This has been a really difficult post for me to write. In fact, I started 24 days ago. 24 days! The struggle has been half not remembering the details (it’s amazing what the brain will block out) and half not knowing how to phrase things. To help I’ve put in a few comics.
All of the comics in this post are from Baby Blues. If you want a good laugh browse their comics here. http://babyblues.com/comic_tag/breastfeeding/
I knew when I got pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed and that I wasn’t going to be deterred. What I didn’t know were the repercussions of that decision and the fight that it would take to maintain a breastfeeding relationship with my babies.
My first son was born in March 2015 and I went right to breastfeeding while still in the delivery room. He latched immediately and I felt relief that this would be “easy”. My labor had been induced because of hypertension and worrisome signs that I may be developing preeclampsia (high blood pressure, swelling, sudden weight gain, protein in my urine) and I was hooked up to an IV to regulate my bp.
The next morning I was sleepy and sore, but content. A lactation specialist came to see me to help with different positions because the latch was starting to hurt but there weren’t any crazy signs of the pain I’d eventually feel. Within just one day my nipples were cracked and bloody and nursing was so painful I would cringe and cry to get through one 40-minute long (my son’s desperate attempt at getting milk from a bad latch) feeding session. Unfortunately my boy was born during “busy season” and although I asked throughout the day there were no lactation consultants available to see me again. On the fourth day I was finally cleared to go home (on blood pressure meds) but with no resolutions for my bad latch and no hope in sight other than the idea that things might work themselves out as my baby got older if I just stayed the course.
By the first check up my precious baby had lost 12oz from his average birth weight of 7lb 4oz frame and my pediatrician pushed formula. I asked if my baby might be tongue-tied (he was) but my pediatrician said that tongue-tie wasn’t a problem and sent us on our way.
That week I packed up my newborn and my husband and went to a breastfeeding support group provided by my hospital (awkwardly enough run by the LC who didn’t have time to see me). My savior, Doreen, took one look at my son’s mouth and concluded he had a tongue tie. A conclusion my pediatrician had previously denied (while pushing formula samples) when I asked. I made an appointment to see a different pediatrician in the same office who specialized in tongue tie clippings. This doctor agreed with the LC and concluded that my baby had a “posterior tongue-tie” which was clipped 10 days after birth. As a part of the procedure they ask that you nurse there in the office to make sure the baby is comfortable and that there aren’t complications. Prior to this appointment I had been using nipple shields to try and find some relief (they are obnoxious but effective) and didn’t have them with me. I cried from the fear of the pain I would experience, but I stubbornly didn’t want to use formula. The nursing relief was INSTANT. My nipples were still sore and damaged, but the pain reduced so significantly I cried again for entirely different reasons. (I cried more in the first 10 weeks of my first son’s life than I have in all of my other days combined).
Over the next few weeks I began to develop some terrible side effects from the nipple wounds. My left side healed up within a week of the clipping and was a breeze to nurse on, but the bloody sores on my right side would not budge. I was using a specially blended nipple cream which I believed helped, but not enough. Over the next few weeks I had mastitis, then thrush. Because of my son’s slow weight gain we were seeing the pediatrician every week and he was able to prescribe medication for me to deal with both. Then, I woke up one morning and found that I could barely move. My joints felt like they had turned to cement and my bones were grinding with every movement. At my 6 week postpartum checkup my OB’s only response to my problems was that I didn’t have to breastfeed (she never did) and that she would skip examining my breasts for my comfort. When I asked her about the joint pain she said that I should see my GP and that it wasn’t her expertise.
By the time I met with my GP my right breast had developed an angry red lump (mastitis again!) and she prescribed a 10-day antibiotic as well as sent me with an order to get my blood tested to try and figure out my joint pain. It turns out, the mastitis infection had hit my blood first and I was experiencing “bacterial arthritis” for 2 weeks before the symptoms showed up in my breast. After the 10 days of antibiotics the angry lump was still there and had grown to the size of an egg. I was still attempting to nurse, doing massages in the shower, soaking my breast in warm water, trying crazy positions, using gel packs, and my husband even sucked my nipple in an effort to remove what we thought was a blocked duct.
