Breastfeeding {The Beginning}

I have had an amazing experience with breastfeeding. It is truly one of the most beautiful, incredible, empowering things I have ever done and I am so thankful that Lydia and I have figured it out so far.  Though we have had very few complications, nourishing a child with your body is an incredibly interesting experience and one that I really was not adequately prepared for. I will also say that in true Stephanie fashion, this will be wordy. I thought about summarizing it more, but I found very little information on what breastfeeding is really like while I was pregnant, so I’ll keep it more detailed just in case any mama-t0-be finds this post and wants a more “real life” look at someone’s experience with breastfeeding – which is truly something you can’t really describe, you just have to experience.

Lydia came out of the womb sucking. I really wanted to have immediate skin-to-skin in order to encourage breastfeeding, and I am so thankful that her first moments of life were spent on my chest learning to nurse. She immediately had a strong suck and was very eager. It took her a bit to learn to not suck on her lower lip or her pesky little fingers (which seemed to always be in the way!), but she soon got the hang of it and we spent the first two days nursing for about 15 minutes every 2 hours.

I was so fortunate to have little issues with pain. This was pure luck. I didn’t do anything to prepare my nipples, nor did I apply anything but milk to them during the first few days. Lydia simply had a good latch and took to nursing relatively easily.

For the first day we happily snuggled, only breaking every 2 hours to nurse. As day two began to close however, Lydia’s nursing sessions were becoming shorter and shorter until they were only lasting about 2 – 3 minutes. They were also spreading out to every 2.5 to 3 hours. I asked nurse after nurse if this was OK. “Totally normal” they told me, but I was still concerned. I double-checked with the Pediatricians, but they too assured me this was normal. The lactation consultant as well confirmed that this was totally normal as long as she was peeing and pooping, both of which she was (btw breastfed newborns only need to have as many wet diapers as they are day old for the first few days). All of their assurance didn’t do that however, and this is when I had my first break down. As we were getting ready to go home, I started to panic a bit. My baby wasn’t eating very much and I felt like I didn’t have any clue what I was doing. Sure, the three visits with Lactation Consultants were informative (btw, only one actually watched me nurse and she was only minimally helpful. She told me, hours after I had given birth, that I should be sure to learn how to nurse while lying down – excuse me?!? I can’t even see my baby’s tiny head under my ginormous boob, how the heck am I supposed to lye down and nurse? Hello?), but I felt completely unprepared to troubleshoot anything that may come up.

The car was loaded and our discharge papers were finally signed. Ben was strapping our tiny baby into her carseat for the first time when I suddenly couldn’t breathe. I began to panic and cry. My sweet husband looked at me and asked what was wrong. I let it out then: I was afraid. I didn’t know if she was eating enough. I didn’t feel prepared. What if I couldn’t do it. She hand’t eaten for a while, why wasn’t our daughter hungry? I wanted so badly to go home but I was so scared. I was panicking. He hugged me and said, “Babe, it’s ok. You’re doing fine. She’s OK.” Then he said some magical words: “Do you want to sit down and try to nurse her again?” Yes, yes I did. I had just nursed her but I needed to do it again. I needed to prove that her and I could do this. Something happened when I took our baby into my arms and sat in that rocking chair. As she latched and started to nurse (better than she had all morning) I felt relief wash over me. I could do this. She was fine. We were going to be ok. When she was done, I wiped away any remaining mist from my eyes and confidently (albeit gingerly, I mean, after all, I did just have a baby!) stepped into the hall with my husband and daughter and walked head first into our real life.

I started to make a bit of colostrum early in my pregnancy (around 20 weeks I think?) and it came easily after birth. I didn’t yet know if or when my milk would come in. This is one of those strange things about your body that you just have to experience in order to know about it. I remember asking the lactation nurse how I’d know that my milk had come in, she smiled and said me “You’ll know.”

Let me tell you, you know! We had been home for a few hours and were settling in and staring at my baby when I noticed my chest begin to tingle and my boobs started to feel full. Soon, before I had really realized what was happening, I had two huge, hard, almost buoyant cannons on my chest. Oh my gosh! Then, I started to leak. I had so much pressure behind my breasts that as soon as I would remove the pad milk would spray everywhere (everywhere!). Poor Lydia would try to nurse but she’d get so much milk on her face that she’d get distracted and start just licking her lips trying to lap the milk up. I would frantically try to wipe the milk away in order to help her, but I couldn’t keep up.

