Sometimes big things come in small packages. Case in point: my breasts. My breasts were small, but mighty.
I have had to wear nursing pads since around January 2008. Those who are quick at math can easily calculate that my son wasn't born for several months after I began wearing nursing pads. Why was I wearing nursing pads for months before my son was born? Because my breasts were already leaking. Really, that should have been my first clue as to what was in my future.
By the time my son was born, my breasts had increased by three cup sizes. After his birth, they went up one more. Ouch! I guess you just can't stretch skin that tightly and that quickly without ending up with stretch marks. The only place that I have stretch marks are on my breasts.
Knowing that I was going to have a c-section left me distraught for many reasons. I am afraid of regional nerve blocks. I had never had a surgery. I wanted to spend as little time in a hospital as possible. And, mainly, I was concerned about the impact it would have on my breastfeeding relationship with my son.
My concerns were so great that I actually inquired if my OB thought I should attempt a vaginal birth. My son was breech and, while my OB had attended plenty of vaginal breech births in his career, he didn't seem too keen on the idea. He didn't outright say he thought it was a bad idea, but he did caution me that they are generally a much more painful birth and they do carry higher risks. So I had a c-section. My son was breech and sunny-side up, so I guess it really was the best that I didn't attempt a vaginal delivery.
I was in a recovery room for two hours after my son was born. I had fallen asleep during delivery and, other than when I saw him pulled from my abdomen, I didn't remember seeing my newborn. I spent those two lonely hours pleading with the nurse to let me see my son. I cried a lot and I was desperate to make my legs move enough that she would send me up to my room.
I was in such a hurry because I knew the clock was ticking. The longer I spent screwing around in recovery, the more likely that some "helpful" nurse might stick a bottle (artificial nipple) in my son's mouth. Worse, they might try to satisfy his natural sucking need by giving him a pacifier. My husband was given two very firm instructions from me: Do not let the baby out of your sight for one moment and do not let them give the baby a bottle or a pacifier.
"I want to see my baby. Please let me see my baby," was my constant refrain. I finally regained enough mobility that they sent me to my room. Of course, I immediately asked for my baby.
My husband brought me our son and I wept at the sight of his sweet face. Once everyone left us alone, I put him to my breast. It HURT! It REALLY HURT! I kept telling myself that this must be normal and to push ahead. I wish I knew then what I know now. Yes, breastfeeding can feel somewhat uncomfortable in the beginning. But it shouldn't make you cry every single time you put your child to your breast. And it sure as heck shouldn't leave you with bloody scabs on your nipples.
I ended up getting the hospital's double electric pump and I used it after every feeding while I was in the hospital. I actually credit this with giving me my remarkably high milk supply. I ended up with bottle after bottle of colostrum by the time I left the hospital. When we gathered all of my bottles from the nursery refrigerator, one of the nurses said, "Oh, you're the one with all the colostrum."
My problem was ever a lack of supply, it was that my son and I just couldn't get a proper latch. The lactation nurse at the hospital wasn't very helpful and I got the distinct impression that she thought I should just bottle feed. I would not even consider it, so I kept trying. The nipples on their bottles had a ridiculously unnatural shape and the flow was altogether way too fast - two things that a breastfeeding mama doesn't want from a supplemental bottle. When I was too sore to even attempt a latch, we fed him my colostrum with a tiny plastic syringe. Drop by golden drop.
My son lost just at 10% of his body weight and they told me that they'd begin to bottle feed him if he didn't start putting that weight back on. I spent all night with him at my breast before they were going to weigh him again. I actually woke him every 90 minutes to try and force in another cc or so of colostrum. I was so thankful that he gained enough weight that they'd send us home.
My nipples were sore as heck and still sported scabs, but the real pain didn't kick in until I'd been home a couple of days. My milk came in. I was literally reduced to tears. At that moment, I would have to say that my breasts hurt far more than my incision. Yes, it was that painful.
Compounding the problem was that we still didn't have a good latch. Every single feeding session was still impossibly painful. Now my breasts grew another cup size and they were heavy with milk. My skin was stretched so tight that it looked shiny. My nipples were nearly flattened by the stretching. Ouch!
