My Pregnancy: Postpartum Week 3

Week Postpartum 3Breastfeeding, I’ve learned, doesn’t necessarily get easier with each baby. Nursing was a painfully long lesson this time around. It involved learning anew my own expectations of myself as a mother, deeper understanding of why some might stop breastfeeding, and how I can trust my child and myself to figure out our way.

With our boys I struggled with a few weeks of sensitivity and one bout of mastitis each, about 6 weeks into nursing. I don’t want to downplay the challenges. I remember taking a deep breath before those early feedings, sometimes psyching myself up because I knew the initial pain that was soon to come. You’d think after nursing two children, each for a year, I would know enough to nurse number three with no trouble. I didn’t, but I also did.

I didn’t know enough in the sense that I didn’t trust myself. I couldn’t remember nursing a newborn as it was over two years ago. It started with a cracked nipple within the first 48 hours. Over the course of eight very painful and impossible weeks that included mastitis and two bouts of thrush I lost faith in my ability and knowledge. I poured over very helpful websites and sought out help from two lactation consultants. I was doing everything right, so far as we could tell. The consultants checked baby for ties (none) and said the latch looked great. They offered various suggestions and possibilities but all my symptoms were mixed up. What pain came from thrush versus a bad latch versus milk blister versus large breasts not being held in a supportive bra and so on was hard to figure when it all just hurt so much. There were so many things going wrong it seemed. Every feeding, with varying amounts of ease and patience, I negotiated with baby to open big but the pain continued. We became well versed in things I never needed before: antibiotics, anti-fungal medication, gentian violent, probiotics, vinegar, and more.

Turns out I knew myself. At some point, once the thrush and mastitis both settled (along with the flu-like virus I enjoyed at two weeks postpartum), I let other people fade into the background. I looked down at my baby and trusted that we could figure it out. I didn’t throw out all the helpful advice. Quite the opposite, their encouragement, listening ears, and inside tips got me through many feedings. The go-to suggestion of friends and consultants was to get more of my breast in the baby’s mouth. I would re-latch and re-latch through tears and gasps of pain trying to get the ever-elusive deep suckle. When I stopped forcing it and allowed her to take the lead something changed. While waiting on the mouth to be wide open worked for my other children, my daughter went against the grain. As I trusted her to pull my nipple into her mouth I noticed the pain began to subside. She knew what to do. One breast quickly settled into routine while the other took another week of effort before nursing finally became comfortable—at 10 weeks.

That was a long two months. Had my husband not been home for three weeks I certainly would have stopped because of the amount of time I spent nursing, reading about nursing, talking about nursing, stressing about nursing, and trying to ease the pain of nursing.

I also found in me deep expectations. I nursed two; there’s no good reason I can’t do it again I told myself. I wanted so badly to give her what her brothers got (breastmilk for a year or so). I felt guilty at the thought of quitting but I also couldn’t stand the pain—the burning, the shooting-knives into my chest, the pain of rolling over in bed, hugging my son, or simply wearing clothing as my breasts were too tender to stand a mere layer of cotton. I understand why people choose to end breastfeeding because I mulled on it daily for nearly two months.

At week three I was really struggling. It’s rough stuff, mama. I appreciate that some people nurse with ease. I do now, at ten weeks postpartum as I write looking back. I also know that nursing can be really, really hard. Even more frustrating, it can be really, really hard even when the lactation consultants say everything looks good. I can see how women try and then transition to formula for this (or other) reasons. I could have been ok with myself had I transitioned to formula feeding. I dug down and managed to make it to the other side. I’m so happy I did. Something that caused such pain is now comfortable, even healing, as I cozy up to my gal each feeding. We made it. We did it, she and I.

Annie is a mom of two boys, ages two and four, and now a newborn gal. She is taking in every moment of every day because, let’s be honest, she’s not getting much sleep.  

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