Trials and tribulations of breastfeeding

NicoleandMaggie have a very nice post about breastfeeding and breast milk supply on their blog. The gist – that nursing is hard, especially for first time moms; but you should persevere since breast milk supply is dependent on demand (signaled by your baby’s sucking). I couldn’t agree more with their points, and you should go read their post if you are (or are about to be) a new mom and are (planning on) nursing. But I wanted to press on a little further about how difficult nursing really can be in the beginning, and how mixed messages from the internet, doctors, family and friends can cause new moms more grief than is ever necessary.When my milk came in, just 36 hours after Monkey was born, I quickly developed an oversupply and a fast let-down (how long it takes for the milk to start flowing when baby is sucking). Although my supply and fast let-down are great for Monkey now, those first few weeks were hell for us. My tiny, 3-week early baby boy couldn’t reliably latch on, partly because of his weaker suck reflex, and partly because of my super-sized, engorged breasts. To make things more difficult, I needed like 5 hands to manage baby and boob (steadying Monkey’s wobbly neck, inducing him to open his mouth wide with one finger, holding the boob up for him, positioning the nipple – it was a true juggling act).

The difficulties often led to two-hour cryfests at feeding time, with everyone present trying to help. Monkey always managed to get latched on, but it sometimes took over an hour of crying (from both of us). Since I was feeding on demand, this meant I was nursing almost 24 hours a day. I tried different chairs, pillows, boppies, and blankets. Hubby or my mom or a consultant would provide extra hands. I read blogs and La Leche for more ideas. But nothing I tried helped Monkey latch on more reliably, and I’d often get frustrated and angry and demand everyone just leave me the hell alone. It was awful, and I felt like a failure.

Our pediatrician and one of the lactation consultants suggested nipple shields, but I resisted because of articles on La Leche saying they caused decreased supply. One article even suggested that, unless my baby was premature (and he wasn’t – just a few weeks earlier than his due date), we shouldn’t need nipple shields at all; that I was obviously doing something wrong if he couldn’t get latched on. With my patience nearing its end, my mom preparing to head back home (several states away), and Hubby worried about going back to work, I reluctantly tried some very thin Medela nipple shields… and they were a life-saver.

I used nipple shields religiously, always making sure Monkey had a good latch, until he was 5 weeks old, and I never had any problems with my milk supply. I started weaning Monkey off of the shields at this time (I followed his lead on this – he actually got annoyed with them after a few weeks). By 8 weeks, Monkey was completely weaned from the shields. We also introduced the bottle at 3 weeks (the earliest suggested time if you want to continue nursing), so that I could start going back to work a few weeks later. This had no detrimental effects on supply or his ability to nurse, either. In fact, it was a very beneficial when working past issues with postpartum depression a few weeks later.

Support from family, friends, lactation consultants, and doctors was so important early on (for nursing and beyond). But so was patience, understanding, and flexibility from that support system. There’s a wealth of information available to new mothers, which I found particularly overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Everyone has a strong opinion, and I’d sometimes feel myself getting emotionally tugged in ten different directions at once. My advice: Read what you can, but trust your own instincts. Follow your baby’s lead. You’ll figure it out, and (sorry if you’re sick of hearing this) it really does get easier.

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