I’m aware the majority of my readers are women, but I want to preface that this post is written specifically for women and/or men that are extremely encouraging of their breastfeeding (or soon to be) wives. Stop reading now if you’re easily offended or embarrassed by words like breastfeeding, nursing, breast, boob, and nipple.
Breastfeeding is one of those subjects I generally try to avoid on social media; but recently, I’ve felt pretty strongly about sharing my experiences. I could easily describe my experiences as love-hate, with both special and stressful moments. Going on 22 months (15 with Joy Belle and 6 and counting with Britt) of nursing my babies, I am so thankful for the resources and encouragement I’ve been given along the way.
Before Joy Belle was born, I took a free breastfeeding course presented by the hospital’s lactation specialists. One thing I took from the class was that everyone’s experience is different and different with each child. (My specialist said she had 3 children, all of which had different breastfeeding experiences.) Pregnant with my first, this seemed odd to me. After all, if you could breastfeed one child, why not a second or third? Either way, I clung to that tidbit and used it to encourage other mommy friends. The other tip I reminded myself of was that it isn’t for everyone. Some women may not be able to, some may not have a sufficient milk supply, others may feel uncomfortable, and while they say “breast is best”, an infant may flourish from the nutrients of formula. And honestly, at high school or college graduation, can anyone really differentiate the breastfed babies from the formula fed babies? No.
Whenever Joy Belle was born, my approach to breastfeeding was to try, but if I couldn’t do it or couldn’t do it for long, it was ok. My goal was a year ideally, but initially I set my goal for day 1, day 2, 1 week, another week, 6 weeks, etc. I really believe setting small goals for ourselves is the key to continued breastfeeding. After all, we are new parents trying to learn and figure out a lot – including how to provide for our littlest ones.
With Joy Belle, it came easy. She latched within the first hour of being born and we never looked back. My milk supply came in days later and baby girl was gaining weight and satisfied. Soon my goals were accomplished and day 1 turned into 6 months, that turned into 15 months. I exceeded my goals and honestly nursed her longer than I ever wanted or intended.
Whenever Britt Colby was born, it was a different story. Similar in the beginning, he latched almost immediately. Nursing at the hospital was a breeze. However, once my milk supply came in, it really came in! There was an oversupply that nearly drown the baby. I could pump some of the milk before feeding him to help, but my body would just produce more the next time. Naturally, my body wasn’t regulating how much milk he needed and was over producing. After several days of this, he wasn’t able to latch to one side. The over production was too much particularly on one side, causing latching issues. To help, I was advised to start with the side he was having trouble with and he would eventually figure it out. Well this was torture for him… and me. He would scream, all the while I was drowning him with milk. This would go on for 15 or so minutes every single time he needed to eat. It became stressful for us both. After the first 15 minutes or so, I would let him nurse on the other side. Cue extremely hungry and irritated baby! This made for some seriously powerful sucking, leading to some very irritated and sore nipples. After several days of this, a sore developed on one side of my nipple. I’m not talking cracking, but an actual hole or crater of a sore, the size of a drinking straw. Determined to keep breastfeeding, I gritted my teeth and kept up the cycle. Lactation consultants, friends, & the Internet recommended things like: coconut oil, lanolin, nipple shields, lanisoh soothies, & Medela nipple cones – all of which I tried. After several days of dealing with this, I went to the doctor to discover I had developed a yeast infection on my boob. (Yes, this is a thing.) I took the doctor recommend steps to healing this and just knew I’d find relief at the end of my antibiotic. Wrong. Another week (3 weeks with the sore) went by and still no relief. I was in so much pain every time he nursed that I honestly kept thinking things like, “I can’t do this.” and “I want to quit.” Completely discouraged, I went back to the doctor for a check-up and advice.
As it turns out, all of those recommended remedies were not what I needed (obviously). Each of those products provided temporary relief, but the underlying issue wasn’t moisture (like they all provided) but to dry out the nipples. I left the appointment with the plan to pump exclusively on that side for a few days, allowing the sore time to heal. And no more oil, cream, or soothies! Within 3 days, my crater like sore was nothing but a tiny, paper cut size crack. Relief! Cue the choir and sing, hallelujah.
Almost a month after Britt Colby was born, I could finally feed him without feeling pain or discouragement. I didn’t dread feeding him. For the first time since leaving the hospital, I felt like I could stop focusing on the pain and spend the time I was breastfeeding, to bond with my baby boy.
I have to share this photo because it’s real life. This photo brings back waves of emotions. Joy Belle struggled with sharing my time and attention in the early days of bringing Britt home. When he would wake up to nurse in the night, she would wake up too – begging me to hold her. This particular night, I remember looking down holding Britt, fighting back tears from the pain, all the while her tiny hands were wrapped around my arm. I remember that night like it was last night – praying for the pain and overwhelming feeling of panic to go away. I remember vividly thinking that too many baby hands were on my body and feeling like I didn’t want to be touched for one more second. Now, I can now laugh and smile at the memory – because they are all fleeting moments.
I’m not sharing all of this with you to make you feel like you need to breastfeed your baby, but because I don’t want you or any new mama to feel the discouragement I did. I’m sharing my stories with you to encourage you to try, set small goals, recognize that it isn’t for everyone and that it can be difficult – and to know that you’re not the only one. I want to reiterate what the lactation consultant told me years ago, that it’s different for every mother and different with every baby.
My sister and another mommy friend were kind enough to share their breastfeeding journey, so I am linking up to share their experiences with you too. You ca read about Bethany’s experience here and Jetta’s experience here.
I hope that my weeks of teeth gritting pain and ineffective methods of relief encourage you to try breastfeeding; but that you also know that if it doesn’t work for you and your baby that it does not make you a bad parent. At the end of the day, breast milk or formula, you’re providing nourishment for your child and that’s your job as their parent.