I’m not going to lie to you. I am NOT a fan of breastfeeding. In fact, at several points along the way, I’ve downright hated it. And while there have been times where I didn’t mind it, I never loved it, or felt the bliss that most people talk about.
NOW, before I go any further, let’s lay some ground rules: The purpose of this post is not to solicit judging comments or start a debate about the benefits of nursing. If that’s what you’re looking for, stop right now and look elsewhere. There are plenty of other forums for that. What I am trying to do is share my experiences of nursing after loss since there were a lot of things I wasn’t expecting, prepared for, or even aware of. So suffice to say that you could add the phrases “In my opinion…” And “It’s been my experience…” And “I believe…” to everything I’m about to say. I’m just going to save you the repetitive nature of those phrases. Let me also say that I am pro-choice when it comes to breastfeeding or formula. I’ve had success with both. Do what is best for you, and your baby.
OK, now where were we?
Having gone through seven losses, one of the things I was mourning was the idea that I’d never be able to breastfeed. That aspect was always a given in my mind, just like the idea that I was going to have babies. It was an experience, and perhaps a right of passage that I thought I had missed out on. When we brought C home, I didn’t even know that nursing after adoption was an option. So formula it was. It worked. He was healthy and growing, and it provided the ability for both Aaron and me to share in the feeding duties, and bonding. It was easy and it was great. Actually, the notion of “missing out” on breastfeeding didn’t even cross my mind. I’m guessing it was because I was so grateful to finally have a living baby at home, that it didn’t matter.
When I found out I was pregnant with J, I knew I had wanted to try it. I was so terrified throughout that pregnancy, that I couldn’t, no, I wouldn’t allow myself to even think about breastfeeding, let alone do any research on it. My focus was on trying to stay present and sane. It was on carrying to term, and giving birth to a healthy, living, breathing baby. After all, the last time my milk came in, it was a painful and ugly reminder that my twins were not here to benefit. I suspect I’m not the only PAL mom who was in that boat.
Pretty much the only thing I knew prior to starting was that it hurts at the beginning, and to give it 6 weeks for you—and your nipples—to get used to it. Shortly after they placed a cleaned up J into my arms, and after asking if I was planning on nursing, they said, why don’t you try to get him to latch. “Um, wha?” I thought. The only advice I got was “Drag your nipple from his nose to his chin to get him to latch.” and “If it hurts, he’s not on right.” Let’s just say there’s a whole lot more people are not saying. And, like pregnancy after loss and parenting after loss, things are different for us. So here’s my list of 9 things you should know about breastfeeding in general, and after PAL:
- Help me.
I realized within the first week or so that I really didn’t know what I was doing. Is this right? Is he getting enough? Why does it take so damn long? These were just a few of the gazillion questions that ran through my weary mind. After talking with some friends and the pediatrician, I got some recommendations on lactation consultants, and found that it was covered under my insurance. I knew I needed someone who was calm and laid back, and not going to push only nursing on me. Someone who would listen to my history, and know that this child, and this opportunity to nurse held so much more weight than it appeared. I cried when I made the appointment because I felt inadequate—I’d been through a newborn already, how could this be so different? But of course it is. While the session wasn’t mindblowing, it was reassuring and provided me a bit more comfort when I needed it.
- It’s a cluster.
J was a fussy baby. He only wanted me, and by me, I mean he just wanted me to hold him so he could eat. During my maternity leave at many points throughout the day, I would be “stuck” on the couch nursing for hours. This was so different from my time with C where we’d be out and about every day. What got to me was each night from 6-10:00, J would eat. And eat. And eat. Now, this amount of time, at that particular time of the day was not easy, especially with a 15-1/2 month old. I learned how to walk and feed; eat dinner and feed (thanks to Aaron cutting up my food); and hold/read to/play with C, among other things. And while sitting on the couch for 4 hour stretches may seem a delight, it got old pretty quickly. It also felt limiting during the day that I couldn’t go anywhere (as I was not comfortable—or coordinated enough—to nurse in public). Thank goodness for my iPad, Netflix, magazines and food.
