Thursday, February 5, 2015

Breastfeeding: it's hard, Part 1

So after saying in my last post that I wouldn't be turning this space into a mommy blog, I'm immediately following up with a post on breastfeeding. Being Canadian, I'm inclined to apologize about this, but as a new mom who wants to share a challenging experience, I won't. To contain the size of this post I'll split it into two: 1) the challenge of the actual act of breastfeeding; and 2) the challenge of the outcome of breastfeeding, the baby's weight gain.

Before I go further, I don't mean this blog to be a resource for how to deal with breastfeeding difficulties. If you're looking for help, two online resources I've found useful are: Kelly Mom and Le Leche League. Rather, I hope that by sharing my experience, others might feel reassured that what they're going through isn't all that uncommon.

I knew breastfeeding wasn't going to be a walk in the park. Prenatally (and maybe even postpartum while I was still in the hospital), people want to talk about how a newborn, when placed on it's mothers chest immediately after birth, will wiggle it's way up to it's mother's breast and latch on. I don't doubt that this is true. I had Ruth nursing while we were still in the delivery room; however, getting her to actually breastfeed effectively afterwards was quite another matter.

I recall thinking during the second night on the postpartum ward, after I don't know how many hours into a feed, exhausted and probably in tears (Ruth was likely crying too)--"I completely understand why women give up so quickly and switch to formula. This is hard."

So, what makes the physical act of breastfeeding hard?

First, this is a whole new sensation to get used to. You need to get the latch just right, because if you don't, it's going to hurt and you're going to destroy your nipples. When I was in the hospital one of the nurses asked if the latch felt 'pinchy' (bad) or 'pully' (good) and my answer was I didn't know. I understood why there was a difference, but having never breastfeed a baby before, I didn't know which one I was experiencing. The in-hospital lactation consultant spent a lot of time with me trying to figure out what position would work to improve Ruth's latch (not football, and definitely not side-lying), and we tried a breast shield--it felt awkward too. I'm not sure I felt terribly confident heading home and facing the first night without a nurse on call.

Beyond getting the latch right there's also the fact that a tiny human is repeatedly compressing your breast, which can leave one feeling a little 'sensational.' My breasts felt tingly, and raw (at this point I'm used to it). Let's just say I was glad we didn't have any visitors at home since it considerably lowered the dress code standards around our apartment.

The second issue I had is, Ruth is a small baby, and was even smaller when she was born (6 lbs, 5oz). Now, I'm not large-chested, but there's still a lot of tissue to get in a tiny mouth (this probably didn't help with latching). Feeding in the first several weeks could take an hour or more--every feed. I was told in breastfeeding classes that babies should get the bulk of the milk in about 15 minutes of sucking, and anything after that was non-nutritive. This didn't appear to be the case with Ruth. If tried to let her feed for only 15 minutes on each side she wouldn't be full and I'd be feeding her again in short order.

It's both exhausting and boring to be feeding a baby for more than an hour. Exhausting because you're not sleeping much, and boring because you're stuck in your bed, on your couch, wherever, waiting for your baby to fill up their stomach. I didn't want to spend my days watching TV shows or movies (not that I haven't done some of that), so we purchased a touch screen laptop for me to use while nursing--I've typed most of this blog post one handed. There's not much you can do to speed a baby up either. You can do breast compressions to make it easier for your baby to get your milk, and you can try a few techniques to help increase your milk supply (again making it easier for your baby to feed). I've been taking fenugreek, and pumping after each feed (a rather unawesome experience in and of itself).

At first, getting in the pumps was difficult. I'd put Ruth in her baby recliner right in front of me, but often she'd be crying within minutes, so I'd have to pick her up. If you've ever used a breast pump, you know they're rather awkward, so I'd be trying to calm my baby, possibly feeding her milk I'd already collected, while connected to the pump. One particularly bad afternoon I had to call Andrew and ask him to come home early--I was distressed over our tiny, slow to gain daughter, and my seeming inability to feed her sufficiently. I wanted to be a successful breastfeeding mother, and in those early weeks the idea of having to supplement with formula was an upsetting possibility.

Still, for the first 6-7 weeks Ruth took over an hour to feed, and talking to other mothers, this doesn't seem so uncommon with newborns as it felt at first. Several friends have told me their children were slow eaters, and many women at the new parent support group I attend seem to have had a similar experience. I would guess in many of these cases the babies were fairly small, like Ruth--but that's purely speculative on my part. Furthering my surmise, I would say it seems like small babies just need a little extra time to sort themselves out.

Somewhere around the 7th week of Ruth's life she started to pick up her game. Her feeds dropped to more along the lines of 45 minutes, which makes a huge difference. And she seems to 'practicing eating' after some feeds by sticking out her tongue and sucking on her lips (it's really rather cute).

And people say by 6 months she'll be finishing a feed in 5-10 minutes. That will be amazing.

These are my thoughts on the act of breastfeeding--still a pretty long post as it turns out. When I write next I'll discuss the anxiety of having a slow eating baby who is also slow to gaun her birth weight back.



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