As I’m sure many of you know, August is National Breastfeeding Month. I figured this was the perfect time for me, as my weeks of maternity leave dwindle down, to share my own journey with breastfeeding — both the ups and the downs. While fed is always best, being able to breast feed was something that was extremely important to me. Whether it was difficult or came with ease, I was excited and anxious to give it my best effort once Ella was born.
I’ll preface this post with first saying, I am no expert when it comes to breastfeeding. I had some prior experience working with breastfeeding mothers at WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) when I lived in Columbus, Ohio, but my words were supported by textbooks and educational videos that I had watched in school. I lacked the experience and understanding of one who has walked the journey them self. I squirm in my seat when I think of some of the comments that I likely made to these moms at that time. I was so blind at the fact that there is not one perfect way top breast feed. It is not a textbook subject and does not follow any written rules. I’ve learned this many times in the 2 short months that I have been doing it myself.
— I’ll finish this comment by saying if you need help and you are a breastfeeding mother, please consult a professional. Ask someone who is certified to give you sound advice and please shy away from any inexperienced individual who attempts to give you guidance. —
Before Ella was born and after I found out I was having a c-section I had an immense fear that I would not be able to breast feed. I don’t know where I got the idea in my brain that because I was not giving birth vaginally, Ella would not have the intuition to latch on after birth. I researched and googled “can I breast feed successfully after a c-section” and read countless numbers of articles and personal stories to feed my anxious brain. I did exactly what I tell others, including my patients and their families, not to do.
When I look back at the anxiety I developed about breastfeeding prior to her birth, I know exactly why I had this experience. Being told I was having a c-section was something that was out of my control. Losing the ability to give birth in the way I originally intended made me fearful that the one thing I could contribute — breastfeeding — would be taken away from me too. How silly and selfish those thoughts were….
~~~~ The beginning.
The day finally arrived and Ella came into this world with a bigger appetite then I could have ever imagined. I remember getting tearful when she latched on so effortlessly in my recovery room. Even the nurse commented on how surprisingly easy that was for both me and her. Her first feeding was just shy of an hour and I was on cloud 9. The next 2 days were filled with late nights of nursing and minimal sleep, but I could have cared less. I was so elated that this experience was going well, nothing could take away my excitement……. then my milk came in.
I remember waking up, looking in the mirror, and being horrified at what I saw. Surely something was wrong. I thought to myself, why didn’t we stay in the hospital one more night? While I have never been small-chested, what I saw in the mirror was foreign and painful. I panicked and texted just about every breastfeeding mother I knew asking what was going on. Do I have an infection? Is this what mastitis is? Sure enough, nothing was wrong… this was just what “having your milk come in” felt like.
I quickly googled ways to help relieve my pain. One of the first things I figured out was not to pump…. “don’t pump?!” I was so confused. How in the world was I supposed to get through the next few days (I remember reading it could take up to a week to regulate and wanted to start crying) with these foreign objects that Ella could barely latch on to.
Engorgement is no joke.
I continuously was trying to squeeze and pinch as much of my skin as I could into her mouth to help her latch. I was not only in pain, but I was more uncomfortable than I had every been during pregnancy. I spent as much time as I could rotating between hot and cold compresses and expressing milk out in the shower. I was constantly trying to apply nipple cream in between feedings. I was so emotional and so frustrated that I eventually turned to the Haaka. If you are expecting, add this to your list of things to purchase; it was my savior! I suctioned it on for about 3 minutes 2 times per day to help relieve myself. This seemed to help just enough to get me through this time without causing more harm then good. Believe it or not in those 3 minutes I was getting upwards of 2-3oz per breast… again, in 3 minutes.
Fast forward a week later…. I was no longer in pain and felt happy to be back to our normal feeding routine without continuous discomfort.
~~~~ The emotional rollercoaster.
Breastfeeding a newborn with a big appetite is something I was not fully prepared for. While I was happy that nursing was coming along with ease, I could not believe how much time I actually spent nursing during the day. I was so anxious about anyone coming into our home aside from our families knowing that pretty much every hour Ella would need (or want) to eat. This hectic schedule in combination with me being fairly immobile from the surgery set me up on our couch for a good 2-3 weeks. I had minimal movement other than to use the bathroom or shower. It amazes me that this time was only 9 and half weeks ago.
With little ability to do things for myself and being pinned to the couch the majority of the day, I felt myself feeling frustrated at the little-to-no privacy I had for myself. Even when I would shower, it felt like 10 minutes would go by and I would hear Ella start to fuss or Jeff walking upstairs with her knowing that it was time to nurse again. I would have minutes before my milk would let down whether I was ready or not. That meant many wet nursing sessions with me barely able to dry off and put on clothes before this would happen. While I was happy to be there for my little girl and thankful that she was thriving, I was completely overwhelmed, emotional, and found myself many times crying in the shower. Jeff was wonderful and supportive. With time my emotions calmed down and we were able to move on to the next stage of this journey.
No one prepares you for the amount of attachment you feel to your baby.
Ella was, and is, one of the happiest and joyful things that has come into our life thus far. As minutes between feeds spread out to hours, I started to thoroughly enjoy nursing time, especially when it was just me and her. I felt that “bond” that everyone talks about with breastfeeding knowing that she could rely on me to provide for her at any time of the day. It’s unlike any emotion I have ever felt. Still to this day, I tear up when I think (or type) all of this out because the love for her and our time together is so joyfully overwhelming and special to me.
~~~~ Milk supply.
With everything going well, I decided to start exercising again after I was cleared by my doctor. Surprisingly, running came back with ease, and I was happy to get in 30 minutes whenever I could during the week. I was elated to be active again and start feeling more like myself, until I realized that my sudden rapid increase in exercise was doing something to my body that I did not want.
I started to notice a slight dip in my milk supply and immediately regretted what I was doing. I tried to drink more water, eat more, but still felt my milk supply was not where it was just a few short weeks ago. I turned to my lactation cookies, which I felt helped, but having to many at once seemed to cause Ella to develop gas which made her fussy and irritable. I felt stuck and my only option was to slow down and try a few other means of exercise that were a little easier on my body.
Today, I think I have finally found a good mix of cardio (running and/or walking) + easy at home exercises with body weight or light weights that has helped feel active without dipping my milk supply again. I am also shocked at the amount of water I have to drink in a day!
~~~~ Rounding the corner.
Today, my headspace is much clearer than it was even a few weeks ago. I feel stable in breastfeeding for the most part and enjoy every little moment I get to spend with Ella. Nursing is something that has been challenging but very rewarding for me, and I am so thankful that I have the ability to provide for her in this way. In this new phase of our journey, I am trying to learn that life will be ok and Ella will not starve when I go back to work (any other mamas have this irrational fear!?). With help from Jeff and my mom, we have accomplished little victories in Ella taking bottles of breast milk from people other than me which has been both exciting and heart-wrenching for me to watch. I am excited and happy to continue this journey with her and am ready for the next curveball that is thrown our way. What an experience this has been thus far!