Before giving birth, I didn’t fill our home library with baby books (I merely skimmed parts of Babywise), and I only took two classes – one which was very ‘Baby 101’ and another on breastfeeding. I left the hospital, where the latter class was held, slightly traumatized. After watching video on video of women self-expressing (which I didn’t even know you could do), I began to worry about the process. Was it going to hurt? What if I couldn’t produce milk? What if Isla had issues latching?
Well, just a few weeks later, Isla was born on Wednesday, June 4, and the very next day, I knew the answer to my first question – yes, it was going to hurt. Contrary to what the nurse had told us (“It only hurts if you’re doing it wrong!”), I felt agonizing pains shooting through my chest every time Isla latched on. I had arrived at the hospital prepared with Lansinoh Soothies Gel Pads and Lansinoh Lanolin Cream, thinking I’d use both to battle any potential discomfort. It turns out, the initial pain can only be slightly reduced with both of these products (which I do highly recommend). 48 hours after Isla was born, I began dreading breastfeeding, knowing that the pain was so severe. I would hold Sasha or my mom’s hand and squeeze it tightly for the first 60 seconds until the pain would dull slightly. I thought to myself, ‘I would rather be in labor than go through this 7 times a day!’
After arriving home from the hospital, I couldn’t take it any more and broke down crying on the Friday night. My mom is amazing and quickly ran to Walgreens, as she told me about Medela Contact Nipple Shields that she promised would help. And ohmygosh, did they ever. I honestly think I would have become a strictly pump and bottle feeder had I not discovered the nipple shields. They were life savers.
Four days later, we were busy celebrating Sasha’s birthday with his family at our house at lunchtime. I began to feel feverish and achy, which I worried was the flu. By the time my family arrived for dinner festivities, I had no appetite and felt awful. My mom was staying at our house to help, and she asked to see my boob. When I showed her, she quickly clicked around Google and diagnosed me with mastitis (bright red splotchy patches on my chest made it pretty obvious!). I made an appointment with my ob-gyn the next day, and she confirmed that I had this infection and said there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. Cue me sobbing. Ugly, tired tears. She comforted me and reminded me that being a mom is incredibly difficult and that it would all get easier. She scheduled an appointment with a breast specialist the next day and put me on antibiotics in the meantime.
I went with my mom and Isla to the specialist, and she told me that I didn’t need to get the infection drained (something I had read about on the internet and was petrified). I was just to take two prescriptions for 10 days until the mastitis was completely gone. That was a fun experience, as one medicine was to be taken with food every three hours, and the other was to be taken 1 hour after eating every four hours. To a tired mom, that equation was like rocket science.
Using the nipple shield, breastfeeding quickly became enjoyable. We would have a million visitors at the house, but when Isla needed fed, I got to escape to her tranquil room and she would cuddle with me and drink my milk. She would normally fall asleep in my arms, especially in the early days, and I would just soak up every minute. Feedings took about 45 minutes in the early days (only 5-10 minutes now), and it was so nice to relax and have mother-daughter bonding time.
I continued to use the shield until Isla was 3 months old, when I began to wean her off it. It took a few weeks of having slight latching problems, but nothing so bad that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who chooses to breastfeed. If I began to have any cracks, I would apply some lanolin, and I’d be healed in a number of days.
One of the only breastfeeding photos I have of Isla is appropriately at the top of a mountain in Durango – 3 miles into our Animas Mt. hike (nothing like some nice sweaty milk!)
When Isla was around 4 months old, one of my best friends was visiting from Oklahoma for the day, and in the late afternoon, I began feeling like I had just had the world’s most intense workout. I was so sore. And then I began to feel feverish. And I knew that mastitis had struck again. This time, I was quick to call my ob-gyn’s emergency line and got medicine immediately. After a few days, I felt as good as new. This happened for the third time about a month later. I had definitely had enough with mastitis. I read many, many websites offering tips on how to prevent mastitis, and I became diligent on pumping at night when Isla began to sleep longer hours and always used cream when my nipples looked cracked. Feeding Isla in different positions and varying sides also helped.
My breastfeeding goal before Isla’s birth was to make it to 6 months. Now at 9 months, I think I will try to wean her at a year. But I wouldn’t be against prolonging that. I’ve read that mothers should not breastfeed while they are pregnant, so perhaps I’ll stop when that happens. I try not to think about it, as I never know what will happen tomorrow (maybe I’ll ‘dry up’ or once I start working, be too busy to feed or pump). The point is, my take on breastfeeding really, really changed over the last 12 months. I was nervous about the pain and worried it would be too much of an inconvenience to have someone dependent on me every 2-3 hours. But I love it. I love when I go into Isla’s room in the morning and she reaches hungrily for me, knowing I’m going feed her. I love that when she’s hungry and we’re cuddling, she will nuzzle for my chest. I love that she makes excited noises whenever we sit down in her glider, as she knows what’s coming!
I know that there is a great debate over breastfeeding and bottle feeding. I truly believe that there is no judgment to be had either way. I personally have loved the journey we’ve been on (no so much the mastitis or cracked nipples – I’d pass on those for baby #2!), but know that it is not for everyone. I do, however, want to offer some words of support for any new breastfeeding mom:
- Hang in there, it gets better. As I mentioned earlier, I was ready to quit on day three. Almost three hundred days later, I’m dreading the weaning process. If you’re in pain, try a nipple shield. Count to 60. Read a book. Do whatever it takes to take your mind off the pain.
- Ask your family and friends for encouragement. I don’t think I could have continued without my mom being there by my side, reminding me of all the benefits of breastfeeding. Having moral support from someone who feels strongly about breastfeeding is so helpful.
- Make goals and reward yourself. I am a really competitive person, so it helped for me to have the 6 month goal. If you’re competitive or work well with goals and rewards, set a time frame in mind and once you get there, treat yourself (new shoes, maybe?).
- Buy yourself pretty maternity bras. One of the worst things about breastfeeding is feeling like you are a cow (and you will feel that way!), but if you buy yourself pretty maternity bras, you can at least feel like a gorgeous or sexy cow! Have you ever checked out Hotmilk Lingerie? Ooh la la.
- If for some reason, you cannot breastfeed, don’t beat yourself up. Formula is not evil, as you might be brainwashed into thinking from any breastfeeding class. Bottle feeding is an intimate time as well, and mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed should never, ever be made to feel guilty. There is so much ‘mom guilt’ associated with things we are moms are faced with, and I hate it. Let’s just support each other, not judge.
So now, it’s your turn. Did you breastfeed or bottle feed? Do you have any words of encouragement to a new or expecting mom? Please share!
PS I read this amazingly funny breastfeeding post on Pic & Dac the other day. Give it a read!