Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Our Beautiful Nursing Journey

I always knew I wanted to breastfeed my babies. It was never even a decision I had to consciously make. I knew my mom had breastfed me for about a year (despite going back to work when I was 6 weeks and using only a manual pump!) and that it was "best" for babies." I really looked forward to the whole experience of nurturing my child.

I knew that breastfeeding was natural but didn't always come naturally. I prepared by reading several books and articles online, taking Bradley Childbirth Classes that included information and videos, and going to La Leche League meetings while pregnant. I thought I was well prepared and hoped I would experience minimal difficulties.

My favorite book on breastfeeding! Comprehensive and user friendly!

After a long labor and home water birth (read my birth story here) Audrey latched on and nursed in our bed! It was awesome and I was definitely on a natural birth high! That night she slept on my chest and nursed frequently but over the next few days my nipples started to get very sore.

Nursing soon after birth

My midwife helped me with latching and positioning and we had a craniosacral therapist adjust her but nothing seemed to help. I ended up with severely cracked nipples and excruciating pain for over a month. Luckily, I had a great milk supply (actually oversupply-so we had to deal with that!) and her weight gain was not affected. The worst part of it for me was that I was not enjoying nursing and I was afraid I never would and it was affecting my emotional status-although some of that was just normal postpartum emotional fluctuations. Where was the beautiful, tender moments I had so looked forward to? This was a never ending scene of toe curling pain, nipple cream, and anxiety. Looking back I suspect Audrey's undiagnosed upper lip tie was the cause of a shallow latch and subsequent cracked nipples. My midwife and LLL were helpful but I REALLY wish I had seen an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant: an expert in breastfeeding). Things got much better as she got bigger and was able to latch better but it did take a very long time for my nipples to heal. 
Nursing at about 20 hours old before any pain

At first I was also very apprehensive about one of the biggest controversies surrounding breastfeeding: nursing in public! I had a cover that I fully intended to use, especially as Ryan was not at all comfortable with showing even a minutia of skin (because men are so very attracted to breasts being used for feeding a baby?) I was also afraid of confrontation from others, and since Audrey and I were still learning how to nurse latching her on correctly sometimes took awhile.

One of the few times I used a cover, at my in-laws house. (Notice my very bad form of leaning down to Audrey rather than bringing her up to my chest.)

But after a few more experiences NIP (nursing in public), a few of which she nursed while I wore her in a baby carrier, I felt much more confident. It helped that I was going to the local API (Attachment Parenting International) group where EVERYONE nurse without a cover! Even their toddlers! It was so refreshing to see nursing as just a normal, even boring act. The dads in the group didn't seem fazed at all, they just kept conversing with the nursing mothers. It was really nice to have solidarity in number too, because I knew if anyone confronted a mom about NIP the whole group would have her back. (By the way, it should be noted that nursing in public in MN is legal and is exempt from the "indecent exposure" law. Anywhere a mother is legally allowed to be, she can breastfeed her baby, irrespective of any amount of skin or nipple shown. See more on that here.) At the present moment, I still nurse Audrey wherever and whenever she wants, without a cover, and have gotten some looks but no comments yet. :) If I ever do get confronted, I am ready with verbal info and info cards on the legality of nursing!

As Audrey got older and we both got more skilled at nursing, she started to very definitely prefer nursing in only a few positions:  in a carrier, side lying with me, or in the laid back position (lying vertically on my body instead of horizontally). This made for some interesting moments!

One of my favorite pictures of this!

Nursing in my woven wrap during nap time
It seemed like everything would be smooth sailing from here on out, and it pretty much was until she was hospitalized. We did go through a few nursing strikes due to illness but those only lasted about a day or so. Audrey was growing right along her growth curve, at about 30th percentile on the WHO charts. We EBF (exclusively breastfed) until 6 months, at which point we start solids via baby led weaning-which I highly recommend as an alternative to "baby food"! See here for more information.

Another one of my favorites of the side lying position

I already wrote about our difficulties with nursing during her hospital stay, just a quick recap: they allowed me to nurse her after I pumped because they wanted to closely monitor her intake, but my supply drastically dropped overnight due to the stress so now I was pumping and taking galactagogues to increase my supply, and we used some donor breast mill from friends before they decided to put her almost completely on the formula. When we came back home it was more of the same struggle with my supply and there were times when I thought she was weaning because of all the vomiting and gagging during and after nursing and the tube feeds. (More details on that when I write the second half of her medical story) But we persevered and after the urinary tract surgery and feeding tube were removed, we were back to nursing just like any normal one year old! 

Nursing at 18 months

Of course, now many people are wanting to know "when are you going to wean?!?" Well, if you had asked me that during pregnancy I would have said I absolutely wouldn't nurse past 18 months, because that was "wrong." LOL. Then while Audrey was a newborn I read about the benefits of toddler nursing, also referred to as "extended nursing," or my favorite term "full term nursing," and was especially interested in the continued benefits of immunities. So I then set our new goal at 2 years old. Well, we've hit that milestone and there is definitely no weaning in sight! I now hope to nurse her as long as she wants, depending on how things go during my future pregnancy and with the new baby. I guess I'm at the point where I don't feel a need to set a goal and I just want to see how everything plays out. I would say at this particular point, neither of us is ready to wean (nope! I'm still not ready!) but it's hard to predict how either of us will feel in a year. (For those of you who are interested in why someone would breastfeed past infancy, see here for some reasons.)

Nursing to sleep the night before her second birthday

Looking back at all the challenges we've had to overcome (oversupply, sore nipples, refusal to nurse except in certain positions, nursing strikes, and low milk supply which came with LOTS of pumping, galactagogues, and eventually domperidone) I am pretty amazed that we are still nursing! Maybe I am just a super stubborn mom? With an equally stubborn daughter!