During my pregnancy, I was several times asked if I want to breastfeed my child; From midwives, doctors, friends, etc. I always found this question odd - and for me, it was clearly obvious that I would breastfeed my baby, for why else do I have my boobs? It was very normal to me, and I couldn’t really understand any reason why I shouldn't go for it.
Breastfeeding seemed very natural to me, and so I never thought about taking a course to learn it. "Why?", I asked myself. When the baby is born, we both will definitely know what to do; it is just natural and looks easy.
Birth is also natural and still, I took the HypnoBirthing course and I prepared myself each day for it. If I look back now, I know I should have informed myself a little bit about breastfeeding. The book I bought 10 days after the little one was born would have been a great investment during my pregnancy, but some things you just learn the hard way.
So yes, breastfeeding your baby is the normal way to feed your baby. But does that mean it comes naturally and easy? Oh, no - at least not for me.
A Bumpy Start
When Nico was born, he was quite light at 2875 grams, and his glucose value was also on the low side. So the doctors decided to give him glucose, and they used a little bottle for this. So before he started to suck on my nipples, he already had a bottle teat in his mouth. Also, they decided to feed him every 3 hours, day and night, waking him up for feedings. Within hours I totally lost control, and others took the lead in making a decision over my newborn baby. After the magical birth where I and Pedro were completely in control, we just lost it in minutes, and you only realise it a long time afterwards. I understand now how women feel when this happens to them during birth. You just don’t realise it, and then it is gone.
Nico had problems, in the beginning, sucking on my nipples, and I had to pump directly to get the milk flowing. When I think back now, I would never have done this. So it was trying to get him to feed directly from my breast, then pumping, and then giving him milk (formula and a bit of my own), every 3 hours…
Unfortunately, we had to spend 10 days in the hospital as they had a suspicion Nico might have a bacterial infection and started giving him antibiotics. So, every day, I had 2-3 different nurses with different opinions about how to breastfeed. Chaos and pure stress, which was definitely not helping here.
I got silicon nipples from one of the nurses, which actually helped Nico to get milk directly from my breasts, and I was super happy that it worked so well. But then, after Googling it (Google gets to be your best friend/enemy when you have time), I found out babies get used to them and then can't drink without them anymore, and milk regulation is not actually as needed. So I decided to stop using them and, if Nico is hungry, he needs to drink directly from my breast as I also stopped allowing him to drink from the bottle. Being so strict worked out and, after Day 5, he was drinking directly from my breast without being fed with anything else. I still was pumping after each feed, although I was not sure why anymore.
Breastfeeding is hard, but should not hurt or be painful. Your boobs get super big and hot after 48 hours when the mature milk production starts. My nipples were already painful and each feeding hurt for a while in the beginning, but I was so happy about it working that I ignored it a bit.
Finally home and back to reality
After Day 10, we were able to go home. We all were so lucky as life could finally start now. I stood up straight away after birth and packed my things to go home… so I was just so relieved at that moment we arrived at our house.
I still managed to get 2 half-days with Kraamzorg (an amazing system here in the Netherlands – a specialised nurse who helps you and the baby to settle down at home after birth for approximately 5-7 days). She was already waiting for us and helped us a bit to settle in. As I had some pain in my breastfeeding position at the time, she showed another one, which immediately felt better. My left nipple was already a bit cracked and I tried to avoid to feeding Nico from that one. The next day, I woke up with a 40-degree fever. Nico was normally drinking every 3 hours and slept from 1 till 6 o'clock. My breasts were super hard and extremely painful, and I couldn’t wait till the Kraamzorg nurse came.
A breast infection! What a bummer after all. The most important thing is not to stop feeding your little one. That way, the breast is getting empty and the bacteria are being sucked out of your breast. For pumping, I bought a manual pump directly after leaving the hospital, and letting Nico drink and taking paracetamol helped me to get rid of the fever. The next day, I felt my energy return again, and the infection was gone.
Breastfeeding still did not come naturally; my nipples were cracked, and it hurt so much that I was very afraid of each feeding, and almost crying in pain. So, I directly contacted a laktatiekundige, a specialist in breastfeeding. She helped me very much, and in addition to the book I ordered, the feedings started to get easier. I also got tips about the best way to heal bleeding nipples - honestly, I tried everything, and to mention that would be another story.
A lot of women say that it takes up to 6-8 weeks until the pain is gone, and then breastfeeding works easily. When you read this, after day 10 still having a lot of pain, it seems like ages - and honestly, I can understand why every woman would want to give up. It took me 8 weeks - I fought for it like a lion.
Can’t get any worse! Oh yes it can!
After the breast infection was gone, my nipples were starting to heal, and I felt better. But then I recognized a lump in my left breast. It didn’t hurt at all, but felt weird. I went to the huisarts (family doctor), and she just looked at it and said that it might be a blocked milk duct, it's normal, massage it in a hot bath, etc. It felt different than a blocked milk duct, but I did as suggested. After some days I could not move anymore; my whole body hurt as if I had run a marathon. I had such muscle aches that every morning I needed 15 minutes just to stand up. It felt horrible. I went right back to the huisarts, who sent me to the hospital; that's where my odyssey began. I don’t want to go into details, but after a week with several mistreatments, I landed overnight in the hospital with an antibiotic infusion. I was just crying that I need to have my baby next to me and I needed antibiotics, so that I could still proceed to breastfeed my baby. I had an abscess which the doctors mistreated, so the resulting fluid in my body caused the muscle aches. That night was the peak of my illness, and from then on I improved. With antibiotics and a few punctures of the breast, the abscess was finally cured.
I fought 8 weeks to breastfeed my little one, and now, after 18 months, he still gets the breast in the morning and in the evening and I enjoy it a lot now. But honestly, I can understand every woman stopping after some days, weeks, or months, or not even trying it. Maybe breastfeeding is normal, but for me it definitely did not come naturally or easily. Additionally, there are many outside influences which can destroy that first bonding of mother and child. Stress and pain can put you in the same vicious circle of FTP (Failure to progress) as during birth.
Give yourself and your baby time to get to know each other, try to breastfeed intuitively, and avoid stress. If it doesn't feel good for one of you, luckily we have great alternatives nowadays.
Happy Mom, Happy Baby.