Here is Part 2 of my mini-series which details my breastfeeding experiences with both children. Just as pregnancy, labor, and delivery were different between Matthew and Emma, my breastfeeding experiences were vastly different as well. If you haven’t read Part 1: Matthew, I encourage you to do so before continuing along with this post.
All caught up? Great, let’s keep going.
Breastfeeding Part 2: Emma
If you’ve read Part 1 which details my breastfeeding experience with Matthew, you’ll know that for the most part it was pretty smooth sailing. I successfully provided breastmilk for his entire first year of life (between nursing directly and pumping), which was an incredibly proud accomplishment for me.
So I automatically assumed with Emma that since things went so well with Matthew, they would with her as well.
How very, very, VERY wrong I was.
It just goes to show you that when you think you have something figured out as a mom, a new situation will crop up and change things on you yet again!
And honestly, I thought we were off to a great start. Unlike Matthew (who we couldn’t get to latch for a few days until we figured out and fixed the fact that he was tongue-tied), Emma latched on her very first try.
In fact, she latched voraciously! Her first feeding hurt….and when she was done I noticed that I was already bleeding. But my body was in a state of shock still from her rapid childbirth, and the pain was minimal to what I just went through, so I figured it was one more thing to add to the list and that I would toughen up as we kept going.
The problem was that it never got any better.
Every feeding was agonizing. Every time she latched, there were waves of pain that racked my body. The lactation consultants tried their best, but Emma insisted on a shallow latch. Any mom who has experienced a shallow latch knows just how painful it is. And that’s all I could get my new baby girl to do.
As soon as we’d get her to take a “normal” latch, which wasn’t as painful for me, she’d spit it out and grab shallow again. And her re-latching attempts were worse than just enduring the pain of the shallow-latched feeding, so for the majoring of her feedings I just gritted my teeth till she was done.
I was bloodied, bruised, sore, and quiet honestly almost afraid of my daughter.
I literally dreaded every feeding. My family would hear me scream with pain each time she would latch, and I would sit there, shaking, and with tears running down my face until she finished. I would then hand her off to my husband, and it would take about 20 minutes for my body to stop quivering from the experience.
I felt like she was giving me PTSD. And this was making it impossible to bond with her.
I remember on day 4 of Emma’s life, during a particularly painful feeding session, Matthew stood just a few feet away from me, watching me sob as Emma nursed. He then turned to my husband and asked, “What’s wrong with mommy?”
That moment broke through my stubbornness to make breastfeeding work. As much as I believed in the benefits of breastmilk, and the bonding that it can give to mom and baby, I realized that this wasn’t getting any better. I felt like every feeding was eroding my relationship with my new daughter, not making it stronger. And I didn’t want this to affect how Matthew viewed his new sister either. I wasn’t sure how much more of this I could endure.
And in fact, it was only another 24 hours. On day 5, after another excruciating attempt at getting Emma to latch, I handed her, still hungry, to my husband and told him that I wasn’t going to nurse her anymore. She would get breastmilk, but I would pump it out first and then we would bottle feed her.
(You know it’s bad when you prefer pumping over nursing!)
And that’s exactly what I did. From day 5 onwards, I switched exclusively to pumping.
It took about two weeks after switching from nursing to pumping for my body to heal. Two weeks for the pain and blood to disappear. And two weeks for me to realize that this was going to be a ton more work, and I really didn’t know how I was going to make it happen – much less make it happen for a whole year!
Since pumping doesn’t stimulate the milk ducts as well or as effectively as nursing directly does, I had to pump often and a lot in order to try and keep my supply up. But pumping takes time – it was a good 20-30 minutes each session, and then I had to take additional time to clean everything up, transfer it to a bottle, and then actually feed her. With the frequency of newborn feedings, I only ended up with an hour to an hour and a half of time off before I had to start the process all over again.
Which if I only had the one child, would have been overwhelming enough. But I also had Matthew to take care of. And, bless his little heart, he did his best to understand why mommy was ALWAYS busy dealing with the pump, or with his new sister, but you could plainly see the disappointment when I was stuck on the couch, tethered to the pump and unable to play even a simple game of catch with him. He took a big backseat during this time, which racked me with even more guilt for my decision to stop nursing directly.
But I knew that I physically and mentally could no longer deal with the pain – especially if I ever wanted to be able to bond with Emma.
And even though I tried my best to time my pumping sessions around when Emma would be most settled, she would inevitably start crying for something as soon as I got hooked up and pumping. Matthew and I read many books together, sitting on the couch, him turning the pages while I held the pump up, while I yelled to be heard over Emma’s crying and we both tried to rock her in her cradle via our feet.
