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When Breastfeeding Sucks

Posted Apr 02 2014 9:00am

A client asked if she could share her breastfeeding journey. Here it is in all of it's raw beauty! She and I enjoyed writing this together while sipping lattes and watching her little one nurse. If you need suggestions on postpartum doulas or lactation consultants in the Houston area, just send me an email.
Breastfeeding is beautiful, it's natural, and, if you are lucky, a sweet and gentle bonding experience for you and your baby. I meditated on those images during my pregnancy: a serene mother holding her baby close to her breast in a rocking chair, the afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows.  
She cradles her baby while humming a little tune under her breath and her baby gazes at her sweetly while liquid life force dribbles from the corners of her mouth. The woman's breasts are full and beautiful and perfectly perfect. This was my image of breastfeeding - this was my future - or so I thought.  
Breastfeeding is normal and natural, but sometimes it sucks!  
Instead of the milk goddess with suckling in arm, I was a baggy eyed, sobbing, snotty mess as my poor husband tried, once again, to put our baby to my breast. It wasn't afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows, it was 3am, again, when I had been nursing every 1.5 hours for 50 minutes each session, round the clock.  
I reeked like body odor and day old  baby spit up and my baby was red faced and angry as she beat at my chest with tightly squeezed fists. She reared her head back in defiance as I tried to coo to her through my shaky sobs, my hair shooting out in every direction from my bedraggled head. My nipples were red and ugly, chapped and bleeding in some places, and my breasts were hot and hard to touch. My husband looked from me to the baby to me again with a bewildered and slightly panicky expression. He finally took her to the kitchen and gave her a bottle.  
Sometimes breastfeeding sucks.  
And when my doula called the next morning to say she was in my neighborhood, I didn't even wait for her to invite herself over 'just to say hi'.. I cut her off mid-sentence, blurting "ohmygod can you please come over? I'm losing my f*ing mind (keening/wailing/crying at this point)."
She said, in the way only she can, "oh mama! I'm going to grab some lunch for myself, I'll bring you some too, and I'll be there in 20 minutes." I felt like my mama just offered to make me my favorite casserole from scratch, clean my whole house, and send me to the spa... I was so relieved I just nodded, said something incoherent, and hung up.  
I stood by the window overlooking the driveway the entire time. When she pulled up, I just fell into her arms, hugged her fiercely, and pushed my baby into her arms. I thought that she must think I'm a horrible mama, but she just hugged me again, said "the first few weeks can be hard, can't they" and, with my baby tucked under one arm, served me the most delicious fast food I had ever eaten.  
She then ordered me to the shower. When I emerged, the house had been picked up (a little), I could hear the laundry machine running, and my kitchen was clean. She was cooing over my baby, so I sank down next to her on the couch.  
She asked me to try to nurse, my baby was making rooting noises.  
I immediately felt panic well up inside of me and I shifted my eyes around the room, refusing to look into her compassionate gaze. I stuttered that my breasts were hot, and painful, and full. I mumbled that my nipples were cracked and bleeding. And I trailed off that we were just going to do bottles from now on...  
"I failed" I sighed, defeated. "Breastfeeding sucks." 
She smiled, placing her pinky into bubs mouth. "Yes, it can. It can be middle-of-the-night-bottom-of-the-pit horrible. It can also be that", she gestured to the picture I had been meditating on during my pregnancy. It was tucked into the breastfeeding guide that was sitting on our coffee table.
I took a moment, considered the options I had... and then slowly unbuttoned my nursing tank and exposed my breast. My doulas compassionate "tsk" told me that my nipple, did indeed, look like hamburger. She asked to see the other side. My other nipple was better. She placed my baby in my arms, facing the hamburger nipple, and proceeded to, in a matter of seconds, get my nursing demon newborn onto my breast. It stung, but it didn't pinch. It zinged but it didn't make me want to tear my breast off and throw it across the room.  
I hadn't even realized I had clenched my eyes shut and sucked in my breath, anticipating the pain that accompanied our breastfeeding relationship until they shot open in surprise. I looked down to see my baby's mouth much more open than before. She was calm and happy. Her hands quickly relaxed from little fists to open and resting, and she began to actually gaze around.  
My doula then showed me how to apply compresses to my breast while nursing, and how to massage them during feedings. She texted me some tips, the number of a few lactation consultants, and left me with a hug, full belly, clean self, and light streaming in from the windows and falling on my newborn, who had milk dribbling from the corner of her mouth.  
It took me another feeding before I was in the rocker, and another week before I was humming serenely while she nursed. But it was a turning point. I was ready to jump ship and never look back. But now we are going on 18 months of nursing! And even if I had jumped ship, I know now that I wouldn't have failed, I did the best with what I knew.  
Instead of jumping ship, I called that LC (my doula also copied the text to my husband), had a postpartum doula come over every day for a week, and threw out the formula.  
Breastfeeding can suck, but it does get better. So, when you are in the midst of your own night from hell, and your nipples are torture devices, your husband is a stranger, your baby is a vampire, and your sleep-deprived mind is conjuring up hallucinations, hold on to that for all it's worth, and get the help you all deserve!  
Below are the hurdles that we were able to overcome successfully (*) and other breastfeeding hurdles you might encounter that an LC/doula can help with
  • Tongue Tie (posterior or anterior)*
  • Lip Tie
  • Marathon Nursing/Sleep Deprivation (nursing for extended periods of time, or very frequently, or both)
  • Deep/Shallow Latch*
  • Forceful Letdown (milk spigots open like Niagara falls)*
  • Diet Sensitivities (allergies or otherwise)*
  • Playing Favorites (baby only 'liking' one breast or nipple)*
  • Mastitis (infection of the tatas)*
  • Clogged Ducts (not Donald - Milk... And those mother's hurt)*
  • Pumping Issues (not being able to do it well, not being able to do it at all, not being able to do it without it hurting.. yadayadayada)
  • Yeast (yup, yeast infections can happen 'there' too)
  • cracked/chapped/bleeding nipples (it's as horrible as it sounds)*
Thanks, Chelsea, for sharing!
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