Friday, March 9, 2012

Our breastfeeding journey

The topic of breastfeeding can be a tricky one to write about. Audrey finished nursing almost four weeks ago, and it has taken me that long to write a post that I think is honest, but still sensitive to the varying experiences out there. I am really proud of our breastfeeding journey and want to document it, but please remember that this is our journey and our experience. I am not judging anyone else for their journey, simply sharing ours.

Before Audrey was even born, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I think we can all agree that breast milk is the most beneficial to a baby, if it is an option. It is specifically designed for that purpose. While I'm sure there are great formulas out there, breast milk is ideal. So I did my research. I read about breastfeeding, diet, complications and I read many other mothers' experiences. I was prepared! I could do this easily! Or so I thought...

For me, the best advice I read was to get that baby skin-to-skin as quickly as possible after birth and for as long as possible. Obviously, this is not always an option. If mom or baby are in distress, immediate attention needs to be paid to their health. But for us, it was possible, and she was put on my stomach the moment she was born. She stayed there for the first 20 minutes of her life, leaving then only to be cleaned up and weighed, but then returning and immediately trying to breastfeed. I strongly believe that this skin-to-skin time made a huge difference.

Audrey did not latch on that first time, but after a quick snuggle with her Daddy, she was making sucking faces and latched right on with our second attempt. Luckily, we have never had a latch problem. I have many friends who have struggled with latch issues, but Audrey took to it right away and we never looked back.

One of the most unhelpful things I found in my research was that if breastfeeding was painful, something was always wrong. In the beginning, this is untrue and Moms need to know this! Can pain be a sign of an incorrect latch or some other problem? Yes, absolutely! And I will get to this, because I experienced it. But one of my nurses, who also happened to be a lactation consultant, pointed out something very important. The nipple is a sensitive body part. Your baby is feeding on those sensitive body parts for at least 30 minutes every 2-3 hours at first. That is a lot of stimulation on an area that is so sensitive and does not usually get that amount of stimulation. So at first, some pain when the baby initially latches on is normal. Let me say that again: Some pain is normal! For me, Audrey was almost 3 months old before that pain completely went away.

On the other hand, some pain is definitely a sign that something is wrong. When Audrey was only about a month old, I had a clogged duct, followed by mastitis and we both had thrush. At this point, I realized why so many women give up. This is hard work. It is emotionally and physically exhausting. Add this amount of pain, that you have to continue to nurse through, and weeks of medications to the mix, and it is enough to make anyone throw in the towel.

If this happened to you and you quit, I don't blame you. But I decided to stick it out. I had met my first goal of breastfeeding for a month and was determined to meet my next goal of 3 months. When Audrey was 2 months old, I had to go back to work, and this meant that I had to pump while I was there. I hated pumping. It was difficult to find the time to pump twice while I was at work, and it was even more difficult for me to relax enough to pump as much as she was drinking while I was away from her. We barely made it to my 3 month goal. I was pumping extra at night while she was sleeping and on the weekends to store in the freezer. To be completely honest, if I hadn't had the opportunity to become a stay-at-home mom at that point, I don't think that we would have made it as long as we did.

But I did have the opportunity to become a stay-at-home mom, and I never so much as looked at that pump again. We easily made it to my 6 month goal and I set my next goal at 1 year. But when Audrey was around 10 months old, I had another clogged duct that developed into mastitis. I was even sicker this time than I was the first time, and again came close to giving up. In the end, I continued because I couldn't get her to take formula, and it seemed silly to struggle with it when she could have cow's milk in 2 more months.

So we made it to 12 months! And I was so proud! But I was also ready to be done nursing. She was eating solids very well, starting to drink cow's milk, and seemed to only be nursing for comfort or out of habit. Nursing was also starting to really drain me physically. People don't realize how much of a strain producing breast milk is on your body. I am currently a good 5-7 pounds under the lowest weight I have ever been because it takes so many calories and sucks all the nutrients from you. Audrey was showing signs of being ready to wean too, so we gave it a shot.

We didn't quit cold turkey though. There was no way I was risking mastitis again! So I started by cutting out middle of the night feedings (leaving only a morning, naptime and evening feeding) and we did that for a couple weeks. Next, I cut out the evening feeding, followed by the naptime feeding, and then the morning feeding, leaving a few weeks in between. At the end, I nursed her once in the morning every other day for a couple days. I really think this method worked perfectly. By the time we stopped completely, Audrey was drinking cow's milk twice a day and didn't really seem to notice that we stopped. I didn't have any engorgement at all and avoided clogged ducts and mastitis.

Nursing was our special time together. I fell in love with my daughter and bonding with her during this special time. So when I think about being finished, it makes me a little sad. She's growing up and isn't my baby anymore. But we nursed for 13 1/2 months! What an accomplishment that is! I feel blessed to have been able to do this for my daughter and have this special time with her.

There are many issues out there for the nursing mom to face: milk supply and production, proper latch, time, clogged ducts, mastitis and thrush, just to name a few! Some women end up needing medications for themselves that force them to stop nursing. Others simply struggle to produce enough milk to satisfy their growing child. Breastfeeding is natural and wonderful, but it's far from easy! From reading others' experiences, I know our journey was fairly easy, and I'm grateful for that! If we have another child, I will definitely try to breastfeed again, but I am under no delusion that it will go as smoothly as it did with Audrey. Just like every pregnancy is different, so is every baby and every attempt at breastfeeding. But I know the benefits and the challenges that stand in our way and I'm willing to give it my best shot, because in the end, it is so worth it!


Jamie said...

You are SO lucky to have been able to breastfeed for 13 and a half months!! I wanted very much to breast feed...but I found out that I wasn't producing enough...on top of that Eva Mae was in the hospital at 3 weeks for almost 2 weeks and I wasn't even able to breastfeed...only pump...and trying to pump in a Nicu is VERY difficuly and uncomfortable!

Congrats : )It seems like you were able to over come the issues that were presented and you were able to come out on top!

Sonya said...

good for you for being able to breastfeed for so long!

momto8 said...

good for you!! I nursed all my 8 babies...with a lot of help...there was always some issues with each of my kids....i too am glad I stuck with it!!

Ruth said...

Well done for addressing this touchy subject. I've breast-fed all my babies and agree with everything you said. Breast-feeding will hurt at first but is always worth it :)