Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Breastfeeding

Preface: I've been working on this post for a while now (since just after Christmas!!) and have decided just to publish it before any more time has past. That way, I can post current updates without having to backtrack. I'll post my most current experience at the bottom of this post under "update".
I'm writing this at a time when I know I should be sleeping. It's still early in the 6 o'clock hour and I'm up before the sun. Benjamin is asleep next to me in his new swing. I know I should take this opportunity to catch a few z's but I want to talk about something that's been heavy on my heart and is constantly on my mind. Breastfeeding.

When I was pregnant there was never a question in my mind about whether or not I would breastfeed. Everything I ever heard or read told me that "breast is best". I wanted my son to have every possible advantage. What better source of nourishment than something God created uniquely for him and his needs? In my Hypnobirthing class and at the hospital orientation I was encouraged to take a breastfeeding class to better prepare myself. I remember thinking, "what is there to learn?" and "how hard can it be?" I honestly never spent much time thinking about how it would work or what it might feel like. I didn't educate myself or prepare myself physically, mentally, or emotionally for what such a commitment would mean. 

In my birth preference plan I said that I wanted at least one full and immediate hour of skin to skin time after birth which would include our first opportunity to nurse. I had read somewhere that exclusively breastfed babies should not be introduced to a bottle or pacifier for the first 4-6 weeks so as not to create nipple confusion so I was adamant that should Benjamin leave our room, he not be given any type of nipple for any reason. Without any direction or real help from me Benjamin latched on immediately. Those first couple of days in the hospital he ate like a champ and never lost any of his original birth weight. My nurse had taught me the football hold to give me better control and gave me samples of lanolin for my nipples. I was seen by two different lactation consultants who wanted to check our latch and make sure that it was correct and discuss any questions that I might have had. I didn't have any. I wasn't sure what to ask. I was given the number to a hotline and information about a Moms 2 Moms breastfeeding support group offered by the hospital twice a week. Off we went. 

My milk came in after just a few days and it was so incredibly painful for me. I was not prepared for this. At. All. I think in the back of my mind I remember hearing that breastfeeding was hard. Never, ever do I remember anyone mentioning the excruciating pain that would ensue for the next several weeks. In the early days I was completely engorged and for whatever reason my right breast had it the worst. My boobs were so massive and hard that I had a hard time getting Benjamin to latch on. He was frustrated and frantic and tearing my nipples to shreds. Way too many times I'm not sure which of the two of us was crying louder. Ben was still here that first week and wanting desperately to help me. He would make trips back and forth to the bathroom to soak a hot wash cloth in an attempt to give me some relief. He picked up boo boo packs for me from the store. He'd bring me water, turn on the fan, you name it. I was told at the hospital that milk letdown would feel like mini electrocutions or pins and needles. Apparently, I'm one of those lucky ones who experience a painful letdown. It felt like fire running through me! Benjamin nurses anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours now from start to start and my milk letdown happens immediately after every feeding. This means that throughout most of the day I am experiencing these painful sensations. It's exasperated when I'm cold which, thanks to these hormones, is pretty much all the time. 

When Benjamin was 5 days old we went to the Moms 2 Moms group in hopes to get some advice from the lactation consultant facilitating the group. Unfortunately, for me, she was out of town for the birth of her grandson. I received some advice from the woman filling in for her but it wasn't very helpful. I was desperate for anything to help my nipples at this point. From my perspective Benjamin's latch was good but it still hurt so bad! I went to the store and bought everything they had from breast pads to soothing hydrogel packs. I already had several tubs of Lanolin which I received at my baby shower.

I was feeling discouraged and like every feeding might be the last. I was bargaining with myself just to make it through the current breastfeeding session. Mothering a newborn can be very lonely at times. You may have several people surrounding you but in the beginning its really just about you and your baby. When you breastfeed exclusively, like I am, you spend a lot of time alone. So, I started searching out advice and encouragement from women currently going through the same things I am and thankfully I found both. Sometimes its nice just to hear that you're not alone and that what you're going through is perfectly normal. I definitely needed that! I'm so thankful for my friend, Joy, who has nursed five of her own children(!) for demonstrating a good latch and encouraging me over FaceTime (and also not minding that my hair was a hot mess, I was wearing pajamas, and I had a tear streaked face). I found baby blogs by moms that don't mind sharing the nitty gritty but also encourage others by sharing their joy. In my search I also found excellent resources like kellymom.com. Google any breastfeeding question and chances are that website will pop up. It's a mecca for the boob related.
Update: Benjamin is now six weeks old. As of 6 o'clock this morning we have nursed 502 times totaling 169 hours. That's SEVEN DAYS, people! That means we spend 1/6th of our time breastfeeding so you can see why this is a big deal to me! For the most part things have improved in the last couple of weeks. I still feel new at this and I know there are ways I can improve so that this is a more enjoyable experience for the both of us. I feel so encouraged that Benjamin is a growing, happy baby boy. That is my #1 concern in all of this. When I stood on the scale with him yesterday he weighed 12 pounds!! I know we're doing something right!

I've visited Moms 2 Moms group two or three times since our initial visit. Yesterday, I went for help with our holds and advice on his latch at night. It had gotten to where I was only really comfortable with the football hold when he nursed on the right and cross cradle on the left. I never even considered this, but the lactation consultant pointed out that that means he's always coming toward the breast in the same direction which isn't good for him cognitively. Good to know! So now we're switching it up. It's still awkward for me but I'm sure it'll get easier with practice. My concern about his latch at night (specifically on the left) is that its hard to get his mouth open wide enough when he's half asleep and frantic. The LC gasped when she saw the literal holes in my nipples. When a lactation consultant with 25+ years experience gasps at your breasts you know its a pretty big deal! Believe me, I know!! It goes without saying that we're still very, very sore over here. Some days his latch is awesome, we're on a great "schedule" and I think OHEMGEE, we've made it! And other days, not so much. I have an APP on my iPhone that tracks all things baby, including his feeds, and I'm somewhat obsessed about analyzing it. He was on a pretty good routine, more or less, with two long stretches of sleep at night and okay napping during the day. Late last week he started a growth spurt and that all changed. He's currently eating every 1.5 - 2.5 hours most of the day. In the evening he cluster feeds before bedtime at around 9 PM resulting in one "long" sleep of about 3 - 3.5 hours. The rest of the night he's up every hour and a half. Mama. Is. Tired!

I stand by and am so happy with my decision to breastfeed. More and more feeds are enjoyable and it's becoming the bonding experience I always wanted and thought it could be. I love to look down and see him staring at me or to feel his little body so limp and trusting around my own. I love how he always has to hold on to something. I'm starting to get more comfortable holding him without all the props, pillows, and comforts of bed. We've nursed in the mother's room at Babies 'R Us a couple of times while out running errands and we've had to get creative nursing in the car a couple of times too. Things are looking up! And on that note... it's time to go feed a hungry baby. ♥