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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

So Far, So Good

Welcome to the Motherwear Blog's breastfeeding carnival readers! Thanks so much for stopping by here at Mama's Magic.

The carnival topic is "Thrush and mastitis and blebs, oh my!" And as I contemplate entering the 15th month of breastfeeding my daughter, I find myself feeling quite lucky that we've not really encountered any nursing complications this time around. (Knocking wood! Hard!) While breastfeeding BB has its challenges, it's been very different from nursing my son, BJ. With BJ, the rough part was the beginning, but he weaned very easily. With BB, we got off to a great start, and I have a feeling that weaning will prove to be our biggest challenge.

Looking back through the palimpsest of motherhood's narrative, I can see that breastfeeding BJ was hugely important, even more so than I'd thought it would be when I was outlining chapter 1 of How I Thought Things Should Be With A New Baby (Before I Became a Mom). Every expectant mom writes this book inside her head, and baby is more ruthless than any editor in requiring immediate revisions.

For me, it felt that breastfeeding was the only "natural" part left, after a birth experience that was nothing like what I'd hoped for. (An emergency C-section, the culmination of 50+ hours of labor. Mostly unmedicated. On pitocin. Yes, it was that bad -- especially since I'd hoped for a natural, vaginal childbirth.) In my hospital bed, stunned and amazed by my son's arrival, I clung fiercely to my desire to breastfeed. When complications led to the pediatrician insisting that we supplement with formula, we ended up compromising by using an SNS (supplemental nursing system) for the first week or so of my son's life.

Learning to breastfeed around a c-section scar is bad enough; worse still to do so while S fumbled with a flimsy tube attached to a syringe of baby formula. We had to get BJ latched on and sucking, and then S would attempt to work the tiny tube into the corner of BJ's mouth so that he could slowly squirt in the required amount of formula. This was absolutely horrible: tubes, syringes, and formula were the opposite of those soft-focus images of baby peacefully at the breast, sucking happily. I resented the whole setup, but of course I wanted to do the best by my baby so that he would thrive. They said my milk wasn't in yet, and who was I to argue? What a relief it was when I'd "proven" that my milk was enough; as soon as BJ was gaining weight, we were able to ditch the whole setup.

Even without the hassle of the SNS apparatus, breastfeeding after a c-section was painful and complicated. Because putting any sort of pressure on the incision was excruciating, I had to hold my son in a football clutch, with his little legs dangling off the back of the rocking chair's armrest. This went on for almost two weeks. Writing that now, it sounds like nothing, but then I remind myself that BJ, like so many new babies, sometimes nursed every hour. That's a lot of awkward nursing sessions. I well remember my dad taking this photo, which was the first time I was able to hold BJ in a "normal" position while breastfeeding. He was 12 days old.

Yes, those are tears in my eyes. It felt like such an enormous accomplishment, to be able to nurse "normally" like that. I think now that it was a major step in my emotional healing from the trauma of BJ's birth.

After those rough first weeks, breastfeeding BJ became much easier. We managed to keep nursing in spite of a persistently blocked duct. It was painful, and I had constant worries about mastitis, but it never got infected. By that time, I was getting savvy enough about breastfeeding to realize how many great resources there are out there. I discovered my favorite website for breastfeeding questions: kellymom. Part of the treatment for the blocked duct involved massaging the side of my breast with a wide-toothed comb to help drain the blocked duct. (Yes, it sounds strange, but the lactation consultant swore by it, and when she was backed up by kellymom, I decided to give it a try.) While "combing my breast" seemed to help a bit, the problem kept coming back.

I finally figured out that one particular nursing tank top was pressing on the side of my breast and causing the plugged duct. Once I stopped wearing the top, and instead wore a nursing bra, the problem was solved. This is why when I'm asked for breastfeeding advice, I usually start by recommening getting fitted for a nursing bra and avoiding any constrictive clothing around the breasts. For moms in the South Bay, I recommend Maternal Connections at El Camino Hospital.

I just had to take a break from writing this to nurse BB -- she's only been asleep for three hours, and already she woke up wailing for a snack. With her, my main frustration so far is definitely the night nursing. She still wants to breastfeed several times throughout the night. Every time I decide it's time to cut her off and night wean, something happens. (Most recently: roseola and refusal of solids. We were just getting over that, and now she has all four canines coming in at once. The nursing is such an obvious source of comfort and relief for her; I try to cut back, but I can't bring myself to play the heavy and deny her outright.)

So while the nursing and sleeping issues have definitely been worse with BB than they were with BJ (that, or the gentle haze of Mommy Memory merely makes it seem so), the breastfeeding stuff in general with BB has been pretty good so far. She started out with a good latch, and I had an ample supply of colostrum -- after all, the pump was pretty primed, since I'd breastfed BJ until he weaned himself at 14 months. (Turned out I was pregnant; that won't be happening this time around!) We've had the typical annoyances, of course. Biting? Yep. Flashing in public, thanks to little hands plucking at (and lifting) my clothes? Been there. Less of a problem when wearing my Baby Friendly Beads and nursing tops, but even with these items in place if I'm nursing in public I must keep one hand at the ready to preserve my modesty.

