Saturday, March 13, 2010

Breastfeeding, I Am Sorry.

Note to any male readers: I am going to talk about breasts in this post. Either deal with it, glaze over now and start dreaming of Pamela Anderson, or stop reading.

I owe breastfeeding an apology.

When I got pregnant with our son I always assumed I would breastfeed, and I assumed it would come naturally. We'd gotten pregnant just by THINKING about trying (a fact Mr. Awesome was very proud of, telling anyone he could that his "boys could swim"), the pregnancy had been a breeze, why would there be any problems with feeding? From about 6 months pregnant it was looking like I was made to feed babies, with my breasts leaking what I can only assume was some sort of "pre-milk" night and day.

The little man had some issues with the initial latching, and the nurses in the maternity ward were bound and determined to make it work before we went home. Having never done it before, I didn't know what a good latch felt like. I was sleep deprived after having been in labour for 31 hours, felt like I'd shat out a 9lb 11oz watermelon, and didn't know what the hell was going on. Every time the nurses came in the room they would try and force him on, happy with ANY latch, not caring if it was "good" or not. This led to some pretty painful feeds with very little recovery time. Everyone said it hurt a bit at first, so I thought maybe I had a low threshold for pain and it was normal.

Day 2 and my milk came in. Boy, did it ever. I could probably have rested my chin on my boobs. My arms couldn't sit comfortably at my sides. One nurse in particular felt it was her personal mission from God to get the boy to feed successfully, at any cost. I was so engorged she said she needed to express some milk. This, I believe, is where it all went very, very wrong. She had thumbs of steel and used these Vise Grips to knead my breasts to within an inch of their lives. I am not exaggerating when I say I had purple and brown boobs for THREE WEEKS. Needless to say, this was just a little bit traumatic.

So, put together sore nipples that wouldn't know a good latch if it hit them in the face, purple boobs that shied away from the light of day, a 9lb 11oz baby boy who was ravenous all the time, and you have a pretty upsetting welcome to breastfeeding. Every single feed was excrutiatingly painful and both my baby and I were crying non-stop, me from the pain and him from (I assume) not getting enough milk from our atrocious latching abilities.

Why didn't I see a lactation consultant, you ask? Let me remind you, the last person that had tried to "help" me with breastfeeding had manhandled me to the point of near-permanent damage. In my mind, a lactation consultant would be just another "tit terrorist," doing whatever it took to force me to endure this agony until my little darling went off to college.

We started supplementing with formula (pumping was far too painful) when he was three weeks old. We had to. By 10pm each night, my breasts were throbbing in pain and my ducts were dry. Once he got a taste of that sweet nectar with its on-demand flow, our breastfeeding days were numbered. I stuck with it during the days until he was eight weeks old, when my doctor told me I should stop. He said that it was more important to be able to hold my baby without crying in pain, that I was not a failure and that our son would be just fine with formula. It was like a cloud lifted and the sun smiled at me. Finally I could hold my baby just to hold my baby - no tears, no dread, just love.

When we got pregnant with our daughter, I decided that I wasn't going to stress about feeding. Breastfeeding had a very negative association for me, but I wanted to give it one more shot. If it worked, it worked. If it didn't, I would see a lactation consultant (I had since warmed to the idea), but I wouldn't be made to feel guilty or pressured. One glimpse of a tit terrorist or a "lactivist" and I was ready to head for the hills.

Well, it worked. It just worked. She latched within 10 minutes of birth and has been doing great ever since. I did actually see a consultant when after one not-so-good latch I started to feel that old familiar pain, but it was nipped in the bud immediately.

I used to dread feeding time with my son, starting to cry even before he was in my arms because I still hurt from the last feed. I now get it. I get how breastfeeding can be a beautiful thing. I couldn't have said that two years ago, but I get it. Breastfeeding isn't the devil and when it works it can be wonderful.

But for anyone having issues, just know - you are not a failure. Get whatever help you are comfortable getting. Breast milk or formula, in the end it is far more important to just love your baby and enjoy the life you've just brought into the world.

Breastfeeding, I Am Sorry. Nurse Ratched and your evil thumbs of steel - Step away from the boob.


  1. LOL that was a great read. Thanks for the laugh.

  2. oh breastfeeding you are the bitch wolf that howls at my feet daily. (however when it works it is the lazy woman's saviour, no fixing/packing bottles its all right there)

  3. Youch. So sad that your first experience with BF -- and, um, "helpers" -- was so negative. How joyous that No. 2 showed you a different way. It will be that way forever now: your experience with No. 1 not being ANY sort of roadmap for the behaviors/activities involving No. 2. Thanks for "forgiving" those of us in the breastfeeding support profession -- though Nurse Rached is beyond forgiving, in my opinion.

  4. I found you with the MomBloggersClub. Great post! It's hard to say that breast feeding didn't work for you - most people just assume you didn't even try.
    With a tiny daughter with a short palate and then a pretty healthy-sized son that did latch, I had 3 lactation consultants tell me that I just didn't have enough supply.
    But I managed with my secret weapon - gatorade. Water went right through me. I guess I needed the electrolytes.
    I did it, and now I know that babies thrive on breast milk and/or formula, but most of all they need love.

  5. Wonderful post. I love that you have now had two different experiences - being a formula feeding mom, and having success with breastfeeding. This puts you in the unique position of seeing both sides - a place that few people can speak from. I'm so happy that you're enjoying breastfeeding the second time around - I think that gives hope to many people (myself included). But I'm even happier that you are still speaking up for those who have struggled and reassuring them that no matter how they feed their children, they are still great moms and that it will all be okay. Such an important message... thank you.

    I'm going to RT this right now...;)

  6. Thank you so much for this post! My daughter and I had a terrible time breastfeeding - due to a variety of physical issues - and when I finally came to terms with the fact that we were going to have to go to formula I felt the same if the sun started shining and I could actually enjoy my baby. The dread went away for me too. I hope if I have another child that breastfeeding works for us the way it did with your second baby. Congrats on your two bundles of joy! :)

  7. Yes! I too had an awful time with breastfeeding and stopped at 3 weeks with my son. I am always amazed when women are comfortable with it. I found it so painful and would cry too. My son was allergic to my breastmilk and had reflux as well, and he would scream and cry after feeding, adding to my sense of failure. I was sooooo much happier when I could bottle feed. I could go on and on, but I won't because you pretty much described my experience the same! Wow! I am not alone with that. Thanks!

  8. Wow, I can't believe that's how that nurse dealt with your situation! I'm so sorry that you were treated that way. This is a great post, though, and just goes to show that every mom-baby relationship, even when it's the same mom twice, is so different! I'm glad you got to experience the joy of breastfeeding. It can be really wonderful.

  9. I'm so sad and sorry that your first breastfeeding experience was sabotaged by the health professionals you encountered. Unfortunately this is extremely common. Your doctor, instead of telling you that you "should" stop breastfeeding, SHOULD have referred you to a lactation consultant, an expert. But most doctors don't even know about lactation consultants, much less want to refer their "patients" to a non-doctor professional. Instead they will tell moms what they think the mom wants to hear in "subjective" situations like this. (Kristy's comment made me cringe -- she was obviously given some BAD information because a baby CANNOT be "allergic" to mom's breastmilk. Allergies/intolerance is a complex topic, and I would be happy to explain further if asked, but what's she's saying is wrong.)

    Anyway, I'm so glad you had a better experience with your second child. Obviously formula is not "poison" and babies do "fine" on it, but if only healthcare workers knew what they were talking about, many more moms who WANT to breastfeed would be able to do so.