I visited the lactation clinic and actually got some good pointers on positioning and latching. By weighing before and after a nursing session, they also verified that my son was getting plenty when he was at my breasts. But it still hurt.
My husband was very bothered by all of this. I think he hated seeing me weep every time I fed the baby and I fed the baby every ninety-minutes. He actually said that he could understand why people give up on nursing and just decide to formula-feed. I said I'd give it another week.
I promised myself that I'd try just one more week for weeks. And weeks. And weeks. I was surprised when I realized one day that it didn't hurt.
It took seven weeks.
Once we got the latching down, breastfeeding was pretty darn simple. No need to measure or mix formula, my boob juice was ready to go at all times. No need to warm bottles, my breastmilk was a perfect temp every time. No need to wash bottles, my nipples were clean to use whenever they were needed. I'm sure my husband was also thankful that I breastfed because he never had to get up in the middle of the night to feed the baby. As a bonus for my son, my milk was never the same flavor every time. It took the delicious flavors of whatever foods I was eating. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my son likes a wide variety of foods and tastes - he's been exposed to them his entire life!
It wasn't all totally awesome though. Remember that plentiful milk supply I boasted about? As a result, I ended up having engorgement problems for months after my son was born. For those not in the know, your breasts get so full of milk that they actually get hard. It's painful, but the pain immediately disappears once the pressure is relieve by expressing milk. Even that isn't really a bad thing though because I ended up with tons of milk stored in our freezer. This milk was great for mixing in with my son's first solids - rice, barley, and oat single grain cereals.
Breastmilk is an amazing thing. Everyone knows the obvious reasons why breastmilk is so awesome, but there are so many other wonderful things about it. Did you know that your milk changes as your baby grows? Did you know that breastmilk changes even during the same nursing session? Foremilk is in the beginning of the nursing session; it's thin and somewhat watery. Hindmilk is found toward the end of a nursing session; it's fatty and creamy. The foremilk quenches thirst, while the hindmilk satisfies hunger. Amazing stuff, huh?
My son was exclusively breastfed until he was five months old. He received no other nourishment other than the milk from my breasts. I would have EBFd longer, but the pediatrician suggested that it might decrease my son's spitting up. It didn't. Knowing what I know now, I think I should have expressed out all my foremilk and only let my son have the fatty hindmilk.
I promised my husband that I'd stop nursing before our son turned one. I broke that promise by about a month. I didn't really want to stop, but my son was less interested in nursing by then anyway. He knew how to use a cup and a straw so I guess my breasts weren't as novel.
Though I looked forward to actually having my first martini in nearly two years (hard liquor in particular takes a long time to process out of your body), I was sad the first night that I put him to bed without any nursing. I cried when he went right to sleep without wanting to nurse.
I thought that was the end of it. As is often the case, it wasn't that easy. My son occasionally would stick his face in my shirt when he was upset or tired, but he didn't really seem to miss my milk at all. But I didn't stop producing it. Not by a long shot.
I bought some cloth nursing pads because disposable pads were expensive. Plus, I didn't generally leak that much milk any longer. However, months after I last nursed my son, I still would experience let down so hard that my shirt was drenched. This was particularly true if I saw or heard a baby. If the baby was crying, my nipples were guaranteed to run like a faucet of breastmilk. I wore nursing pads for over a year after I weaned my son. I didn't particularly want to, but they were a necessity.
I stopped wearing nursing pads two weeks ago. I haven't had any leakage and I'm hoping that I won't. But, I must confess, I'm a little sad to bid farewell to my sweet milk.
Postscript: Lest you think that I'm some militant milker who gets up in everyone's business about how they choose to feed their own baby, I'm not. I overheard someone giving a co-worker grief about her decision not to breastfeed her new baby. I know that I'm usually so shy & retiring, but I couldn't stop myself from telling the other person that it was none of their business how she chooses to feed her baby and to stay out of her personal decision. My husband was surprised and said, "And you're like Ms. La Leche herself!" Yes, I am a big fan of breastmilk. Yes, it is the very best thing to feed a baby. Yes, I believe that it was the only thing good enough for my son. But I also feel that no one has the right to insert themselves in another parent's decisions (with one notable exception) and it really rankles me to hear someone laying guilt on a new mother.