The Things I Didn’t Know About BreastfeedingBy Ejiro Ogenyi
Published: June 2, 2015
The first night at home with Riley was rough. He’d gotten circumcised not long before we got discharged so we weren’t surprised when he was fussy at night. The rocking chair we bought hadn’t arrived yet, so we set up an old chair in the room while I held and tried to soothe him and sleepy dad lay on the floor to take him when I got tired and keep us company.
My mom had come to help take care of all of us and arrived that same day. She woke up at 3 AM and saw the sorry state we were in, so she commandeered the baby and sent us off to sleep. Boy, were we grateful.
There were more sleepless nights like that and loads of dirty diapers. Because I am exclusively breastfeeding, we kept a “eat, pee, and poo” journal to track his feedings and his wet and messy diapers. Eight or more feedings a day meant that he was eating enough and his diaper output would vary with age, but the gist was if enough came out then enough was going in. Him eating enough was also a requirement for my body to make enough milk to keep up with his appetite.
You see, contrary to what a lot of us think, breast milk production is a lot about demand and supply. The more the baby demands by feeding or the more you demand by pumping on top of the baby’s feedings, the more your body knows to make to keep up.
Other factors such as your hormones and your breast anatomy play a role in how much you make for each feeding, but demand and supply is still number one. And although eating too little or not drinking enough fluids can impact your milk production, if done for long enough, they aren’t primary determinants of how much milk you make. I’m glad that my boy is a good eater and we now have a good breastfeeding relationship, but the first few weeks was rough because there were a lot of things that I didn’t know.
Your Nips Will Probably Be Sore
Okay I lied. A friend of mine at work was kind enough to give me a heads up on this one along with the contact information for a very helpful nurse who is also a lactation consultant. My naive little self thought I wasn’t going to need it, but it turns out that I did.
The first few days were sore free mostly because I could press the call button at the hospital and a nurse would come to inspect Riley’s latch and my positioning. But when we got home, there was no such support and while my Mom was a treasure trove of information, it had been almost 30 years since she breastfed her last baby.
I didn’t even realize how bad it was, till Riley unlatched one day and I saw his father’s face. He asked if it hurt, and I looked down to be greeted by blisters. I had lanolin cream for my nipples but it wasn’t the most uncomfortable thing to use. Then there was the little blister on the inside of Riley’s mouth. Luckily for us we scheduled an infant CPR class with the nurse, and before she left the house I asked her about it. That was when she recommended coconut oil. It saved my sanity.
Then There Was Pumping
I got a breast pump in Riley’s second week, but I didn’t start using it till his third week. The instructions said to get the appropriate size breast shield, but I didn’t really think that I would need one. After the first week of pumping I knew something was wrong.
My nipples were back to being sore again and I thought we were over that since Riley was almost a month old. But nope, even going up and down the stairs was an ordeal and I flinched anytime Riley started smacking his lips to indicate it was feeding time. I even started throwing the formula word around.
My mom suggested that I stopped pumping till we figured it out and I scheduled an in-home lactation consult with the nurse. She came and everything seemed good with Riley’s latch and my positioning, then she took one look at the breast shield for the pump and suggested a bigger size with a longer funnel. She also gave me a prescription for how to pump to maintain my milk supply and build my stash for going back to work:
- If I plan to be away from Riley for more than 3 hours, I should pump both breasts to drain what he would normally eat
- If I want to build my stash, I should pump the breast he ate on after each feeding
- Try hand expression
As soon as she left, I placed an order for new breast shields online.
Hand Expression Should Be Your Best Friend
So again, I did know about hand expression and every class/professional advised that this is a technique that every woman should know. But it wasn’t till I had a mild case of mastitis that I took my nurse’s prescription on this seriously. My thinking was that if I had a pump, why hand express?
But then one afternoon, my breasts felt hot and uncomfortably full and I tried pumping and couldn’t get any milk out. It turns out that I didn’t put my pump back together properly after cleaning. I had found some condensation in the tubing, which is normal, and washed the tubing and faceplate per the instructions. Unfortunately I didn’t re-install the faceplate tight enough so the suction didn’t work properly. I didn’t know this at the time, so I just set the pump aside.
