Nursing Nightmares and Successes

Breastfeeding. If this makes you squeamish don’t read on. I’m about to give you a very vivid, completely true account of my ups and downs with nursing not one, not two, but four babies. This blog isn’t about singing the praises of nursing (although there are literally hundreds I can recite). I am not the La Leche League. If you would like to learn all the wonderful benefits to nursing (such as increased IQ, increased immunities for your newborn, the fact the food is created expressly for your specific offspring, not to mention all the perks for the mother) just Google it.

I knew as soon as I became pregnant with my first son Vicente than I was going to nurse. It wasn’t even a decision. My mother had nursed, as had my grandmother and it was just a part of parenthood that I didn’t need to over analyze – or so I thought. My son was born with the bite of a gator, he was over nine pounds, and I was a scrawny girl (at the time). He was born holding his head up, he had calves and even the pediatrician described him as a ‘biter.’ To this day we still joke he ate his twin in utero. If anything you could say he seemed a little overdue, but he wasn’t at all. He was born on his exact due date.

I had never nursed before, and was a Lamaze class drop out (after two classes my husband insisted it was a waste of time, that these things should be innate and we should go to the movies instead). I had however taken one class about nursing (I dragged my much chagrined husband to it so I could hear him sigh and see him roll his eyes). Though my husband Victor was skeptical about nursing at first, he is now the one who urges our friends to nurse their children. He says he has seen firsthand the benefits of nursing, and I cannot argue there.

After Vicente was born I instantly latched him onto my chest and let him nurse. They say its integral to let them nurse as soon after birth as possible, and I have done this with my following three children as well.

Really the only good thing I can say about nursing those first two months with my first son was that he had a healthy appetite, became plump and happy on breast milk and we had nice bonding moments when I wasn’t crying through the pain.

This is where I suggest the faint of heart stop reading, because as they say, “it’s about to get real up in here.”

Vicente was such a good feeder that he nursed between 16 and 18 times a day. I was young so I thought I was supposed to feed ‘on demand’ AND every four hours. And I thought I was supposed to count three hours between feedings from the start of the feeding. This led to me nursing this chunky baby all day long. It wasn’t the fact my son almost never slept that was painful; he was such a joyful baby that wasn’t an issue.

It was what he was doing to my nipples. He was pulverizing them. The entire first two months of nursing I didn’t just have chapped nipples, I had cracked, bleeding nipples. I wondered if I would ever regain feeling again (don’t worry folks that part turned out alright). I was insistent on nursing through the pain though. I would sing ‘Lemon Tree’ by Peter, Paul and Mary to him so that he wouldn’t think I was upset (as a first time parent I had read all those books about how your moods can impact your child’s appetite making them into a sociopath and serial killer – or whatever guilt trip those ‘books’ lay on gullible new moms).

The first few weeks of breastfeeding were my first experience with engorgement, which all us nursing moms become pros at. But I was a young kid and the feeling of having my breasts being filled with rocks while simultaneously aching as if I’d been beaten with a bat on my chest was new to me. Luckily a few warm washcloths, and a nursing Vicente made the engorgement went away. Oddly enough, the way your chest looks when engorged is I guess what every guy dreams of; too bad it’s so sore you won’t let your husband near you.

I had to wear thick, plastic nipple shields because even the soft cotton of my nursing bra was unbearable. And if you are in a similar position, the best thing to rub onto your nipples to heal the wounds (because they are, in all fairness, war wounds) is your own breast milk. Besides the plastic nipple shields, the engorged chest, and the sore, bloody, pustule nipples, was the leaking. I leaked milk everywhere. Since Vicente ate nonstop the leaking didn’t end until he was about five months old and he began to supplement with baby food and baby cereal. He weaned himself easily off of me when he was around 14 months old, and the majority of our nursing experience was wonderful. Those first two months were unbelievably challenging though.

Liam. Liam was my only problem pregnancy. I had extreme cramping through out the pregnancy, lost 15 pounds in the first trimester, and had placenta previa for part of the pregnancy. They told us repeatedly there was a good chance we might lose the baby, and to be prepared. My entire pregnancy I was in and out of the hospital. The extreme cramping would leave me doubled over in pain, and they eventually insisted I go on bed rest. I couldn’t of course, I had my Vicente to care for, but I did try to limit lifting the 38 pound one and a half year old Vicente.

When Liam was finally born I was ecstatic. I carried him to forty weeks, even with a severe stomach flu that put me overnight in the hospital those last few weeks. He was our little blessing. My OB had told us he would be a small baby, and not to expect a huge child like Vicente. When Liam was born he was small, for us. He weighed eight and a half pounds and was a long little guy. I thought nursing him would be cake. Once again I put him on to nurse within his first hour of birth and he latched on right away.

Liam was also a healthy eater, but luckily he didn’t make mincemeat out of my chest. The only pain I had with Liam was the cramping. One of the reasons nursing is so good for the mother, is because every time you nurse your uterus contracts and shrinks back to its regular size much quicker than a non-nursing mother. I suppose because of the terrible cramping and complications during my pregnancy, these contractions were as painful as labor contractions. After the first week they eased up, and nursing Liam became effortless. Except when I would try to nurse him in public and he’d reach his little hands out to pull down the blanket and expose me. It was a little game he played with me, and I always was very embarrassed. He also weaned himself off around 10 or 11 months, not before a few little bites though.

Audrey. My daughter was over nine and a half pounds and has always been a hearty girl. Nursing her went swimmingly until I was two weeks postpartum and got mastitis. Mastitis is when your breast tissue becomes inflamed and infected. If it gets bad enough, you can see exactly where is infected, I had angry red striations running up and down my chest like a candy cane.

