Nursing. Milk coming out of my breasts. Milk. Fluids. Out of my breasts.
I was not okay with this when it first happened and I still struggle with the idea.
I love the fact that I produce a magic-like substance that feeds my daughter and has all the nutrients she needs throughout the first year of her life. It’s a gift and I cherish it. Doesn’t mean I don’t get a little grossed out if I have to pump and see it sitting in a bottle knowing that fatty substance came out of me.
When I was 7 months pregnant I remember coming out of the shower and seeing little yellow beads at the tips of my nipples. I almost flipped out in disbelief.
“Was the milk supposed to be yellow?”
“Was it normal for me to be producing milk already?”
“Why was this happening so soon?”
My husband laughed and tried to assure me that it was a perfectly normal experience. I called my husband’s aunt, an ob-gyn, and she declared “well you won’t have a problem nursing.” My mother had even less advice and didn’t really know what to say when I told her what happened.
Around that time my husband and I took a baby class where we put a diaper on a doll, learned about infant care and generally spent most of the time checking out the other pregnant couples and listening to the questions they had. Several women mentioned a breastfeeding class and how helpful they found it. I listened to them and quietly thought to myself how stupid these people had to be to take a class on something that was so natural and easy. However, as Schmoo-Schmoo’s (that’s my daughter’s womb name) arrival came closer and closer I became filled with more and more anxiety regarding parenthood.
I started buying as many books as I could on infants and childrearing. On a whim I purchased “The Essential Guide to Breastfeeding” by Marianne Neifert MD. It was an excellent decision and one I’ve been grateful for many times the first few months of nursing. She discusses plug ducts in detail and offers a list of solutions to deal with the problem. (A well read list – practically memorized!)
My father mocked the book and my decision to read it when he saw it sitting at my house– he firmly believed that nursing was easy and natural, any efforts to educate myself were superfluous and unnecessary. And maybe he’s right. Maybe in the old days when women lived in tight knit communities and cooked together, sang together, worked together to raise the children in their village they didn’t need a book to explain nursing - they had the collective wisdom of generations of mothers. At 25 none of my close friends were having children. I am the first of my close friends to get married. I am the first to be a mother. I didn’t have a circle of friends I could rely on to learn the ways of nursing. I tried checking in with my mother but she said something about sticking the baby on the nipple and shrugged. On some level I am grateful to my parents’ nonchalance regarding nursing. I think it gave me the strength and “fight” to handle the challenges when the first couple of months of nursing Sadie were so difficult.
When Sadie was born I was asleep having an emergency C-section. When I awoke I was dazed and lost asking for my husband repeatedly. The nurse hushed me and told me to be quiet or I would have to wait longer to see my husband and my baby. Silently I waited and went in and out of reality under the influence of the drugs in my system. When I finally was wheeled into my room I saw my family and Logan’s family with anxious expressions on their faces looking at me with concern and pity. And under a light in the room I saw my husband, Logan, holding our baby, my baby, the most beautiful baby I had ever seen in my life. I fell in love immediately. I couldn’t wait to hold her. My original birth plan was skin to skin contact after delivery and I wanted her on me as soon as possible to start the bonding process.
Knowing how important the bonding process was to me, Logan demanded everyone to leave the room, undressed Sadie, and placed her gently on top of me.
As she laid there trying to find my nipple bobbing her head repeatedly the nurse briskly walked up to us, grabbed my nipple, pinched the areola and stuck it into Sadie’s mouth.
That was nursing.
My nipple went into Sadie’s mouth.
Simple. Right? Well, in theory.
In reality within a day my nipples were torn and bleeding. I was bruised all over my breasts. Sadie was an excellent sucker and cared little for my wellbeing. Neither of us understood how to make her latch properly. I had read numerous times in the breastfeeding book that the latch was the key to successful nursing. However, it was a lot harder in practice. Moreover, as a result of Sadie’s nursing, I had to deal with horribly painful contractions of my uterus that felt like labor and took a few days to go away. I was hurting in every part of my body. Nursing was only making the whole experience worse.
Despite the horrible birthing experience I had at the hospital, I must commend the lactation nurses on staff (well, most of them). The first lactation consultant that came in mentioned Sadie might be tongue tied, gave me a lecture on nursing and left the room. She also suggested using a pump and really left me more confused than when she first arrived.
Following the first lactation consultant’s advice, I decided one in the morning I needed to pump my breasts for milk because I incorrectly thought I was not providing enough milk for Sadie because of the urea (which left a blood-like stain and is totally common for newborns) on Sadie’s diaper. In fact, most women need several days for their milk to come in and newborns tend to lose weight their first few days of life. The nurse on call suggested we supplement Sadie with some formula to make up for my missing milk.
