On Breastfeeding: The Beginning

by Ginger on October 26, 2010

in Mom Thoughts

I’ve been wanting to write a post about my experiences breastfeeding for a while now–not to tell anyone how it should work, or what they should do, but for my own memory banks. Breastfeeding has been a (mostly) really positive thing for me as a mom, and I want to put it into words to remember. I’ve been hesitant because I’m not sure I’ll do my memories justice, plus there’s the inherent touchiness that this subject can bring up. But as I look back over the past year, I find memories of breastfeeding to be fading quickly, so before they’re completely gone, I wanted to write about them.

Of all the things to worry about with being pregnant and becoming a mom, the one I stressed over the most was my ability to breastfeed. When I was pregnant, I think I had about 3 breakdowns that boiled down to my worry over whether I would be able to or not.

Let me clarify: I have no problem with formula, and said many times frankly that we would breastfeed until it didn’t work anymore, and then we’d move to formula. My concern wasn’t with formula, it was with me.

I’ve long been…less than confident, I guess… about my body. Or rather, my body’s ability to do what it’s supposed to. Particularly when it comes to the breast area. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been a little self conscious about my boobs, and in particular my nipples–my flat, almost inverted nipples(TMI alert!). So to have this thing that is based around the area of my body I’ve always felt was flawed? Well, hello insecurity, nice to meet you. Add in a hefty dose of hormones, a penchant for over-researching every possible thing that can happen both good and bad, and boom, we’re looking at massive breakdowns over a theoretical inability to nurse. I was worried that my nipples would be a problem, that I wouldn’t be able to make milk at all, or that Jackson would have severe allergies and I’d have to go on a strict elimination diet.

Now, in retrospect, I think my freak outs were less about my ability to nurse, and more about my concerns that I was going to be out of control of my body (one way or another), both with nursing and with delivery. It was just easier to focus on the actual nursing aspect.

Anyway, so I’m freaked out and stressed, and then I have my less than perfect labor & delivery and then my whacked out 3 hours in recovery, and then I’m finally taken back to my baby. And I’m hold him for the first time, and then…I’m facing my fears of nursing.  I’m holding Jackson, and trying to get help from the nurse with the latch. Who took one look at me and said with a giant sigh and a cluck of her tongue “You’ll never be able to nurse with those nipples.” I  felt like punching her, but instead asked if there was anything we could do. She sighed heavily and said we could TRY a nipple shield, but she wasn’t sure it would work. We tried without, and sure enough, no go. So someone found me a nipple shield to try.  Of course, I had heard how THIS could be detrimental to nursing, but figured it was my only option. Well, let me tell you guys. The nipple shield was barely on when Jackson latched. And started sucking. That damn little piece of plastic (or silicon or whatever it is) did exactly what it was supposed to do.

Now, I’m going to say upfront–we faced a lot of things that can be detrimental, or problematic for nursing & latch. To run down the list:

I had an epidural
I had pitocin
I had a c-section
I was in recovery for 3 hours before getting to hold or attempt to nurse Jackson
I have one flat nipple and one partially inverted nipple, so
I used a nipple shield exclusively for the first 3 months
Jackson had his first pacifier his first night in the hospital, mere hours after his birth
He had his first bottle at 5 days old
We put him on an eating schedule the first 2 weeks due to his jaundice (he ate every 2 hours–more often if he wanted, but at least every 2)

And yet, despite all that, we had no problems with his latch (I used the nipple shield for 3 months, which he did great with, and then he was patient/skilled enough to not need me to use it). He never had nipple confusion. He was a pro at nursing pretty much right away.

And what of my fears of my body not making milk? Well, a story to illustrate. The day after Jackson was born, an LC came to our room to see how I was doing. I told her things were going ok, but that I had to use the shield. As we’re talking, she says “well, when your milk comes in…” and I had to interrupt her to say “um, I think my milk HAS come in.” She told me that I would know–that my boobs would be rock hard and painful, and were they? I said no, they weren’t painful, but since I was soaking wet from the chest down I was pretty sure my milk had come in. Of course in hindsight, I was on some GOOD painkillers due to the c-section, so I’m not sure I would have felt the pain. Eventually, my letdown had a specific feeling–neither painful nor comfortable–but it took about 2-3 weeks for that to happen. For about 3 weeks, I just always seemed to seep milk without feeling letdown.