Spoiler alert: It wasn’t a blocked duct. My GP sent me to a breast specialist who gave my breast an ultrasound and found it was filled with pus from a severe infection. She used a needle and syringe to pull out as much of the infection as possible, prescribed a stronger antibiotic and asked me to call in four days if there wasn’t noticeable improvement. There wasn’t. In fact, the infection grew back and spread from the top of my breast to the bottom. My infection was abscessed and would need surgery to heal.
I was admitted to the hospital when my son was 7 (almost 8) weeks old and had my first I/D surgery. This surgery required cutting open my breast (along the edge areola) to clean out the infection and then leaving the wound open so the infection didn’t have a warm comfortable place to grow back. I did a lot of crying before the surgery from fear and after the surgery from sadness that I may not be able to continue breastfeeding (yes, even after ALL of this I was still 100% committed to my choice although I would not recommend my level of stubborn to someone else). The original infection healed well, but five days after the first surgery I noticed there were still two more angry red lumps that weren’t going away. The next day I went into surgery again to cut two more holes and clear out the last lumps. These smaller incisions were connected to my original incision and kept open by rubber tubes.
During my weeklong hospital stay I experienced the most demoralizing and painful point in my life. I peed on myself, I blew multiple IVs, I had a severe and painful allergic reaction to Vancomycin, I became addicted to the dose of Percocet I was receiving and went through a withdrawal after my second surgery when they tried to switch me to Vicodin.
My son and my husband stayed in the hospital room with me thanks to the incredible support from the nursing staff. I continued to nurse him from my “good side” and reminded myself that although it was hard (he was nursing every hour or sooner) twins grow up on one breast and do just fine.
I was discharged with an order for a home-care nurse who would come by once per day to unpack and repack my incisions. During that time she trained my husband to do the same procedure (my insurance wouldn’t pay for a full recovery) and I worked hard to take as little pain medication as I could stand, although I always took one prior to the excruciating unpacking and re packing of my incisions.
Healing was hard on my family. The surgery extended my 6-week unpaid leave into a 4-month unpaid leave and we had to live off of credit cards and what my husband could earn working part time at Target while still being home enough to help care for me. But I healed. I went to a breastfeeding support group every Thursday, I pumped between nursing sessions so I could “skim the fat” and supplement. I continued to breast feed exclusively (I mean, I fought hard for the privilege after all) and my milk eventually matched my son’s needs. He gained weight steadily and by 3 months was back to average with a healthy dose of “chunk” that makes babies so squeezable. Once my incisions fully healed I tried to nurse that side (and failed) and then tried to pump to maintain even a small flow, but I was never able to produce a significant amount in my right breast (less than an ounce per day) and let it “dry up”.
The rest is history! Before we decided to have children my husband and I had made the decision that he would stay home and I would continue to work full time (I was salaried and had decent benefits, he was hourly and did not). He is more of a homebody and I need to get out so it just made more sense for us. I went back to work in August so my husband learned to bottle feed a breastfed baby and I learned to accept nursing every hour and a half when I was home and every three hours at night. We were determined to make it work and prepared to support each other through any obstacles. At 6months we introduced the first solids (puréed fruits and veggies) and by 9 months he was enjoying homemade blends. At 12 months I stopped pumping at work and we introduced one bottle of unsweetened almond milk once per day instead. When I was home he nursed on demand.
Then one day, around 13-14 months, my toddler climbed into my lap when I got home for work like he always did, latched my left side like he always did, squeezed my boobs and patted my chest (like he always did), smiled at me and popped off. He was done breastfeeding. For good. And he never asked to latch again. (Another spoiler alert: turnsd out I was 2 or 3 months pregnant with his brother!)
Thanks for reading this! I’m sure some of you will think I’m insane (I am) and insanely stubborn (also true) but maybe some of you will see hope for your struggles with nursing. Although my path isn’t one I would wish on anyone else I never regretted my decision to exclusively breastfeed or my decisions to stick with I think even when it became unbearable.