Truth be told, though, I've just about given up on being discreet about nursing this little girl. If she is fully awake, she is absolutely unable to lie still during a feeding. Lately, she seems determined to practice her climbing abilities at all times -- even while my nipple is in her mouth, she will attempt to twist herself around and work her feet up towards the arm of the rocking chair, down towards the floor, or (my personal favorite) over my shoulder. If I try to hold her still, she'll either bite or yank the nipple. (More than once, I've been heard yelping, "Good lord, child, I'm not a straw!") I've tried to get S to take a picture of this behavior for the express purpose of posting it here, but it's been impossible to get a shot of her in action that doesn't also show more skin than I want the world to see. So much for quietly nursing in the corner while in public. We're our own little acrobatic act, and I'm sure it's entertaining to see.

Subtlety is not exactly her strong point, either, now that she knows how to sign for "milk." If she wants to nurse, she will sign at me, beat at my chest, and/or grab my hand and drag me towards to the rocking chair. She knows I know what she wants, and she won't be denied. When I ask her, "Do you want to nurse?" she nods and does the most adorable head-bobbing dance of delight. You can practically see the thought bubble above her little head: "Oooh! Mommy milk! Mommy milk! Mommy milk!!!"

Even with as weary as I am sometimes with nursing, in spite of all the times I've half-jokingly announced, "Ok! I'm done! No more boob for you, babe!" -- I have to admit that I still melt when she does her little happy-dance. The girl loves to nurse, and in truth I wouldn't have it any other way. I know enough about how hard it can be to breastfeed to recognize that we are very blessed.

Here are the other folks participating in this month's carnival (updated throughout the day). There are some excellent posts, talking about overcoming challenges and sharing resources and solutions.

Thanks again to Tanya at the Motherwear Blog for hosting such a thoughtful and helpful carnival. Her post shares another mother's story about tongue ties and breastfeeding.

Half Pint Pixie writes about oversupply, blebs, plugged ducts, and mastitis.
Speech Act writes about plugged ducts and blebs.
Tales of Life with a Girl on the Go writes about milk supply and the mini-pill.
Nurturing Notes writes about thrush and thrush treatment.
Breastfeeding Mums writes about sore nipples, engorgement, and taking medications while breastfeeding.
Blessed Nest Perch writes about sore nipples, mastitis, and low milk supply.
Hobo Mama writes about supplementing with a finger feeder during the first week.
Breastfeeding 1-2-3 writes about using Gentian Violet and grapefruit seed extract as thrush remedies.


half pint pixie said...

Wow, that sounds like a lot of work with the SNS while also recovering from a section, well done on getting through it and establishing such a successful breastfeeding relationship!

Your daughter sounds so like mine, I'm laughing at "Good Lord, child, I'm not a straw". If fascinates me just how acrobatic they can get while feeding, and yet still be actively getting milk while upside down over your shoulder!

Thanks for sharing :)

Stephanie said...

I know what you mean when you predict that weaning will be your greatest challenge! My daughter is 10 1/2 months, and daytime breastfeeding has been a near impossibility for quite some time now, but I can't conceive of her giving up her nighttime privileges! She knows what she wants and doesn't want, and she won't have it any other way!

Renata said...

It's encouraging to hear that I am not alone in my night weaning adventures. My daughter is also a big time night nurser. No matter what we tried, something would happen. She's 21 months now and knows how to ask to nurse politely (instead of whining for it). Then she gives out this gleeful giggle that totally softens me. Her last molars are finally starting to come through. I am going to throw a big party when all that teething is over. Then I'll start back at trying to night wean.

Barbara said...

I think that parenting classes should emphasize the importance of being stubborn - you certainly showed determination with the SNS and a C-section incision. Babies are stubborn, too, and that works in their favour.

BB will give up some of the acrobatics, I bet, and may even talk more about the experience if you nurse long enough. But I hear that they forget quickly...

sineadhoben said...

I loved this post! It brought me right back to my own son's acrobatics which I blogged about a while back :) The SNS system sounds like a lot of hard work and you are great that you stuck by your desire to breastfeed. I think that's one of the most important ways to succeed... don't let anyone or anything get in your way. I was very determined and remember after my fifth bout of mastitis people saying to me that I should just stop breastfeeding (my gp included!!) but I was having none of it.

Like you, I found night time feeding very difficult since my children each woke up a lot but it was just something that had to be done.

When it came to weaning I thought my son would put up a big fight as he was 26 months old but it ended fairly easily as I just gradually withdrew feeds and distracted him when he tried to sneak on for a quick one! lol

Maria said...

What a great post. I was smiling through most of it... with the exception of the SNS and C-section that is. We just crossed the 16 month mark with my son, and I can't believe how acrobatic he is with nursing these days, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the little excited thing he does when he wants to nurse, and if I don't see him sign milk, he puts his little hand in my face. LOL!

Thanks for sharing! :)