Summed up: It isn’t easy. Not for everyone, that is. I know some friends who have had great experiences from the beginning and I cannot be happier for them, but for me, that wasn’t the case. Today I write this post not to focus on the negative but rather to share the struggle I experienced, in hopes that other moms who might be currently or who might one day experience something similar, will feel encouraged to continue on.
I latched Emsley almost immediately after giving birth to her as the nurses encourage all moms to do. She appeared to latch beautifully, as she accepted my breast and started sucking away. The nurse who had been assigned to me and who coached me throughout my labor and delivery had started a short shift at 7:30 p.m. and was to be done that shift at 11:30 p.m. She was with me just as I was wheeled into my birthing room and throughout all my pushing and was an absolutely amazing coach during all of that. I of all people totally understood the need to chart and finish up duties before shift change and our nurse did her best to accomplish everything with us before she ended her shift and we went to sleep. While completing her duties in our room, she did not have much time to spend one on one with us so I continued to breastfeed Emsley the best way I knew. In my head, I referred to a breastfeeding video from our prenatal class and was aware that Emsley’s upper lip was moving too much while sucking but I was unsure as to how I should fix it. I commented to the nurses over and over that it was hurting me quite a bit and the standard response I got back, which I assume was to reassure me was, “It should be uncomfortable”. At that point I was beginning to feel somewhat wimpy, after all I just gave birth to a baby without pain medication and figured the discomfort associated with the breastfeeding would soon subside as I “toughened up” both physically and mentally.
To back up, prior to pregnancy as well as during my pregnancy, I was never excited about the notion of breastfeeding. In fact, the whole idea of me specifically doing it gave me the heebie-jeebies. I have no problems with watching others engaging in it or the concept of it generally but for myself the thought of it didn’t feel right or natural. I had shared these thoughts with others and was encouraged by friends and co-workers on the benefits of it, not only for baby but also for myself, (I mean who wouldn’t want an easy way to drop a few extra pounds of that birth weight?!). I also kept telling myself that God had created our female bodies to do this, that we were in fact designed specifically for it. So while carrying her, I hesitantly made the decision to do it and verbally signed up for the task.
By the next morning while attempting to breastfeed, only 12 hours after giving birth, I was in incredible amounts of pain. More pain then I felt I had experienced during the labor. My breasts were sore, chapped and cracked, and a bruise was beginning to form on one of my nipples. Each time I attempted to latch her I would shudder in agony and tears would stream down my face. As the initial pain was felt, my immediate gut reaction would be to rip her off, which I quickly learnt only added to my pain. After doing this many times, the nurses finally offered the proper technique to remove her, which was to stick my finger in her mouth. I felt that this information was provided a little late in the game, as it would have been helpful to know this earlier on, before the damage had already been done. My entire afternoon was spent breastfeeding in discomfort. Each time I latched her I would shake, tear and breathe as deeply as I could, trying my best not to give up. Nurse after nurse would come into my room and attempt to offer their opinions or advice as to why it was hurting me so much but nothing they suggested seemed to help. The emotions I felt while breastfeeding during those next twenty-four hours were awful and hard for me to admit. I felt disconnected to my child. I resented her for hurting me each time she latched. I was tired, sore, angry and frustrated and I began to channel that anger at myself; feeling like a failure as a new mom. I finally understood where postpartum depression could develop. I didn’t feel like I expected I would and this whole “bonding experience” everyone spoke about while breastfeeding was not happening for me. I was scared to go home with her because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to continue breastfeeding and therefore not be able to provide for her. When I had made the choice to breastfeed during pregnancy I hadn’t bought any formula, so there were no other options at home.
Throughout this, my husband was amazing. He was supportive and would always encourage me to trudge on throughout the tears and the pain, but it was hard for me to receive. In my mind, he couldn’t understand the frustration or the pain I was experiencing and although I didn’t resent him during labor as some had suggested I might, I did now. He didn’t get it. He didn’t have to offer his body up yet again. He didn’t have a little barracuda attacking his nipple. Not to mention the pain that I was already feeling from the whole birthing process. He instead got to hold her, cuddle her and just enjoy her. I observed him doing this, able to move easily, free of pain and feeding responsibility and I so badly wanted to experience only the good too.
