I fantasied about my beautiful baby, the serene looks we would give each other as I stroked his head while he got all his nutrients from my amazing goddess-like, life-sustaining, super perky breasts.
I did everything right. I went natural. No pain medications, no IV fluids, nothing to hinder the breastfeeding relationship during birth. I held my son for hours the day he was born, skin-to-skin. While I was being stitched up, my husband did skin-to-skin. Everything that I was supposed to do to create this beautiful breastfeeding relationship from the get go was accomplished.
But he didn't latch. He tried, the midwife tried, my doula tried, my mother tried, my sister tried, and I tried to get him to stay on my boob for more than three seconds but he just couldn't seem to get the hang of it. I had gestational diabetes so the midwife was a little more concerned about his sugars than most babies, so after trying to get him to latch unsuccessfully we began feeding him hand expressed colostrum in a dropper. I sat in a chair squeezing the ever loving crap out of my breasts while my mom crouched next to me and extracted every drop that came out. She handed it to my husband and he fed him. We did that until I could pump milk a few days later.
We tried to get him to latch every day but once he could get latched on it was painful. I was told by everyone that I would toughen up and that all breastfeeding is painful. My mom spoke of horrible scabs and blisters that I gave to her when I was born. It just seemed like it would go away, but it was horrible. I couldn't handle it. Maybe it was my hormones and lack of sleep but I bawled every time he would latch, after a minute I would take him off and hand him to either my mom or my husband and I would start to pump. I would cry pumping because I couldn't feed my baby. He was getting milk from me but I still felt like I was failing. My supply began to drop. First he got one bottle of formula, then two, then he was getting about 75% formula every day and I felt defeated. I knew he was fine and that the formula was giving him what he needed, but I thought my supply would never be able to recover.
He was checked for a tongue tie by his pediatrician, the chiropractor, and an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), all said he was fine, that my nipples would get with the program eventually or maybe they wouldn't, only time would tell. Any new mother will tell you that days feel like weeks and nights can seem like an eternity. Giving you no timeline for when the pain could potentially end feels like a life-sentence with no parole. I met with a second IBCLC who found a posterior tongue tie! I was so relieved for an answer to the pain. I could see a light at the end of the tunnel! I began using a nipple shield in the mean time and a week later his tie was revised. I was told that in two weeks I would see results. Three days later I got mastitis. I felt like I was going to vomit, I had a fever, a headache for two days, chills, sweats, and a boob that was as red as a fire truck. After that cleared up we really did have a couple weeks of general okay-ness. Still navigating through survival mode of the newborn stage, but breastfeeding wasn't as big of a hurdle every day. The nipple shield helped immensely. Almost exactly two weeks after his tie I could wean off from pumping every two hours and supplementing with formula and breastfeed exclusively! I was ecstatic!
My blisters were healing and the shield was saving us. People kept asking when I would wean him off it but I had no intention of changing anything because even if the shields would get lost and they had to be cleaned after every use, it was so much less hassle than cleaning bottles or pump parts! And then I got mastitis again. This time was much worse, partly because we were on the vacation from hell with my in-laws, partly because my son was going through his sixth week growth spurt, and also because we were six hours away from home and I didn't have my pump. My son wouldn't latch because it was so full and when I would hand express but I couldn't even get a drop out, it was so clogged. Somehow we made it through and we were back in the clear by the time we were home.
I began weaning off the shield, slowly but surely and was having discomfort, but my son could latch deeply and after the initial shock it would be okay. After a few feedings I would be sore and wear the shield when needed. Then I began getting stabbing pain in my right breast and toe-curling, teeth grinding pain when he latched on my right side. Dr. Google was no help, I even Googled breast cancer symptoms. I didn't go into detail with anyone about the pain because I thought it would go away. Not until someone at a breastfeeding support group told me she just got through thrush and began explaining her symptoms did it click.
So that's where I am now. We are both treating symptoms with medication. We are boiling everything that comes in contact with his mouth or my boobs. I didn't bother with any natural route other than vinegar washes on my breasts because I want it GONE.
I want breastfeeding to come naturally. I want it to be easy. I want it to be pain free. I just want it uncomplicated. I don't know what to do other than to forge ahead. In my mind, we have to get rid of the thrush anyways, might as well stick it out until it's gone and then see if I want to continue breastfeeding.
It's only been 15 weeks and I feel like this has transformed me. It's made me wonder how women before me made it and fed their babies with pain. It makes me feel selfish that I can't suck it up and deal. It frustrates me that I can't just take a break. I feel like a burden.
I was so excited to breastfeed. I feel utterly betrayed by my body during the down times. Especially when I wake from an restless night. I am trying. With the help from people like my mom, husband, and friends,but I don't feel like I'm doing a good job. I just want it to be easy. From all the imparted wisdom from parents before me - it sounds like I am just learning how difficult it is to be a parent.
Abby is a dedicated doula, wife and, new mother to baby Hank. Wise beyond her years, Abby's contribution to Two Hands Birth Services and all the families she has served has been immeasurable. Abby has just attended workshops and is in the process of certification to be a childbirth educator. You can read more about Abby on her profile page.