Then my left breast started hurting and I started having the chills. I was shaking so hard and I felt so cold that even skin-to-skin with Riley wasn’t helping and my husband was worried enough to consider going to the emergency room. Luckily, a quick text to the nurse saved us the trouble. She confirmed I had mastitis and recommended rest and to feed Riley as much as he wants to drain my breast and unplug the duct to reduce the pain.
I was also to use warm compresses and take an ibuprofen if my low-grade fever persisted and call the doctor above a certain temperature threshold. Luckily for me lil’ man was having a very hungry day and was moving from one breast to the other. I didn’t care that my nipples were still sore; I was just grateful that he was game.
Back to hand expression. The nurse suggested, again, that I give it a go. So once I felt better, I grabbed the handout that she gave me on the Marmet Technique and got to milking myself. I got comfortable with it within the first two days and set a goal for myself to hand express an ounce a day. Within a week it took me one 10-minute session to get that much milk and then some. I later figured out what was going on with my pump and between hand expression and pumping I am well on my way to building a decent sized freezer stash of breastmilk.
Breastfeeding Doesn’t Guarantee an Absent Period
The books usually tell you that if you’re breastfeeding exclusively, you’re likely not going to see your period till your child is about 2 months old. In fact, some camps maintain that breastfeeding can serve as birth control (don’t believe them)! They also include that fun little caveat that every woman is different. Well this puppy (me) was definitely different. If I had believed them, there’s a good chance that I would be pregnant again. Why? Because when Riley turned 6 weeks, Aunt Flow came on cue.
I didn’t even think it could be her. Riley was fussy at his feedings which made me feel like he wasn’t getting enough. Thankfully he compensated by eating almost every hour except at night. I thought that the dip in my milk supply (which can happen when your period is about to come) was because of the mastitis situation.
But I started to bleed. I figured it was still part of the whole “just had a baby” situation, but the mister called it and said “it might be your period”. My response? “That would suck.” You see, while I would like for everything to return to normal, I figured that I would get a break from being hormonal after almost 40 weeks of being pregnant, 17-½ hours of labor, and all this breastfeeding hoopla. But nope. The doc confirmed it. It was Aunt Flow and I just had to roll with it. Thankfully my milk supply bounced right back after she passed.
It Really Can Take Six Weeks for a Solid Breastfeeding Relationship to Emerge
Well, again, I’d heard this too. But as always, I was taking the fact that breastfeeding is supposed to be a “natural” thing for granted. In truth, it’s a learned skill. When I first had the baby and started drawing up a plan to drop the 19 kg (42 lbs) that I’d gained, my plan included walking and doing some light core work (breathing exercises that I’d cleared with the nurses before discharge) within the first six weeks.
My sister, who’s a doctor, advised that I take it easy. I told her that it was light work. Truth be told by the time Riley was three weeks old, that plan had fallen by the wayside because of the challenges that I had with breastfeeding and the general fun of being a new mom. Thankfully, I got smart and let go of the plan real quick and if I ever do this again, I would truly give myself the first six weeks. Of course, I was worried that it would be tough to get back in my groove once I got cleared for real but that was a problem that I had to leave for when that time came.
Overall, by the time Riley turned 6 weeks old our breastfeeding relationship was solid. I no longer dreaded his round-the-clock daytime feedings. Also keeping track of his feedings helped us all understand his night routine and as far as he was bathed by 9 pm and in bed by 11pm, he woke up twice to eat. This allowed us to schedule our naps.
The things I didn’t know about breastfeeding were legion, but having difficulties early on really helped me appreciate my support system. My husband was a pro caring for his umbilical cord, circumcision situation, and bath time and my mother was super grandma during the day and took him off me after night feedings. Because I was forced to take care of myself, I didn’t fall into the trap of thinking that only I could take care of him. I guess challenges are really teachable moments after all.
Now that we had this figured out, it was time to drop the baby weight. Tune in next time to read about how I started to do that.
If you’re new to EJ’s chronicle of her journey to motherhood, find out what you’ve missed and catch up on the series here — Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9,Part 10, Part 11, Part 12.
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