Breastfeeding Hurt Like a Bitch

So months ago when I first started thinking about trying to blog again writing THIS was the first thing that came to my mind. This post is especially dedicated to all of the exhausted new mothers who are doing exactly as everyone told them not to do, Googling in the middle of the night. I am so so hoping that by the powers of SEO and Dr. Google, maybe just one person who really needs to read this, will.

This is a topic that is extremely close to my heart…literally…this post is about boobs. If you have a problem with boobs and breastfeeding babies then please look away now.

I always knew I would exclusively breastfeed my child. Like before he was even conceived I knew. My mother breastfed my sister and myself for over a year each; my sister breastfed my nephew for just over 15 months; and my friends have all breastfed their children beyond their first birthdays. In my community it’s just sort of understood that’s what you do and everyone I know did it without problems.

When I found out I was pregnant with my son I immediately started researching everything there was to know about pregnancy and birth. I bought What To Expect When You’re Expecting for myself and Dude, You’re Going to be a Dad for my husband (sidebar, he did NOT like the Dude book and felt like it really talked down to him like he was too stupid to understand basic human biology or too grossed out to know what was actually going to be happening during labor and birth. My mom bought him a copy of The Birth Partner and he liked that one a little better.). I downloaded multiple apps that tracked my pregnancy progress and provided fun little daily tidbits on my baby’s growth compared to various fruits. I obsessed over every twinge, tickle and pain and spent hours searching Google to see whether other women had ever felt what I did, spoiler alert: they have. I first felt my son move around 18 weeks and spent the rest of my pregnancy compulsively poking my belly every hour to make sure he was ok in there. When our 20 week ultrasound showed very conclusively that “it” was a “he,” I began researching how to raise a boy because I felt woefully unprepared for the chaos that was sure to accompany him. Later on in my pregnancy I even bought a copy of What to Expect the First Year and started reading about child development and milestones beyond the womb.

But in all of my research I never took the time to learn about breastfeeding or more specifically, the challenges that might come along with it. I remember very distinctly when late in my pregnancy my best friend, who was also pregnant with her first child but about 8 weeks behind me, mentioned something about a breastfeeding problem that she and her husband had discussed in their birthing class. She asked if I had knew anything about it and what my thoughts were. I remember very confidently, “ahem” cockily, replying that I wasn’t going to research any potential problems because it seemed pointless to worry. Secretly I was thinking that of course I wouldn’t experience any issues with breastfeeding. HAHAHA.

So imagine my shock and disappointment when my son was born, a ravenously hungry little piranha child who latched perfectly, and I experienced HORRIBLE, toe-curling, scream inducing, knife-like pain in my freaking nipples. I sobbed while trying to nurse him in the hospital immediately after he was born. I screamed in pain when the lactation consultants and nurses helped me latch him on in the recovery room. I balled my eyes out and gripped the bed as literal shards of glass stabbed me in the nipples every time he nursed for the whole 24 hours we were in the hospital after his birth. (Note to self and reader – there WILL be another post about our hospital experience – it sucked and I will eventually talk about it) About 8 hours after his birth, at the urging of our nighttime nurse we ended up giving Owen formula because my milk hadn’t come in yet (which I later found out is COMPLETELY normal) and the nurse felt like I wasn’t nursing him enough because of the pain. She also brought a pump for me to use and I ended up getting about ¼ ounce of colostrum. During our 24 hours in the hospital we saw 3 different lactation consultants who all said the same thing, he’s latching great, he doesn’t have a tongue or lip tie, you shouldn’t have any pain, it’ll get better soon. The one small bit of helpful information we got during that time actually came from the labor & delivery nurse who was there for Owen’s birth, she had casually informed me that I had slightly inverted nipples as she was helping me with my bra immediately after he was born. I remember looking at her in confusion because no one had ever noticed or said that to me before. She said not to worry, it was fine and normal. Oh how wrong she was.

Anyway so fast forward to our first week at home. I’m attempting to nurse every 2 hours but the pain is completely unbearable. On day 2 my milk came in so I basically switched to exclusively pumping and feeding Owen bottles of expressed milk. This made me feel slightly better because at least I wasn’t a complete and total failure as a mother and was producing milk. (To be clear, this was my personal thought process in a muddled haze of new mom guilt. I FIRMLY believe no mother is a failure if they can’t/don’t want to breastfeed, however you choose to feed your baby is 100% your family’s decision and fed is best all the way.) So at this point I’m totally resigned to being an exclusive pumper and I’m Googling the shit out of tricks to pumping enough. Which, if you don’t already know, there is a woefully small amount of helpful literature out there for exclusive pumping moms. I’m not the one to write about it but someone else definitely should!

