To give or not to give the breast, that is the question.

Breastfeeding.  Definitely another hurdle as a mom, but I wouldn’t say it was necessarily number three on the list. (Please notice that my hurdles aren’t in order by which is the most important, they are more of just what I think of that are challenges that we face as moms, and as my mommy brain thinks of them, I add them to the list.)  From the moment you give birth, or get pregnant even, you have the question, should I breastfeed my baby?

I knew from the start with my oldest that I wanted to breastfeed.  The positives outweighed the negatives, and after watching my sister effortlessly breastfeed her two boys, I was convinced I’d be able to do it with minimal issues.  Plus, it was essentially free food for the baby, which also made the price of raising a child decrease ever so slightly…bonus!  My optimism was infectious, and no matter what happened, I felt like I could conquer anything.  Yikes.  Way off base.

Almost right after birth, the nurses at the hospital brought my eldest in to try and latch on, to no avail.  I was assured this was normal, and that we didn’t have to worry about it.  The baby had enough food from being in the womb and would be fine for some time.  My epideral was wearing off, I was exhausted and sore, so at that point I didn’t care.  Shortly after, when I tried again, the nurse assured me it was still ok, with a soothing voice and a cuddle for the baby.  Then, the nurses switched shifts and all hell broke loose.

Robonurse took over, and it was awful.  She manhandled my breast, which was sore, jammed my baby on my nipple, which was cracked and bleeding at this point, and while the baby cried to be fed, she tried to coach me through what to do.  She would tell me I had the baby latched on wrong and how to angle the head and “whomp” the head on so the baby could latch better.  (I truly thought she was going to break the baby’s neck she was throwing the head so hard I had to bite my lip to fight back the tears in front of her…that was awful in and of itself!)  She kept leaving and coming back to “check in”, and during these times of her leaving the room, I started to cry.  “I can’t do this!” I would whisper harshly to my husband, who sat in a dumbstruck comatose state.  He would try to reassure me, but I could only say, “Then you do it!”  I was usually able to stop my tears when the nurse returned, but at one point, I was sobbing so hard to match my baby’s cries that she walked in during the midst of it.  She softened, a bit, and tried to tell me it would get easier and I had to keep at it.  Yeah, right, lady.  The last thing you should say to a new, exhausted and sobbing mom was it would get easier, regardless of what you were talking about.

Once my baby and I got the hang of it and had a little routine going, it was great.  We hit our stride with some issues here and there, but I was able to feed the baby, pump when I went to work, and all was great.  I was so proud of us, and the routine we had, until we hit a snag.  The baby’s diaper looked odd one day.  Not to be gross, but there was some extra “stuff” in the poo that didn’t look right.  I called the doctor, and they wanted us to come in.  The concern was a milk allergy.  Over the next few weeks, my husband and I had to monitor diapers, take stool samples, and go to several appointments.  My pediatrician informed me that she thought it was definitely a milk allergy, and I started to cry (yes, again).  I didn’t believe her, and my sadness turned to anger.  “I want a second opinion.”  She agreed, and seemed to understand my need to hear it from someone else.  I went to a pricey specialist, who literally looked at my baby for five minutes, who produced poo on the spot (can’t have asked for a better baby, I suppose), and immediately agreed with the pediatrician.  Milk allergy it was.

Determined to continue feeding my child myself (I was proud then), I switched all of my own diet to milk-free.  It was pretty easy, actually, because I am not a huge milk fan anyway.  The trial only lasted a week or so, and it was back to the pediatrician with another stool sample.  (If you haven’t done those before, they are gross.  You literally take some of the poo from the diaper and put it on a card thing that has to go directly to the lab for testing.)  The results of this one?  Pediatrician determined that my baby had a milk AND soy allergy, which meant either 1) I had to go milk AND soy free OR 2) we had to switch to a super-gross smelling, expensive formula.  Option number 2 it was.  And to check all labels for food with traces of milk and soy once the baby started table food.  This time, defeated and exhausted, I listened (instead of trying to go back to the gastrointestinologist, again).  I gave up breastfeeding, put the pump away, and dumped all of my precious gold mine of breastmilk that was frozen for future use in the sink.  I actually had taken a picture of this, and sent it to my sisters.  It was sad looking heap of breastmilk bags, defrosting to go down the sink.  Sigh.

Flash forward to kid #2.  Attempt at breastfeeding went smoother.  Even with Robonurse, who happened to be my nurse for the first 24 hours of my second child’s life.  She was great this time, and worked well with me.  Or maybe that was just baby #2, who took to the breast with ease and ate hungrily.  It was like magic!  I felt amazing.  I felt like I could conquer anything!  I felt triumphant.  This was going to be awesome, even with two kids!

About a month in, issues started to pop up with baby #2.  It wasn’t as VISIBLE this time, but the doctor noticed similar issues.  Back to the lab with stool samples to determine, right off the bat, baby #2 had a milk and soy allergy.  Luckily, this time, I hadn’t created as much “liquid gold” to stock up, and we weren’t as far in.  And I didn’t need a specialist to agree.  (I wasn’t proud anymore.  I was just exhausted, depressed, and surviving by the skin of my teeth on a daily basis.)  I gave up breastfeeding quickly and without much pain, and the baby transitioned easily to the formula.  My husband was the one who had taken the baby for the final determining appointment, and the pediatrician told him that if we went for #3, she would recommend putting them directly on the high-test formula from the get-go.  No breastfeeding.  Not worth it.  The decision had been made for me.

Now, I didn’t tell you all of this to share my sob story or to convince you one way or another.  There are definitely some serious benefits to breastfeeding. Free food for the baby, a very close bonding experience for both of you, and a great analgesic to use on topical issues.  Liquid gold worked great on cuts, scrapes, and dry skin – you could see me applying it to everything!  (Oh yeah, and immunities to lots of random germs that might come in handy later on.  I always forget about that…)  But, on the downside, it was very time consuming.  Either it was time waiting for the baby to get latched, eat, or deciding they wanted to eat again in less time than expected, or time to pump, it was exhausting.  In addition, I had not much help at those late night feedings.  It was just easier to throw the baby on the boob than wake my husband, heat up a bottle and feed the baby.  There are positives and negatives to everything.

In my case, the decisions were made for me.  In my exhausted state, it was easier that way.  No one tells you how horrible the bad parts could be, how much pain your breasts would be in when you had a clogged duct or cracked nipple, or how sad you would feel when your baby didn’t latch on and was starving in the middle of the night.  I only heard the happy parts.  Whether or not you choose to breastfeed is your choice, your decision, your life.  No one should fault you for whatever you choose.  We have to do what’s right for us, and judging people for that is unfair.  I’m off to enjoy a guilt-free and breastmilk worry-free, glass of wine.  (Although I doubt I would still be breastfeeding my two year old, but still.  It’s the principle.)

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