Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. When I first brought her home (actually my sister was kind enough to let us stay at her place so I wasn't completely alone for the first week or so) she barely slept and was feeding about every hour or so. I was beyond exhausted, depleted, sore, spent. Breastfeeding was far more difficult than I could have imagined. My sister said that most of the women she knew who gave their babies formula had given up on breastfeeding because they couldn't stand the pain. Someone told me that your nipples toughen up eventually, I guess the same way that fingers become tough and callused after playing guitar for a while. My poor nipples went through Hell in the first few days. I was bruised, bleeding, scarred. They were so sore that nursing was excruciating but I stubbornly kept going. I didn't even know if she was getting any milk but I refused to give up. I went to a breastfeeding clinic where they told me that Michelle wasn't getting enough milk and I'd have to supplement with formula. I was devestated. It was like calling me a failure. They tried to talk me into buying a hospital-grade $400 breast pump. I looked at the woman like she had smoked a little too much crack. "Um...I'm a single Mom on a tight budget so that is NOT happening." Instead I went to Walmart and got a cheap single breast electric pump for $40. It's not fancy and is kind of slow but it does the trick. I was able to pump milk and see that yes I actually was producing milk. It was bright yellow at first, a mix of colostrum (pre-milk) and milk. As discouraged as I was on my first visit to the clinic, I was thrilled at my next visit. Michelle had gained weight and was feeding well. I supplemented her with a bottle of my own breast milk for a couple of days until my milk was in full force.
The best thing about the breastfeeding clinic was that they introduced me to a nipple shield which was the greatest invention ever and saved my poor nipples from being chewed to bits. They also told me that far from being a failure I had actually done the best thing -- by feeding Michelle so often when I first brought her home (as painful and difficult as it was) I had stimulated my milk production and now that my regular milk had come in (it takes about 3-5 days for the actual milk to come in) I had plenty. I was glad I hadn't just given up. Colostrum is supposed to provide enough nutrition for a newborn baby for the first couple of days. Some women panic that the baby is starving and turn to formula out of desperation. Then their milk never comes in. I was determined to breastfeed. I had many very good reasons to do so. First of all it's the healthiest thing for the baby, it's also a bonding experience and hey, it's FREE! When you're on a tight budget, you just can't beat free.
My nipples were becoming so sore and so itchy that I finally asked my doctor about it. All my appointments had been for Michelle but I finally scheduled a brief one for myself just to show her my poor breasts. I was worried it might be a rash or something. I had heard about "thrush" but that's something that the baby gets in her mouth as well. It wasn't a rash. The doctor said they were just sore from the friction. Michelle was just sucking too hard. (My baby vampire!) The doctor prescribed a recipe that Dr. Jack Newman created -- apparently he's "the" breastfeeding guru. How a MAN knows so much about breastfeeding, I'm not sure but he is a GENIUS! My doctor said that some pharmacists may not "like" making the cream but most would do it. She also said that according to Dr. Newman you don't wipe the cream off, "even if the pharmacist tells you to." When I went to the pharmacy to get it I was perturbed that the cream took an hour to make (the pharmacist had told me it would be half an hour) and that I had to pay a hefty dispensing fee. I didn't even know if it was going to work. It turned out that it was well worth the investment. After just one day using the cream I was so much better! I wasn't in pain or tortured by itching. My red, raw, peeling, scarred nipples were suddenly soft and pink again! It was a miracle. I don't know what Miconazole and Mupirocin are (ingredients on the label) but they are AMAZING. I just put a bit on after each feeding (obviously the ingredients are safe for the baby to ingest though the rubber shield is still between us) and my nipples are almost completely back to normal. In just a day or two they went from looking like something out of a horror movie all scarred, red, raw, scabby, rough and peeling to being soft and pink and new again. Dr. Newman, I love you! I don't know how this guy knows so much about breasts when he doesn't have any, but thank you!
The doctor and my mother also suggested that I cut down on the frequency of breastfeedings. Every two hours is common for a newborn but she's over 6 months old now and even having solid food. While I was worried about Michelle's weight I certainly wasn't going to cut back on breastfeeding but now that she's a healthy weight and doing pretty well on solids I figured it couldn't hurt to try it. So I have been trying to stretch her out to 3 hours between feedings, giving her food for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the two hour points and then nursing her another hour after that. She resisted at first. She became cranky and complained and didn't want to eat her food but I managed to distract her enough that I could postpone her nursing by an hour or at least half an hour. It's easier on me because it means fewer feedings. Aside from Michelle complaining about the change, my breasts noticed too. They knew it was time for a feeding and became engorged and sore. Little by little though it's getting easier. I figure it's better to wean her gradually so I'll keep feeding her every three hours for a while then go to every four or so. The more food she eats, the less milk she'll need. Eventually it will be cut down to two feedings a day and then when she's safe to have cow's milk I can stop. I may still try to pump some breastmilk to give her even after she's weaned because I know it's so good for them. I've seen some attachment parents carried to the extreme that are still breastfeeding their children at 7 years old. I'm not going there! I am an attachment parent but I have my limits. I do believe in feeding on demand though. I want my baby to be happy. I think it builds a strong bond and a healthier, happier child in the long run. Michelle still wakes up every couple of hours to nurse during the night but I don't mind. I'm certainly not going to deny her then. It's easier to just nurse her back to sleep. That way I actually get some sleep too! I figure that eventually when she's eating a lot more food she won't need the milk. Part of it is probably habit and a comfort thing too when she wakes up in the night.
Having a baby can be dangerous! It almost reminds me of MadTV's "When Babies Attack" skit...Here's the video from Youtube:
Like many things in parenting, keeping your sense of humour is a must. Love hurts. It's just part of it. The joy is worth the pain. Your baby will cause you more pain than you ever felt in your life but you will still love her more than anything on earth. It's weird. I guess it's a maternal instinct thing. We can take an unbelievable amount of abuse and still love and protect them. Luckily the sweet moments more than make up for the rough ones. The times when she smiles or laughs at me. The times when she reaches up to touch my face gently. The times when she looks at me lovingly. The moments when she plays nicely, sleeps peacefully, acts like a little angel. Lately she's even started hugging me really tight. She squeezes me with all her might and shakes, the way she clenches her fists and shakes when she's really excited. I love it. That's one time I'm glad she's so intense. I love those bear hugs. I can't wait for the day she can say "I love you Mommy" -- that will be more than worth all the pain I've been through.