Two things happened that night. The first thing is a hospital size pump was brought to my room. In case you’ve never seen one, they are HUGE. In vain I tried to pump milk from my breasts and stopped after nothing came out. The two-second lecture of attaching the plastic pieces to my boobs and then turning on the machine to suck out the milk didn’t really work for me. I was totally lost. So then I decided we should supplement with some formula because I didn’t want my daughter suffering from dehydration. Of course this decision was a result of a helpful nurse telling me that supplementing with formula was completely normal and a good decision in this situation.
The nurse brought a syringe full of formula attached to a long feeding tube that we delicately placed into Sadie’s mouth. Gently I pushed down on the syringe filling my daughter’s mouth with food I had not created. That was the first and last time Sadie ever ate formula.
The next day a new lactation consultant came in and she was actually helpful. She immediately asked about the state of my breasts and I, who always covered my breasts unless in the most intimate of situations, showed her the damage my newborn had caused. I felt relieved at her indrawn gasp of surprise and I appreciated her sigh of “oh honey, don’t let her do that to you!”
That was when she pulled out the most magical nursing tool known to man, or at least to me.
THE NIPPLE SHIELD
This was a gift from G-d. This was a gift from the world. This was the greatest invention ever.
Without going too much into describing my breasts, suffice to say Sadie and I needed the nipple shield to make nursing happen. And not just nursing, but every 15 minutes for 15 minutes boob sucking that needed to occur in order for Sadie to stop yelling at the top of her lungs and turning bright red and shaking in frustration because there was no boob in her mouth.
[At the beginning I was guilty of not using the nipple shield at all times because it required being washed and found every time Sadie was going to nurse. Logan knew how much it helped me and was very insistent that I use it the first few months. My nipples were so torn up that the nipple shield was very important in allowing my skin to heal. I preferred to fight through the pain and grin and bear it – a solution that would not have worked in the long-term. In hindsight, Logan is a huge reason why I was successful at nursing. I am not sure I would have succeeded without him.]
The nursing consultant told me not to supplement with formula, assured me that the urea on Sadie’s diaper was normal, warned me about nipple confusion and gave me a bunch of lanolin to rub into my broken skin. Lanolin was a dear and important friend for the first 2-3 months of nursing.
She also encouraged Logan to help Sadie learn how to open her mouth wider in order to latch properly. Logan was taught to place his finger at the bow of Sadie’s lips and gently push her lower lip down to encourage an O shape. After a few days Sadie responded beautifully to Logan’s finger; and within a few weeks Logan taught Sadie how to stick out her tongue!
After three days of being in the hospital I was allowed to finally go home; however, we planned to stay four days because of Shabbat. Logan ended up breaking Shabbat because I was freaking out and couldn’t stand being there a minute longer. I had a horrible birth, 24 hours of labor, an emergency C section; I was in a lot of pain. I was taking Percocet every 4 hours since delivery to help with the nonstop agony. That morning I had a doctor chew me out for taking the painkiller and told me repeatedly I was drugging my child and was essentially a horrible mother for doing such a thing. That was the last straw for me. I woke up Logan after the doctor left and burst out crying begging him to take me home. He got into action immediately. I dropped the pain killer cold turkey and survived on ibuprofen for a few weeks. And even then I was afraid of taking too much because I didn’t know what would transfer to the baby through my milk.
When we got home the real fun began. That night I remember looking in the mirror and seeing the biggest perkiest breasts I had ever seen in my life. They were huge. The skin was stretched tight and looked like it would explode any second. I looked like I had two huge water balloons attached to my chest.
My milk had finally come in. I was blessed with lots and lots of milk. So much that I was covered in milk at night for months. My sheets were stained permanently yellow from the colostrum pouring out of me for weeks. The first several months Sadie was permanently attached to me. I could be in the middle of paying for my groceries and Sadie would howl in frustration and I would whip out my nursing cover and stick her underneath. Many, many times I would be nursing Sadie and doing something else. I learned how to nurse her where her feet hung down and I held her head with one arm freeing up my other arm and allowing me to move around. I became a pro at multitasking nursing.
I suffered from a plug duct several times and spent hours massaging my breast, putting hot packs on my breast and even having Logan hold the pump to my breast and squeeze the milk out – anything to stop the pain and the chills that immobilized me. My initial embarrassment and discomfort with Logan taking part in the process was soon forgotten after the insanity of the situation became too much for me to mentally handle.
Even with the heater on the house it was too cold, I spent the nights awake and shaking, feeling the cold enter my body through my breasts that were permanently leaking milk. The first month of Sadie’s life felt like hell to me.
And yet, nursing was a challenge that I was not going to give up on. I was going to nurse my child and there was nothing that could stop me.
