As soon as I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I knew I wouldn’t give myself any other option than to breastfeed. I had the frame of mind that the more I knew, the better
off I’d. I got a little bit of information from my birthing class,
completed an entire breastfeeding class and went to another class at Babies ‘R’ Us. I bought
a new top of the line pump and laid out my birth plan to include immediate skin
to skin contact and to nurse my daughter before any visitors.
I was ready for anything, or so I thought.
As soon as she was born, my journey was starting out just as I had imagined. Just to make sure I was doing everything I should, I asked for a lactation consultant to help get me started. My daughter was born 15 days early, and she was really sleepy and hard to keep awake. But with persistence, my first attempt seemed pretty successful. Continuing on, I made sure I stayed on track and fed her every three hours. Once discharged from the hospital, I was a little worried to be all on my own, but I was so positive about it and had the full support of my husband, so I knew I couldn’t go wrong.
The days that followed
became more difficult. I started running into issues – pain and soreness
and my daughter continued to be sleepy. She would tend to fall asleep when I
would nurse her so it was taking nearly an hour every time I fed her. By
the time I was done, it would only leave two hours until I had to feed her
Between the pain and the lack of sleep, I was starting to get frustrated to say the least. I would cry almost every time, and right before she would latch on, I could feel my entire body tense up, knowing the pain that was coming. How could my sweet, toothless baby girl be causing me all this pain? It made me feel alone and physically and emotionally drained.
I went back to the hospital for a consultation hoping they could lead me in the right direction. I nursed her in the room with a LC there to watch and see what I was doing. She held my daughter’s head and maneuvered it to help her get a good latch. Everything else was looking good and I felt a little more confidence as I left that day. When I got home and it was time to feed her again I felt a sense of calm. But as soon as I tried I had the same pain.
I tried different
positions, watch videos online, I tried everything. I just couldn’t’ seem to
get it right. I was beyond frustrated at that point. My husband was 110 percent
supportive of me; he held me while I cried and told me it was OK if I quit.
I had put forth so much effort, and I shouldn’t be ashamed if I didn’t
want to continue, he said.
Physically I wanted to quit but mentally I wouldn’t let myself. I struggled because I knew this is what was best for my baby. And I knew that nursing any amount of time is better than none at all. I had to search for strength all around me, not only from myself but also from my family and friends just to make it through one more day.
I confided in a cousin who had recently gone through the same struggles – she made me feel more human. She bought me some supplies to help with the pain and provided support. Just knowing I wasn’t alone with my struggle made me gain a little more confidence.
After even more concerns with drying and cracking I got a prescription cream that began to help within a few days. I was feeling relieved beyond words. After a few more days, I was completely healed and feeling pretty good. Six weeks seemed to be the magic time for me. Since things were going well, I decided I would try to start using my pump because I was nearly halfway through my maternity leave, and my daughter had to learn to take a bottle. It seemed like it should be pretty simple, but it wasn’t as easy as I hoped. I again struggled to figure out a system that worked without causing pain. Another consultation with lactation helped me figure out how to pump successfully.
As time passed, I was so
glad I had stuck with it. I was starting to build up a good supply in my
freezer for when I returned to work. I ended up nursing my daughter for
more than 13 months and had enough frozen milk to last her to past 16 months.
I was ecstatic that I had surpassed my 12 month goal and given my
daughter so many extra benefits.
Fast forward about 3 years when I was pregnant with my second child and knew I’d be having a son. My husband and I were so excited. I knew I would want to breast feed this child as well, but felt like I was a pro after my struggles turned to successes from my first child. Being positive and asking for help were at the top of my list this time around.
Twenty-three days before I was due, my water broke. My husband and I went to the hospital and nine hours later we had a beautiful, healthy, 7lb 2oz preemie. I felt so blessed because he was completely healthy even though he was so early. But because of his prematurity, he was extremely sleepy all the time, and I could barely get him interested in eating.
In fact, lactation had me hand express my colostrum into a small cup, and I would feed it to him through a syringe. This method seemed successful, but I was worried that he wouldn’t learn to latch on correctly. Because of some concerns with his blood sugar that first day we had to supplement him with formula, something I wasn’t thrilled about, but they thought with just a little it might help him. That night we decided to send him to the nursery since I hadn’t slept in more than 48 hours and wanted to get a few hours of rest. As we woke up the next morning, I realized they never brought him back in for me to nurse him. I discover they instead gave him a bottle; I was distraught. I cried telling my husband that I was worried my milk wouldn’t come in now, and I wouldn’t be able to nurse at all.
My worries with this were put to the side soon though. My son had failed his third and final blood sugar test. This meant he would be admitted into the NICU at 27-hours-old. Although the nurses assured us he would be ok, you never want to hear that your newborn baby has to be taken to the NICU.
I cried as soon as they took him. About 30 minutes later, we were able to go down to see him. He was hooked up to an IV, heart monitor and had all kinds of other wires on him. I decided then that I would make sure he only got my breast milk and nothing else. I went down every three hours to the NICU to feed him and had skin to skin contact with him afterward.
I seemed to have the same issues with soreness as I did the first time, but this time I had lactation on hand 24-hours a day while being in the NICU. I can’t give enough praise for the nurses, doctors, lactation consultants and even housekeeping for being so amazing during our stay. Fortunately after three days of being on a blanket, then a light bed, his levels went down enough for us to go home.
I went home with a ton of frozen milk; my worries had subsided that my supply would not be enough for my baby. Again, six weeks seemed to be the magic number for me, and after that it seemed to be smooth sailing.
I won’t rule out the possibility of having an issue in the future as my son grows and changes, but for now we have made it more than nine months successfully. I am also extremely grateful to say that my supply is so great, that I have been able to donate about 1,600 ounces of frozen milk to a close friend and still have more than 2,000 ounces in my freezer.
I thank God everyday for the gift that I am able to give to my son and ask him to continue to allow me to help other babies by donating my milk. I read a quote today that really hit home “Your breastfeeding struggles are a badge of honor not a chink in the armor.”
I know breastfeeding isn’t for every mom out there and that there are circumstances that don’t allow you to continue breastfeeding. But there is no shame in those things. Even if you don’t reach your goal, you should still be proud of yourself for giving your baby any amount breast milk and know you are doing great things for your baby no matter if you can continue breast feeding or must formula feed the baby.
My message to all the moms out there who want to breastfeed their children, as long as you have no medical conditions preventing you from breastfeeding you CAN do it. You don’t have to give up, get support and get help if you need it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Breast feeding is such a personal journey and choice. It is not an easy thing. Know that if it is something you choose to do but don’t find success in or something you don’t want to do, you are no less of a mother than someone who does breast feed. What is important is that you and your baby have a healthy and happy relationship.