In the meantime, we’re continuing to go to the lactation clinic and every time we see a different lactation nurse, which is super awesome, who has us change our positioning or switch sides more often or sing the alphabet while we try to latch. Of course it all sort of works without too much pain in the clinic but the minute we get home and I try to nurse Owen on my own, it all falls apart and we’re a sobbing, screaming mess of agony again.

I’m still Googling every chance I get and around week 2 I became completely convinced that I was experiencing nipple vasospasms. If you’re not familiar with these you’re in good company. Basically when the baby compresses the nipple to nurse the compression cuts off the blood flow through the nipple causing deep shooting pain, color changes (nipple goes from white to blue to purple to red to pink), tingling, and burning. The pain usually happens a few seconds to a few minutes after nursing.

I also stumbled across one tiny little article describing something called nipple adhesions. Apparently when nipples are inverted they can actually form tiny strings of tissue (adhesions) that hold the tip of the nipple into the inverted position. When a new baby begins nursing on that nipple they pull the tip of the nipple out of its little hidey hole and stretch those skin strings – which hurts like a BITCH until the adhesions actually break and the nipple is no longer as inverted. I tried to talk to my Dr. about my findings but she was pretty dismissive and just referred me back to the lactation nurses at the clinic who again kept telling me that “breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, if it does then something is wrong with your positioning.”

Well fast forward to week 4 and I’ve had enough of the stupid hospital lactation clinic with their completely unhelpful songs. Since we lived in the amazing boob-friendly city that is Portland, Oregon at the time, I found a private certified lactation consultant a few blocks away that could see us the following week. What a huge difference it was. We spent 90 peaceful minutes with her and she listened as we talked through all of our issues and concerns. She watched as Owen and I attempted to nurse and she provided a few helpful positioning suggestions. Then she actually examined my nipples post-nursing. Low and behold she CONFIRMED that yes she could see evidence of adhesions as well as very clear vasospasms. And then she uttered the words that completely changed my thought process about the entire experience, “breastfeeding is not always pain free, especially in the beginning and especially with these issues.” OMG. Every single lactation nurse we had seen up to that point kept saying that his latch is good, our positioning is good, so it shouldn’t hurt. I had felt like there was something wrong with me, that I was somehow deficient, because these professionals kept telling me that everything was good and I shouldn’t feel pain, but I did. Finally, here was someone telling me that my situation was different and that my pain was to be expected because my anatomy was slightly different. Immediately I felt 1000% better.

By this time I had already been starting to experience slightly less pain and had found myself actually wanting to attempt to nurse before simply pumping. But now this woman had validated my pain AND she even had some solutions. In terms of the vasospasms, the biggest issue was temperature change. When my nipples got cold, it triggered the spasm. Of course when you’re half clothed nursing a baby, you’re bound to get cold. Her advice was to buy air activated hand warmers and keep them in my bra. After nursing or pumping I would slather on some nipple balm, then my breast pad, then a hand warmer and it was heaven! Even now, 11 months later, I found myself buying a few hand warmers when we had insanely cold temperatures a few weeks ago.

As for the adhesions, unfortunately there’s no easy solution. For me, the act of nursing/pumping for about 7 weeks seemed to finally break them all. From everything I’ve read/been told, I shouldn’t have to go through this again with any subsequent babies because 11 months of nursing has changed my anatomy enough that my nipples aren’t as inverted – but we’ll see. In cases where there is serious inversion and the issue is known prior to delivery, there are other options such as a hard nipple shield that actually pulls the inverted nipple out or the Hoffman Technique where you essentially just stretch the nipple out using your thumb and finger. Breast pumps should never be used prior to delivery because the nipple stimulation can cause contractions and premature labor.
All in all, my biggest takeaway from this entire experience is that I just needed someone to acknowledge my pain and think outside the box with me to figure out what was causing it. Once that happened I actually felt like I understood what was going on, the pain was to be expected and I could either choose to deal with it or not. And I chose to keep going, even though there were SO many times where I just wanted to stop. But this isn’t one of those “I’m so glad I kept going” kind of things, because it really would have been completely ok if I had decided that I wanted to stop. I still would have bonded with my child and he still would have gotten the nutrition that he needed. Now I am happy that I stuck with it because I do enjoy nursing now. But I am also really excited that we’re coming up on a year and are slowing down. Caring for a baby is exhausting emotionally and physically and I tip my hat to every mother out there as she makes the best choices for her and her baby.

