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What I Learned Breastfeeding My First Child
The first thing I learned about breastfeeding my baby is that it was far more challenging than I had expected. The biggest thing I learned was that it was far more than worth it.
I come from a family that strongly supports breastfeeding: my mother, sister, aunts and cousins had all successfully nursed their children for varying lengths of time. I had no doubt that I could as well, and was confident it would be an easy and wonderful experience. My husband was also very supportive of me nursing our baby.
When our daughter, Sarah, was born at 38 weeks, she weighed 5 lbs, 9 oz. So tiny! After a sleepy first day, she woke up and was an excellent feeder from that point on.
The same could not be said of me. I had much to learn as a first-time mom, and the area of breastfeeding was no different.. These are some of the most important things I learned breastfeeding my first child.
Have Realistic Expectations
The first substance your breasts produce is called colostrum. It is a thin, yellowish fluid that is rich in antibodies and proteins, perfect for a newborn's nutritional needs and tiny stomach capacity. The mature milk usually starts being produced between 2-5 days after baby's birth.
I recall lying down for a nap one afternoon a couple of days after Sarah's birth, and when I woke up I could hardly recognize my own body. My milk had come in, and I was feeling it! I had read about engorgement, but I was still unprepared for the reality. Sarah's previously good latch disappeared as my nipples were stretched almost flat. I let her nurse in whatever way she could so she would get milk and also so I would get relief. This led to sore, cracked and bleeding nipples. Lanolin and coconut oil helped but did not heal the cracks immediately.
The nights were the hardest time. Sarah had a tendency to sleep frequently throughout the day and have her awake time at time at night. Also, she required 30 minutes of being held upright after feedings due to her reflux, in hopes of helping the milk stay in her stomach instead of coming back up. There were many nights that Sarah would want to nurse every two hours, with each feeding session lasting a total of 1 hour. I certainly cried many times and wondered if this was all worth it. Should I just give her a bottle of formula? I felt so utterly alone and solely responsible for her food. No one else could do this for me. I was unprepared for the overwhelming emotions and tiredness.
The Importance of a Good Breast Pump
I did not have an electric breast pump. I decided not to invest in one because I planned to stay home with my daughter and felt it wasn't necessary. I had been given a manual pump at the hospital, and I tried a few times to use it during the engorgement period. I found it to be very uncomfortable and felt it was not effective enough to be worth the pain.
We went to see a lactation consultant a couple of days after my milk came in. We were reassured that Sarah was nursing effectively and taking good amount of milk. The LC took one look at me, though, and said I was already showing early signs of mastitis. This condition is an infection in the breast that happens when milk is not drained well. It comes with inflammation of the surrounding tissue and can cause flu-like symptoms and great pain. Needless to say, something to be avoided. The LC advised me to get an electric pump as soon as possible.
I began the process of getting a pump, and found that it took several days before insurance approved it and it could be delivered to my town. I used it immediately and frequently and found much relief. However, the damage had already been done.
Recognize and Deal With Problems Early
After I got the pump, things started going better with the engorgement. The night feedings were still hard, but I was beginning to handle it better. It was encouraging to have to put away newborn clothes and diapers and move on to bigger sizes: Sarah was growing well! I was learning.
When Sarah was about 4 weeks old, I noticed a lump on my left breast. I assumed it was a plugged duct, a place where milk was not flowing properly due to an obstruction. I followed the recommended home treatments I found online for a few days, but saw no improvement. By the time I finally decided to ask my doctor about it, she diagnosed with with mastitis and prescribed an antibiotic.
Typically when a woman has mastitis, she feels quite miserable and has flu-like symptoms. I did not. I felt fine, and so made the mistake of blowing this lump off as not a big deal.
Several days later, I again looked at this lump and realized that not only was it not getting better, it seemed to be bigger. I called the doctor's office again and left a message. I was called back a short time later and told they were very concerned I had developed a breast access and would need to see a surgeon that afternoon. I required a surgical drainage to be done, and needed a different antibiotic prescribed as well. Even though the procedure was done quickly and in the office, the recovery was still very painful and difficult. I told my husband I would rather go through natural childbirth again than this recovery. The abscess could very likely have been avoided had I taken proper care of the problem early on.
After these problems were resolved, the breastfeeding process became easier. I had been told by experienced breastfeeding women that things would improve, but I simply had to take it day by day. I told myself, "I can make it through this day." I couldn't worry about what tomorrow would bring, let alone a couple of months. The mindset of a day-by-day goal was very helpful.
I ended up nursing my daughter until she was 25 months old. I was 4 months pregnant with my son when she finally weaned, and I believe I would have been very sad to end our nursing relationship if I hadn't known I would be nursing a baby again soon.
How Strongly Do You Feel About Breastfeeding?
© 2017 Erinn Witz