When Audrey was two weeks old, I was nursing her and had my two little boys at home. I lived 45 minutes from my OB and suddenly overnight I woke up with chills, both breasts engorged and a skyrocketing fever. I tried nursing for the next several hours, but nothing seemed to help. I was in such bad shape I couldn’t even move. I ached all over and knew I needed to see the doctor. My husband was working long 15 to 16 hour days and was unable to take off from his job. Luckily my older brother drove down, loaded all the kids into my car and took me to my OB. The OB said had I waited another day to come in, I would’ve been hospitalized with a severe staph infection. After some antibiotics I was good as new. I remember thinking to myself, “I was in all that pain and agony and these little pills fixed it all?”

Unfortunately once you have mastitis you are prone to getting it again, which I did, a few weeks later. I was worried I had been doing something wrong, perhaps wearing an under-wire bra, or not nursing enough, or too much. My doctor explained however that these things just happen.

After having my last son, Nikolai I had mastitis three times. Every time it was agonizing and once it was so bad they had to treat me with antibiotics that were too strong for me to nurse Nikolai while taking them. In my feverish insanity I told my husband I wasn’t going to take the medicine. Niko was only a month old and should be nursing, I insisted. Good thing my husband is a wonderful, reasonable man who told me to take the medicine. For an entire week I pumped and dumped my milk and begrudgingly fed Niko formula. I wish I could say things went smoothly after that, but I had mastitis one more time and a clogged milk duct twice.

Clogged milk ducts can sometimes be treated at home, and one of them I treated easily with extended nursing and warm compresses. Nursing through a clogged duct is almost as painful as nursing through mastitis, but it has to be done in order to feel better. My other experience with a clogged duct needed antibiotics, since it quickly turned into an infection. Clogged milk ducts are most common during the holidays (which is when I got them) since mothers are nursing on the go, often wearing bras that might not fit well, or missing feedings due to holiday activities.

Luckily I now have a happy, chunky six month old, breastfed baby.

The reason I wrote this article is not to scare women from nursing, because I’m sure if you’re not a mother yet, you might be thinking, “Glad she warned me. I’ll be using formula!”

I don’t consider myself some sort of martyr for nursing through the pain, we’re moms, we’ll do whatever is necessary for our children. I have just always felt if women went into nursing knowing that there might be rough patches, that there might be tenderness, or pain from the start, that they’d be less willing to give it up. Many of the advocacy groups make you feel that if you aren’t nursing you’re a bad mother, and if you are nursing but are in pain, that you’re doing it wrong. They act as if nursing will always be a wonderful, picturesque bonding experience, which it has been the majority of the time for me, but it isn’t always that way. I’m sure there are groups and nurses that don’t make women feel that way. But the ones I’ve come in contact with in the hospital man handle your chest, insist you do it this way, not that, and frighten you with ‘nipple confusion.’

My husband and I have been treated as first time parents with every single one of our children, I’m guessing it’s our age. In fact with our last child, a nurse came in and when I told her Nikolai was nursing an awful lot she first insisted I wasn’t doing it right (I was) and then suggested he nursed differently from my other three because he had a different father, and perhaps a different shaped mouth. She said this while my husband was sitting right next to me!

Nursing is simple supply and demand, I cannot stress this enough! If you continue nursing your baby, your milk will come in. Less than 1% of new mothers do not have enough milk to feed their babies. What new mothers should be told is that your milk can come in anywhere from a day or two after your baby’s born to a week later. The nutrient rich colostrum is all your baby needs in their first few days or week. After the first two weeks of nursing you’ll notice you have thick, heavier milk coming in and that’ll be what you feed your baby until they are weaned.

My milk came in fairly rapidly with my first three children, within the first few days actually. With my fourth child, Nikolai, it took about four or five days. My pediatrician said since I was older now (26!) and my chest had already nursed several children, it’s not unusual for the milk to take a little longer.

In those first few weeks or months, many mothers fall back on formula, this is dangerous because it diminishes your milk right when you’re starting to build your supply and get on a schedule. On the other hand, if you are worried your child is eating enough, you have to do what you feel is right. I’m not some militant nursing mother. We all know what’s best for our own children.

If you have a C-section you cannot nurse. This is just plain false. My mother had three Cesareans and nursed us all. Many of my friends have successfully nursed after C-sections. I have heard however that is tougher to nurse those first few weeks depending on wearing your C-section incision is, and because the first few days you might be groggy from certain medications.

Your child is allergic to your milk. This is not the case. What tends to happen is that babies can be sensitive to a mother’s diet, but even that is very rare. Although I have to admit my son Nikolai was extremely sensitive when I ate peanuts and when he was a month and a half old his brother and sister touched him with peanuts and he had a full out allergic reaction. With all my other children though, my diet was not problematic at all.

Breast-fed babies sleep less than formula fed babies. Sorry Moms, this is true. Since breast milk is so light and easily digestible, breast fed babies eat almost 50% more often than formula fed babies. There is a plus, as nursing Moms we burn 500 calories a day nursing (that’s if your child drinks the average 18-24 ounces of a milk a day). The week I had to pump and dump, I realized my fourth son was drinking upwards of 48 ounces of breast milk a day, that’s a 1,000 calories or more I was burning just letting him nurse! Beats an hour on the treadmill any day lol!

Moreover, breast milk has so many wonderful uses – but I’ll get to that in another blog.

Nursing has become extremely politicized. Do I think it’s the best thing for babies? Of course, that’s why I’ve nursed all my children. That doesn’t mean I’m going to look down on other mothers for not nursing. It’s their child; they have their children’s best interests at heart. As mothers we all have different priorities, what might be a huge deal for me, might not be on another parents list of concerns. I think we should support each other as parents, and not tear each other down for being different. After all, our children learn by our actions.

My four little ones at almost six months.

My four little ones at almost six months.

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