As I planned my first year with my first child it was important to me to breastfeed . I recognize it’s not possible or even desirable for everyone and I respect that. For Madison, I wanted to do it and my hope was to last a full year, tapering off right before the end of my maternity leave. I had no idea how hard it was going to be, but I stuck it out with her for 11 months. I quit right before my birthday because I wanted to relax more, drink more, and hey – weed had been legalized! And because I was just done. I wanted my body back.
I struggled with supply for Madison from the start to the finish. I followed the rules of “demand-feeding” giving her as much as she wanted as often as she wanted. And I still always wondered if she’d gotten enough. It was my go-to for almost every cry. It seemed to work to settle her for a little while each time. I couldn’t go far or do anything for long before I’d be needed again. And when I saw the doctor at the first checkup and several beyond, she said Madison’s weight-gain was okay but slightly under average so I should “feed her as much as she wants”. I didn’t say so at the time because I didn’t feel very strong but I found that instruction hurtful. It seemed to insinuate that I wasn’t already doing that. And it didn’t take into account the pain I was in. At that first appointment I shared with the doctor that my nipples were incredibly sore. I was wincing and holding my breath and crying when Madison would latch. They were dry, red, raw. So the doctor prescribed some nipple ointment (containing a bit of pain killer) and referred me to a breastfeeding consultant.
The consultant, Brittney, was lovely and encouraging. She had many tips on technique and position to help ease the pain. They helped a little but it was her attitude that gave me hope and reassured me that I was doing a good job. I was feeling so inadequate on top of my pain. She set me up with many approaches to try to get my supply up and to get Madison encouraged to feed fully (as she was dozing a lot during feeds). These included pumping strategically, skin-to-skin contact, nipple shields, and syringe feeding, among others. It was encouraging to keep having things to try but it was also exhausting.
Brittney identified a slight lip-tie on Madison which can negatively impact her latch, causing pain for me and making the feed more difficult for her. She offered to have the in-house doctor “release” (cut) it right then and there. My hesitation made her add that I could do it in a couple days. I talked it over with Matt and he said I could do what I thought would help. So next time I went in they did it. With that and Brittney’s many different suggested strategies I kept waiting for the latch to get better but it didn’t.
At a later appointment she said there was a probable tongue-tie as well. I had to get my family doctor to confirm and she then referred me to a specialist to release it. The tongue bleeds more so not everyone will do it. Again Matt defered to my judgment. I took Madison in and she screamed bloody murder when they sliced her tongue in front of me and handed her over. I have never heard a scream like that. I felt awful and selfish and had to remind myself it was going to help her too. She nursed right after and calmed down within a few minutes but the scream rang in my head for several days.
I was given stretches to do for her to keep the tongue from fusing the tie back together as it healed. She screamed when I did them so I gave them up before the end of the prescribed period of time. The latch never greatly improved and I always wondered if that was because of my lack of dedication to making her scream.
Eventually my nipples toughened up and feeding wasn’t painful. It felt like a very very very long time. As for supply, despite the consultant’s best efforts, some supplements and even a prescribed drug, I never felt that it went up. In the early days a family member was bringing me some of her milk (she’d also recently given birth) to top Madison up. I was so grateful because on top of pain who needs the stress of wondering if their baby is getting enough? And at the time I wasn’t ready to introduce formula (partly due to totally separate concerns about her gastrointestinal health). I later made a regular habit of topping her up with formula. That was a whole other journey – the bottle feeding struggles, the formula flavours. Ouf!
We got into a rhythm that worked for us even though it was still hard. I still fed more often than my nursing peers. And as Madison got older she became more distracted, she bit me, and we spent hours upon hours alone in the dark so that she would focus on her feed. It was lonely much of the time. But it was also sometimes wonderful.
There was a sense of relief that would wash over me once she latched and got going. I believe there is a hormone release that goes with this. So I’m sure it’s partly that. But it’s also tender and intimate. Her little hand would stroke my back while the other grabbed at my shirt collar. She melted to my body. She would become so content sometimes. It was really beautiful. And I felt great knowing she was getting the benefits of my antibodies in a time when the world was extra scary and full of viral threats. And it was our special time. Those things made it worth it.
What I Learned
Breastfeeding is hard. Really really hard. It hurts and it doesn’t go smoothly and it is isolating at times. It’s this natural thing but it doesn’t come naturally. It’s learned for both baby and mom. And some people never get it. And I guess for some people it comes more easily. But it was harder for me than I ever imagined and I shed a lot of tears over it. And I am so grateful for the family and friends who supported me and for the breastfeeding consultant. Which is covered by OHIP by the way. She was a huge help and I highly recommend seeing one if you find yourself on a breastfeeding journey.