Friday, November 04, 2011

Breastfeeding Series part I, The first 72 hours

Before reading this, I want you to know that I am very much pro-breastfeeding. So, if this post comes off negative, I'm sorry! I'm just being honest about how hard the first 72 hours of breastfeeding were for me.

In the months leading up to Little Bear's birth, breastfeeding was never something I worried about. A lot of people told me to "be prepared for it not to work out," or to buy some 'back up formula.' I smiled through their doubt and told them I understood but I thought it would be okay. No one told me why I should be concerned with breastfeeding being hard, they all just told me it was.

I didn't read a single breastfeeding book, but I did attend one La Leche League meeting. Our Bradley Instructor is a lactation consultant and led one class primarily about breastfeeding. That's all I thought I'd need. I had leaking from about 20 weeks on, and it really ramped up around 28-32 weeks. I did not think milk supply would be an issue and knew the different holds/positions, therefore; did not think breastfeeding would be an issue for us.

I knew not to supplement with formula, not to use a pacifier, and not to use a bottle until our baby was 6 weeks old (to avoid nipple confusion). Our hospital had over an 80% rate of mom's leaving the hospital breastfeeding.

breastfeeding has been a
family affair from the start
(note the stupid saline lock)
I had plans to nurse right after our baby was born, so I wore a nursing bra to deliver Little Bear. After G was born, she came to my chest and we had our first nursing session. It was kind of a mess. I was so excited to have our baby, but also really worn out from a natural delivery. My husband tried to help me get the clasp undone and I was concerned about getting the latch right. G was crying, and I wanted to nurse right away. Anxiety was pretty high. She actually did get her latch right, and nursed for about 10 minutes. I was so excited. Yeah, excited about breastfeeding--that's something I don't really think "normal" people say.

She slept for quite a while, then I tried to feed her again later in the afternoon. She nursed for almost an hour, but when she was done, I was in pain. My nipples weren't just sore--they HURT. They were blistered and bruised, including some blood blisters. I didn't know nipples could even look like that. I still shutter thinking about it.

Apparently, G's latch was NOT good and I had let her suck for an hour with a bad latch. That's just asking for trouble. Anytime she tried to nurse after that, I winced in pain, curled my toes, and bit my lip. I actually cried through nursing sessions. The lactation consultant (LC) was called. My mom and mother-in-law also weighed in with their opinions. Ya, every woman in the room was getting a good look at my breasts. I'm not the most modest person in the world, but I never thought I'd let my mother-in-law get a full frontal view of my chest.

It was the end of the lactation consultant's shift and she was anything but pleasant. After checking G's latch by putting her gloved finger in my daughter's mouth, she announced the latch was fine. She chalked our issue up to my nipples needing to 'toughen' up and that I would feel less pain as we went on. Um. Thanks? She brought in a nipple shield, but that didn't help. She suggested supplementing to let my nipples heal some. I balked at the idea. She suggested pumping and giving a bottle, I denied that option because I didn't want nipple confusion. When I set my mind to something, I do it, no ifs, ands, or buts.

The first night was SO ROUGH. G was crying a lot because she was hungry and I couldn't handle nursing for very long. My nipples were only getting worse. I didn't sleep. My husband barely slept. The nurses tried to help, but their encouragement didn't change anything.
We had the LC come in first thing in the morning. I could have sworn it was a different woman because she was so nice and understanding...turns out a good night's sleep makes a world of difference because it was the same LC!! I'm pretty sure I commented to her about the mean LC from the previous night...before I realized it was the same woman.

She checked G's latch multiple times, but it didn't seem to be wrong. G would do one thing when she sucked on a finger, and an entirely different thing on the breast. We really don't know what the deal was, but I personally think it was her tiny mouth and my big nipples. They just didn't match up. I was dead set on breastfeeding, though, so I was texting and emailing our Bradley Instructor. It was really bad timing because she was sick and couldn't come visit us in the hospital to help. She suggested hand-expression and spoon feeding it to G. Hand-expression was difficult, and didn't go as well as I had hoped. The LC kept suggesting a pump.

the pump I used in the beginning
My biggest concern through all of this was making sure my milk came in well, because I knew if it didn't I would have a very hard road ahead. My husband and I discussed it, and decided the pump was the best option to make sure that happened. I felt like a cow...seriously, I had no idea what to expect with pumping, but it was very surreal in the beginning. My husband was so supportive, encouraging me and washing all the parts after I was done. He also refused to feed G for the first little bit, because he wanted to make sure I got that experience. Having a supportive husband is on the top of my list for reasons breastfeeding was successful for us.

