I used to look forward to the silence that would surround us at 2 am when my baby would wake to eat – again. The whole world was asleep and we were the only two beings on earth locking our eyes on one another in that moonlit room. This was not always the case, mind you. No, the first several weeks of breastfeeding were pretty terrible. It didn’t matter that I could teach someone how to latch a baby on correctly. I had no practical experience of actually doing it myself.
I had the great idea that if I had the “equipment” and my baby had the reflex, it would be easy to put us together and we’d be “The World’s Greatest Momma and Baby Breastfeeding Pair!” Uh, no – that’s not exactly how it went.
At first, we were pretty good at it. I had plenty of colostrum, a.k.a. “liquid gold,” that the newborn lives on for the first hours and days. And getting her latched on to eat while still at the hospital seemed pretty easy. She liked to eat – a lot. My more “mature” milk, (the white stuff) came in early – or so the nurses told me.
They didn’t really need to tell me this. I watched with a combination of fascination and horror, as my size 34 As ballooned to size 38 DDs almost overnight. In the shower at the hospital before heading home, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “Whoa – these are getting pretty big!” My husband was in the room on the phone with his father. I stepped out and mouthed the words “The Breast Fairy has arrived!” and flashed him. He dropped the phone in complete shock! But by the next morning, it was clear that my centerfold-worthy breasts were more of a curse than a blessing. My body had produced enough milk for an entire litter of babies! I was experiencing engorgement – with a little bonus of oversupply. (You can read more about this and how to work with it if it happens to you here.)
Each individual breast was larger than my head and they were painful to the touch. Getting my baby to latch on to a nipple that was stretched so tight it was completely flat was an issue. That, coupled with her ridiculous ability to shove an entire fist into her mouth just as I was getting ready to slip the nipple in, made the whole process more challenging than it needed to be. I couldn’t believe that it took four hands to get her on at first.
She would cry so hard when she was hungry that I would just shove her on as best I could, knowing that it was a horrible latch. How did I know? It hurt like hell – but at least she wasn’t crying anymore. I tried to comfort myself with that thought, but it was hard to do when my nipples were getting destroyed in the process.
The low point for me was probably “Day 5,” when she started to cry and needed to eat – and I started crying, too. I’d gotten to the point where I didn’t want to feed her because it hurt so badly. My husband frustrated by not being able to make things better announced, “I’m going to the store to buy formula!” We’d already called Lactation Services for phone triage three times, but it was clear that an in-person visit was now necessary.
Tracy, my IBCLC, was so good to me. She let me cry, listened to me, and helped me understand what was happening in my body and how we could make it better. I went home with an interesting “prescription:” cabbage leaves, hand expression, and even more frequent feedings than we’d already been doing. Only this time, with proper latch technique perfected and the permission to pop her off and start again if it didn’t feel good. Tracy assured me that my newborn would not die of starvation if she had to cry for a few more minutes before the right latch was achieved.
It took a little while for us to get into the right rhythm with each other. My breasts had to become less engorged before good latches were happening consistently. My oversupply issue was worked through by becoming a “one-breaster” – only feeding on one side at a time instead of switching halfway through at each feeding. For a little while, this meant I was pretty lop-sided. But eventually, we got it. We figured it out. With a lot of extra help, maybe, but still.
Breastfeeding is something that both Momma and baby need to learn how to do – together. It’s usually more challenging than you think it should be. And it might take awhile before you actually feel comfortable doing it. My initial struggle with breastfeeding was much harder than I had imagined and I would be lying if I said I never thought about giving up.
We did become “(One Of) The World’s Greatest Momma and Baby Breastfeeding Pair(s)!” My baby and I even mastered the skill of going from breast to pumped bottle and back again – which was an incredible achievement for all of us. This allowed me to get more sleep and my husband to share in one of the most important jobs as a new parent – feeding his baby.
We dropped into a daily schedule: I would breastfeed her around 9 pm and then my husband would stay up to watch “Conan” and give her a bottle around 11:30. This meant I would get to sleep until about 2 am.
And then I’d wake to feed her once again. The whole world lay sleeping as the silence settled in around us – her contented humming, and my relaxed sighing the only noises to break the stillness.
Did you have issues with breastfeeding at first? Did you have to make a different choice about feeding your baby? How did you feel about this in the first days and weeks of that 4th Trimester?
For a fantastic read about how real women experience breastfeeding, check out this book “Unbuttoned: Women Open Up About the Pleasures, Pains, and Politics of Breastfeeding.” It’s an anthology about the ups and downs of breastfeeding and a really good read.