Thursday, August 6, 2015

Causes: World Breastfeeding Week.

I haven't posted a Causes post in a while and hardly any of them are my own, but I have enough I can say on this topic I decided to write it myself.  This is real life breastfeeding, folks.  My experience, I would guess, falls somewhere middle of the road on the horror-to-piece of cake continuum of breastfeeding.  There are so many things that can come up and if people don't know about them or aren't determined to work through them (which is also fine), they can entirely derail breastfeeding.  My hope is that people will realize there are many benefits to breastfeeding, but it is a huge sacrifice, too.

I don't often post photos of nursing because 1) both my babies have been such fast nursers, I hardly have time to sit down and get out a camera or phone to snap a photo and 2) it's been such a normal part of life for us I haven't really thought to take many photos.  I think number 2 is kind of the point of World Breastfeeding Week, though.  People who breastfeed know there's nothing weird about it, but there are plenty of people out there who don't get it or have some pretty misguided information on it.  Plus there's the whole fallacy that "breastfeeding is awesome" is the equivalent of "formula sucks" which is so, so, so false.  To me, the goal of this week is to help the entire world see what breastfeeders have been seeing all along--that it's totally normal and not weird and just feeding your baby.  So, just like I don't really take photos of changing my kid's diaper, you're welcome, I don't take photos of nursing.  I've never had a huge emotional attachment to nursing, but it has been an important part of motherhood for me, and now I'm getting ahead of myself.

I have breastfed both of my babies because it's what my body was made to do.  It's free.  It can be easy (no measuring and mixing in the middle of the night).  I get to eat more calories and seems to be helpful in losing pregnancy weight.  It allows me to share my immune system with my babies and that really seems to help.  It's convenient (nothing to pack when we go places) and doesn't require doing extra dishes.  It reduces my risk for breast cancer.  It forces me to stop and rest for a few minutes which is actually quite hard to do with a new baby.  It reduces the risk of SIDS.  It reduces my risk of postpartum depression.  And eventually, sometimes off and on, it works for me and my baby so we keep doing it until it doesn't.  (Speaking of that, I love this post about extended breastfeeding)

But it's not all rainbows and butterflies; it is a huge sacrifice, too.  I'm so grateful to have a partner who sees that sacrifice, supports and encourages me, and even thanks me for it.  In order to breastfeed my babies, I have sacrificed sleep (only one who can feed the baby), alone time (same reason--or I could pump, but that's been difficult with the issues I have had with each kid, more below), my diet, fun stuff (again, concerts, date nights, girls nights, vacations, etc. all become difficult when pumping in advance and while you're away gets thrown into the mix), my own health and comfort (thrush, mastitis, meds you can/can't take), clothing choices (lots of my favorite shirts and dresses are not nursing friendly in the slightest), hoping your baby will actually take a bottle, oh and lactating changes your sex life.  Don't even get me started on moms who have to pump regularly, especially moms who exclusively pump.  HIGH-FIVE to you.  "Just pump and have someone give baby a bottle," PPPSSSHHHHHHHHHH.

It's also worth noting that both of my babies became very distracted nursers at a young age.  So, even though I'm perfectly comfortable nursing anytime, anywhere, I still have to go into a quiet room and close the door in my own house to nurse.  Away from home, it's a crap shoot.  If they don't eat well during the day, guess when they make up for it?

Nursing Myra on day one
With Myra, my breastfeeding journey was difficult from day one.  We really struggled with latch and she had jaundice.  So, besides the fact that every living thing needs to eat, she really needed to eat to get rid of the jaundice, but the jaundice made her so sleepy, she wouldn't wake up enough to eat.  In the hospital, I called for help every time we were "due" to try and feed her because hospitals like their little charts where you cross off every 2-3 hours when you attempt to feed your baby.  Anyway, we were getting no where.  It always felt pinchy.  They say it's not supposed to hurt and I believed it, but even if it was supposed to hurt a little (I'm convinced some initial nursing pain is normal, especially the first 30-60 seconds of latching with a newborn), I knew this wasn't right and I could hear that she wasn't swallowing anything.  One nurse told me maybe my nipples just need to toughen up and that one little voice of doubt that maybe I was being a wuss or exaggerating stuck with me and I just thought maybe this is what it's going to be like.  Wrong.  This is where misinformation and lack of support can get new moms into trouble.  I met with an actual lactation consultant the next morning and they came to help every time I nursed Myra.  By the 24 hour mark, we had to get her eating and had to signal my body to start making milk, so after every attempt of feeding her, I'd pump then we would syringe feed her the milk.  It went in a syringe with a tiny little tube and we would stick it in her mouth alongside our pinky and she would suck it out that way.  Then 2 hours later I would painfully try to nurse again, fail, pump, syringe feed, repeat.  24/7.  Trevor was in school and couldn't afford to miss class, so we were both extra exhausted.  We doctored an hour from home, so once we were discharged, I had to make the drive with my brand new baby for follow up lactation appointments every 2-3 days for three weeks.  Myra had to get her bilirubin (jaundice) levels checked via heel poke and we continued to work on latch and weigh her before and after feedings to see how much she was getting.  By three weeks old, she graduated lactation and was back to her birth weight.

