Friday, October 17, 2008

The Trials and Tribulations of Breastfeeding

Whether or not to breastfeed was never really a decision I had to make. I always knew that I would. My mother breastfed me and my sisters; to me, it just seemed natural. Which is why, I guess, it was so surprising and frustrating when it wasn't quite that easy.

Before O was born, I thought breastfeeding would be this wonderful experience. It's all natural, it's how our bodies were built - it should be a breeze, right? Not exactly. In the hospital, the first time I tried to feed O, nothing seemed to work right. No milk (which is normal), O didn't seem to "root", I couldn't quite figure out how to hold my boob, and my nipples took one look at that gaping mouth and said NO WAY. Two meetings with a lactation consultant later, and we were using a nipple shield. Not that that solved all our problems - that thing presents a plethora of problems all on its own.

Then there was the issue of O not wanting to wake up every 2 - 4 hours to eat. He was tired after 44 hours of labor - and so was I!

Once we got home and my milk came in, we continued to struggle with the shield. It was near impossible to get it on properly while juggling a screaming, hungry newborn. Then, if he would stop eating at any point, the shield would simply continue to fill up with milk and leak. And on the really fun days, O would pull it off and spill milk everywhere.

Then, when O was about 3 weeks old, suddenly he had terrible colicky behavior. The nurses hotline and doctor brushed it off, telling us he probably had colic, and we'd just have to wait it for - for the next 5 months. We knew that there had to be another explanation - in addition to the yelling, screaming, and literally no sleeping, O would writhe in pain and be unable to pass gas or have a bowel movement. There was something going on in there.

We read every article we could find, and we found that one of the biggest offenders is milk - not my breastmilk, but the dairy I was eating and passing on to O via my milk. Babies cannot digest the milk proteins (caseins) in milk, which is why they cannot have cows milk until they are a year old. Some babies are sensitive to what their mothers eat. While the pediatrician continued to tell us there was no way what I was eating could possibly affect O, we eliminated dairy from my diet and voila - instant improvement. Literally overnight, the problem got immensely better. We added probiotics to his diet, and those helped even more. I was off dairy for about 4 months, which was HARD (I LOVE dairy!), but so obviously well worth it, it wasn't even worth the discussion.

Then there was the clogged duct. Lucky for me, this only occurred once, and didn't get infected. Imagine being engorged and not being able to get any relief - for days.

Eventually though, we got the hang of it. It took us a good 3 months to completely get rid of the shield. It was liberating when I did. I was finally able to eat dairy again, and as O approaches his first year, he seems to be able to tolerate it as well. We continue to use the probiotics.

O gave up bottles at 7 months, and gets most of his milk through a sippy cup these days. We still have our night time routine of nursing, however. Some days, my mind ticks through all the things I need to get done before the day is over, and I wish he would hurry up and finish. But I have to continue to remind myself that this time will be over soon, and it won't be too long until O doesn't want to sit and cuddle in my lap before bed. I try to remember to enjoy that time.

I am so glad I breastfed. It wasn't always easy (the biggest plus side was having food whenever we left the house, no matter what!), but I don't think it is supposed to be. It can be a bonding experience. It's a gift I gave O for his first year of life.

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