Three weeks into nursing and feeling like the worst was over I developed a bladder infection. This most likely was a result of the catheter put into me after my epidural. My doctor prescribed me an antibiotic and it seemed like everything was going to be fine. I took a pill and a few hours later sat down with a sleeping Sadie and started to read the information slip that came with my antibiotics. Under a long list of warnings it said, “do not take if nursing an infant under one month of age.”
I was nursing an infant under one month of age. I went online and learned that this medication could cause the infant to have blood problems.
This is when I started to have an anxiety attack. I called Kaiser, my provider at the time, and proceeded to melt down on the phone. I was convinced I was going to kill my daughter with my breast milk. The nurse told me she needed to research the medication and would get back to me. I called Sadie’s doctor and was suggested to pump and dump and feed her formula until the medicine was done. I was in a tizzy. I was frantic. I was totally against formula. I couldn’t even fathom not nursing my child. I didn’t know what to do. As my breasts filled with milk and I saw only one bottle of my milk sitting in the fridge (I had tried pumping the first month or so to give Logan a chance to feed Sadie but I soon dropped the practice) I flipped out. I started having chest pains; I couldn’t catch a full breath. The Kaiser nurse called me back and told me to go to the ER to rule out any heart problems.
At the ER they did an EKG (perfectly good results) and then strapped me to a heart rate and blood pressure monitor. After an hour of the nurse coming back and forth the doctor came in and told me I needed to calm down. My blood pressure was horrible and they couldn’t let me go home until it settled. The doctor told me he looked into the meds I was on and said they should be fine and would not do any damage to Sadie. I asked him if he would prescribe them to his wife if she was nursing a newborn. He assured me he would. I asked him if he would promise me that they would have no effect on Sadie. He promised. I still wasn’t convinced. He then said that there was an antibiotic on the market that was so safe they even gave it to newborns. He wasn’t certain it would take care of my infection but if it made me feel better I should try to take it first. Thank G-d that antibiotic worked and the bladder infection went away.
I did almost have mastitis a few times and Logan saved me every time. That man became a pro at pumping and massaging and being my rock when I was falling apart from all the demands of motherhood.
While all this was happening we were also dealing with a baby that cried for 3-4 hours every night between 10 and 2 in the morning. After suffering nightly for several weeks with Sadie’s inconsolable crying my mother in law suggested I cut out chocolate from my diet. I was aghast at the idea. Chocolate was the only thing that kept me awake day and night. I ate more chocolate the first month after giving birth than I had eaten in years. Chocolate was my life source. However, Sadie’s crying was beginning to penetrate my brain and echo uncontrollably throughout the day. I would shower and hear her cries demanding my attention – even if she was sleeping quietly in my husband’s arms. I decided to test out the theory and I cut out chocolate for several days. The nightly torture stopped. She was peaceful. Not hysterical. Not insanely crying and shaking and twisting her body in agony. I didn’t touch chocolate for a week. Then it was my father’s birthday and he had a chocolate flourless cake – my favorite. It was chocolate and soft and mushy and sweet and tasted so good. I had a small bite, then a bigger bite and then I threw in the towel and ate a big chunk of cake. I knew deep inside I would suffer that night and I absolutely did. Sadie was hysterical. She was angry. She cried horrible infant cries that drove us mad. I quit chocolate that day. April 17, 2009 I quit chocolate for 5 months. I never cheated. Not once. When Sadie was 6 months old I ate some chocolate and watched her for a reaction. She wasn’t horribly upset but I noticed there was discomfort etched in her face. I continued to avoid chocolate until Sadie was close to one year of age.
A month after Sadie was born Logan and I bought a house. A beautiful rundown house that needed to be completely remodeled – I spent my days dealing with wholesale material stores and our contractor trying to have the remodel finished before our lease was up at our rental. Sadie would hang from my breast as I studied tiles, floor boards, paint chips and debated ideas with our contractor. My need to nurse Sadie did not hinder any aspect of my life. I refused to create a separation and blended Sadie’s needs with my own.
In time we were able to phase out the nipple shield and it stopped hurting when I nursed Sadie. Around 6 months she learned the sign for nursing and figured out that signing was a lot easier than crying.
Sadie will be 15 months June 10th and we are still successfully nursing. I have recently begun to wean her at night and would like to start weaning her during the day as well. Indeed, weaning her at night has become necessary as my daughter continues to sleep in bed with us and wake every hour to nurse at her leisure. I love my baby but I have decided to advocate for my sanity.
Overall, nursing has been a wonderful experience. There is nothing like the love between my child and me, her mouth at my breast receiving sustenance and I receiving her love as she rubs my skin and mummers her appreciation.
And those moments of intimacy, of reciprocated love, live as memories I will cherish forever.