I started to lose it again. I wasn’t prepared for this! I’d never heard of people having too much milk and I didn’t know what to do. I called the Lactation Nurses and left a panicked message saying I was drowning my baby and I needed help. I didn’t hear back from them, so I decided to try to pump the excess milk away*. Sweet relief! In mere minutes I pumped off eight ounces of milk – 8 ounces! {This fact still boggles my mind because now I’m lucky to get three!} I only stopped to because I felt a bit of pressure release and I was about out of room in the bottle, not because the milk had stopped flowing.

IMG_1335

*Pumping when you have an oversupply really doesn’t help the problem, it may in fact make it worse. You may feel relief from the engorgement, but you may also signal your body to make more milk, which obviously isn’t needed. I know now that a little bit of hand expression is a safe choice for relieving engorgement because it will allow you to nurse and then you’ll only be telling your body to make what your baby needs. Simply express enough to soften the nipple enough to allow your baby to latch and then encourage your baby to nurse.

As it turns out, I was experiencing engorgement which is pretty typical and my issue was further complicated by a fast, forceful letdown. The best solution for this is to A) breathe and not panic, and B) nurse. I started block feeding, which is when your baby nurses completely from one breast at one feeding and then the other at the next, alternating every time, and hand expressing milk into a towel whenever I needed. I battled with the excess and leakage for a few days but it eventually began to calm down.

Side note: I wanted to be a good hippie mama and only use reusable breast pads. Ha! I soaked through those suckers within minutes! In fact, I even soaked through the Johnson & Johnson disposable pads within an hour. In hopes of not waking in a pool of milk, I even began to triple the disposable pads and follow with a wool reusable one, but alas, in the not-quite three hours I was sleeping, I’d leak through. I went through an entire box of J&J pads in three days! In fact, I didn’t stop leaking through my pads until a few days later and I had switched to Lansinoh disposables.

We eventually got through the initial bit of engorgement and overactive let down and at Lydia’s five day check up she had gained 4 ounces! We had a lactation follow up appointment immediately after and our weighted feeding showed her taking 58 cc’s of milk from one breast in 5 minutes! Wow! Lydia was turning into quite the chunk and I felt so much better. I must be doing something right! We were advised to keep doing what we were doing and that we had no need to wake you to feed you. Still, you were under 6 pounds so they wanted me to follow up a week later for another weight check. So, I nursed you when you wanted to and didn’t pay much attention to the clock. Instead I focused on your ever rounding cheeks and your chunkier and chunkier thighs. On your 12th day of life, we did our follow up check and Ben and I were sure they’d tell us Lydia had gained a ton of weight. I was so confident in fact that I wasn’t at all prepared for some woman we hadn’t yet met to come in and say that you had only gained 8 grams a day (they want 25) and that we’d have to talk to the doctor about feeding you more.

Again, the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity welled up inside me and I fought back tears. The logical part of me knew she was OK. She was rounding out and making wet diapers, but I was nervous nonetheless. The doctor (not our regular one) told me that I needed to feed every 3 hours, on both sides for 15 minutes. That was so not what we had been doing! Considering motherhood has only brought out more of my dramatic side, I immediately called the lactation nurse who was both encouraging (she made me realize this was not a big problem and we’d definitely be able to fix it) and discouraging (she suggested I pump and give Lydia a bottle). We set up an appointment for another weighted feeding the next day and I decided to try to feeding every three hours before trying a bottle.

Lydia must have known I needed encouragement, because she woke every 2.5 – 3 hours on the dot and ate and ate and ate. She even suckled for longer than her typical 6 minutes, but I noticed she wasn’t swallowing after that amount of time. The next day came and Lydia and I met with the lactation nurse. I told her what the doctor had told me and she looked at Lydia’s growth curve. She immediately was impressed with her weight gain! She pointed out that Lydia had never lost any weight and that she may have just had to much gain her first week of life, that she was just plateauing a bit in her second. We then did another weighted feeding where Lydia ate for about 5 minutes at each breast and took 28 cc’s from the first and 30 cc’s from the second. Just perfect for a 13 day old little nugget.

The most important thing I got out of that appointment was empowerment. Something about that nurses casual calmness brought me down out of my insecure, dramatic place and helped me feel, again, that I could do this. I could mother my baby and provide for her needs. I was capable of feeding her, loving her, and keeping her safe. I needed to trust myself, trust my body and to trust my baby. After that appointment I stopped tracking feeds and diapers and just listened Lydia. When she needed to eat, I fed her and I did so for as long as she wanted. If she was sleeping, I let her sleep and I slept too. I relaxed and my chunker monker never missed a feeding.

Happy baby with a full belly

Happy baby with a full belly

When we want back for another weight check a week later, our little missy was up 11 ounces, which meant she had exceed the goal of 25 cc’s a day and was hitting closer to 30.

We were doing this.

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