Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Breastfeeding Story : If I knew Then What I Know now...

Posted by Andria at 2:53 PM 3 comments
My breastfeeding experience is something I've wanted to share for a long time. Not because it was all rainbows and butterflies either. Unfortunately, it was a journey that was rough and very short lived due to a combination of lack of support and lack of knowledge. It did not have to be that way and it doesn't have to go that way for you! I want to share it because it's not only my story but, also the story I hear over and over coming from the mouths of other mothers. At first this story might come across as discouraging but PLEASE see the message behind my words! This story is meant to help others and I feel like I can better achieve this by being raw and honest about my experience. Hopefully in sharing my story, I'll encourage others to seek the knowledge, the help and the resources needed so they won't make the same mistakes I made. I figured what better time to do this than during World Breastfeeding week.

Growing up around breastfeeding is not always enough..

I always knew I would want to breastfeed. It was never even a question. I was raised in a family of breastfeeding woman. I watched little cousins nurse from the time I was a child myself and also witnessed their mothers make it look SO easy. Baby cried, mom whipped out the boob, baby latched, baby nursed. Plain and simple. No one ever complained or seemed to have any issues at all so I always assumed that it was just that simple. Because of this, for as much reading as I did about everything else during my pregnancy, I literally brushed off chapters and articles on breastfeeding. After all, "I already knew what to do and it wasn't rocket science." That was HUGE mistake number one. Even during childbirth classes in my last trimester, I'd have this "yeah, yeah, yeah" thought running through my head and hardly paid attention to the breastfeeding part of the class. In my mind, everybody in my family did it just fine so why should I be any different. Very naive, I know! Oh if I knew then what I know now..

And then came the rude awakening...

Moments after giving birth, I lifted my gown, brought my beautiful, fresh babe to my breast, "the sound of harps and angels were all around me" (lol), I anticipated that rush of emotion and bonding I had waited my whole life to experience, I positioned her mouth on me and then (( insert the cliche screeching halt you hear in movies)) My baby wouldn't latch.. OK I thought, I'll just try again and again and again. I was instantly confused. "What the heck is wrong!". A baby that didn't instantly latch- I'd never witnessed such a thing! My birth team assured me it was fine and that I can just try again later. So try I did. My poor little girl had no idea what to do and neither did I. I'd finally get her on but, the latch was beyond wrong . The pain was excruciating! Of course at the time I didn't know it was her latch. It was instantly burned in my brain that nursing was just PAINFUL. Why hadn't I been told that breastfeeding hurt so bad? Why did family members never complain of this horrible pain? Was I just a wimp? Then it came- that first bottle of formula. On one hand I felt so incredibly guilty for giving it to her but my breast were already so sore that it was also a relief on the other hand. Something else I felt guilty for. The next day when I left the birthing center, I was too proud to admit to anyone that things weren't going so well. I really and truly thought it was me and that I'll "fix it" myself at home. Mistake number two..

While at home, I alternated between a few short excruciating minutes on each breast all the while my baby was screaming and crying in frustration. I'd end up crying from frustration myself (and pain) and I'd just give her formula. By day three it was time for me to go back to the birthing center for my check up and for Aizlynn's PKU. Even though by that day my nipples were so torn up, they were completely scabbed over, I still wasn't prepared to admit I needed help. They told me to go ahead and nurse her so she'd be soothed after having been poked on her heal. Then they saw the look on my face and the hesitation I had. The midwife there at the time asked what was going on and I finally showed her my poor injured breasts. Her eyes widened and her exact words were "That's the worst I've seen in a while." She had her assistant explain that it was my latch, set me up with some gels to put on my breasts, recommended I run and buy breast shields right away and sent me on my merry way. Not one person recommended I go to a lactation consultant. In fact I didn't even know they existed at the time. Major fail on their part in my opinion.

My Big, Fat Opinionated Family ;)...

