Friday, April 25, 2014

Breastfeeding is the Hardest Thing in the World

When I was about 8 months pregnant a friend asked me what I was looking forward to most when Eddy arrived. With just a little bit of thought, I confidently answered, "breast feeding." Her response was "seriously?!" I had this dreamlike vision of sitting and calmly offering to my child the perfect balance of nutrients and love. If you think about it the ability for us to actually make food that will not only sustain but help our children thrive is awesomely crazy. Over the course if human evolution, we have done a pretty good job of separating ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom. But the act of birthing a child and breast feeding it is something as natural as any other mammal would do in the wild.

Seriously. So cool.

Anyway, for these reasons, I was looking forward to the experience. I knew that breast feeding was going to be difficult. I had heard what a learning curve it is for both mother and baby and that many just don't get the hang if it for various reasons. Our 4-week baby class included a few hours with a lactation nurse where we learned the different holds, as well as other pertinent information. I was a bit nervous, but felt ready to take on the challenge.

Well, the challenge started right off the bat. An hour after Eddy was born, we attempted the first nursing session. She couldn't latch. Without skipping a beat, our awesome nurse Susan gave me a nipple shield which elongates the nipple and helps give babies something to suck on. It seemed to work because when we had our lactation appointment a few hours later, the nurse told us we were doing fine.

Cut to three days later. My milk wasn't in yet and Eddy was starving. The colostrum was no longer enough for her and she was hangry and dehydrated. She was frustrated with the fact that her efforts were not being rewarded and she gave up nursing completely. I would try to offer her the breast and she would try a few sucks then cry furiously. I too was frustrated and a bit scared but we had an appointment with the pediatrician the next morning. That night was a nightmare of a screaming baby and a frustrated mom, with dad feeling helpless next to both. At the appointment, my fears were confirmed by a scary amount of weight loss and some severe jaundice. She was also dehydrated and had low blood sugar. The doctor checked inside her mouth and mentioned she may be tongue-tied in the back. Needless to say I was a hormonal wreck. The doc gave Eddy some sugar water and formula at the clinic and she immediately felt better, as did I. (It was decided not to do anything about the jaundice for now since I have a low risk blood type.)

Lesson #1: It's ok to give your baby formula when they are hungry and your milk isn't in yet.

Once we got home, we decided to give the free lactation hotline a call because I was still nervous about my breast feeding abilities. We talked for an hour to a lovely nurse named Dolly who encouraged me and gave us some great advice. She made me feel better about having to use the nipple shield and told us about how much Eddy would need to get at each feeding. We decided at that point on a feeding plan that was a combination of our Dr's advice, the lactation nurse's advice, as well as our own parental instincts. So for the next 36 hours, I expressed colostrum, measured how much there was, and added enough formula so that Eddy was getting a half ounce every feeding. We carefully poured the colostrum into a bottle nipple so she could suck it down and did the same with the formula.

Lesson #2: It's ok to give a tiny newborn a bottle. Don't let the fears of nipple confusion get in the way of your child's need for food as well as your sanity.

Lesson #3: YOU know what's best for your baby. Don't let Google tell you otherwise.

A day and half later, Shawn looked at what I had expressed and noticed that it looked different. Four hours after that, my boobs started hurting and my milk came in. We tried nursing again (after a 2 day break,) and with the help of the nipple shield, Eddy had her first good nursing session. I thought I would cry from relief. Even though she was now getting a pretty good feeding every time, she still wanted to comfort nurse all the time. It was like she needed something in her mouth at all times. I needed a break so we introduced her to a pacifier at one week old. She LoVEs it. Best decision ever.

Lesson #4: Some babies just love and need a pacifier. You don't have to wait a whole month to give it to them if you feel like it would be beneficial.

We went to see a lactation consultant a few days later, hoping she would give us some more advice and help solidify our feeding routine. She was very thorough and weighed Eddy before and after feeding at each breast to calculate exactly how much she was getting and confirm that she was doing fine. She told us to wait a few weeks before trying to wean off the shield and agreed with the Dr. about a possible tongue-tie.

A few days after that, I had a chiropractor appointment. I was talking about our nursing struggles and the possible tongue-tie and my chiro suggested she check her atlas since that can cause latching issues. So Eddy had her first chiropractic adjustment at 10 days old. It was just a little fix and we were told to nurse right there in the office. It went really well. We thought we were on our way.

