THE TRIALS, TRIBULATIONS AND EVENTUAL REWARDS OF BREASTFEEDING
One of the most difficult and unexpected parts of becoming a new mom was breastfeeding. Growing up I lived under the assumption that all women were glowing pregnancy goddesses who coaxed their baby onto their nipple and the rest was history. Well, I was in for a shock.
Before I share my story I want to say, the last thing I want to do is add any unwanted anxiety to those expecting. This is my story and my experience. It isn’t universal. The purpose of me sharing this is to show solidarity with other women who have had similar struggles and to take the pressure off feeling like we have to “get it right” the first time. On that note...
My first attempts at latching were unsuccessful. I knew it would take time, I’d been told as much,but it made no difference. In the first 24 hours I was told to try and express colostrum (the sticky, first substance babies consume before your milk comes in) onto a spoon so we could spoon it in his mouth. This was so traumatizing (insert my stepdad in the corner trying to figure out where to look as this happened) that I instead spent 20 minutes carefully and painfully attempting a latch. Carefully and painfully, I managed some awkward, short nursing sessions in the hospital until it was time to go home but he just didn’t want to seem to eat.
Holden’s arrival came 6 days early, in 9 hours and three pushes. Clearly, someone was in a rush and it wasn’t me. His quick exit resulted in him holding fluid in his tummy which would have otherwise had time to be expelled in the delivery process. I didn’t realise until later that he didn’t want to eat because he still needed to cough up some of that goo he’d been swimming in for months. When it finally came out a lightbulb went off but hindsight, as they say.
Day 2 of being home my milk came in. My ducts were so backed up and blocked that my breasts felt like rocks. I applied ice to them to soothe the burning pain but it only seemed to make it worse. When I tried to nurse it felt like my baby was clamping down and biting me. Things began to crack and bleed. I was dreading every feeding.
The public health nurse came by week 1 and suggested I had thrush. I didn’t think I did but she got me a terrifyingly expensive 200 dollar prescription from my OB over the phone to treat it. I’m thankful now I didn’t fill it. It was well intended on her part but from what I knew of thrush it didn’t seem likely that this was my issue. If I had to do it over, I would have gone to my GP to make sure but in the early days, also struggling with postpartum depression I was scared to leave the house.
Finally, two weeks into my struggle, my Doula, also a lactation specialist, asked if I had ever noticed my nipples turning white. I said well, actually...yes. This was the beginning of getting to the root of the problem and it had a name - Raynaud’s. Also known as Vasospasm of the nipple, most of the time this condition occurs in people’s extremities (fingertips, toes) when a trigger such as cold, causes arteries to spasm and blood flow is reduced to the area. Pinching, burning sensations as the blood supply is cut off and then returns can be mild to extremely painful.
The triggers? Ice. I had been icing my boobs like mad. Citrus. I had been drinking copious glasses of OJ. Caffeine. I had still been downing my morning cup of coffee. Temperature changes no matter how small, my milk coming in, let down...sometimes it felt like blinking brought it on.
For six weeks I tried to force my body not to be what it was. I started taking Nifedipine to lower my blood pressure. It helped with some of the pain when I wasn’t in the middle of a nursing session but it wasn’t significant enough to make things easier. To make matters worse, my son’s upper lip had a slight lip tie. It wasn’t significant enough to warrant clipping but enough to make the already frustrating sessions even harder. What should have felt lucky was my abundant milk supply, except this created intense let downs which caused my little one to sputter and come off the breast. The cycle of getting a good latch would start all over again. Spasm, pain, frustration, feelings of failure. Then, because I hadn’t been able to drain my breasts they would clog painfully. Six weeks in, I was an absolute mess.
So, we bought a pump, bottles, and sat my child who I just wanted to cuddle without it causing me pain (did I mention, Baby on chest even on top of clothes...also a trigger) in a vibrating chair and 8 times a day 20 mins at a time I pumped. I froze bags of it, I labelled and tracked and set up the bottle order so that milk pumped at 2 p.m. was fed at 2 p.m. I had very little life, always needing to rush home when I managed to get out, but at least I had a small sense of pride in getting. it. done. Still, I was so jealous of moms who could snuggle their babies or nurse them back to sleep without warming bottles. My partner got up at 4 a.m. every night despite needing to work so that I could get up at 4 a.m. to pump. No one was sleeping. It was exhausting. I felt robbed of an experience I had looked forward to my whole life.
Five and a half months into my breastfeeding journey I had enough milk packed away to last until my son was 9 months old. I came off the Nifedipine slowly and carefully and decided to start weaning myself off the pump. The very morning I sent my partner a “today is the day” message I was changing in front of my son. As I was putting my bra on he gave me a look. A look that said “I remember those.” I don’t know what possessed me but I pointed at him and back at my chest and said “You wanna try this again?”
I sat down in the rocking chair and he popped right on there as if we had been doing this very thing the whole time. It still hurt a little but not like it had previously. It was warmer outside now.The spasms were getting better. His lip had stretched a little like the doctor said it would. It just worked.
It went so well that for the next two weeks I gradually swapped out bottle sessions for nursing sessions. My partner had done some research when I was devastated and kept telling me maybe one day you’ll get him back on the breast. I didn’t want to hear it, but I’ve never been so glad he was right.
By 6 months old we had switched over and I continued to nurse him until he was 20 months old.I got to have all the cuddles, nurse him when he was sick and watch as he grew from my body. It blew my mind.
My partner and I are thinking about trying to have another baby. I still have Raynaud’s, it’s still worse in the winter, though not as painful as it was when I was nursing. I don’t know what it would be like the second time around but at least I’d feel somewhat prepared. In the end, you just never know what to expect. You can’t predict your journey however, when you want to give up, the unexpected can be a good thing too.
**Additional note: Fed is best! Fed is best! Fed is best! I support women doing whatever makes them and their family healthy and happy.***