I love my family first and foremost. They in so many areas of my life have been amazing, supportive and loving BUT in this particular situation, without meaning to, they were almost the death of me. Remember, "everyone's always got an opinion" and constantly being around lots of family in the first few weeks of parenthood can either be a huge help or a huge hindrance. It did not help to have people walking in on me every two minutes when I was still going through the self conscious phase of breastfeeding some women experience. It did not help me to have people over my shoulder barking "You're not getting enough areola in her mouth!" It did not help me to have (well meaning) women of my family proclaim that "I was being too sensitive!" when I held back tears from the pain I was in. It did not help me when a family member fed my baby a bottle and said to her in front of me "I'm sorry you have to drink this poison." It definitely did NOT help me when a women of my family said "You're just not trying hard enough." Yup, every last thing you just read is true.

When it came to the issue of breastfeeding my family was certainly NOT helpful. Infact, it happened to be the outside trigger that sent me into post partum depression. Thankfully it was not severe and went away quickly but, it was still emotionally rough. All I had become in my own mind was a failure. I failed at something that was supposed to be "easy and natural." It seemed as if it just weren't meant to be for me. My milk took a full five days to come in and even then I could only pump a few ounces from each side. Then my supply had dwindled to an ounce from each side in a very short period of time. Eventually by about four weeks post partum, I was completely dried up. I now realize it was probably due to stress but again, in my mind at the time, my body was just failing me. Technically, I was able to give my baby breast milk (in a bottle) those first few weeks but, I always had to supplement with formula as I wasn't producing enough. I still couldn't help feeling like I had failed her and myself. Not that formula feeding mother are failures. This was just something that was extremely important to me and I didn't accomplish what I wanted so I had formed that opinion of myself. Though I'm Okay now, the first few years after having Aizlynn, seeing mothers nursing their babies was so bitter-sweet for me. I would think about how sweet and precious it was but, I would also feel that sadness for what had happened to me.  Had I known then what I know now I feel like the outcome would've been very different...

I'll do so many things differently next time:

*First of all I will NOT assume I know everything! Even though I've gone through Doula training which includes education on breastfeeding and helping moms establish successful breastfeeding, I'll STILL seek even more education.  I'll read tons of books, sift through tons of great websites, watch videos and seek out a LACTATION CONSULTANT! I'm not even going wait to have an issue before I speak to one. Next time around I'll speak to a lactation consultant and have them on stand by during my pregnancy.

*Support, support, support! I'll make sure i have proper support on my side!

*I'll be mentally prepared for the fact that not all babies are nursing champs right away and they need to learn just like mom's do sometimes.

*I'll be prepared with more quality breastfeeding products such as herbs, teas, slings and other things that I could grab for if need be, especially a good hospital grade pump.  I now know that a low quality pump will not help your supply.

*I'll be kind to myself. I will make sure to get proper nutrition, rest and try my hardest to remain as stress free as I can be. I will not beat myself up if things are rocky in the beginning.

*I will not give my baby a pacifier or a bottle until breastfeeding is fully established. If there are any latching issues in the beginning, I'm willing to express milk and spoon feed it to my baby.

*This one's important- My home will not be allowed to be treateted like an open house! I made the mistake of having people come and go as they pleased that first week after giving birth. This turned out to be quite a hindrance for me. Next time I'll politely let it be known that we will be welcoming visitors after atleast a week or two.

*I will not give up, I will not give up, I will not give up! I know I can do it!

(If there's something I missed or if you have other suggestion please comment!)

As I said in my first paragraph, this does not need to be your experience. There are so many resources and people out there willing to help. If you're pregnant and planning on breastfeeding, please don't let this story scare you! Instead let my experience make you determined not to go through what I went through. Breastfeeding is wonderful, sacred, beautiful, natural and it doesn't have to be horrible. I can't stress enough that the key things you'll need is education, loving support and patience (oh and a good doula AND lactation consultant;). You can never be too prepared! You CAN do it!

{Maybe you're not currently pregnant but, you might have gone through a similar situation. I'm here to say that you're not alone, you're not a bad mom and you're not a failure.}

All the issues I faced with breastfeeding have taught me so much. It has only made me more determined to not only get it right next time but, as a doula it has made me that much more passionate when it comes to helping other moms with breastfeeding. I hope in reading this story you can take a lesson with you on your breastfeeding journey or pass it on to another mom.