I never wanted to, or planned on, breastfeeding.
None of the women in my family breastfed, either because they had problems with their milk supply or simply didn’t have time to pump in a high-stress work environment.
But sometime during my last few prenatal checkups, one of my nurses convinced me to give breastfeeding the ol’ college try.
So, when I checked into the hospital to get induced 4 days after my due date, I handed a nurse my birth plan. At the bottom of the paper I’d scribbled: “Breastfeeding? Sure.”
When my baby girl was born, she was perfect, beautiful, and completely covered in goop. After strapping her into her very first diaper and giving her a once-over with a towel, the nurses asked if I was ready to feed. I hadn’t watched the breastfeeding videos in my online baby course (whoops), but I had the general idea. I held the baby and she latched on right away, feeding for a long hour and 15 minutes.
From what I knew of breastfeeding (knowledge that mainly came from the episodes in “Friends” and “The Office” where Rachel and Pam, respectively, have babies), breastfeeding was supposed to be strange but great. Both those sitcom characters seemed so proud of themselves for getting the baby to latch, and so content getting to feed their newborns. But I didn’t quite feel that. To me, it just felt weird.
After this long feeding, I was rewarded with a bloody left nipple and a massive need to pee. I worried it was a sign of things to come.
We decided to stay in the hospital for 2 days following my delivery. My husband and I are enjoying having breakfast, lunch, and dinner delivered each day (especially because I requested to have a dessert come with each meal, even breakfast). But I was disappointed to see that the baby was hardly eating at all. She just didn’t seem hungry.
All last night and this morning I was sitting on the hospital bed holding an uninterested baby, with my hospital gown halfway off, feeling disappointed and a little cold.
The doctors and nurses said this was normal, that lots of babies are too sleepy to eat right after birth. But after having such a big appetite in the delivery room, I was worried something was wrong now.
At the same time, her nose was stuffy. The nurses, again, said this was normal. But I worried that she wasn’t eating, because she couldn’t breathe.
After I complained, for probably the fiftieth time, they sprayed some saline solution in her nose. Her breathing sounded better, and, soon after, she nursed on and off for hours.
We’re finally about to check out of the hospital, and I’ve seen a big change in the baby’s eating. It was like she’d gone from, “Oh, no thank you. I’m not hungry.” to “I’d like six cheeseburgers and all the chili fries you have.”
I feel like I haven’t put my boobs away all day.
My left nipple was bleeding a little, so I switched to the right side for most feedings. Then, when my right side started feeling tender, I wondered why I didn’t have a third boob to throw into rotation.
One nurse said that I should expect to feel some discomfort. She referred to it as “toe-curling” pain when the baby latches on. But I’d probably think of it more as “jamming-your-toe-into-a-table-that-has-a-nail-sticking-out-of-it” pain.
After lunch, a lactation consultant came, and I asked if I thought everything was going OK. I told her I worried that the baby was feeding so much, because she wasn’t getting enough out. Perhaps I wasn’t producing enough colostrum.
The consultant asked me to express some colostrum into a plastic spoon to feed to the baby. I ended up only getting a few drops out, but the consultant seemed satisfied. She left me with boob pads and a small sample bottle of lanolin for my sore nipples.
The lanolin cream felt good, but with the baby feeding so often, I was spending all my time putting it on and then wiping it off. It didn’t seem worth it. I tried the pads as well, but I couldn’t get them to stick. It was like trying to get two pancakes to stick to a wall.
I’m up all the time, and, at this point, I’m having a hard time remembering what day it is.
It seems like I spend every second of every day breastfeeding. But that can’t be true, because I distinctly remember taking a shower at some point this week. I think.
The baby fusses, I feed her for a few minutes, and then she unlatches and sits there. Just as I’m getting ready to put her down she latches again really quickly, suckles a little, and stops again. It’s like an intricate dance where she gets to eat all the time and I never go to bed.
I think she’s just pretending to be hungry so that I’ll keep holding her. I’m not sure if it’s the sleep deprivation or what, but I’m pretty sure this baby is playing me.
Things have been going well today, but I still haven’t been sleeping.
Google tells me the baby’s constant eating is called “cluster feeding,” which I think is misleading. “Cluster” sounds like a lot of feedings close together, ideally followed by a long break. It doesn’t sound like it would refer to one continuous feeding that lasts forever and ever until the baby gets so exhausted that she passes out.
It should be called “forever feeding” or “help, I need to get up and pee feeding.”
At least it isn’t hurting as much lately. Or at least the nipple bleeding stopped.
Today, I took the baby in for her 1-week check-up. It was the first time I’d been out of the house (except to pick up food deliveries on the porch — does that count?) and I learned that I’m pretty comfortable breastfeeding in public.
I was sitting in the office, talking to a nurse and she said, “This isn’t your first, right?” I corrected her to say that, actually, this is my first… and then I looked down and realized that I’d casually whipped out my boob and was feeding the baby.
I’m sort of proud of myself for not being shy. But, at the same time, I’m a little worried about being so tired that I can take off most of my shirt without noticing.
Yep, still feeding all the time.
The good news is: I’ve gotten really good at pouring and eating cereal one-handed. My husband has gotten good at making me frozen pizzas.
In the past few days I’ve spent a lot of time scrolling through social media and I now know everything about everyone I went to high school with.