During those first three weeks, every feeding involved the attempt/pump/syringe feed circus.  Myra was still so sleepy we would have to strip her naked, drip cold water on her, and make a bunch of noise to keep her awake long enough to eat.  As much of an accomplishment as that was (the bilirubin levels finally going down, weight finally going up, some APNO to repair my severely damaged nipples), we went right from that into something is wrong with my baby.  I can't even open that can of worms (click on the FPIES tab at the top of the page if you want the background info), but it took months to figure out that she couldn't handle dairy through my milk.  I had 300 ounces of pumped breastmilk in the freezer that got donated (to an incredibly sweet adoptive family) because it was useless to us once she became an entirely different baby without dairy.  Fast forward a few more months and repeat but with soy now.  Donated more breast milk and started my freezer supply over again.  I was struggling to maintain my own weight with my diet restrictions and Myra was still struggling, waking up 5+ times a night at 7 months old.  I refused to switch to formula until I knew it would actually help and I wouldn't know that until she was diagnosed with something.  If she couldn't have dairy or soy in my diet, she certainly couldn't have formula made from those things.  I'm happy Myra got the benefits of breastmilk for so long, and I truly don't feel guilty for "making her sick" with my milk, though that is reality.  Knowing what we knew and trusting the doctors we were seeing (and man, we saw quite a few), I have no hard feelings about it all.  I wish we could have figured it out sooner, but we didn't and I don't blame anyone for that.  I gave up a lot to do what I really believe was best for my child.  I couldn't get a break, or even sleep, because it was just too exhausting to pump--especially after purging my entire freezer stash of breast milk TWICE.

Nursing Myra at 8-9 months
I breastfed Myra until she was 10 months old, but I continued to pump around the clock for almost a month just in case the formula we were trying didn't help her.  Thankfully, I LOVE SCIENCE, it did.  I love breastfeeding and I love formula.


The first time I nursed Niko.  Photo by Angie Knutson Photography.

With Niko, I was terrified of all of the above.  Today he's a week shy of 6 months old (*sniffle*) and we have had none.of.that.  Oh, but wait, it hasn't been a perfect journey either.  Everything started out great, for the most part.  He was sleepy at first, but no jaundice issues.  I know babies can take their sweet little time in those early hours, birth is exhausting-I get that.  So, I tried to nurse him sometime in the first hour I think, it wasn't awful but he just didn't really eat.  I tried again a couple hours later, same thing.  His pediatrician wasn't worried at all and neither was I.  When Niko was about 7 hours old, he had a couple of decent attempts at the breast, but still hadn't really eaten (you can tell by listening for swallowing).  The nurse I had at the time got a little excited, put some sugar water on my boob and set me up with a nipple shield.  It seriously happened so fast I was like "uh, ok, we're trying this now, ok."  Using a nipple shield is fine, but it doesn't stimulate milk production like nursing without one does, so I also had to pump after feeding him like I did with Myra.  This is to ensure a good milk supply right off the bat.  I really did not want to get sucked into that circus again.  This is where my experience with Myra and lactation consultants came in handy.  I knew he was still new enough that I didn't need to stress just yet.  I had been calling for help every time I wanted to try to feed him because I'm a huge advocate of take all the help you can get while you're in the hospital!  But, after that really bizarre experience, and knowing what Myra taught me, I decided to just give it a go myself in the peace and quiet of my little hospital room.  It took some work and position changing and fidgeting, but he seemed to be doing better each time and I didn't have the jaundice fear, so I just went with it.  I did meet with an actual lactation nurse the following day and she said he looked great.  So, as far as those early days go, everything was pretty darn great.  However, big however, at about the six week mark things started to go south.  I was expecting the opposite: a rough start, but by 4 weeks we'd be rockin and rollin.  I had severe pain, thought it was from an instance of bad latch that left me a little damaged, I would dread feeding Niko and cry while he nursed.  After a month of that (yeah, a MONTH of crying every time I fed my baby), I realized it was actually thrush (click the link if you're bored out of your mind and want to read more about that process) and it took me another month to get rid of it.

Nursing Niko at 5 months, a rare moment where he fell asleep nursing
I had a month of good, easy, pain free nursing then I got mastitis.  The week we were moving.  I swallowed raw garlic like you wouldn't believe (that actually is a great remedy), but I knew I wouldn't be able to rest like I should, so I got the antibiotics, too.  Mastitis can be really bad if you don't get it under control.  As expected, the antibiotics led to me getting thrush again.  This time, I was prepared.  I started with all my lotions and potions right away and it's been stubborn but never got even close to the amount of pain I dealt with the first time.  I think it's gone or basically gone now, but I'm still being extra cautious, using grapefruit seed extract, probiotics, and trying not to get too hot and sweaty on my chest (easier said than done).

Surprise, surprise!! That got much longer than I expected.  This started as a Facebook post with one picture from my iPod...oops.  But hey, there you have it-my real life experience with breastfeeding so far.  Like I said, I don't really feel like I have the same emotional connection to nursing as many moms do, but I am still damn proud of myself for all of this.  I'm doing what I believe to be best for my babies and that's all any of us is trying to do.  I truly believe breastfeeding isn't what is best for every baby.  When things like stress, exhaustion, health of both mom and baby, guilt, physiology, etc. are factored in, there is absolutely no one size fits all.  I was ready to switch Niko to formula in a New York minute if he showed signs of FPIES because Neocate changed our lives that much with Myra.  I was stubborn through the thrush nonsense because I knew as soon as it cleared up I would wish I had kept nursing.  It was a-w-f-u-l, but I am glad I hung in there.  Again, me being stubborn and passionate about breastfeeding is in no way a knock on formula.  I do want people who will be having children to be aware of these things, know that they are fairly common, know that there is support out there, and know that it can be done.  All that said, if anyone chooses not to or is unable to breastfeed, you are still an awesome parent and don't let anyone make you feel otherwise.

This is when I should proofread, but instead I will go take a shower.

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