My Musings on Breastfeeding

Prior to EH's birth I was more or less "meh" on breastfeeding.  I did not feel strongly about it at all.  I had always said that I would "try it," but honestly I didn't feel too confident that it was going to be for me.  However, DH really wanted me to do the breastfeeding thing, and strongly encouraged me to do so.  I agreed to give it a try, with the caveat that if things went poorly I would not be upset or feel like a failure.

Things did go poorly in many respects.  My nipples were destroyed and incredibly sore in those early days and even now, they're not really healed.  Part of the reason for the nipple damage is that it took over 10 days for my milk to come in, and EH wasn't getting enough to eat.  Delayed milk production is something that apparently is fairly common with c-section deliveries, but no one at the hospital ever told me that.  It would have been helpful to know, and probably could have helped to prevent EH's jaundice. 
We met with 2 lactation consultants because of the problems I was having - one at the hospital and one that is part of an independent practice.  Both felt that EH was doing a great job!  He got a "latch score" of 9 (out of 10) from the Magee lactation consultants and the other consultant agreed that he had a great latch, despite the fact that I was still feeling pain.  So even with the delayed milk set back, I trudged on in this whole breast feeding journey.

But then I was diagnosed with that breast infection and infected nipple.  THEN I had that horribly painful clogged duct.  It was back-to-back and I felt like I couldn't get a break.  It was so painful that the pain would keep me awake at night - as if I needed something else to take away the precious little sleep I was able to get.  The pain radiated out into my left arm, shoulder and neck, unless I took large amounts of ibuprofen on a regular basis.  When EH would latch on to feed on that side (the left) it felt like I was being electrocuted at high voltage - it was that painful.  The jolt was so intense I felt it down to my toes.

It wasn't until EH was 5 or 6 weeks old that breastfeeding finally stopped being horrible.  It was at this point that we both started understanding each other better and I finally felt that unique bond that so many nursing mothers talk about.

He did seem to enjoy breastfeeding, and as long as he woke on his own and was ready to eat, he latched on fairly quickly (although not painlessly) and did a great job of filling himself up.  He's took to it so well for awhile there that I thought maybe I could continue to do this for a while.

But then, around 8 weeks or so, he started spitting up like crazy.  He would get fussy while he was eating and tug and pull or chomp down on my nipple in such a way that it made me yelp on multiple occasions.  I started pumping during some feedings to give myself a break from the nipple chomper. I started to develop a theory that EH was spitting up so much because he was overeating.  After conducting a few experiments that involved feeding him and then pumping (to see how much was left) and just pumping, I concluded that he was trying to eat 5 to 6 ounces each feeding, when really the pediatrician told us to limit him to 3 to 4 ounces per feeding.  No wonder he was throwing up massive amounts!!! His little tummy couldn't handle it but he wasn't self moderating at all.

So then I decided to stop breastfeeding him - we were both hurting from it - and pump exclusively so that I could better control his intake.  Since I was getting ready to go back to work anyway I wanted to make sure that I could get myself on a less aggressive schedule anyway.  I pumped 4 times a day (roughly every 6 hours) and was able to provide enough milk for all of his bottles for the day.  I also started giving him a bottle of formula at bedtime instead of breast milk because it seems to keep him fuller longer, and it allowed me to start building up a supply of frozen milk.  Although I absolutely hate pumping, I was relieved  that my boobs only had to work 4 times a day instead of upwards of 8 and I felt good about being able to still provide EH with breast milk. 

But after only a few days of exclusive pumping I developed a horribly painful clogged duct and that's where I'm at right now with this whole breastfeeding thing.  Quite frankly, I am fed up, and ready to be done with both breastfeeding and pumping altogether.  I feel like I've tried everything and really gave it my all but every time I think it's going well, there's a set back that makes me really seriously think about stopping.  This clogged duct might be the final nail in the breastfeeding coffin.  We'll see....

So while I consider myself to be moderately successful at this whole breastfeeding thing (after all, I didn't quit even though I went through what I consider to be close to hell with all of the pain and infections that I experienced in those early weeks) I am certainly no super-star.  I have no intention of providing breast milk for the entire first year of EH's life.

And if someone asked for my opinion, I would hesitate to push a soon-to-be-mother to exclusively breastfeed.  I find it to be exhausting and painful and time-consuming and while I think it's important to try I also would never ever criticize anyone who decides to stop.  Being the sole source of food for your infant - who needs to be fed anywhere between ever 1 and 3 hours in those early days - is incredibly stressful.  You can't get a break.  If your child is hungry you have to feed him no matter how tired or sore you are.  It's exhausting and some days I just felt so tired of breastfeeding. 

Pumping provides some relief - and it certainly had made breast milk production more sustainable for me - but you're still tied to something, whether it be a baby or a machine.  And you're also still very limited - from caffeine to alcohol to dieting to exercise; all of those things still have to be in extreme moderation.  Even after you're done being pregnant, breastfeeding basically imposes those same social restrictions on you and it has made it difficult for me to feel like I'm returning to a somewhat normal life.

I don't know exactly how things will go from here, but I have decided that I am now at peace with however things work out.  I can continue doing this if the clogged duct clears up and doesn't recur too frequently.  Or I can be done with it for good, and I won't have any guilt about that.  I tried hard and I do feel really good about my efforts.  Complications kept knocking me down though and I sometimes it's best to just give in and get on with life.  I know that no matter what I decide DH will support me and EH will still love me, and other than that there's not really much more that I can ask for.


Meredith Fields said...

I was completely planning on breastfeeding, and did for the first month. It was 100 times harder than anyone ever told me. Nate would not latch, even in the hospital, so i was exclusively pumping early on. But pumping every 1-2 hours as he needed it those first few days/weeks was brutal. I felt tied to the house, awake 24 hours a day (by the time i was done pumping, feeding, cleaning, it was almost time to start again). it got better when I built up a supply and could feed him without pumping first, but I found I was still tied to the house (could i run more than 2 errands at once? probably not or I'd start leaking through my shirt). Drs and nurses act like if you are going to give your child formula, you might as well give them rat poision. I along with millions of other people were formula fed and turned out just fine. We switched to formula after 1 month (Nate already had some due to jaundice early on too). It took me a while to not feel guilty, since I know breastfeeding is so good for the baby. But, I lasted a month. Turns out Nate is allergic to Milk (as I was) so if I was continuing to breast feed, it would have shown up and I would have had to cut all dairy from my diet on top of it being so restricted already. That made me feel better about my decision. It made me a much happier mommy which in turn leads to a happier baby. it really really helps when hubby can take 1 -2 feedings per day, so I can find enough time to sleep or make dinner, etc.

Good luck with whatever decision you make!! Just wanted to give you a pro-formula story since they seem to be few and far between.

Suzi said...

You get an A+ for effort in my book!

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