Friday, June 12, 2009

Tough Topics - Breastfeeding Anyway

After my sweet snapshot in words about breastfeeding a 15 month old caused so much discussion - my momma suggested i write a post about my breastfeeding journey.
*warning - this post may not be for everyone - my bias is obviously for breastfeeding, since that's my personal experience. - Read on, or pass over as you wish*
My breastfeeding journey began when my oldest was born - actually, it began during my pregnancy when i noticed purple bruising all down my ribcage and in one armpit. i could hardly put my arm down for the pain & swelling. It was then that i found out that God had made me with *extra* breast tissue - in odd places. It didn't worry me too much, as i was a first time mom & i had no idea what i was in for. When Cai was born, i remember her teeny pink mouth rooting in reflex & opening wide looking for colostrum.
"Beautiful latch!" We were told - & indeed she did have a beautiful latch. When my milk came in, it also came in to the extra tissue under my arm and down my ribcage. i was in agony. As the milk had no way to exit, it soon got infected & i found myself with angry red circles around the hard lumps. Since it was my first baby, my assumption was that every woman went through this painful process. i had a whole new respect for anyone who had breastfed. Despite our beautiful latch, i got blisters, and i bled. i also noticed another painful symptom that i will get into later on...
2 months of perseverance later - the pain had subsided. The ebb and flow of my milk had worked itself out - the extra breast tissue had dried up, and it seemed we were pros.
i had been told to 'wean with the first tooth' - but when she got her first tooth well before 4 months, i knew that wouldn't work for us. We survived learning not to bite, and we soon learned to nurse for comfort - to use breastmilk to unstuff stuffy noses, to clear up eye infections and most importantly to nourish a little girl who was always in the smallest percentiles for growth.
i lost courage when i got pregnant again. i quickly weaned to whole milk. She was only 10 months though and the whole milk was very, very hard on her tender tummy. She developed fissures and i regretted almost immediately my decision to wean.
When we lost our baby, i regretted my decision even more... & i knew that the next time would be different.
When Sloanie arrived, i felt a little less naive. i found that there were actually women out there who breastfed without pain - & i wanted to be one of them. During my pregnancy, my hard painful bruises returned & again when she was born, we were again told, "Beautiful latch!" and she sure did have a beautiful latch. She nursed for about 45 minutes the first time she latched on. By the time she was 12 hours old, i had raw, red blisters - and again my bizarre, painful symptoms... i tried the teabags & lancinoh for the pain & used cabbage leaves for my engorgement.
We both cried when it was time to eat. i documented my first several weeks of breastfeeding in my journal so i could keep track for "next time" and try to figure out what we were doing wrong. After antibiotics from the mastitis from the extra milk ducts gave us thrush , i thought i knew some of the answers... & i had a few ideas of what to try, if we ever did have another baby.
Within 2-3 months, all was beauty in breastfeeding land, & i knew that if i had to work this hard to get established, i was gonna hold on a little longer this time.
When Sloanie was 16 months old, & i was pregnant with Peyton, i again decided to wean. i believed the stories that my babe on the inside would be safer if i weaned the one on the outside & besides i argued with myself, we made it to 16 months - a whole half year longer than with Cai...
When Peyton was born, & i went on the antibiotics for the unavoidable mastitis, i supplemented with acidophilous in the hopes of avoiding the thrush... To no avail. This would be the last time i would resort to antibiotics - i found other methods that seemed to work better with less side effects with my later babies.
My afterpains were brutal (as they can be after a couple of babies...) but my breastfeeding pain made my afterpains pale in comparison.
In Peyton's first year of life, she had rsv twice. She had bronchiolitis too & i remember many, many nights, holding her upright so she could breathe better. Her wise doctor told me to delay introducing dairy and to breastfeed into the second year.
She grew like a weed. The nurse said she had never seen a breastfed baby grow off the charts like my Peyton. Her growth gave me confidence & when i found out i was pregnant about a year later, i decided to nurse through the pregnancy. In addition to being good for my little girl who was so loath to eat solids, i wondered if it would ease my beginning woes with the new baby if breastfeeding was already established at birth... (Sadly, it didn't... but i don't regret my decision). i didn't advertise the fact, but i didn't hide it either. Furrowed brows and "tsk, tsks" did nothing to dissuade me. i was told that my child would be low birth weight... that with my small frame, i didn't have enough for both of them. Apparently they were wrong. Charter would end up being my largest baby. i nursed them both happily for another 2 years & Charter for another year after that. By this time, i had realized that my body, given the chance could eventually fight off the mastitis on it's own... i took acidophilous religiously at the end of my pregnancy & through the beginning of Mollen's life - and happily managed to avoid the antibiotics for both Charter and Mollen.
After my marathon nursing partnership with both Peyton and Charter (4 years and 3 years) i was very surprised when Mollen weaned herself at 19months.
And so it was, that by the time Mr. Gage came along, it had been awhile since i had nursed a little one - & i found myself looking forward to the whole process again.
When the familiar bruises appeared, even my dr. was stunned, but i wasn't. This was par for the course & i knew it was only gonna get worse. A couple of nights after he was born, my mom said to me, "Boy, your afterpains must be pretty bad, i could hear you moaning in the night."
It was me trying to get my little guy latched on that she heard - i would hold my breath... tears escaping - biting my lip till i could taste blood & sometimes i would still chicken out - reefing his sweet, tender mouth away from my painful, blistered self.
A few months later, i heard of something i had never heard of before called Reynauds Phenomenon of the Nipple i read the article & cried. It so *exactly* fit my painful symptoms, the colour changes, the sensitivity to cold... With each of my children - i had an alarming symptom - especially in that first couple of months of breastfeeding. i knew that it was *normal for me* but had a feeling that it wasn't really normal at all. Along with the *exquisite pain* of breastfeeding, i noticed that i would have a bright white colour - or a dark blue & purple on my nipple during these months. Obviously, this is just me, self-diagnosing - because by the time i discovered this name, Gagey & i had already pushed through that time & were enjoying our breastfeeding relationship immensely.
This post isn't a "woe is me, lookit how much pain i can take" martyr post - it's just another story to share that might help spread understanding that it's not always easy & the decisions we make are sometimes tough - but for me, i was so glad that i stuck it out because our problems so beautifully resolved themselves when i persevered past the first few months.
Breastfeeding, for me, was something that was worth the pain, the effort, the research and the agonizing beginnings. It is not something that came easily to me - nor is it something that i take for granted. When i nurse my now big boy, i am grateful that i learned to persevere - that i kept searching for solutions. Now i know that for me, - even though i went through the beginning agony
It was worth it.