My maternity leave with Emma was so stressful for this reason that I almost couldn’t wait to get back to work. And even though the pain of nursing was over, my miserable experience with breastfeeding was not.
On Friday, April 26 around 3:45 PM (when Emma was just over 1 month old), I was upstairs with both kids, watching some cartoons. I was exhausted and was trying to think of a way to kill some time while waiting for my husband to come home from work shortly after 5. As we were sitting on the couch, I started to feel one rapid milk let-down after another. I had just finished pumping less than an hour before and couldn’t figure out what my body was doing. It was getting uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to pump again so soon for fear of overdoing it. I ignored it for a while, but the sensation got more and more uncomfortable. Finally, just a little before 5 I couldn’t take it any longer and got the pump out. But nothing would express! Nothing I did released the milk to the bottles and eventually I gave up on the pump as well. By the time my husband got home, I was in pain and in a foul mood. Within 30 minutes of his arrival home, I deteriorated rapidly and developed clammy skin and a fever which spiked to 105.
The rest of the night I lay miserable as my first episode of mastitis took hold. Never once in a year of breastfeeding Matthew did I encounter this. I had finally (mostly) figured out the pumping routine for Emma…and now this! It was awful. I was literally useless to my family. It was all I could do to try and pump out the infection (since continuing to nurse/pump is one of the key ways to clear it). And the tears came back with renewed force. I had finally healed, and here was the pump now causing me as much pain as Emma nursing directly. Antibiotics were called in, but I was able to clear it naturally after a couple of days and then we were back up and running.
Or so I thought.
Over the course of the next 5 weeks, I endured 6 episodes of mastitis. First on the right, and then the left, back to the right, back to the left…. over and over and over. As soon as I’d heal on one side, the other would start to act up. It was a miserable time. And each episode would kill my milk supply a little bit more. Prior to these infections, I was getting a great yield of breastmilk with each pumping session. After clearing each mastitis, my pumping session would yield less and less, until I started to collect at a deficit to what Emma would drink each day.
I consulted Emma’s pediatrician about this at her 2 month well check, and the advice was to pump less (as long as I wasn’t clearing an active infection) to allow my body to heal and rest. I knew that was the right thing to do, but I also knew that pumping less would destroy my already dwindling milk supply. I had a good stock of milk in the freezer that we could use from when it was running plentiful, but we were going through it quickly since Emma had such a good appetite.
But just like the advice you get when you fly on a plane, you have to take care of yourself before you can be of use to others.
So I pumped less. I reduced only as much as I needed to in order to stop the recurrent mastitis. (I was still pumping at least 5-6 times per day!) But the stimulation just wasn’t enough. There were times over the course of the next 2-3 months that I would finish a pumping session and have nothing to show for it in the bottle. It was so disheartening, and I wondered why I was spending all this time and effort for such little results.
I could easily see the writing on the wall – that providing Emma with breastmilk was going to be short lived. We were going to have to introduce formula, which was something that my husband was not excited about in the least. I wasn’t happy about it either, but I knew that I had done everything that I could. And frankly, I was exhausted from the whole experience. And I was more than ready to never have to hook myself up to a pump again.
Once I realized that the end of breastfeeding was going to be happening sooner than later, my goal was to make it at least 6 months before I stopped. But I didn’t quite make it. Just shortly after Emma turned 5 months old, my milk supply was down to almost nothing and the time and effort it took to fit pumping into my day just really was no longer worth what I would get from it. I started to wean down the pumping sessions, but found that since there was nothing to produce, I really didn’t need the taper like I did when I was nursing Matthew. I pretty much just stopped cold turkey one day after a particularly disappointing yield. And that was it. No pain, no engorgement, no leaky breasts to deal with.
And thankfully, no more living my life around a pump, and no more mastitis!
It was a happy and a sad moment. I was glad to be free of the pump, but I was sad that I wasn’t able to provide for my daughter like I was able to provide for my son. However, being tied up like I was really kept me from spending as much quality time with Emma as I would have liked, so now thankfully, the real bonding was finally able to happen!
All the best,
P.S. I’d love to hear about your experience breastfeeding your children! Were you successful or not? Do you believe strongly in it or no? I’m not here to judge your opinion – we are all entitled to what we believe and are capable of doing – I’m just interested in your story. Feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message if you’d like to converse more privately!
P.P.S. It took me so long to write this post from when I wrote Part 1 since the thought of reliving the memories of this time of my life were something I’d been trying to forget. (I wrote this with the assistance of a large glass of wine – thanks Bob!). But now that I’ve got it down for you, Part 3 (my experience with various pumps), Part 4 (my reviews of pumping bags), and Part 5 (my thoughts on formula) will be coming out in a much more timely fashion! So stay tuned!