Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done: Our Breastfeeding Journey

In the dusk, in her nursery, in our chair, I hum the song my mother sang to me years ago. We are nursing as we do every night, the curtains pulled tight around the windows that overlook the bed of irises that have just given their last color. She is softly fading into deep, warm baby sleep. Her flutter sucking tells me she is comfortable and content. I brush her soft brown hair and listen to her breathe. What a moment to experience every night with Phoebe.




It wasn't always like this, though, this blissful nursing was not always so.

 Breastfeeding is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than pregnancy. Harder than childbirth.

 If you've ever nursed a baby, you're nodding your head. If you haven't, you're wondering: "How's that possible, when breastfeeding is so natural and normal?"

Have I got a story for you.

When Phoebe was born they placed her on my chest and within minutes she latched on to my right breast and I don't remember what it felt like. All I remember is her chocolate hair and the warmth of her slimy body.

The next morning when the pediatrician came around, the doctor examined Phoebe and stuck her fingers in my baby's mouth.

"We have a slight tongue tie," said the doctor. "Shouldn't be any problem and shouldn't need any attention."

In one ear, out the other. Then the lactation consultant came by. What a remarkable woman she was. She adopted two babies and nursed them both, taking hormones prescribed by a doctor to force her milk in. Total badass. She looked at Phoebe's tongue tie and said, "Mama this is not going to be easy for you. You will be sore. You will bleed. You will curl your toes in pain every time you nurse unless you fix this."

I didn't know who to listen to... The pediatrician who said eh, no big deal, or the badass consultant who took hormones to nurse babies she did not birth...

So I waited to see what would happen. Phoebe and I came home from the hospital and in a few days my milk came in. I remember texting my friend Kelsey who had a baby just 4 months older than Phoebe. I said, Help! I'm engorged! And she said, Oh no! Pump!

So began my pumping journey.

So I pumped. Oh the relief! I started a routine of pumping once in the morning and once at night. But when I was nursing Phoebe, everything was different. I remember helping her latch on and gasping in pain. I remember her screaming at the breast because she couldn't get what she needed.

When I stood in the shower, I remember blood slowly trickling down my body from my damaged breasts. Even though there was pain, I knew I had no options but to suck it up and continue to try.

Phoebe needed me and I was determined to breastfeed her. In my mind there was never any option of quitting. It was painful every day. Every minute, actually. I cried when she latched on. I cried when she unlatched. I got anxious and sick to my stomach every time she'd give me hunger cues. And yet, I still fed her.

I went to the lactation clinic to see if they could help me and relieve my pain. There I met a mother calmly nursing her five month old son. She told me how he had a tongue tie and they waited to see if they could just get through it together or if he needed it clipped to successfully breastfeed.

She said: "I wish I would have done the procedure sooner. He has to relearn how to latch, how to swallow, how make sounds and how to move his tongue."

Oh wow... I thought, as Phoebe's weak tongue attempted to latch and failed again, I should do something.
At every visit to the lactation clinic, they'd weigh Phoebe. 10/15 is the day after her tongue tie was clipped.

Cody and I decided to have her tongue tie clipped on my 28th birthday. What a decision. Our pediatrician had me sit on the exam table holding our two week old baby. He took some Orajel and rubbed it on the membrane connected to her tongue and revealed a pair of small silver scissors.

"Hold her head steady," he said. I felt weak. He reached into her mouth and snipped. Blood ran down my baby's chin onto my hands. I felt VERY weak. She started to wail.

The doctor held gauze on her tongue for a few moments and then told me to breastfeed her. He left the room and I pulled her close to me. I braced myself for the pain I had been accustomed to for every nursing session. But her latch felt different.

The rest of that day was hard. She was sore and in pain and cried a lot. Cody had clinicals so I was alone with her and I cried too, thinking I had hurt my baby. But in hindsight, it was a good decision.

I continued to nurse her on demand and nursed her to sleep. I had oversupply issues and an overactive let down that she learned to control just by nursing constantly until the quick jet of milk from me to her was accepted and anticipated.

At four weeks we introduced a bottle with zero issues. But if I was with her, I never bottle fed her. In fact I did not give her a bottle personally until she was 6mo old. I always let her nurse.

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Just when I got the hang of things and I had no more pain while nursing, I went back to work.

The first week back for me was a busy one. I pumped twice a day at work and in the mornings before I left, but I got mastitis anyway.

I had chills, a fever, and a painful red mass on my right breast from not emptying them during my too-quick pumping sessions at work. I visited the doctor and she gave me antibiotics and a clear warning: either pump til I was empty, nurse Phoebe more, or face this again.

