Breastfeeding: My First Six Weeks

Yesterday marked my first six weeks of breastfeeding, and I wanted to write a bit about it to share my experience. Although it may seem like it at first, I don’t intend to scare anyone away who might be considering it; rather, I’m writing this to encourage those who are currently in the thick of it (meaning the first few weeks). Everyone’s experience will be different, of course, but this is mine. Right after my son was born he took the breast immediately. He nursed for what seemed like an eternity, which I guess was an indication of what the next few days (weeks?) would be like. That first night, I sat in the rocking chair in hospital all night long. If my baby wasn’t on my breast, he was screaming. The second night (at home) was even worse, if that’s possible. I “slept” with him downstairs on the couch because I didn’t want to disturb anyone upstairs. I was insanely tired, and my nipples were in a lot of pain. I remember reading on EVERY official source online that nipple pain isn’t normal. That if I felt pain, me and/or the baby were doing it wrong. But I had met with two different lactation consultants in the hospital that observed the baby breastfeeding and said his latch looked fine, fantastic even. So I thought maybe the pain was just from the initial shock to my nipples. But almost two weeks later, my nipples were STILL in pain. Not only were they in pain, but they were cracked, bleeding, and scabbed. I dreaded nursing and would cringe while doing it. (My face was so stiff that I actually worried about getting permanent wrinkles, haha.) So I decided to meet with a lactation consultant a third time. She weighed my baby, and he was back at his birth weight. Then, she observed him breastfeeding. She, like the others, said his latch looked fine and that I was doing a good job. But she kept it real. She told me that with all three of her children, her nipples were in extreme pain for the first couple of weeks. She echoed what many of the women on an online breastfeeding support group I belong to said. Although the “official” sources say nipples aren’t supposed to hurt, and they’re definitely not supposed to bleed, the “real” people I talked to said it happened to them too. It turns out, nipple pain is a lot more “normal” than many sources say it is. The lactation consultant recommended I use Medela TheraShells in between nursing sessions. When I saw them at the store, I thought they were those shields I heard about, that some women use while nursing. Instead, they keep a little pocket of air between your nipple and your bra to give your nipples a chance to heal. After about a week of using lanolin and TheraShells, my nipples were fine.

Nipple pain wasn’t the only difficult thing about the first few weeks of breastfeeding. The frequency of breastfeeding was {is} also very hard. I’ve always been an on-the-move person. Now that I have a toddler, I’m usually on my feet for most of the day. Nursing made this extremely difficult. On average, my son nursed (and still nurses) every one-two hours during the day. He takes anywhere from 20-40 minutes doing so. That means I spend a ridiculous amount of my day nursing. This is extremely difficult with a two-year-old. I’ve learned to nurse in my baby carriers (the Ergo and Moby), but it’s still difficult to do much because sudden movements tend to break the latch and I have to stop and reposition him again.

I don’t want to complain too much about our night feeds, because I’m at least grateful that my baby sleeps at night (mostly). The first few weeks he was up every two hours, and now at six weeks he’s up every three. I hear horror stories from other moms who still spend their nights like I spent my first few nights (nursing all night long). Still, I feel VERY sleep deprived most days. It is getting better, though. Last night, on Damian’s Six-Week mark (coincidently), he slept for a six-hour stretch. I was amazed.

At six weeks, I finally feel like it’s getting a bit easier. My nipples don’t hurt, my baby is comfort nursing less, and he seems to be going a little longer everyday without needing to feed. But right now, I can’t imagine EVER feeling sorry for moms who have to make formula. (I also think this is kind of an obnoxious thing to say to begin with). Seriously, making formula is the easiest thing in the world. You put it in a bottle and shake it. You feed the baby, and he takes 10 minutes or so to drink it. You burp him, and you’re done. If you’re in the car, you don’t have to pull over and breastfeed. If you want to sleep through the night, you put your husband on bottle duty. I remember reading another breastfeeding meme that said something like, “I feel sorry for moms who have to wash bottles.” Seriously? That’s what dishwashers are for. If the benefits of breastfeeding weren’t so great, trust me… I wouldn’t be doing it. It certainly hasn’t been easier so far. But, I’m sticking with it and I’ll let you know in 6 more weeks whether or not I “feel sorry” for moms who have to make formula. One thing I know now is that I would have never been able to breastfeed Eva. I gave birth to Eva on a Saturday and was back at law school on Monday. I didn’t get a maternity leave or anything of the sort. So I chose to formula feed. Sometimes I wondered if I was being selfish for not even trying to nurse, but I know now that I couldn’t have done it. I think about my mental state after my first few days {weeks} of breastfeeding and there is no way I could have survived a day at law school. Maybe I could have tried pumping, but at this point I only get a few ounces a day out of my breasts at the most, even when I give my son a bottle and pump when my breasts are “full.”(Again, this isn’t to discourage women who might be in that situation. I’m sure there are supermoms out there who have rocked it. I’m just being real and honest with myself. I know that I, personally, wouldn’t have the fortitude to stick with it.) But I’m glad to be breastfeeding now. As demanding as it can be, I love it. I don’t want to say I love the “bonding” that comes from it, because I felt just as bonded to Eva when I would cuddle her and feed her from a bottle. But I love the “naturalness” of it. Just like I wanted to experience with my natural birth, I’m grateful to experience what women have been doing since the beginning of our kind-what our bodies were made to do. And I have to admit, I like the feeling of knowing my baby needs ME and nobody else (but I don’t necessarily like that I like feeling that way).

Anyway, if I could provide any tips from my first six weeks of breastfeeding, here’s what they would be:

1.  Don’t quit just because your nipples are in pain. Seriously, I remember thinking I’d rather go through my natural labor and delivery again than feel any more nipple pain. It was horrible. If you suspect latch may be an issue (especially if your baby isn’t getting enough wet diapers, etc.), speak to a lactation consultant. If the latch is fine, push through it. Use the lanolin and shells between nursing. I never thought my nipple pain would end, but then it did, and I was so glad I stuck with it. If you’re still feeling a lot of pain after the first few weeks, though, I’d talk to a lactation consultant again, check for lip/tounge ties, etc.

2. There will be days when it seems like you’re nursing ALL. DAY. LONG. You’ll get comments from people saying things like, “He’s starving… Are you sure you have enough milk in there?… Just give him a bottle already.” But if your baby is having the requisite soiled diapers and is meeting weight gain goals set by his doctor, ignore them. As you’ve probably read elsewhere, when your baby nurses all day long he’s building up your supply. Some people just don’t understand.3. If you are really tired, try the side-lying breastfeeding position. That way, you can drift in and out of sleep while your baby nurses.

4. Stick with it for at least six weeks. If at six weeks it still isn’t working, reevaluate your situation. By six weeks (maybe a little earlier, actually) I knew that it’s something I wanted to do. But it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay. Just give it at least six weeks.

And even though I’ve written quite a bit, I feel like I should have more to say about it. And maybe I do, but I can’t think of it right now. Perhaps it’s the sleep deprivation. Who knows.

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