Monday, July 9, 2012

Thoughts on Breastfeeding at (Almost) Nine Months

Nursing a 1 week old at the pediatrician's office. Notice how delirious I look.

(This is a long post and one I've been wanted to write for a while. It's often difficult to put down on paper what I feel in such a deep part of my heart but here it is.)

It's not been easy. And it's also been the easiest, most natural part of being a mother. It's like everything else that comes with parenting - confusing, daunting, and without much time to research or try things out. You just jump in and hope you can tread above water. Kind of how the past nine months have felt. I don't mean for this to sound as though I hate breastfeeding or that it's impossible. It's just been such an amazingly humbling experience for me, so far.

When I was pregnant, and had all the time in the world to leisurely read everything I could find on labor, birth, breastfeeding, and newborns, I became fixated on breastfeeding. Every woman has something, right? In retrospect, I wonder if I manifested my challenges in the beginning by being so worried that I would be inadequate. In any case, the first few weeks and months were the greatest exercise in trust I have ever witnessed.

From the first nursing session with Phoenix, the experience was both painful and incredible enough to bring me to tears. A mixture of hormones and difficulty latching made for an intensely emotional start. Every time I would hear his little whimper of hunger I would cringe for what was about to come. As much as I loved it once he was latched on properly, I dreaded the excruciating 15 minutes that it took to get him there. He would be screaming from frustration, I would be crying from pain, Scott would be sitting with us doing everything he could to calm both of us down. In a word, it was exhausting (on top of being exhausted).

After what felt like the longest few weeks of my life, Phoenix and I had finally worked it out. But there's more. I know I previously wrote about the fact that I had mastitis (twice) that turned into an abscess and resulted in two failed rounds of antibiotics and hysterical calls to my midwife, ending in her draining it in her office in the middle of the night (with a giant syringe) and a scarred breast. That's the short version. What I failed to mention previously was how I didn't even notice at the time how huge all of this was, as it was happening.

I am not writing any of this because I was a medal or a pat on the back. I am by no means an expert or mother of the year. But I was determined to do everything I could to "fix" my breast. Personally, I was not interested in giving Phoenix formula. Even when my pediatrician said, "It won't kill him." Even when my mom friends said, "Breastfeeding is more trouble than it's worth." Every time I researched formula or looked at the ingredients at the supermarket, I was both terrified/overwhelmed to give Phoenix any of those millions of chemical ingredients on the label and also couldn't imagine paying so much for something I could give him myself, for free! I know that many women can't breastfeed or have to give their baby's formula and I have no judgement on anyone who chooses to do so. I think you need to do whatever is best for your baby and family. But I decided that Phoenix and I were going to figure this out.

And we did.

I told him everything that happened as it was happening. I made sure he was aware of what we were both going through. Even when I had an open drain above my nipple and there was disgusting infected pus coming out (I still cringe just imagining this actually happened), I made sure he could nurse from that side and held onto his tiny hand the whole time so he wouldn't touch it. Luckily those were the early days and he didn't flail around like a fish out of water every time he nursed, like he does now.

After the draining, the healing began. Rubbing the area with castor area every night. Applying hot compresses, taking tons of herbs and inflammation reducing foods. And all the while nursing baby boy day and night. The emotional healing came later. Much later.

As the months progressed, nursing became automatic. What once took an hour, now could be done in 5 minutes flat. At his four month well visit, Phoenix had tripled his birth weight. That was confirmation to me that all that around the clock nursing and perseverance had paid off. I have a healthy boy. Not to say that he would be unhealthy had we gone the formula route but I was just happy knowing we had gotten to to other side, Phoenix and I. We were a team and we were now in the clear, as these things go.

Since then, our nursing relationship has grown even stronger. As my tiny baby gets closer to being a toddler every day (noo!!!) I am reminded of how important this special bond is between us. When we traveled to Holland a few months ago, he nursed throughout both plane rides. Nursing has gotten us through two bouts of teething (6 teeth!) and also while being sick and having a fever last week on vacation. Now that P is about to walk, we are experiencing quite a few tumbles and falls. If there are big tears, I know baby needs that closeness. If we are out longer than expected and I have no food packed, I always breastfeed him. It's both a comfort and a source of nourishment, the best multivitamin he will ever take and his safe place.

I say that it was an exercise in trust because in the thick of it, with an infected breast, a hysterical, hungry infant, an exhausted but incredibly supportive husband, a worried midwife, and little hope, all I could do was trust that it would be okay.

After my miscarriage, I trusted that I would have a healthy pregnancy. Having an unmedicated home birth, I trusted baby and I would safe. In the intensity of labor, I trusted that the pain would eventually end and the baby would come. Throughout the first months of motherhood, I trusted that my body could conquer all those things and that I was made to breastfeed as well. I trusted the process and the lesson.

It has been humbling and powerful. Phoenix still nurses day and night, whenever he wants really. He eats three "meals" a day now so it's not as frequent as it once. There were days that I felt were impossibly long and he was attached to me the whole time. There were nights that I cried to Scott about how frustrating it was that Phoenix would only calm down or fall asleep if I nursed him. I now understand that it is all a part of my role as mama. My scent soothes him, and as much as he loves his papa, sometimes mama offers a comfort that he can't. I get it now. And those nights that I wished that we just cared less and could give him a bottle, I whined and I cried and I got over it. We never did give him a bottle. If not anything else, being a parent has made me much stronger in my convictions. And when I decided I was going to master this foreign thing - breastfeeding. I did it. We did it. And I am so grateful for all the days and nights so far. All the tiny scratches, as of late. All the nibbles now that he has teeth. All the sweet looks of love and gratitude I get when I look down. I cherish all of these.


  1. Oh I remember that feeling of cringing whenever he would wake cause I knew we would have to feed and I dreaded the latching pain. Eamon is only 3 months now and takes about 20 minutes- 5 minutes is amazing.

    Beautiful post.

    1. Thanks! It's something that I've been wanting to write down for months now. At three months it still took P about 20 minutes but it seemed like week by week he would nurse faster. Also, around 4/5 months he started becoming distracted by everything else in the world so I think that becomes an incentive to hurry up! :)

  2. Beautiful post. I had a rough bout with BF my first, and in the end wasn't able to after three months. Now I'm on my second child, and was determined to do it this time around, and although with its ups and downs, we have made it to nine months. It's a good feeling.

  3. I literally could not have written a more similar post. Same exact problems, down to mastitis three times, breast abscess, getting it drained with a needle every day for two weeks, almost surgery, etc. But we pressed on. And it is probably the thing I am most proud of and so so grateful for. I thought natural birth was going to be the hardest most rewarding thing...which it definitely was. But I had no idea how the painful journey of breastfeeding could go on so long in difficulty, and yet be one of the best things I have ever done. So glad you shared this and articulated your journey. I'm right there with you girl! Good on ya for not giving up.

  4. lovely post and so, so true! those initial weeks - ouch!! and the fear, my god. i used to say to my husband...i'm afraid of my child. even now, he's just 4 weeks old now, i feel like the days are measured by feedings. the countdown to eating time. and though its easy now and feels great actually, its still something im working out. the timing and the restrictions on going out and living life..though i imagine i'll just have to do it and make it work. eventually. :) well done!