IS BREASTFEEDING EASY?
A girlfriend asked me this the other day. And without thinking I answered: “Now it is. It was really hard in the beginning, cracked bleeding nipples, over supply, lactation consultants, but now we’re good.”.
I later thought about this and wished I could rewind my answer. I made it sound like ‘no big deal’ when actually it was one of the hardest things I have ever done (am doing). And was incredibly unhelpful.
So here is my real answer:
Breastfeeding is a journey. One that is not for everyone. Some women will do it for 6 months. Some women will do it longer (currently in the US only 5% do). And because they can’t or they choose not to, some won’t do it at all and that’s ok.
For me the journey started out a bit bumpy, as for most first time mother’s who have never breastfed before.
I was lucky, J latched as soon as he could after being born. Although I was on all fours, as my mid-wife tried to figure out why my placenta wasn’t passing. I went to surgery and J couldn’t feed again for hours.
When I returned, J was immediately taken away as he had jaundice and needed to be under the lights. They told me they’d give him formula. I said no. I still could not move my legs from the surgery, so I had to fight with them to bring him back to me so I could feed him. I then had to hobble to the nursery every 2-3 hrs. I had no guidance. I had no idea what I was doing. One of the nurses put a pillow under one arm, latched him for me the first time and left. We tried to figure it out. We tried to remember everything from our breastfeeding course. We thought it was going well.
The next day, when the hospital lactation consultant finally came, J wouldn’t latch. She put it down to him being full. I kept trying. I didn’t know how long he should feed for. After a 45min stint on one boob one nurse finally said, ‘that’s too long your nipple will get sore’.
And they did. And they dried out, and cracked and bled and I still had to feed. It was the most painful thing I’d ever gone through. Oh, and I was one day removed from giving birth in the back of a New York taxi. I was in tears. My husband was consoling the baby. We didn’t know what to do. We had our first doctor’s visit the next day. They said J had lost too much weight and I had 5 days to fix it or had to resort to formula.
I called my doula. I called my friends who had nursed. We even consulted another doula, who was dropping off my placenta capsules. She propped me and J up on 6 pillows to make it work. Which of course was useless, as when she left we couldn’t figure out how she did it. I made an emergency appointment with another lactation consultant for $250!
Finally some relief. My girlfriend said ‘ hang in there. It’s going to hurt for 48hrs. And it will get better’. I didn’t believe her for the life of me. My doula said ‘put some breastmilk on your nipples, use cooling pads, I’ll be there tomorrow’. Thus started a routine. Feed, breastmilk on nipples, lansinoh cream on nipples and cold compress.
24hrs later, by the time the lactation consultant showed up, J had already gained weight. My milk was finally coming in and my nipples were starting to heal. She then showed me the single best thing I could pass on to any breastfeeding mom. Side lying. It changed the game. For feeding, for sleeping, for cluster feeds, for over supply (yeah, I’ll get to that). It made life work.
A week later, my nipples returned to a variation of ‘normal’ and J had gained the necessary weight. All was good…. for 1 week. I went to bed one night and felt a massive pain in my arm pit, like a bruise on the inside. It got worse. My worst breastfeeding nightmare was about to come true. The pain got so bad I couldn’t pick up the baby. I got a fever, chills, sweats. I got Mastitis (an infection of the milk duct). I was put on antibiotics and changed the routine. Warm breast pads, feed, breastmilk, cream, cold breastpads for nipples. Hot shower and boob massage to get the milk flowing. Mark had to lift the baby to me. I couldn’t change him. I called the lactation consultant again.
This time she put J and I in a series of ridiculous positions. My ‘over supply’ is causing him to choke and is causing my Mastitis. J has to lie right on top of me face down, or sit at the side of me and drop his head on my boob like he’s eating off a table. It’s frustrating. I can’t get in the positions myself so Mark has to help again. I have so much milk it is leaking out of me. There’s a trail around the apartment and I have to change my breastpads hourly.
Luckily, we make it through before Mark had to go back to work. I got back to side laying for our first 4 hour cluster feed. Mark is now forced to bring me food in bed, while J is on the boob (advice, buy a Kindle). By this point time on the boob doesn’t event affect my nipples anymore.
I’ve been so busy adjusting to it all I ignore the other symptoms I’ve been having. Enter DMER.
I start to ask my girlfriends. Does your let down make you nauseous? Does breastfeeding make you feel sad? No one can relate to this. Every let down I have, even when I am alone in the shower, brings a wave of nausea. Sometimes to the point of gagging, and an intense sadness that sweeps me away to deep, dark thoughts. I finally give in and look to the Internet. Luckily on this path I have met a social media friend who adds me to a breastfeeding group. I am not alone.
Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is a rare condition. Before let down you experience a state of dysphoria. For me this included unease in my body, nausea and extreme sadness, bordering depression. For others it can present as anger or anxiety. The sensations occur on a spectrum and relate to a drop in dopamine. For me it was severe for many months. It’s gotten less and less frequent. But I still feel it once a day and have to remind myself what it is. The emotions are so intense you can forget and get caught up in them.
Two months into this journey. The ‘worst’ was over. I continued to massage my breasts every day, fearful the mastitis would return. I stopped this at 6 months. I got a couple of blocked ducts. Painful but manageable. J stops choking on my milk and we can feed upright, which means I can start feeding in public. Yet another hurdle, you get over the more you do it. J never liked a cover, he pulled off, I sprayed, I leaked, he fussed. It’s a whole other blog post.
By four months he was able to latch himself – something I never thought would happen. Public feeds were easier. But he was also getting his first teeth. The biting began. I was lucky he didn’t break the skin and stopped after a month or so but that was a whole different level of pain.
Now 13 months later, we are down to three feeds in 24hrs. Albeit one being 45 mins long.
I have fed him on planes, trains and automobiles. On mountains, in restaurants, on beaches. While walking, in parks, in airports, even on the street in the middle of winter.
I have experienced intense sadness and joy. And one of the deepest connections I’ve ever had.
Is it easy? No. But it’s easier. And after 13 months it finally feels natural.