Carol said...

Wow! Congratulations for sticking it out each time. I nursed my first two children with no problems and for around 1 year each. Then with my third, he did NOT have a"beautiful latch" and I developed very painful "cracks" - If it hadn't been for a very supportive friend, I probably would have given up...but I hung in there and after 7 weeks (and some prescription cream) it finally became pleasurable! I think when the beginning is tough, you tend to appreciate the joy of nursing later, and we loved it so much that we went on until his 4th birthday!!

Jen said...

Oh wow.
I cringe just thinking of those beginning days - and I didn't have the extra pains!
Thanks for writing this - I learned lots. Encouraged too.
So, thankful for you momma's that help me figure this job out! :)

Sherilyn said...

I have the extra breast tissue, too. I would end up with golf ball sized hard lumps in my armpits. And I had an extra lump on the wrong side of my bra strap. I called it my third breast. After batting mastitis for almost a year, my naturopath told me to start taking echinacea every day. I did, and never got it again. I hope it goes better for you next time (if you have a next time!!)

brad said...

I've tried it and it doesn' work? (just joking)
O.K. I have to be honest with you and tell you that I love reading your blog but when I read "breastfeeding anyway" as the title I don't read it.
Therefore I have nothing to say because I didn't read your thoughts. Keep doing what you're doing :-)

Melissa said...

Wow - I had no clue... not an everyday subject matter, hey? :) I'm so glad you stuck it out. Good encouragement! I've been blessed with good nursers, and no problems with mastitis at any point or anything else like that...

Gotta get to my grumpy girlie!

Lola said...

Oh wow, I have extra breast tissue under my armpits and it is really uncomfortable at first. It's amazing what God gives us the courage to endure for our babies.

Mindy said...

Thank you so much for sharing that. My journey hasn't been all roses either, but it's nothing like your experience. I appreciate your sharing what you've learned and come through. Beautiful!

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