Then the busy season with work started and the stress began. I pumped in our small break room, sometimes with up to 5 other people eating their lunch alongside me and my Medela going shee-shee-shee-shee. Could I have weaned and stopped pumping in less than ideal circumstances?

Sure.

But Phoebe needed me, and I was not going to give up. She simply loves to nurse, and if I had to endure awkward situations at work to make her happy why would I stop? Pumping sucks! But I did it for her, gladly, every day.

I even pumped for an overnight business road trip, my supportive co workers not caring that I plugged in my pump in the car and dumped milk at every stop. (Thanks, ladies. I genuinely appreciate you!)

And so I still pump and nurse her, 8 months in.

We are still going strong, and in fact I'm writing this on my phone with her at the breast, flutter sucking and napping. She loves to nurse, simple as that. I won't take away something she loves, even as inconvenient and awkward and hard and obnoxious it can be to be a full time working mother and a breast feeder.

I pump three times a day when I work, on top of nursing her. Every pumping session yields around 5-6oz for a daily total of 15oz. This is more than she needs as the average intake is 1oz per hour away from me, so I've always had excess. I have donated my frozen milk to a set of twins, to a relative who was nervous about her supply, and applied for and was accepted to the Mother's Milk Bank in Denver. I have since donated 4 gallons to them and have around 300oz in my deep freeze that we will not use. That supply grows every day.



Phoebe and I have an incredible nursing relationship. I nurse her in the morning before I leave for work and she usually falls asleep for her first nap of the day. I nurse her when I come home, and then again to go to bed. We go to bed together. I nurse her all night long, usually 3-4 times. I nurse her at 6am when she wakes up too early for me and we snuggle back to sleep for another hour. She knows what I mean when I ask, "Do you want to nurse?" and kicks excitedly or laughs in response.

We have nursed in a Target bathroom, in relative's spare bedrooms and offices and basements. We have nursed in baby yoga class. We have nursed in church. We have nursed in my bridal suite at work during an after-hours party. We have nursed in the backseat of the parked car. We have nursed in the tiger exhibit and the jungle at the zoo.We have nursed outside by the trickling waterfall of our Koi pond. But the best place is in our spot: the glider in her room by the window with the irises outside. The curtain pulled tight, her sound machine playing ocean waves, her little body's weight on mine, her eyes closed, her sweet milky breath when she unlatches.



So why is breastfeeding the hardest thing I've ever done? Because of the pain at first, the struggle with Phoebe's latch, the mastitis, the seemingly never ending pumping, but mostly because of the utter dedication it takes. I have never been more than 4 hours without pumping or breastfeeding her. In the 246 days she's been alive, that means that I have nursed or pumped at least 1500 times. Breastfeeding is all-consuming. But so is Phoebe. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

I only get to do this part with her once. I will let her nurse as long as she desires, not caring if she weans at one or at four. She is my miracle, and all I want is to make her supremely happy for the rest of our days. My precious nursling! My Phoebe bird! I just love being her mama.
                                                               

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Here is my nursing and pumping schedule while I'm at work for inquiring minds. I do not know how often I feed her when I'm off as we feed on demand, I have never counted. I only pump once in the mornings when I have a day off with her.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a lactation consultant! Follow your doctor's advice.

Note: I eat and drink a full glass of water every time I pump!

7am: Wake up, usually just finishing our last dream nurse of the night/breakfast for Phoebe

7:30-7:45am: Pump and eat breakfast

8:30-9am: Nurse Phoebe

12noon: Pump and eat lunch

3pm (or 4, if I get busy and can't make it back to pump): Pump and eat again

6:20pm: Home from work, nurse Phoebe

8pm-9pm: nurse Phoebe to sleep

We bed share, and always have. It makes breastfeeding infinitely easier. Do what is best and safest for your family. I am a very light sleeper!

Throughout the night: Nurse on demand



I can't stress enough how important it is to offer the breast often and not on a schedule. Fussy baby? Offer. Sleepy baby? Offer. Rooting baby? Offer. Phoebe doesn't take a pacifier, is entirely attached to me, and is the healthiest happiest baby. For more info and the best resource I have found, visit http://www.kellymom.com.



1 comment:

  1. So happy you two have established such a beautiful nursing relationship. Caroline got my milk for her first 6 months. Unfortunately we did not have any luck nursing, so my best friend was that damn pump. It's a very hard job. But it's worth it :)

    ReplyDelete