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New Year, Same Resolutions

For 2018 I am challenging myself to “make something every day.” I feel like I let my creative side slide this last year…first because I was super pregnant and tired all the time, then because I was a new mom and tired all the time, and in the last few months because we were in this great state of upheaval with moving and I was tired all the time. The thing that I’ve discovered though is that, like exercising, making things when I’m feeling tired actually energizes me. I need to be creative on a daily basis. So while I have other pretty typical 2018 goals involving getting organized, writing more, blogging more, eating healthier, cutting out sugar, and finding a way to be active, I am also challenging myself to feed my creative side on a daily basis. Whether it’s simply spending a few minutes working on my doodle notebook or knitting a few rows on one of my many projects, every day I’m going to “make.” I predict it will be challenging with a kiddo new job and the normal stresses of life but I know I’ll feel better when I do it. So I’m putting it out there to the world (or the 2 people that have come across this blog) and will do my best to stay accountable.

In the meantime, please enjoy the result of my first few days of the “2018 Make Something Every Day Challenge!” This project came about because we quickly discovered that the windows in our new apartment aren’t so great at keeping the warm air in Owen’s bedroom so we needed to figure out a way to keep him warmer at night. We decided to take a three-pronged approach and did the old plastic on the window trick + a blackout insulating cellular shade + a winterized sleep sack. I searched all over the web to find something that would be warm enough but didn’t have any luck so I decided to make it myself. I had a bunch of leftover fabric from several different projects and it turned out pretty good. 

The front and back are flannel and the inside is a soft furry fabric. I also did a layer of medium weight wool batting as added insulation. For the pattern I simply traced the outline of one of his cotton sleep sacks onto a couple paper bags and taped it all together. I decided to do buttons instead of a zipper mainly because I suck at sewing zippers. Unfortunately I then realized that the 3 layers of fabric was too much for dinky sewing machine to handle and I ended up sewing the button holes all by hand. I’m not going to lie, the first one SUCKED. But by the 4th I was getting the hang of it and felt pretty proud of myself.

All in all this was a fun, practical, challenge project and it got my creativity flowing for future making. And do far it’s keeping Owen nice and cozy 🙂

The Biggest Move

I don’t know what to do with my life. Yep, I’m one of those stupid millennials that everyone loves to complain about. I grew up thinking that I could do “anything” and have realized how both true and false that really is. Since graduating from college in 2008 – F-you “great recession” – I have had various administrative type positions in several different industries. I took a detour back to school to be nurse and then remembered I was pushing 30, about to get married, and nursing school was going to take another 4 years. So I went back to the corporate world, had a baby, and then moved back in with my parents. Yep, I’m also one of those millennials. I like to think we’re in a multi-generational living situation rather than thinking I’m married, with a 9-month old, mooching off my parents for free rent while we figure our shit out.

To really understand how we got here I have to go back a bit, to 2008, when I graduated from college and my then-boyfriend now-husband and I decided to move OUT WEST. Yes, that’s some intentional caps lock right there. When you grow up in the midwest all of those west coast states are OUT WEST. Anyway, we made this decision to move to Portland, Oregon right after I graduated from college. We visited once and loved it but this was before Portlandia and the idea of “where young people go to retire” so don’t think we’re followers like that, it’s important. Anyway after a year of planning, hemming and hawing (on my part), and lots of saving, we packed up a rented SUV and drove across the country in June of 2009. The first year in Portland sucked ass. I won’t lie. I was miserable and depressed and I missed all of the people I loved. We fought, a lot. I cried, a lot. We almost broke up, a lot. The second year was a little better but we had the added strain of my husband’s mother living with us, not that she’s not a lovely person it was just hard. The third year was ok. We had begun to make friends and feel more comfortable in the city; it finally started to feel like home. The fourth, fifth and sixth years were really good. We moved into an amazing neighborhood in NW, 10 blocks from downtown, and we made more wonderful friends. We got married in the middle of the Oregon woods in 2015 and it was a perfect handmade affair. In 2016 we decided to have a baby and in February 2017 we welcomed the most amazing, beautiful, hilarious, smart, curious little boy. And then the shit hit the fan.

