What Breastfeeding Means to Me

I am still suffering greatly with mastitis. It sucks. I am very fearful that this could end breastfeeding for me and Gemma. Because of this,  I have been reflecting on breastfeeding and what it means to me.

When I was unexpectedly pregnant with Macy 14 years ago at the age of 24, I had never thought about breastfeeding. Like ever. But, I had also never really “thought through” what having kids entailed. I knew we would have kids, but I didn’t know anything of the day-to-day care of an infant. I wasn’t worried about it, like a lot of decisions in my life, I just took for granted it would work out how it was supposed to.

It was either the childbirth preparation class or the babycare class offered through our hospital that I first learned about breastfeeding being the best way to feed an infant. That seems strange to write now, but it truly never was something I thought or learned about previously. What was said made sense to me and appealed to me. I decided I would breastfeed my baby.

At the time I only had one friend who had had a baby, so I talked to her about breastfeeding. Nancy was a great resource because she also pumped at work, which I was surprised to learn I would also have to do (again, because I knew nothing!).

So when Macy was born I was expecting it to be easy. But it was not. At all. I had flat nipples. She had a tiny mouth. She was sleepy. She seemed to just not like my breast in her mouth. It was stressful. I was going to the lactation clinic 2-3 times a week. I was pumping, bottle feeding, cleaning pump parts on an endless loop. The lactation consultant had me use a nipple shield. Macy finally latched using that! Hooray… only not really. Then my supply started to tank. It was horrible. I was already feeling the “baby blues” but now I began to feel severely depressed. I did not enjoy my baby or feeding her at all. I felt like a failure and a horrible mother. I resented her for rejecting my breasts. She was 5 weeks old when the psychiatrist told me I’d have to stop breastfeeding/pumping to go on antidepressants. I was angry and relieved at the same time. The meds did their job and I was able to enjoy my baby. I always hated those damn bottles and buying formula though. I vowed I would breastfeed my next baby.

So when Owen was born almost 3 years later, I had armed myself with information. Nipple shields were evil. Bottles were evil. Skin to skin was the answer. I was not going to fail. My resolve was strong. And it was good… for the first day. But in one day he destroyed my nipples. DESTROYED! Turns out, he was pretty significantly tongue tied. We were able to pretty quickly get a referral to the ENT to clip his tongue on his 3rd day of life. We “rested” my nipples by syringe feeding him for 24 hours, because I refused to even consider a bottle– nipple confusion! He did great. I did great. It was awesome. I did have a forceful letdown and more milk than he could drink, but my big guy handled it with ease.

It was with Owen that I fell in love with breastfeeding. The closeness. The convenience. The beauty. He nursed till about 14 months. I don’t remember why we stopped. I think it was me leading the wean because of working and wanting my body back and just thinking that was when we were supposed to stop. I didn’t regret it at all.

Then, almost 6 years later Easton was born. I had no doubt that I woukd breastfeed him. I was so confident because I had successfully already breastfed 1 baby. Except I was told I might not make enough milk this time because 2.5 years after I stopped nursing Owen I had a total thyroidectomy due to thyroid cancer. Evidently, the thyroid plays a role in breast milk production. I still was confident I’d be able to breastfeed him.

Easton was born a little less than 2 weeks before my due date because of a combination of my gestational diabetes, being done with being pregnant, and my midwife’s schedule. I did not know that this could affect his ability to breastfeed or I probably would have been more ok with staying pregnant longer. He had a really weak suck because of being early. And he was the only one of my babies to have jaundice,  so getting him milk was even more important. So with Easton, the lactation consultant had me use a nursing supplementation system. That thing sucked. It involved taping a little catheter to my nipple that gave him pumped milk or formul while he learned to suck at the breast. I preferred the syringe. So for a little over a week his intake, output, and weight were carefully measured. Then he got better at just nursing on his own. He was a great breastfeeder! My not having a thyroid did not impact my milk production in a negative way. With Owen I had too much, but with Easton it was the perfect amount. And I fell in love with breastfeeding all over again. Especially the convenience! I now had 3 kids, 2 of which were actively involved in sports and school and activities. I have many memories of breastfeeding Easton, under the nursing cover at baseball and soccer games. I weaned him at around the same time as Owen, 13-14 months. He was only nursing a couple times a day and I was ready to be done.

Finally, Gemma, my surprise, miracle baby was born. I was again confident we wound breastfeed. I was a pro by now. So her emergency c-section is what threw me for a loop. I hated not being able to get her out of the bassinet by myself at the hospital.  Or put her back without calling someone for help. But also, the c-section caused a delay in my milk coming in, and this big baby (9lbs 4oz) was hungry!!! I didn’t have as many hang ups about formula this time, because I knew it was temporary. But I wasn’t excited about using a bottle. I asked for a syringe,  because I was comfortable with it. The nurse didn’t know if she even had one and said I’d have to wait till the morning when the LC came in to get the SNS contraption again. But luckily she found a syringe. And I was able to latch Gemma and sneak the syringe into the corner of her mouth and give her 1.5-2 ounces per feeding without breaking a sweat. It was not hard and it was a no brainer for me. The nurses were super impressed with my skills. By the time the LC came in in the morning, she had already heard about my mad-skills in the syringe feeding department. I left the hospital without my milk having come in, but confident in feeding my baby. My milk came in the next morning (almost 72 houra after she was born, compared witb 36 hours with my vaginal births) and she never had a problem breastfeeding.

In fact even after Gemma turned 1, she was still nursing way more than the boys did at that age. She nursed 6-8 times a day. She happily signs the “milk” sign language sign and waits all of 2 seconds before trying to take off my shirt herself. She only eats for 4-5 minutes at a time, but it does wonders for her mood. She’ll start getting cranky and fussy if she doesn’t nurse at least every 4 hours. It is just amazing to me. She’ll be playing and the toy won’t do what she wants and she starts to not be able to tolerate it. She’ll take a couple minutes at my breats and she is like a new, revitalized baby! She’ll go back to the same toy that was causing her frustration just minutes before and not be frustrated any longer. We can be out past her nap or bedtime and a little nursing session pepps her up for a little bit longer. My older kids will ask me if Gemma needs to nurse before I even notice. My husband calls it “baby Prozac” because of  its mood-altering effects.

For the first time, I am breastfeeding a baby at 13.5 months and I’m not counting down to when she’ll be done. I’m imagining what extended nursing would look like for us. I am excited about the possibility. Wondering how long she will want to continue. Confident that I can let the baby make the call of when to be done with this amazing thing. I’m enjoying this beautiful time with my last baby. Hoping it will last until she is 2 or beyond.

Until today. This mastitis has made her not like the taste of the milk on my right side. It has turned breastfeeding into a painful time for me. My right side is constantly full and hard and hot. The pump is not working for me. I am so incredibly sad that THIS could cut short my dream of extended breastfeeding. It just doesn’t seem fair. I have come so far and gone through so much. Right now I am focusing on just getting through the day and not worrying about if this is the end. Symptom relief. Feeding her every 2 hours. Pumping when she doesn’t eat a lot. Ice and heat (both have been recommended to me). Ibuprofen and my antibiotics.  Focusing on getting better so we can continue to enjoy this special breastfeeding relationship. It means too much to not give it the time it needs to heal. It will be worth it.

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