Let’s talk about breasts shall we? Am I a breastfeeding fan? Yes, I really am. I would say for a number of reasons, that we will look at, that breastfeeding is the best choice for Mom and baby. What was interesting for me is all the ideas that I had about it before I had Abi. I mean I really had no idea what to expect. From watching movies or seeing mom’s breastfeed that are more practiced I just thought it would be easy. That I would just know what to do and that Abi would. Well I have since discovered that there is a reason that there is an entire profession revolving around learning to breast feed! These wonderful angels of hope are called lactation consultants and there is a reason they exist. God did absolutely make your body to be able to breast feed, and certainly some mom’s have babies that just take to breast right away and feed wonderfully from the beginning, but other’s of us get to press through a little.
I had been told that breast feeding, and pumping, can be painful. That after a few weeks I would feel much better. The thing is that’s true but uncomfortable and extremely painful are to different things! But I didn’t know that, so when things were hurting (particularly the pump) I just thought that was normal and had no idea I was actually damaging my breasts. It was hurting, like really hurting so I thought I was doing something right! When Abigail was born premature by nearly 6 weeks she was not able to breast feed to begin with. She was in an oxygen dome for the first several days and then moved to an incubator as her oxygen levels improved. As a result she was being fed through a tube into her nose for the first 10 days before we could even start trying to breastfeed. So during that time I was pumping to make sure she got the colostrum and breast milk instead of formula as the nutritional value of breast milk cannot be matched. So there I am sitting day after day in the NICU watching sweet Abi in an incubator and pumping through the pain every three hours. The day before we were about the start breast feeding in the NICU a nurse was checking up on me and I mentioned that it was really hurting to pump. I told her I knew it was supposed to hurt but I wasn’t sure how much. She looked at my breasts and realized I had blistered and damaged my nipples and that we needed to switch pumps and get some ointment. It was fixed in a day or two (and we began bottle feedings her the pumped milk) and then I was able to start breast feeding sweet Abi. Because she was premie and her suck was weak it took some work to get it down but I was determined. Abi preferred the bottle as the milk was easier to get out so for a few days she fought the breast but then she realized this was her only option and she started doing much better. I breast fed every feed but also pumped off the extra until I was comfortable on the first morning feed each day. Having said that I do produce an enormous amount of milk!
So then with Tia I had problems as well. Tia was premie too, but only by 3.5 weeks, and this time I knew how to latch but again I didn’t notice that I had managed to damage my nipples with a pump before I got to take her home. For those of you that are getting worried about pumps I have posted a good one in the blog marked “A few of my favorite things...” and I will tell you in this post how to avoid my mistakes! I have every confidence that with what I know now I will not have these issues again. So back to Tia ... I went home from NICU and Tia stayed for a few days. I went in first thing in the morning and stayed into the evening and fed her every three hors but then pumped when I was at home so there was food for her during the night. It was during those pumping times that I actually managed to tare my nipples (on the underside where I couldn’t see the damage). So fast forward to two days after we get Tia home and I’m in so much pain while feeding that I almost pass out and I am bawling my eyes out. When Alyn came in the room and saw that I was crying, white as a sheet, and punching the bed next to me to get through the feed he booked me to see a doctor. We were going to the children’s clinic anyway that morning and so we mentioned it to that doctor that I was in extreme pain and was needing to see a lactation consultant. The Dr then said I was likely not latching well and was suffering from postpartum depression. I explained the tears were from pain, not depression, and I did know how to latch and I didn’t think that was the problem. We went back and forth and he called the consultant to book an appointment for later that day and finished the conversation by trying to prescribe me meds and telling me that once I learned to latch the baby I would be fine. I was so frustrated!!! In the afternoon I had my first appointment with their lactation consultant named Robyn. When we got in the little room Alyn was holding Tia (who was hungry and waiting to feed) and Robyn asked what was happening. I told her and she asked to see my nipples (how many times can I say nipples in one post?). When she looked at me she said we would not be breastfeeding for a few weeks, wrote me a prescription for a special cream, sent me home with their Medela pump, the correct size of breast shield and specific instructions for healing. Apparently I had managed to rip one nipple half off and the other three quarters of the way around. She feared if I nursed again the worst one would actually come off.
Now my experiences were extreme! I have’t heard of others that have done the kind of damage I did so please don’t worry. The only reason I am telling you all of that is to say both times I recovered, the girls learned to feed well, and we fed for a year each with no problems and it was really awesome. If you do have a rough start, or need help to begin with from a lactation consultant, don’t get discouraged that just makes you normal!
Here are some tips I wish I knew the last 2 times! With pumps I would only recommend the Medela just because of the bad experiences with some other pumps. They do not have a seem in their breast shield (the part that fits against the nipple) and that seem is what tore me. In addition to using a good pump don’t pump on to high a speed but actually build up to what you can handle. If it hurts, not just a little uncomfortable but actually hurts then you are using it on too high a speed. Each time you use an electric pump rub a little coconut oil or olive oil on the inside of the breast shield especially where it goes from being wide and flat to tube like. That will stop any damage to your nipple by eliminating friction. If you do those things you should never have an damage! Coconut work is also antibacterial and anti-fungal so it stops potential infection and is totally safe if some gets in the breast milk.
As far as the health benefits of breast feeding there is a known correlation between a decreased risk of breast cancer and breastfeeding moms. In addition I read a report a few years ago about the decreased risk of Cancer in breastfed kids. (i’m still trying to find where I read that so I will post when I do).
Please read this article by Dr Josh Axe on what is in breast milk and it’s nutritional benefits.
In addition to what Dr Josh has written there are other useful things you can do with breast milk! (breast milk shakes, ice cream... totally kidding of course!) Because breast milk has it’s own antibiotic properties thanks to God’s design it can clear up infection. Abi had an eye infection in the first few weeks of life and my midwife said to “squeeze” breast milk into it and let it sit for a bit. I did this a few times a day for 2 days and the infection was completely gone. It can also be sponged onto scratches or diaper rash to clear things up! Breast milk is amazing stuff and is totally God designed! I loved breast feeding both girls, I loved the bonding and the eye contact while we shared time only we had together. I’m excited to do it again with the wisdom I now have (and you have now) and am looking forward to bonding with my son!