Now cut to a month later. Nursing was going pretty well, not too much nipple soreness, but I just started getting the feeling that she was having trouble getting full with the nipple shield. She would feed, then detach, then feed, then cry, then feed again. It could have been cluster feeding but I decided it was time to try again without the shield. It took a few tries, but eventually, I was able to get her to latch in the middle of a nursing session when she was nice and calm. It hurt a little, but she seemed to be more satisfied afterwards. A few weeks later, we were having whole nursing sessions without the nipple shield at all.

A few weeks ago, Eddy decided suddenly she was done with the shield. It was like a flashback to the time she stopped nursing at 3 days old. It was horrible. She would get mad that the shield was in her mouth and just scream and cry. I took the hint and didn't force the issue. I was still using the shield for my personal comfort since there are times when Eddy likes to thrash around at the breast. Like seriously tries to kill my nipple. She pulls in different directions while sucking and shakes her head back and forth like a dog trying to kill its squeaky toy. It can get really painful. She's so mean sometimes.

Then the vasospasms started. Ooooh boy. Those suckers are painful! Vasospasms are when the blood vessels in your nipples constrict and cut off circulation. Your nipple turns white or purple and it hurts like a som-bitch. It got to the point where my nipples hurt so bad I started being scared for the next nursing session. And don't get me started on the pain while toweling off after a shower. Yeow! And I couldn't use the shield anymore to help with the pain. I started pumping and bottle feeding here and there to give my poor boobies a rest, but she would get mad after each bottle feeding because she would finish it too fast and would think that she needed more. So nursing had to happen at least at night to help her calm down and sleep.

So off to the lactation consultant we went again. The good news was, Eddy seems to have grown out if her mild tongue tie. The bad news was the nurse couldn't really give me any sure ways to help with the latch to help prevent the nipple trauma that was causing the spasms. She did say that Eddy was a bit of a biter (ugh) and that I needed to do what was best for my comfort. She did give me lots of advice and made me feel better for the steps I had been taking. She suggested taking Ibuprofen and hot compressing my nipples after every feed to prevent the spasms, and changing up how I hold her. She also suggested we see a osteopathic doctor in case she needs a cranial/sacral adjustment if her jaw or skull structure is preventing a good latch. Great, more doctors. We haven't pursued this yet.

Now cut to the present. Eddy is just over 8 weeks old and is in the middle of her super angry period. You know, the time when babies just cry for the hell of it? Granted, we got lucky and she's not one that cries for hours on end, but she does get super cranky between 6-10pm and when she does cry, it's super intense. This means she has no patience to nurse during this time. She latches, sucks, then screams. I can tell she's getting full because I pumped afterwards and there was nothing left in either boob. Oh, and the fact that she dribbles it all down my stomach when she decides to scream mid-suck. She also is all of a sudden having trouble latching on the right boob unless I hold her a different way. Maybe the lactation nurse was on to something when she mentioned a slightly asymmetric jaw line. Maybe another chiro adjustment is in order. (That's free and I go there anyway, so I'm willing to give it a try.) I'm also thinking that she might be getting used to the consistent and fast flow of a bottle, since I'm pumping and bottle feeding during the day to get her used to it for when I go back to work, so maybe that's frustrating her too.

Lesson #5: Ibuprofen is the best defense against a vasospasm.

All this has got me thinking; what did the cavemen do? There weren't any nurses or doctors to analyze everything. Did babies starve? Did nipples just fall off? Were cave woman nipples just extra tough? Nursing is supposed to be a natural process. Doesn't that mean it should come naturally? Why is it so damn hard?

Lesson #6: Nursing is hard. Deal with it.

Now I understand why so many women just throw in the towel and go to formula. It really is an incredibly challenging process, nursing. But the advantages are so great. It's free food, it's perfectly balanced for babies, it convenient and always available, and it's the healthiest thing for them. It even helps prevent SIDS. Um hello. It helps babies stay alive. That's enough for me.

So I'm not ready to wave my white flag. My mind has little room to think about anything else at the moment, but through all the pain and frustration, the advantages still far outweigh the crap.

Lesson #7: Never judge a mother who gives her baby formula. You have no idea what she went through to make that decision.

Nursing often results in really cute moments like this. Or when she stares into my eyes.

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