I’ve been seeing a lot of women share their breastfeeding stories lately, and it occurred to me that I haven’t shared mine and that maybe I should.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to breast feed. I experienced sexual abuse as a child, and I still have a lot of issues with being touched in certain ways. (I know, what shit storm have I not experienced, right?) So I planned to breast feed, but in my mind, I was holding out until I held my baby and breastfed her for the first time to see where I really stood on the issue.
I’m happy to say that from the first moment I held her until now, breastfeeding has never seemed anything but natural to me. It has never triggered any anxiety or other negative feelings as a result of what I experienced.
I wish I could say that breastfeeding itself was a breeze.
Right from the start, breastfeeding was painful. I spoke to a lactation consultant in the hospital several times, and she helped us to improve Quinn’s latch. Quinn was a good study, and she seemed to learn quickly, but the pain only seemed to improve slightly as she got better with her latch. I don’t know if I was just very sensitive or if she had an undiagnosed issue (like tongue tie), but the situation only got much worse after we left the hospital.
Within a few days, I developed painful cracks in my nipples. I was diligent about making sure that Quinn had a good latch each and every time that she fed, but she wanted to feed constantly, and my nipples only became more and more sore. My nipples started bleeding, and small scabs would form after every feed, only to be reopened with the next one. I started to use lanolin religiously after each feed, and that helped a lot. I also expressed milk to rub into the nipple, and that helped, as well. I wore breast pads all the time to prevent rubbing against my bra (and to prevent the blood from binding by boob to my bra — painful when I had to remove my bra). I left my bra off when I could. I did everything I could.
It got to the point where I would dread breastfeeding. When Quinn would latch on — and she wanted to latch on at least every hour — it would send a jolt of pain through my whole body. But I knew that if I just kept breastfeeding, it would get better. I just focused on making she she had a good latch — which she did — and doing what I could to heal my breasts.
The misery lasted about two weeks (maybe three). Then things just slowly got better. It stopped hurting as much, and my breasts healed.
Mentally, I felt more up to the task of breastfeeding. Initially, I kept thinking she should be on the 2-3 hour feeding schedule, and I would get so frustrated when she would scream and wouldn’t be settled by anything else besides breastfeeding every hour (or more). It wasn’t until I decided to just feed her on demand that both our lives got a lot easier. She was a happier baby, and I was a happier mama.
Of course, when I figured out how to nurse while I was lying down (and it wasn’t painful to do so), that was completely life changing. Suddenly, I could sleep almost uninterrupted while she nursed as much as she liked. I would stir enough to make sure she was latched and she was safe, then I would go back to sleep while she also drifted off to sleep nursing. It was total bliss.
Seventeen months later, we are still going strong. I sometimes find myself wishing that she would wean because I am exhausted from her constant need to nurse — for comfort, for connection, and for helping her through the hard times like when she’s sick or going through a growth spurt. But I know how much it does for her and for our relationship, and that’s what keeps me going.
Whenever I hear women talk about how hard breastfeeding was for them, I try to tell them my story — not to say “I’m better than you” but to say “Others have been there, too. You can do it if you just hang on!” Of course, there are legitimate reasons not to breastfeed, and for some women, it’s just a choice that they make. But for those women who want to do it but who just feel that it’s too difficult, I just want them to know that they can do it. That, yes, it’s hard, but you can also make it through to the other side, and that journey is worth the destination.