After a day of tears and anger the nurses soon realized that this was not a good mental state to discharge me with and offered for us to stay an extra night. I eagerly agreed despite wanting to go home, as I wasn’t feeling like my normal, positive self and I lacked confidence in my breastfeeding abilities. Later that day, after a shift change, I made the choice to request a lactation consultant. At first, the nurses, whom were new to me that shift declined, stating they were qualified to offer me tips as well. I was adamant though and reminded them of how much I was struggling (as I would hear it being shared between nurses during each shift change) and requested to see the LC again. After one more failed attempt to latch her in their presence, they finally agreed and the LC saw me later that afternoon. The LC was kind, patient and extremely helpful. She reassured me that the pain I was still experiencing during each time Emsley latched would pass if I latched her correctly and could manage to fight through it. I listened to her and continued to push through the pain in front of her, shaking and tearing, waiting for her to be right. After what felt like forever but was only about fifteen seconds, she was correct and the pain began to subside, becoming somewhat bearable. She encouraged me to be patient, take breaks and continue to re-latch Emsley over and over again until the latch was correct. She reminded me that my baby wouldn’t starve herself and wouldn’t refuse to re-latch if I took her off too many times. She also requested a prescription cream for me to help with the cracking and bleeding and encouraged me to fight through the pain of that while my nipples healed. She assured me that they would heal as I continued to breastfeed and that if I could just make it through the weekend things would be better after that. I agreed but in my head was hesitant to keep going and unsure if I believed her.
I left the hospital feeling more confident in my ability to latch my baby but less confident in myself to continue on through the pain. I was still nervous about being Emsley’s only food source but didn’t allow myself to purchase any formula on the car ride home to help ensure that I would stay committed to trying to breastfeed. In my head, I consistently reminded myself of God’s intention, the benefits associated with breastfeeding for both her and I, as well as the convenience factor associated with it, (Breast milk is always the right temperature, my breasts do not require sterilization and I do not need to ensure I have the necessary items with me at all times). Despite all of that, the long weekend wasn’t easy and again many tears were shed, frustration was felt and unkind thoughts towards myself as well as resentment towards my baby while breastfeeding were experienced. With the help of my husband who sat by my side through each feeding and encouraged me to keep going as well as talked me through my negative thoughts, I found the strength within myself to push on, especially at 3 in the morning when the tiredness takes over and makes everything feel that much worse. I also accessed the local public health nurses twice, whom offered new tips for other challenges I experienced as well as helped me to remain confident in my abilities.
In hindsight, after going through this experience, I realized I should have advocated for myself during my first breastfeeding experience in the hospital and asked to have a nurse watch over me right from the beginning to ensure it was done correctly. After all, I was a first time mom with no experience in this area. I encourage others to do this, to avoid what occurred to me, as once the damage is done in a very short amount of a time it is a lot harder and a lot longer for it to be repaired, both mentally and physically. In the moment though, as a new mom, I was eager as well as excited and happy to see that my little one was sucking vigorously; not realizing the harm it was causing me. As much as I should have stood up for myself then, I am happy that I advocated for myself later when I asked to be seen by the lactation consultant. I encourage other moms to do the same, even if you are only having minimal issues. LC’s are in the hospital for a reason and might not always be offered to you as a resource, or as I experienced, even discouraged access to. I found mine to be extremely helpful, reassuring and more knowledgeable than the nursing staff in the area of breastfeeding. I also encourage others to accept the public health nurses. I initially declined one of mine as I was feeling more confident in my abilities and since it was the Friday afternoon of the long weekend felt that I was being a bother to her by letting her come to my house. But despite my protest she insisted on coming out. Once again, I was quite pleased as to what she had to offer me in terms of suggestions and I ended up learning new tips that I thought I didn’t need.
To be clear, I do not judge others for choosing not to breastfeed as everyone’s experiences and circumstances are very different. Breastfeeding isn’t the right decision for everyone and I respect that, as I myself didn’t know at first if it was the right choice for me. But, for the ones who want to do it and have the ability to do so, but who feel discouraged as I did due to similar experiences, I hope this post helps you to feel that you are not alone and encourages you to continue on.