My Adventures in Breastfeeding
West Yorkshire Great Britain
From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 1, 2009, pp. 16-19
Adapted from a story in LLLGB's Breastfeeding Matters
Oliver was born at home with just my wonderful independent midwife and my partner, Paul, present. The birth was everything I'd hoped for -- no interventions, just gas and air for pain relief, and a supportive, calm atmosphere. The euphoria didn't wear off for several days: Paul and I grinned at each other most of the time. But when my milk came in my breasts were painfully engorged. I didn't realize that the engorgement was stopping Oliver from latching on properly, and after a few days my midwife realized that he wasn't filling as many diapers as he should have been. With some changes to my positioning and using the cross cradle hold, Oliver and I gradually worked out how to make the milk flow for him, but we still hadn't perfected our technique by any means. By the time he was two weeks old, my nipples hurt. The pain was more distressing than labor pain.
Just as my nipples seemed to be healing, the pain changed. Although I still had sore nipples, pain also stabbed into my breasts, and my areola blanched. Oliver started clicking as he fed, and his saliva was strangely shiny. Thrush! This classic collection of symptoms may not always be thrush, but in my case fluconazole tablets for me and nystatin mouth drops for Oliver did eventually solve the problem.
At three months or so, feeding was now mostly pain free, although often uncomfortable. My supply continued to exceed what Oliver needed, and my breasts were uncomfortably full most of the time. Once my local La Leche League Leader explained how block feeding could help (using one breast only for all the feeds over several hours, then switching to the other for the next block of time) both the engorgement and my discomfort during feeding were history. In retrospect, I think that Oliver may have been clamping down to restrict the excessive flow of milk, making me uncomfortable in the process.
Despite the breastfeeding challenges we faced in the early days, life was still wonderful because I had Oliver. He made everything worthwhile and I reveled in his company. And once we had found our rhythm, we enjoyed the sort of breastfeeding I'd fantasized about whilst pregnant: painless, loving, relaxing, but strangely intense. There were hard times in the beginning and occasionally later, but I always got the information, help, and support I needed, when I needed it, so I consider myself truly fortunate.
At around five or six months, Oliver became unwilling to feed in public, and then stopped drinking from my left breast, and only wanted to feed lying down. With hindsight, I think he was naturally spacing out his feeds as he grew, and that this was a normal age for him to become easily distracted. I found it very stressful, though, and was worried that he "wasn't feeding properly." If I'd read My Child Won't Eat! by Carlos Gonzalez, I might have chilled out a bit, but I hadn't read it at that point so I just worried. I became willing to try anything to get him to accept the breast regularly: I slunk off to the ladies room in cafés and other public places, although I had previously shunned lavatories as being uncomfortable, unhygienic places to feed. I fed him lying down a lot and even got some funny looks at the LLL Great Britain national conference when I fed him on the floor in the buggy park.
My left breast was constantly engorged because Oliver much preferred the right. I fed him more and more from the right side because it was just easier, though I regularly tried to get him to drain the left breast to release the pressure. After weeks of repeated blocked ducts in the left breast, I decided to give up on it and let its supply gradually dwindle. I pumped to comfort on the left side, and my right breast upped production to compensate. Since Oliver was 10 months old, I've been feeding him solely from my right breast, and we're still going strong now that he's two and a half.
One-sided feeding has made buying well-fitting bras more difficult (my right breast was about three times the size of the left for ages), and it's also meant having to pump more frequently when away from my son, but I can't say either has been a major problem. On the up side, it's very easy to feed at night because I only have to make one breast accessible.
Back to work
Starting work again when Oliver was six months old was very strange. The first few days I felt as though someone had removed one of my limbs, which I felt a desperate urge to reattach. But there was no doubt that my mood, which had been drifting lower and lower toward the end of my maternity leave, improved with my return to work. For the first couple of months I moonlighted two days a week in my husband's business so I could ease myself back in gently. Oliver started going to daycare and although I have generally been happy with the care he gets, we did have a few issues with food. "He's six months old and is still only drinking milk!?" (Throws hands up in horror.) "We usually start them on baby rice at four months." (Never mind the World Health Organization or National Health Service/AAP guidelines.) Needless to say they weren't very keen on baby-led weaning either.
Time went on, Oliver had settled well at daycare, and it was time to go back to my real job, a 70-minute drive away. I had a new boss to contend with, who had a reputation for a no-nonsense and occasionally ruthless approach. Though apprehensive about raising the subject, I decided to be up front from the beginning about my need to pump during work time. I wrote my boss a letter explaining that I was planning to continue breastfeeding my baby, that this would make time off work due to a sick child less likely, and that I was entitled to a health and safety assessment. He was slightly nonplussed, but once I'd explained what pumping entailed he was very supportive and we agreed I would use the first aid room, which had a desk, chair, sink, and lockable door. Perfect! I also gave the human relations manager and the health and safety person information about the employer's responsibility toward breastfeeding employees, and the advantages to baby, mother, and employer of continued breastfeeding after the mother's return to work.
We've ended up with an arrangement for working and breastfeeding that works well for our family. My husband and I both work four days a week and have a one-to-one day with Oliver apiece; he has three days a week in daycare. From an initial three pumping sessions (at least) in a working day, I now only pump if I have to be away overnight.
Thank You LLL
Becoming Oliver's mother and breastfeeding him is like the ever-changing landscape of a long journey. I remember the highs -- holding him for the first time; feeding him in the mouth of a sea cave and feeling him relax into sleep; his first joke. I remember the lows -- the nipple pain; feeling overwhelmed by Oliver's needs. But the hundreds of normal days, the thousands of warm, enjoyable but unmemorable feeds, fade into a blur.
Attending LLL meetings and hearing about other mothers' breastfeeding and parenting experiences have been brilliant. Over the past two and a half years I have gained so much from the mothers I have met through LLL. They've suggested tips for specific situations, changed some of my attitudes completely, and given me true empathy. Their experiences have helped me to recognize the truth in the phrase "this too shall pass." This has really helped me to enjoy the good bits and cope with the rocky periods. I would like to say a particularly warm thank you to my local Leaders Ruth, Suzanne, and Barbara for their listening ears, helpful information, and, of course, their friendship.