Just because we started out pumping doesn't mean we instantly gave G bottles. Due to our desire to not have nipple confusion, we used droppers and tubes. Yes, we fed her kind of like you might feed a puppy.

Here was our routine:
Nurse on one side for about 5 minutes, until the pain was unbearable.
Feed G what I was able to pump the last time.
Pump on both sides.
Repeat at the next feeding, but nursing on the other side.

these are the bee's knees!
This allowed my breasts to heal faster, because they had a good break between nursing sessions. It also allowed G to actually be at my breast, practicing her latch and stimulating my let down reflex. I used gel soothies and lanolin to aid in pain relief and healing.

We chose to stay in the hospital the extra night, despite original plans to leave early, so that we had additional lactation support. After several feedings using the dropper, we decided that using a little bottle would be to everyones' benefit. G needed to get more milk to keep her weight up, and the dropper just wasn't cutting it. When it came down to a decision between supplementing with formula or using a bottle to feed expressed milk, we chose the bottle.

I worked really hard to ensure that breastfeeding was successful for us, and the LC applauded my efforts. She told baby G that she should be "very proud of her mom, because most other moms would have given in." I don't know if that's necessarily true, but I do feel that the experience I had with G's latch/small mouth was very tough and was only a preview for how breastfeeding would continue to go for us in the next few weeks.
after nursing in the hospital, 2 days old <3
Here are some BF tidbits from our stay in the hospital:
  • Use everything at your disposal: nurses, midwives, lactation consultants, the internet, other moms, La Leche League, anything. Be an advocate for yourself.
  • Electric double pumps are an amazing invention for those that need them. Easy to use and the parts are easy to clean. The hospital grade ones retail for $1500, but we were able to rent one for $50 a month. I think that's a great deal to get you by in a pinch.
  • Breastfeeding should NOT be painful. Soreness, sure, but if you feel pain something is wrong.
  • If you are dead set on not supplementing, you can find a way to make that happen. You may just have to get creative. We gave in on some little things, so that we could avoid our big "non-negotiable" of supplementing.
  • As long as your baby is having "enough" wet/dirty diapers and their weight isn't "dramatically" low, don't let anyone force you into supplementing!
  • Are you aware there are milk banks and online milk exchanges? I'm not advocating for one or the other...simply letting you know.
Stay tuned for the rest of the series I'm writing about breastfeeding. I'll cover pumping at home, transitioning off of pumping, nursing on the go, overactive let downs, foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, and distracted baby nursing.

Disclaimer: I am not a lactation consultant, nor am I formally educated in breastfeeding. I am simply writing from personal experience. Check out La Leche League's website.


  1. I have been very excited about breastfeeding for months, so I don't think it's weird at all to say you were excited about breastfeeding! I'm giving birth at a birth center and they push breastfeeding (we actually attended to required breastfeeding class last night), so I know I won't have to worry about people suggesting I supplement or use bottles. However, most women are sent home 6 hrs after birth, so we also don't have the same access to lactation consultants, although I can call anytime for support.

    I've read several books about breastfeeding, but to be honest, I don't know how much they will help because every woman is different - except as a quick reference to look things up if I'm having problems.

    That's incredible how hard you worked to make sure breastfeeding worked for the two of you. You should be so proud!

  2. Amen on the Soothies pads. Those things are a godsend. We had every issue in the book, and my boy even ended up losing more weight before his 2 week appointment. Turns out he was tongue tied and that was destroying my nipples. He had a little surgery and we battled back with the help of an in home visit from our LC. Breastfeeding is the hardest thing I've ever done but now our babe is 5 months old and we are still going strong. Thanks for sharing your story. It is such an encouragement to hear from other mamas.

  3. I truly appreciate you sharing your experience with bfeeding! I am hoping to ebf when I give birth, so while this sort of scared me, it also encouraged me!

    I'd love it if you'd participate! http://angelasfavthings.blogspot.com/2011/11/30-days-of-thankfulness.html


  4. I hope no one is scared out of breastfeeding! I was simply sharing one way that breastfeeding can be "hard," but no impossible! While I was pregnant, people would tell me to expect it to be a challenge. I just never knew *why*...so I was sharing my experience!

    Thanks for reading ladies!


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