I have a tub of formula sitting in the kitchen, just in case. And I keep looking at the tub, wondering if I should dig in so my husband can feed her and I can go to sleep for more than a couple hours.
But I haven’t given in yet. The doctor said that if I breastfeed (and don’t use formula or a breast pump) for a whole month, my milk supply will be perfectly regulated to produce what the baby needs. So I’m trying to hold out.
I thought that I’d gotten to a point where I could breastfeed without pain, but I just found two bruises on my right nipple. With these bruises, nursing hurts. Putting on my nursing bra hurts. Everything hurts.
Today, I saw another lactation consultant — this time at my pediatrician’s office. She showed me how to get the baby to latch easier by waiting until she opens her mouth and then popping her over my nipple really quick.
She was right, it was easier and didn’t hurt at all. This lactation consultant is now my new best friend, and I love her.
She asked if I had any questions, and I said that I was a little afraid of the baby not being able to breathe when pushed against my boob. Ever since she had a stuffy nose, I’ve been worried about her breathing. It occurred to me that I shouldn’t hold her too close or else her nose might get squished against my skin.
The consultant said I should focus on supporting the baby’s lower head and neck when feeding instead of pushing on the back of her head. That way, if she ever couldn’t breathe, she’d have enough range of motion to change position.
My new best friend is brilliant.
It’s like it’s raining under my clothes.
Apparently, my milk is bulking up. It seems like every time I sit holding the baby, I look down and realize that both of us are wet and cold. I think: “Did the baby pee through her diaper?”
Nope, it’s just a stream of milk ruining my shirt and her onesie.
Last night, I forgot my Haakaa pump downstairs (the silicone bottle that catches the letdown from the boob I’m not currently feeding from) during a nighttime feeding. When the baby was finished, it looked like I’d just been in a wet T-shirt contest.
This morning, I got out of the shower, put my hair in a towel, and started hearing these big pat-pat-pat drips on the tile floor. I thought, “How is my hair still dripping?” Then I realized that, actually, it’s just my boobs.
It seems like I’m producing more and more milk every day. A few times now, the baby stopped feeding, and my nipple has actually squirted milk. It looks like a puncture leak in a garden hose — and it gets decent distance.
It’s actually pretty impressive.
Today, will forever be remembered as the day we finally found a system where I can exclusively feed the baby breast milk and still get some sleep. I think.
When the baby isn’t cluster feeding, she generally feeds every 2-ish hours. So, I’ll use the Haakaa for a couple feeds during the day (which usually makes plenty for at least one good feed).
Then, at night, I’ll do a feeding, and go right to bed. While I’m sleeping, my husband can do a feeding with the milk I made that day. And voilà! I’ve got time for 4 straight hours of sleep.
I don’t know why we didn’t figure this out before. I blame the sleep deprivation.
I’m starting to sleep a little more, which is absolutely delightful. But I’ve started to realize how big and heavy my boobs are now.
While I was pregnant, I was looking forward to having a flat-ish tummy, so I could sleep on my stomach again… but I’m still sleeping on my side because my boobs are so big.
I feel like I’m going into Downward Dog whenever I try to lay on my stomach. Will these ever go away?
Finally, I can pump with my doctor’s blessing — and, hopefully, a supply perfectly fit to my baby’s needs.
This morning, I went into the baby’s room and took out the breast pump my insurance sent, still in its shipping box. I took out each piece and laid them on a blanket, taking stock of my treasures.
Finally, I thought, I’d be able to go to the grocery store or the post office, leaving my husband at home with a fridge full of freshly pumped bottles. I could feed the baby breast milk and also get out of the house when I wanted to.
But I strangely didn’t feel ready to pump (even after reading the manual). It occurred to me that, if I really wanted freedom from feedings, I could’ve used formula. Or I could’ve simply been pumping this whole time — milk production recommendations be damned.
But the truth was: I don’t really mind breastfeeding. In fact, I kind of like it. I like the alone time I get with the baby late at night, when everything is quiet. I like not needing to run and prepare a bottle when she cries. And, I have to admit: I like being needed.
I’ve been looking forward to taking a step back in breastfeeding, but maybe just having the option is enough for now. The first month of having a baby and learning how to change her, care for her, and feed her has been both a big challenge and a complete joy. Sometime in this month, my feelings shifted about breastfeeding.
Somewhere along the way, I started seeing breastfeeding the way I thought I would after watching those episodes of “Friends” and “The Office.” I don’t know if it’s just the bonding hormones, or if breastfeeding just isn’t as bad as I thought before. But when I breastfeed now, I do get that sweet feeling they describe on TV, and it’s so nice.
Of course, dealing with the changes in my body — the heavy boobs, the tenderness, and the stained clothes — can still be hard, but it’s getting better. And, in the end, it’s all worth it to me.
Looking forward, I don’t know how I’ll feel about pumping or formula feeding in the next few months. And I definitely don’t know how I’ll feel about introducing actual foods to my baby later this year. Right now, I’m a little nervous about all of that.
But if my breastfeeding experience is any indicator, I think it’ll probably be just fine.
Jillian Pretzel covers parenting, relationships, and health. She lives in New York City, where she writes, eats too much pizza, and tries her hand at motherhood. Follow her on Twitter.