I know every woman’s experience is different, but I figured it may be helpful to share my breastfeeding story with others, as I know it helped me to read other women’s experiences while I was having difficulty. I never planned on writing about my experience, but here it goes.
When i had my first baby, l always planned on breastfeeding. I figured it was something that just “came next” after giving birth and I anticipated that it would be natural and easy. After all, my body was designed for this, right? I didn’t have too many expectations, because at the time I only had a few friends who had babies who also had breastfed. Despite this, none of these friends divulged much information about their own experiences. I had one friend who confessed to “not loving it,” but the others seemed neutral. I thought: If I can give birth, surely I can breastfeed my child.
I did attend a breastfeeding class at the hospital, but personally, I didn’t get much out of it. Actually, I take that back. The only thing I got out of the class was an absolute lie. We watched a video during the class that showed a baby who, just minutes after being born, inched his way up to his mother’s breast to feed. I thought “This is going to be easy!” But, was I wrong?
Even though it is recommended to try to breastfeed as soon as possible after birth, my first attempt did not happen until several hours after my son’s birth. Because he was born at almost 11a.m. in the morning, and because it took almost an hour for the doctor to stitch me up, it was nearly 1p.m. after our families left. Then, they took my baby to the nursery–to do whatever they do with the babies shortly after they are born and we were transferred to our recovery room. The nurses came in and did a bunch of stuff and said a bunch of stuff –I know I’m being vague here, but the details are foggy –and finally around 3p.m. the nurses told us they’d bring Koko back soon but that l should “try to get some sleep.” First of all, sleeping, despite being deliriously tired, was impossible. It seemed that every three minutes someone was calling on the phone and coming into our room to tell us something or to do something. In fact, it wasn’t until 4 pm. that l finally got to go to sleep, like really go to sleep (and even then, it was only for about 2-3 hours.) Anyway, around 6 or 7pm, in the evening the nurses told me it was time to try to breastfeed. The nurses adjusted the bed, so I was in a sitting position and layered pillows around me. I felt a surge of adrenaline from excitement and anticipation. A weird part of me thought this was what was going to really make me a mother (never mind the whole pushing the baby out thing.) The nurses stripped him down to his diaper and placed him in my arms. Then we tried to get my baby to breastfeed for the first time. And we tried. And tried. And tried. And tried.
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For whatever reason, he would not latch for longer than a few seconds. We tried every position and hold without success. We tried putting some sugar water in his mouth with a syringe, and we tried putting sugar water on my nipples. He just wasn’t getting it. This process of attempting to get him to latch and switching positions every few minutes lasted for about 45 minutes. We eventually got him to latch…but only for a minute or two. Then we’d switch him to the other side. Again, it took about 45 minutes to get him to latch on that side, and again, it was only for a minute or two. Koko, was only about 6-7 hours old, and I already felt like I was failing at the most important job I’d ever have: motherhood.
I had heard that breastfeeding was really painful for some women. The good news: though, my baby, only latched for a few minutes at a time, it didn’t hurt. It actually kind of tickled. It was serene and sweet.
As expected, just a few minutes of eating was not enough for him, so we were forced to cup feed him sugar water and a little formula. As you may know, newborns are expected to eat at least every three hours from the time they start eating. So, after an hour and a half (all the time it took to get him to latch once on each side), it was only another hour and a half until we would attempt to breastfeed again. And then the whole process started again. Naturally, this left me very little time to rest and sleep– which is why I didn’t want any visitors on our first day in the hospital.
This process of trying to feed him and trying to get him to latch continued throughout our two days at the hospital.
On the afternoon of our last day (we left during the evening of the second day) we FINALLY got him to latch for longer than a few minutes. After 45 minutes of trying to get him to latch, he finally did, and he ate for about 15-20 minutes. I felt like I deserved a gold medal: I was finally doing something right! I was able to feed my child! Forget the fact that it would take him another 45 minutes to latch on the other side and he would eat for 15-20 minutes on that side as well making this whole thing a 2+ hour process, leaving me only 30-40 minutes in between feedings…at least he was eating!
Then this pain came. I can’t describe the pain, and I won’t try. I will say that every time my baby latched (on both sides but especially on my right) that I would grit my teeth and close my eyes as hard as I possibly could. It hurt so badly that I often would cry while feeding him, and I began to resent my baby. What?mother resents her newborn baby? Then, I began to feel guilty. I felt guilty for resenting him and I felt guilty for dreading every feeding. Guilt: every mother’s reliable companion.
And then my milk came in, and THEN it still continued to hurt. I cursed myself for naively thinking that I was somehow immune to the breastfeeding pain that so many women experience. It’s hard to describe the pain, but the adjective “knife like” comes to mind. I tried to cope through the pain and chant the mantra “anything for my child,” but after a day or two, it wasn’t getting any better.
Because my nipples had never received that much…(stimulation? manipulation? What’s the right word here?) before, they suffered severe damage. I practically bathed in nipple cream, but that didn’t help at all. My nipples were in trouble. Like real trouble. I remember looking down at my right nipple and seeing a visible crack through the center of it.
The insatiable eating did not last too long (only a day or two), but he still ate every 3 to 4 hours. And how did he eat? Well, by sucking on my cracked nipples.
So, we went home, and the 2+hour process of feeding him continued, but within a day, he was getting better at latching (and only taking 15-20 minutes to latch correctly) and everything felt right in the world. With all the time his mouth spent sucking and trying to latch, my nipples became very raw and cracked. I could no longer describe it as a “tickling” feeling. Though it doesn’t sound like it, this is actually quite normal, and I used Earth Mama Nipple Cream, to help ease the pain a bit.
And as I predicted, it did get better, not much better mind you, but better. And I was just starting to figure this whole “being a mom” thing out. There were so many times when I almost quit. When it was really bad, I swore at each feeding that it would be my last. But I kept going, and looking back, I’m so glad I stuck with it.