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On Breastfeeding

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Jane Birkin, 1967 (still my motherhood style peg)
Photo from Jane & Serge: A Family Album via Into the Gloss

I didn’t prepare for breastfeeding. I was one of those people who assumed that breastfeeding would be this natural thing that came to mothers easily. I was formula-fed as a baby so my mom wasn’t able to impart any knowledge on the matter. I believe in the benefits of breastfeeding and I knew that I wanted to do it for my baby (I also wanted to save money). I was able to hold Selah to my chest seconds after she was born and she instinctively latched onto me like it was nothing soon after.

I remember when Selah was three days old and I was starting to feel my breasts become hard and heavy. We just came from a postpartum checkup in Shiphrah and Ate Lornie was already commenting on how my milk was ready to drop anytime. That night, I naively put a muslin cloth underneath my pillow to prepare for my milk. I was routinely feeding Selah my colostrum and figured that when the milk will start pooling in.. tada! Breastfeeding!

It was more of “Hello, engorgement!” and thus began the most painful weeks of my whole life. I am not exaggerating and this is coming from someone who had an unmedicated birth. Selah is 6 weeks old and I’m at a point where I survived enough to tell the tale.

If you’re a mother who had no problems whatsover with feeding, please don’t bother reading. I offer you my congratulations (with no sarcasm, I swear) but my experience and feelings might feel ridiculous to you.

For the moms who feel or felt like failures and idiots, welcome! You’re safe here and to you, I offer hugs and not a single mention of your latching skills.

  1. I’m of those people who want to do away with the notion “if breastfeeding hurts, then you’re doing something wrong.” To a sensitive, hormonal woman, that’s the worst thing you can hear from anyone, simply because the implication is, no matter how hard you’re trying, YOU FAILED SOMEWHERE. That kind of language is not encouraging or supportive.
  2. I got in touch with two lactation consultants and a bunch of breastfeeding moms — and after all the advice, the pain wasn’t going away. I was dreading every single feed with Selah. I felt like a bad mommy and each wince and sob that came out of me reminded me of that.
  3. Perfect breastfeeding is just that, perfect. Aiming for perfection is great but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t attain it. Imperfection is the human condition. Trying to get breastfeeding right activated this dormant insecurity I never thought I had. I’m usually good at filtering information, but because becoming a mother was something that overwhelmed me,  I just fell apart.
  4. Even after the sessions with the lactation consultants, I watched a ton of tutorials on Youtube, read everything on Kellymom.com, and practiced every single way to latch properly. It still hurt. I suspect now that the damage I incurred before asking for help (cracked nipple, bruises, blisters) played a big factor in getting better, but my baby also has a tiny mouth and she kept blissfully ignoring my pleas to open wider.
  5. And hey, since we’re talking about my boobs already, I should mention that they’ve always been my prime erogenous zone. Maybe the heightened sensitivity has a correlation with my nipple pain threshold, who knows? Point: everyone has a different relationship with pain and don’t let anyone make you feel weak about it.
  6. I just felt so rotten during those first weeks. I felt incompetent and stupid. A big part of picking myself up is emptying all the judgmental thoughts in my head and replacing them with undeniable facts. Namely: A) Breastfeeding is a learned skill similar to learning how to swing a baseball bat or how to ballroom dance (I suck magnificently at those too) and B) Breastfeeding is a relationship — mommy and baby are both learning. Since Selah chomps and clamps hard like there’s no tomorrow, it felt like I was the one lagging behind skillwise.
  7. Once you take your power back, that’s when mothering happens. After crying during Selah’s second doctor’s appointment, our pediatrician Dr. Dolli told me that I was doing a great job and that I alone know what’s good for Selah and no one else. It’s something I always knew all along, that you cannot impose templates on people, even on little people-to-be.
  8. When a huge blister erupted on the boob with the cracked nipple, I was found myself on my last nerve. I was already on the road to healing with that one (attained through using the football hold on that side) and it frustrated me that I had another injury to replace it. I needed to give that boob a break and I finally caved and bought a breast pump and defied the purist advice of waiting until 6 weeks before I start pumping. Pumping on the bad boob finally allowed it to heal completely because Selah didn’t have a chance to mangle it with her mouth anymore.
  9. I also started doing 100% Natural Breastfeeding at home. This means always reclining on my back and having Selah use her instincts to feed off me instead of me shoving my breasts down her throat. I didn’t ask for any advice on this matter, I finally went with my intuition and this is the move that finally ended the reign of terror.
  10. Things started feeling better in week 5. My breasts are still perpetually sore but it’s a discomfort I can handle. I’m friends now with breastfeeding. I won’t be doing any celebratory shimmies just yet but it’s good to know that my stubbornness and intuition gets me places.

Thank you to everyone who rushed to my aid and who kept praying for me. It’s breastfeeding that finally made me understand the idea of a village and that every mom shouldn’t have to go through motherhood alone. And if you find yourself ending your breastfeeding journey for whatever reason, don’t beat yourself up over it. We’re all trying our best.

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1 comment… add one

  • Chelsea Friday November 6, 2015, 1:27 am

    I just want to let you know I 100% agree. I was really pissed about the whole “it shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing it right” thing. It hurt the entire first two months with my son who I breastfed for 13 months. It was absolute agony when my milk came in. My engorgement was terrible. I talked to and saw multiple people. All I got was “your latch looks great”…. No help. My daughter is 10 weeks old and I was having the same pain with her even though she latched beautifully from the get go despite being 1 month premature. I was able to handle the engorgement this time thanks to what I learned last time. Around the 6 week mark I noticed a lot of the things she was doing such as clamping/grinding are associated with a tongue or lip tie. She also has reflux which can be aggravated by that as well. Went with my gut and took her to an IBCLC Dr. Turns out she had a tongue tie AND I have what the Dr called a “robust” supply. Suddenly my problems with my son made sense. He was tongue tied too. Thanks to my supply and forceful let down my babies gain weight because they don’t have to latch correctly to get milk. They clipped the tongue tie for me in a 20 second procedure that made my daughter cry less than the exam did. The first time feeding her after (which you do immediately after they clip) was SO different. The Dr told me I had no idea what it was supposed to feel like due to the amount of time I’d nursed a tongue tied baby. I thought pain when they first latch on was pretty normal. The first time she nursed without the tie it felt like she was doing nothing while she nursed. Please for my sake as someone who just accepted the pain when they shouldn’t have, find someone with their IBCLC and have your baby evaluated for a tongue tie. Your latch can be perfect but if your baby has a tongue tie it’s still going to hurt. Where I failed figuring this out with my son was I thought that if he had tongue tie it’d be really obvious and surely one of the lactation consultants or pediatrician would have noticed. Nope. Most pediatricians are awesome but they are not IBCLC trained in breastfeeding. They don’t know what to look for unless it’s an extremely obvious tongue tie. If your baby gains weight like mine do (both doubled their birth weight by the age of 2 months) I think they’re even less inclined to look. My daughter’s was moderate but it made a huge difference to breastfeeding. Hang in there! It gets better!

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