Tuesday, August 07, 2007

World Breastfeeding Week

Today is the last day of World Breastfeeding Week. I've been wanting to write about it, but sort of stumped as to what to say. My birth story gets a fair number of hits with people Googling for answers to their questions about labor and c-section recovery and the like (I really hope the person who Googled "nine months pregnant back pain contractions five minutes apart" stepped away from her computer and just called her midwife), so I thought that by writing about my experience with breastfeeding, I could help someone who is searching the internet for anecdotal information about nursing.

When I was pregnant and stressed out and worried about becoming a parent, and crying because I was sure it would be too hard and I was hormonal and everything seemed like too much, Brian would try to help me focus, try to help me overcome my fears and worries by talking to me about the baby, but also by trying to get me to focus on the positive and talk about it. One time he asked me what I was looking forward to most when it came to taking care of the baby. "Nursing," I told him. "I just want to nurse the baby." I had images of a blissful breastfeeding relationship, where after the baby was born on the big bed at the birth center, she was placed against me and we were wrapped in blankets and we would nurse and she we look into my eyes and we would bond and everything would be perfect. Focusing on that image helped me get through so many of the fears I experienced during pregnancy.

And now I just have to say that nursing sucked at first. It was hard. The blissful bonding didn't happen immediately. We got there eventually, but it took work.

Adriana didn't nurse immediately after birth. At first we were separated because she needed to go to the nursery while I was stitched up after the c-section. (I'm told some women may get to attempt nursing while still in the OR, but I was bleeding a bit more than they expected, and that wasn't an option for us.) We attempted nursing in the recovery room, but she was sleepy and I couldn't yet sit up or turn on my side, so it was awkward, and I'm not sure she got much. Then I was sent to x-ray for tests and told by the radiologist that they contrast dye they were giving me would mean that I couldn't nurse for 48 hours. I panicked. I knew that my odds of successfully nursing the baby were already reduced because we weren't together nursing right at that moment. I worried about immunity and nipple confusion, but I consented to the test. That afternoon and evening, Brian syringe-fed Adriana her first food, formula. She wasn't getting immunity from my colostrum, but at least once our 48 hours were up, she wouldn't have become accustomed to a bottle nipple. I pumped colostrum, trying to get my milk to come in that night. I meant to wake up every few hours to pump while Brian fed the baby, but I was sleeping deeply, and he decided I needed the rest to help myself recover. So I slept, and dreamed dreams about nursing the baby that were realistic enough that I awoke confused about whether maybe I really had.

The next afternoon the hospital lactation consultant breezed into the room, told me that the radiologist had been wrong, and it was time to get the baby to nurse. We struggled then and we struggled for the next few days, as we tried to find a position that worked for us, tried to help the baby latch on (and stay on--if her arms weren't tightly swaddled she tended to push herself away after a few sucks, and then scream because she was hungry and not nursing), tried to feed her every two hours even when she wasn't hungry. We didn't know what we were doing, and we were making ourselves crazy, but Brian and I were both desperate to make breastfeeding work. Our desperation made us determined, and our determination made it work. We would get the baby latched on and my milk would let down and for a few minutes I would be lost in a haze of "happy nursing hormones."

But even though it was working, it was hard. I had read that before, but I didn't realize how true it was. It's natural, I thought; it shouldn't be hard. I mean, cats don't have lactation consultants or breastfeeding videos or La Leche League meetings or lanolin, and they somehow manage. Why can't humans? With each feeding it became less of a struggle, and with each day I worried less about whether Adriana was getting enough to eat. It helped that I stopped panicking when she didn't want to nurse every two hours, and that when we saw her pediatrician when she was six days old, she had stopped losing weight, and had even gained a couple of ounces since we'd left the hospital. By the time she was a week old, we were doing okay. And then the pain set in.

It was different from the pain I'd felt the first few times I'd fed Adriana--more of a burning that was strongest right after a feed. I was reading The Nursing Mother's Companion (my favorite breastfeeding book--easiest to use when you are in the new baby haze and with the most detail on some of the problems that occur early on) while feeding the baby, and diagnosed myself with thrush. The pediatrician confirmed this at the two-week checkup, and got us started on treatment. The treatment was slow, and although our case of thrush never got as bad as some people's, I was upset that feeding the baby was causing me pain. I felt guilty when the baby would want to "cluster feed" in the evenings and I would get annoyed because I was in pain. A couple times when she started to fuss for food, after nursing only 30 minutes before, I would leave Brian to try to comfort her while I took a hot shower, just to get a little break. I was worried because my baby was hungry and I wasn't feeding her; what kind of mother was I? But I needed those few minutes away. The thrush finally cleared up about five weeks after we first started treatment, after talks with a midwife and a La Leche League leader to figure out what could be done in addition to what the pediatrician had prescribed (answer: rinsing with a vinegar solution after every feed, applying the ointment after every feed, and taking acidophilus each day).

It took awhile before I was nursing without pain. It took some time before the baby and I could get her latched on with ease. It was awhile before I could nurse without a boppy, or using a coat rolled up like a boppy. It took awhile to be able to nurse lying down. But everything is fine now. My fears in the hospital when I wasn't allowed to nurse right away were unfounded: not being able to nurse for the first 24 hours sucked, but in the long run it didn't hurt us at all. Now, every couple of hours, every single day, Adriana and I curl up together so that she can eat, and the wish that I tearfully expressed to Brian last fall has come true.

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