Monday, September 19, 2016

Our Breastfeeding Story

Even before I got pregnant I knew wanted to breastfeed. I grew up watching my mom nurse my younger sister and my older sister nurse her babes. I have also long been fascinated by the incredible health benefits - how amazing that a mother's milk is so perfectly crafted for her baby that it helps prevent sickness and allergies, deter obesity and is all a baby needs to grow the first several months of life. Both my mom and sister had given very honest advice that the first couple of weeks were hard, and I am so thankful that they had... because even equipped with that knowledge, it was rough.

It was very important to me to feed Samuel within the first hour of him being born, so as soon as we were in the recovery room he latched for the first time. I was SO thankful that he had a good strong latch and was amazed at just how natural it felt. I fed him often that first day and quite honestly was surprised it didn't hurt more. (This is where I look back and laugh a little bit.)

The next morning, I woke up (can you call it that if you don't really sleep?) and OUCH. My nipples hurt so incredibly bad. All of the books and articles I've read (I am a researcher by nature so I read a TON) said 'breastfeeding shouldn't hurt. If you are doing it right it may be uncomfortable but won't hurt.' For me, that was 100% false those first two weeks. My poor nipples, which have always been cozy and protected under soft bras were all of a sudden being sucked on for 10 hours a day. How is that not supposed to hurt?! On top of that, positioning and latching in general seemed to have gotten more complicated for Samuel and I on the second day. He would latch and unlatch repeatedly, all while my toes were curling.

Fortunately, I had the best support system and relied on them so much for guidance. Preston and I had taken an incredible class through our birth center that focused on nursing so he was a huge help (I honestly don't think many mamas can say that about their husband so I was so thankful). My sister was also very forthcoming with all of her advice and experiences and my mom, well she was a SAINT. She knew exactly what to say to encourage me when I was hurt and frustrated. I also asked every nurse I had for their advice, and I will forever be thankful for how hands on they were. At one point, I had Preston's, my mom's, Hannah's and my nurses hands in addition to my own on my breast and Samuel's head to get us positioned correctly and latched on. Humbling. In retrospect I think that was the first moment, less than 24 hours into motherhood, where I learned that all of the facts, techniques and strategies you can read and memorize meaning nothing - you need your village of people who are ready to step in and get their hands dirty helping you.

At every single feeding in the hospital (and at home for the first few days!) I needed help getting Samuel latched on. He had strong suckling instincts, but it is still a learning curve for both mama and baby! On our third day in the hospital, the pediatrician recommended that we supplement with formula because he had lost some of his birth weight. It is very common for babies to lose weight after being born, however because he wasn't having tons of wet diapers on day 3 (he had a ton on night one!) they wanted to move forward with this plan. I did not want to do this (I wanted to wait to introduce a bottle to avoid nipple confusion) and thankfully I was comfortable declining and had a nurse who advocated for my wishes. I knew the colostrum I was producing was enough for Samuel and that it is common for c-section mommas to not have their milk come in until day 4 or 5. (Sidebar: you always have the right to ask for other options in a hospital setting and/ or decline care. Obviously make an informed decision and if possible ask for other medical opinions - our nurse and my midwife were both in favor of not giving formula since Samuel was breastfeeding successfully.) 

Once we got home, nursing got even more painful because in addition to my breasts hurting my back and shoulders were also hurting from being so tense. I was incredibly in love with my precious son and so glad I was able to nurse him, but I would dread each feeding because I hurt so bad. It was hands down way more painful than another part of my delivery or recovery experience. On Samuel's sixth day of life, the pain peaked. I sat on the couch with my mom on one side and Preston on the other, hot tears in my eyes and blood dripping from my nipple. My mom encouraged me to get up and walk for a few minutes and we would try again in five minutes (this was so helpful). Preston actually called a pharmacy (that was 45 minutes away from our house) and made a 90 minute drive to purchase special compounding nipple cream that our pediatrician had prescribed for me (bless. his. heart). It was called triple nipple cream, and you will need a prescription for it and then a compounding pharmacy to make it. Insurance also will likely not cover it but it is worth every penny and it helped me heal so much.

The next few days continued to be similar, and I remember thinking 'Now I completely get why people do formula/ exclusively pump.'  I am a huge breastfeeding advocate, and on multiple times I thought that switching to pumping or formula would be better because I would be less stressed and could be a better mom. While I am so glad we didn't, it gave me a heart for all different types of feeding - fed is best and I really believe each momma knows what is best for her and her baby.

On Samuel's tenth day of life, I noticed a switch. While breastfeeding still hurt, I was actually looking forward to that time with Samuel. Having built in one-on-one snuggle time 12+ times a day while you are nourishing your baby is pretty incredible. After the first two weeks, the pain stopped except for the initial latch (which is normal). And now, six weeks into nursing, I can truly say that it is one of my very favorite parts of motherhood and I am truly so thankful for this experience.
I think it is so important to share the hard parts of being a parent in addition to the thousands of incredible moments. I also wanted to write this down to encourage anybody in the same boat - you can absolutely do it! Those first two weeks will hurt, but you are strong and it is so worth it to push through (if breastfeeding is important to you)!

My best pieces of advice are to go in prepared (I would recommend taking a class with your spouse, this was so helpful to Preston and I), have a support team that will encourage you, have supplies (nipple cream, nursing tanks, nursing pads, boppy and/ or my breast friend pillow are musts), and have something to motivate you - for me, this was the post nursing, milk-drunk snuggles. They are heaven on earth! Also, through your modesty out the window and be topless and skin to skin with your babe as much as you can in the early days. Most importantly, make sure that you are eating and drinking A TON. You need way more calories to breastfeed than you do while pregnant, so be prepared with snacks and meals that are high in fat and protein. And make sure to bring some to bed with you every single night, in addition to a lot of water (I drink 50+ ounces through the night). More than anything, though, give yourself some grace and know that you are doing an awesome job. 

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