Those first few days in the hospital were insane. I was trying to learn how exactly to nurse with the c-section–hell, I was trying to figure out how to sit up in bed with the c-section, so adding in the bumbling and fumbling with pillows and the nipple shield and the baby and it’s a miracle Jackson ever got fed. If not for the help of my husband/mom/nurses, there’s no way I could have kept nursing those early days. (Seriously, I needed someone to help get me from laying down to sitting up, even with the magical hospital beds). The support that N.C. gave me in particular was so fundamental to my ability to breastfeed that I marvel at women who do it without someone by their side.

I was also blessed with an extremely (minus that first nurse) helpful and supportive group at the hospital–from my nurses to the LC’s to the doctors who came in and out. When Jackson was diagnosed with jaundice, they gave us multiple options to try, including one that allowed for me to continue nursing. None of those options were given any more or less weight than the others, and all were presented with the same “ok, welp, this is what we can do” attitude. When we chose the path that would allow me to keep nursing, but without an SNS, that was cool by everyone. I hear horror stories about some people’s experiences with their medical teams regarding nursing/not nursing and it makes me feel so sad because (again, excluding that one nurse who I wanted to punch) EVERYONE we dealt with was so very “what’s right for mom and baby is what’s right”–and that attitude went a long way to help me feel at ease with our choices, my fumbling, and breastfeeding in general. There was no pressure, and that helped immensely.

The beginnings of things are always the most complicated aren’t they? Somehow I’ve written almost 1300 words, and I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff, the stuff I meant to write when I started this post, so I’ll have to continue that part of the story another time.

bekah October 26, 2010 at 9:24 am

I cant believe the nurse said that to you! I am very much pro-breastfeeding, but think its up to each mom to make that decision, you know? but for a medical professional to flat-out discourage someone who wants to breastfeed is shameful. Way to stick with it! It was way harder than I expected at first!

Ginger October 26, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Yeah, she was…less than helpful. It was really unfortunate that she was the first nurse I dealt with, you know?

Luckily I’m stubborn 🙂

Erin October 26, 2010 at 9:40 am

I had a similar experience with my nipples. The first LC I saw came in and said, “Oh. Have your nipples always been like THAT? Hmmm.” And then she showed me how to use a breast pump and left. I felt like there was something really wrong with my boobs, but I didn’t know what.

Ginger October 26, 2010 at 4:35 pm

It’s like these LC’s and nurses need some training on what NOT to say!

Rachel October 26, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I had a VERY painful time breastfeeding at the hospital. They would ask me how my C-section felt on a scale from 1-10 and I would tell them “My incision is 4 but my nipples are a 9!” We tried everything except for the one thing I asked for, a moist hot rag. As soon as I got home I did some moist heat and BAM! no pain, no problems. This time around I will listen to my nurses about my surgery, but leave the nipples to me.

Ginger October 26, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Ugh. Why wouldn’t they get you a moist hot rag? It seems like a simple enough request to me (but what do I know?)…

To be fair, the nipple shield REALLY really really changed my pain level to almost none (at least for my nipples). Because I had that barrier, the latching and sucking didn’t hurt, even if the engorgement had. That’s one reason I won’t ever speak poorly of my nipple shields!

Rachel October 26, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Yeah we tried the nibble shield but it didn’t work for me. I think every mom has their tricks.

kate October 27, 2010 at 10:56 am

Oh, the breastfeeding thing. I made the mistake of going through pregnancy and even right up to labor thinking that breastfeeding is “natural” (which it is) but that that inherently meant it was “easy”. Errrr! I was wrong. Nurses telling me my nipples were inverted and offering nipple shields as the only option because my nipples were literally useless. But, we trudged on and Beckett (my little trouper) was a nurser, a BIG nurser. She loved it and was great at it. So, with the help of a life-saving, angelic lactation consultant we weaned off the nipple shield and stuck with nursing for her first year of her life. Nurses are good at caring for c-section patients, but the LC was exactly what I need when it came to nursing.

And, hey, 1300 words is testament to the title of your blog. Ramble…ramble… 🙂

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