might that this infection would leave my body in time. I swallowed 3 or 4 raw garlic cloves and took the hottest shower I could stand while giving myself the most painful deep tissue breast massage that I could manage. As bad as it hurt, I made Charlie nurse the left breast as often as possible. I guess God really supported my decision to breastfeed because he honored my request and the next day I woke up feeling brand new! Sam’s first night away was hard though. It was hard managing my two year old and taking care of the baby too. He was coming home the next day, but I was still stressed to the max. Well guess what else causes mastitis…stress. So Wednesday morning begins with more aches and pains and more angry red marks. I was ready this time. I took a few mega-doses of vitamin C, swallowed a few raw garlic cloves and a tablespoon of raw, local honey, took more hot showers with more painful deep-tissue massages, nursed the heck out of the infected side, and rested. I managed to kick it again. But then I started to ask myself why I was subjecting myself to this torture. I mean, Milo had been formula-fed and he turned out great! I kept my thoughts to myself though, because Sam was beginning to see my frustration with breastfeeding and if he even so much as hinted towards me giving her formula I was going to light him on fire.
The mastitis was gone, but Charlie’s latch was really starting to injure me. It hurt so bad that I thought I had thrush. Every time she would suck, it would feel like she was sucking fire and broken glass out of my nipple. Every muscle in my body was tense during feedings. I was like a dead person after rigor mortis has set in. My husband was really starting to get concerned and one day decided to make that “off-limits” suggestion. I ripped into him like a momma bear ripping into a curious camper who got too close to her cub. It was so bad that I don’t even remember what I said. I decided it was time to see a lactation consultant.
The first thing the LC wanted to do was weigh her. So, I stripped her down and placed her on the scale and watched the numbers nervously. Eight pounds, 10 ounces. WHAT?? This girl was, by no means, lacking food. As bad as it hurt, and as shallow as her latch was, she was getting all the food she needed. The LC was floored at her weight gain (she was 6 pounds, 5 ounces at birth and this was just a few short weeks later). So she wanted to watch me nurse. Of course, Charlie actually latched perfectly in the presence of the LC (something she had only managed to do once before), making me look like a big, dumb idiot for coming in at all. She gave me a few helpful tips (best one – do not hesitate to get her to the boob when she opens wide!) and sent me on my way.
Five weeks into this and it still felt like I was nursing a barracuda. I reached a breaking point in the middle of week five. After what felt like an assault on my chest, my sweet baby laid across my tummy, sleeping soundly with milk, the evidence of the assault, dripping from her mouth, like a vampire who had just had a delicious meal. I took my computer out and searched the words I’d been trying to avoid this whole time: best organic formulas. In my mind, I was failing. **Note – there is nothing wrong with formula. It was just a personal goal for me to nourish my baby by breastfeeding** I spent about an hour researching formulas and finally decided on one that I thought was best. I was too tired to go get my wallet to place the order so I resolved to do it in the morning and tried to get some sleep. This was also the week that the disgusting and incredibly ridiculous article about breastfeeding not being all that better than formula came out. So, I felt a little more justified, even though I knew deep down that it was a load of horse crap.
What happened over that night, I cannot explain. When I woke up the next day, Charlie was nursing perfectly. It was comfortable, she was happy, I was, for the first time, happy to feed her. It was amazing, and kind of scary. I kept waiting for the pain to come, but it never did. And it has been great ever since then.
They say it normally goes like that. If you just stick to it those first few weeks, drag yourself to hell and back, then it will just get better one day. And that is what happened for me! It just got better, and now I love it. I love nursing her. I look forward to when she wants to eat and sometimes even offer her the breast before it’s “time”. The best part of this whole thing is that I have not had to give her one drop of formula. She has been completely nourished by me and me alone! I accomplished what I wanted to for her and for me.
I’m writing this to keep a record for myself, but also to encourage any momma out there who is struggling through those first few weeks. Don’t give up. If you can, avoid giving your baby formula (it’s not a sin, and it won’t kill the baby, but it will probably hinder your breastfeeding relationship). Keep going!! It does get better. I hated hearing that. Everyone kept saying it and I was in so much pain that I just wanted to slap the caring expression right off of their face. But it’s true. I hated breastfeeding. I would say that out loud every time I was doing it. I kept thinking how easy it was to feed Milo…put the weird powdery stuff in the bottle, add filtered water, shake, stick bottle in mouth, done. But now that we are over that terrible hump, breastfeeding is much easier than formula feeding ever was. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, I simply turn over and nurse her, both of us laying down and still asleep. That’s productive multitasking right there..sleeping and feeding baby at the same time.
If I can do it with my terrible attitude and tendency to never follow through, anyone can do it. And it’s so worth it.
** another note – we all do what works for our families. This post was not meant to offend anyone who did not succeed or who decided to formula-feed. It’s just my personal experience that I wanted to share to encourage any mother who finds herself on the brink of giving up. **