A Breastfeeding Story
As everyone and their mom has already told you, breastfeeding takes some getting used to, and it doesn’t work for all women. There are those who market breastfeeding as a beautiful moral imperative (as well as those who would prefer that we put our disgusting lady-boobs away for feeding, and not take them back out until they’re sexy lady-boobs for sexy times), but those people are the worst. Breastfeeding is clearly the best nutrition for babies if it works out. And if it doesn’t work out, formula is way better than letting our babies get dehydrated or starve to death because we’re afraid of being perceived as lazy failures.
That said, I was pretty determined to breastfeed, because I didn’t want to be perceived as a lazy failure. I had a good milk supply pretty quickly (and damned well better have, since I’d been leaking colostrum since I was 20 weeks pregnant), so I’d hoped it wouldn’t be too trying for me.
A friend of mine with an infant warned me how much breastfeeding hurts. She said her friends had given her the same warning, but she didn’t fully understand the gravity of the situation until she tried it for herself.
“Seriously,” she said, “My nipples looked like they’d been in a bar fight.”
I took that under advisement, though I still kind of thought it would be fine. And it was FINE. It was not any better than fine. People talk frequently about the magical endorphins that are released when you breastfeed, which help you bond with your baby & generally feel magical; that sounded nice. I thought it may balance out the bar-fight factor. Turned out I wouldn’t personally feel any of these breastfeeding-induced endorphins until just a few days ago, and even then, it’s a wave of calm melancholy rather than the euphoric motherliness I’d been promised.
In my favor in the early days, though, was that in addition to my ready milk supply, Charlie had a strong latch from the get-go. He does, however, have a lower lip that tends to curl inward a bit when he latches. This, combined with some mystery X factor, made getting him enough food a real challenge in the beginning.
At 9 lbs. 7 oz., he was a pretty giant baby. I hadn’t previously understood that the risks of having a giant baby go beyond the fact that they don’t come out of your vagina easily and that someone may end up cutting them out of you at the last second. Oh, and blood sugar stuff; that’s a thing too. Apparently it’s also difficult for them to keep an appropriate amount of weight on in the early goings. As such, at two days old, Charlie had pretty low blood sugar and had lost 8.4% of his body weight. At 10%, you start getting into failure to thrive territory, & they have to hook the baby up to an IV and such. The solution to both issues was to try to get him to eat more. In this process, I think we worked with six lactation specialists in the three days we were in the hospital, and Charlie’s blood sugar quickly leveled out. His weight was only slowly going back up, which still meant we could take him home on time, but that we needed to take him to the doctor every two days until it was clear that he would regain his birth weight. We were told at the hospital that we could supplement with formula, but also that to keep my supply up I should continue to attempt to breastfeed like a madwoman. So I attempted to breastfeed like a madwoman. I should note that, by the time we left the hospital, my nipples looked like they’d been in a bar fight.
My first day home, I was in bed, dutifully breastfeeding Charlie. Things were going well; he had a solid latch & seemed to be getting into a good rhythm. Then, without warning, and while continuing to suck at full force, he whipped his head back & popped his mouth off of my nipple. It hurt like fuck. I dutifully latched him back on immediately, & started sobbing. Because it hurt like fuck. Also because I’d just had a baby and was recovering from surgery and was really tired. But mostly because it hurt like fuck. My mother-in-law was staying with us to help me get around and to help with the baby, but because there’s not a ton you can do to help someone breastfeed, it just meant that I had an audience for this particularly low moment. (For the record, I’m glad she came out to visit & she was very helpful.) When Charlie stopped eating a couple minutes later & came unlatched in a more natural fashion, there was blood all over his face. Turned out when he’d popped off me earlier, he’d damn near taken my nipple off with him. Since it was an alarming sight, I got out my camera so I could show a picture to his pediatrician at his upcoming appointment. How much blood should an infant drink in a given day? All the blood?
Of course, as I took this photo, Charlie briefly smiled for the camera, making this his official “Baby’s First Smile” picture. He looks like a maniac who just killed a man in cold blood and ate his bones. Adorbs.
Feeding has gotten much easier. Charlie often seems so wise and with it, but every once in a while he’ll get so hungry he tries to nurse on Andy’s face, or he’ll have my nipple directly under his nose but be rooting so frantically that he’ll not be able to find it and latch; it’s in those moments that I’m reminded that he’s still just an idiot baby. (No judgement; he’s 7 weeks old. He’s allowed to be an idiot baby.) He still frequently pulls his signature move of sucking as hard as he can before whipping his head back with full force, but my nips are now older & wiser, and are thus prepared for such things. He gained all his weight back in about 10 days, and is now a bit over 13 pounds. He’s 24.5 inches long, which means he’s in about the 94th percentile for weight and the 97th percentile for height. And he has a shockingly non-giant head, considering the noggins of his parents.
Moral of the story: Breastfeeding is a super-magical bonding experience between mother and baby, and you should feel riddled with guilt if it doesn’t work out perfectly, & you should probably consider putting your kid up for adoption.