The Dark Side of Breastfeeding

I just had my third baby.  By “just” I mean 5 weeks ago.  Being a seasoned mother, I went in without a birth plan, beyond having a healthy baby.  But I did have a clear postpartum plan: to breastfeed.  Beginning immediately.  For at least a year.  My breast milk, my liquid gold, specially designed to nourish this particular baby, was going to nourish the hell out of this particular baby.  And it wasn’t going to be a big deal because I already knew my body could do it.  I mean, this was my third go round here.  And my last.  And I wanted to milk this time for all it was worth.

(Please forgive the pun.)

The birth went beautifully.  It was a long labor, but I didn’t care.  She was my second VBAC baby.  My 38 year old body did exactly what it was supposed to do.  And she latched as soon as she met my boob.  She latched with ferocity.  She wasn’t fucking around.  I had clearly cooked a strong, independent woman here.  And I thought to myself, “this is gonna be pie.  We both totally know what we’re doing here.”

Except…

Two weeks later, she had lost over a pound.

I was nursing every 2-3 hours.  My nipples were cracked and bleeding.  Even the softest shirt felt like sandpaper on my raw skin.  I dreaded each feeding because of the pain.  When my milk came in, around day 4, I was engorged and leaking.  By day 14, my confidence in this breastfeeding plan was shot.  I was making milk.  At least some.  But she wasn’t getting any of it.  Hello, Formula.  I hate you, but I need you.  Please.  Feed my baby.  Give her what she needs to grow.  Clearly, I can’t.

Now, 5 weeks in, I’ve seen 4 lactation consultants (2 in the hospital and 2 in private practice) and researched on my own. I’ve been in regular contact with my OB/GYN and my baby’s pediatrician.  I’ve taken fenugreek.  And brewers yeast. And Mothers Milk tea.  And nettle tea.  And raspberry leaf tea.  I’ve eaten oatmeal and downed dark beers.  I’ve used lanolin and olive oil.  I’ve had my thyroid checked.  I’ve massaged my breasts, and I’ve pumped religiously on a hospital grade Medela.  I’ve done exercises with my baby to improve her suck.  I got a nursing pillow to improve position.  And I’ve continued to nurse, in the hopes that something would change.

It hasn’t.  And I’m tired.

My maternity leave will only last a little bit longer.  I would like to be able to simply enjoy being a new mom for the last time.  To revel in the miracle that is this perfect baby.  To not be consumed by my own militancy around breastfeeding.  Because it’s not about what’s best for her.  She’s great.  She’s put weight back on.  She’s healthy and and developing beautifully.

This struggle is a selfish one.  It’s about me and my craziness and what I’m willing to give up.  Between nursing, supplementing and pumping, I could continue to devote an hour and a half of every three hour block to feeding.  But, I’d like to give myself permission to let go of some piece of this time consuming equation. See, if I give up nursing, but continue pumping, I can provide at least some milk to my baby (just 1-2oz per feeding, when all is said and done).  If I give up pumping, but continue nursing, I will be able to maintain that unreproducible skin to skin bond I’ve already forged, even though I won’t be transferring milk.

I realize there is no wrong choice here.  It’s the choosing at all that’s the problem.  None of this was my plan.  None except for giving birth to a healthy baby.  This is what nobody tells you: committing to breastfeeding is like running a marathon. It’s a total mindfuck.  It is not easy.  It does not feel like the most natural thing in the world, and you have to be prepared to work your ass off to get it right.  For being something a woman’s body is created to do, I gotta say, it requires a shitload of jerry-rigging.

In my experience.

Sigh.

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