We thought we were prepared for the level of upheaval that would accompany our son, but we weren’t. I had 10 weeks of maternity leave after his birth and it was great. When I went back to work my husband Andre was transitioning into a new position and ended up having about 8 weeks between jobs. At first we were great. I would go to work from 6:30am-3pm and Andre would watch our son, Owen. When I got home we would all hang out together and it was wonderful. Then Andre started his new job, I got a full load at work and we started our new schedule. Andre watched Owen, alone, until 3:30pm when we would switch and I would be with him, alone, the rest of the afternoon and evening. Andre was a Sous Chef at a new restaurant so that meant 50-60 hours a week and working until 2-3am. I was a Project Manager at a software company working 45-55 hours a week. As you can imagine, getting up with a screaming infant 3-5 times in the middle of the night was torturous. We also lived in a one-bedroom apartment, because of course we did. We were so confident, before Owen was born, that we were going to be in that apartment for at least a year. We told everyone “oh yeah, it’ll be great because the AAP recommends sharing a room with your baby until at least 6 months.” And then we actually shared a room with a baby for 8 months.

It was ok in the beginning, actually to be fair, it was good in the beginning. We only stayed in the hospital for 24 hours after his birth so our first night at home was with a 27 hour old newborn and it was terrifying. We took turns holding our tiny sleeping baby the whole night. The second night we put him in his crib but I slept on the floor next to him and jolted awake every 20 minutes to make sure he was breathing. The third night we bought a rock and play bassinet and I pulled it as close to my side of the bed as possible and then still woke up every 20 minutes to check on him. He slept in the rock and play until he was 4 weeks old and I read an article about how it can cause plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) and was panicked that he would have to wear a helmet. So we moved him to the crib where he slept happily and safely, waking every 2-3 hours, for the next 7 months. But I digress. If you’ve stuck with me this long, know that I’m sure I’ll talk about this whole baby sleep thing again because now that we’ve done it, I have opinions. Anyway, we thought we were hot shit and had a great plan for “LIFE” after O arrived but in reality we didn’t know anything and everything fell apart, quickly.

The biggest issue, bigger than sharing a bedroom with a baby, was the fact that we couldn’t really afford childcare (in Portland it’s typically around $1,500/month for infant care at a licensed center) and had to work opposite shifts to make it work. Now please note, we had been working opposite shifts like that for the majority of our relationship – almost 10 years – so we really and truly thought it wouldn’t be a problem. But we didn’t account for how hard it would be to be alone with a baby and a dog, in a 5th floor apartment, in Portland (where it rains A LOT), for hours at a time. We also didn’t account for how little we would actually see each other when we were both conscious, nevermind have productive and pleasant conversations.

Ok so I recognize that this is the part of the story where the internet trolls say, “well duh, they’re so stupid, of course that’s a bad idea. Why would they even have a child? They’re so irresponsible. If they can’t afford it, they should never have had a baby.” And to that I say, blah, blah, blah, go fuck yourself. Our species will die off if only the people who can truly and confidently afford everything that comes along with having a child, have children. Life is expensive. Life, particularly in this country, is expensive. Outrageously, ridiculously, stupidly expensive. Again, this is definitely a topic I’ll cover in the future because as you might expect, I have opinions.

Anyway, we had a baby because we had good jobs, a car, a place to live, supportive people who love us, and we wanted a family. Owen is amazing and we don’t for one split second regret our decision. But it had a cascading effect. We tried to get into a good routine but we were riding the struggle bus SO hard. We were exhausted constantly which meant we felt like we weren’t able to give it our all at work or at home. We were trapped in our one bedroom apartment because we couldn’t afford a two bedroom downtown ($2,000/month) and needed to be close enough to our jobs to make our one car situation work because we couldn’t afford a car payment on a second car. We were burned out from constantly being home alone with Owen and paying for childcare wasn’t a viable option so we couldn’t change our work schedules. It was a vicious circle of impossible solutions.

So we did the only thing we could think of that might work, we decided to move back to Michigan and in with my parents.

And that’s where we are now…living in limbo and trying to figure out our next step. So I thought, why not? Why not finally start that blog that I’ve been talking about doing for YEARS. I certainly have a lot of opinions about things and I feel like our current life experience is pretty relatable for a lot of people our age. So this is it, please join me if you feel so inclined. Just don’t be too much of a troll or I’ll block your ass because I don’t have time for shitty people 🙂