- Lay off me, I’m starving!
I had always heard that you burn a lot of calories breastfeeding and joked about the extra food I’d “need” to take in to make up for it. But, whoa! Now, I like to eat, but this took me to a whole new level. I was hungry all. the. time. As in, I’d finish a meal and be hungry by the end. While I tried to make sure it was balanced and on the healthy side, in reality, nothing was off limits. My biggest problem was in making sure there was lots of it within reach. This advice is good for all new moms, make sure you have snacks and water readily available for you.
- You’re taking away my ice cream?
As I mentioned, J was a fussy baby. We tried everything from gas relief drops to Zantac, and nothing seemed to make him feel better. So the pediatrician suggested I go dairy and soy free (we tested, and J wasn’t allergic, but perhaps intolerant). Sure, I thought, I could do that. Anything for my baby. And then I realized just how many things have dairy and soy in it. Pretty much everything. I became queen of reading labels, and thank goodness for the kind worker at Whole Foods who took me around showing me what I could eat on this new diet. It was a tough 7 months, but I figured it out and it really seemed to do wonders for J. Now there’s no substitute for Dairy Queen, but Ben and Jerry’s did just come out with a new dairy free line, so I promise, there are ways to make it through.
- Close to me.
Something that has always bothered me was the notion that mothers who breastfeed feel more bonded with their baby. I’m here to tell you, I don’t buy it. Bonding is about being with your child. Regardless of how you feed them, you’re still feeding them, spending time and cuddling with them. I felt just as bonded to C as I did nursing J. And quite frankly, formula, and bottle-feeding enabled Aaron, and other family members to bond more so than when I was nursing. Because of everything we went through, it was all the more important that our family was able to share in the joy of our finally bringing children home.
- Pump it up.
A couple of weeks before I went back to work, I went to a class about going back to work and nursing. This was a huge help, as I was clueless on pumping and what I needed to do to prepare. They talked about a pumping schedule, when to freeze and when to serve fresh, how much you need to pump (just enough for the next day) and handy tips on accessories to help you along the way (thank you PackIt bags). If your insurance covers two pumps, maximize that, leaving one at home and one at work. There’s already too much to schlep. Pumping ain’t pretty. And pumping at work is just plain awkward (hello new intern, I know this is your first day, but you should know when I go behind my office door, I’ll be pumping). Thankfully, I have an office with a door, and coworkers who are understanding.
- What the bleb?
No, I didn’t make that up. It’s a thing. A very painful thing. So are clogged ducts which would produce a quarter-sized lump under the skin of my chest. And then there’s your breasts getting huge and rock hard if you’ve waited too long to nurse or pump. I was fortunate in that I was able to take care of these issues with a warm compress and continuous nursing until it went away. But these are real issues which could cause serious problems. Half of these things I wouldn’t have known anything about if I hadn’t told a friend about what I saw and felt. Talk about it, and don’t be afraid to call your doctor.
- Under pressure.
When you go through multiple pregnancy losses, it is easy to focus on all of the things your body didn’t do right. All of the times it failed you. So when your body does something right, it is almost shocking, and turns into a really big deal. While at the beginning I was fine with supplementing with formula, as time went on, I found that I was putting so much pressure on myself not to. It turned into a competition with myself, like I had to maximize my body’s ability to “succeed.” The online breastfeeding groups didn’t help either, as there was constant judgement in the feed. Looking back now, I wish I would have been more gentle with myself, allowing myself to do what would have worked for us, which would have been a variation on the two, for that would have been what was best for all of us.
- Do what works for you.
If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: you, and only you, know what’s best for you, and your baby. Now repeat that. It is so easy to get caught up in all of the “you should” advice that comes at you. But the truth of it is, there is no overall best for everyone out there. And even what’s best for you one moment, is going to change in the next. As a PAL mom, we have so many other layers and emotions to deal with, why put more pressure on yourself? Whatever decision you make, whenever you decide to change your mind, and then change it again, it’s OK. You’ve been through a lot. Enjoy your baby. Be kind to yourself, and know that you’re doing the best you can.