My breastfeeding story Part 3: Coming home
I felt a real sense of relief when we left the hospital and came home. It was so nice to get set up in our own surroundings. That first night that hubbie, Little Man, and I spent alone in our house was very special. Of course, it was naive of me to think that just because we’d had one or two good feeds in the hospital before we left, that everything would just fall into place. The next few days were a rollercoaster.
I was still on a huge high after the birth. I think I was running on adrenalin for about ten days. I definitely took on board the advice to sleep when the baby sleeps – so many people had said it to me before the birth that I figured it must be important! So that meant I was asleep half the day and awake most of the night!
I was trying to feed Little Man on demand. But he wasn’t demanding for the first two weeks. During the day, he had to be woken for his feeds. The memories of him shaking from low blood sugars on the day of his birth was very fresh in my mind, so I took the doctor and nurses advice to not let him go more than three hours between feeds very seriously. This meant that I spent half the day stripping Little Man down and wetting him with cotton wool to try to wake him for a feed. Sometimes he fed for five minutes and sometimes he fed for forty minutes. It may sound like hard work, but in one way it was easy, because for those first two weeks while Little Man was sleepy, we were on something of a schedule. When he went to sleep, I had a fair idea of when the next feed would be.
My parents came to visit and stay with us. This was my first experience of feeding in front of a man who wasn’t my husband! I wasn’t sure how my Dad would react if I fed Little Man in front of him. I’ll never forget that first evening they were staying. We were all in the sitting room, and Little Man was in the pram in the room. He started to whimper a little bit, and Dad said “Why don’t you give him a sup of milk to see if it helps him settle?” I went to leave the room to go upstairs to feed him, when Dad told me not to be silly and to stay there and feed the baby. I should have remembered that this man had watched his own wife, my mother, breastfeed her three sons, so he wasn’t in the least bit strange about seeing me feeding Little Man. It was such a relief and it meant so much that he was so accepting of it. It’s just so important in those early days to be able to feed where you are, and not be sneaking off to another room every time the baby needs to be fed – which could be every two hours on a growth spurt day.
Hubbie was amazing in those first few weeks as well. I knew he was overwhelmed by the birth and the whole experience of bringing a baby home. But to make up for his nerves with handling the baby, he made sure I wanted for nothing. Every time I looked the least bit hungry, there was a meal in front of me. When I settled down to feed Little Man, I was surrounded by snacks and drinks, and given easy access to the remote and numerous TV boxsets. The word “housework” wasn’t even in my vocabulary for the first month.
And my mother was up and down to visit us and help out more times than I can count in those first few weeks. As I mentioned, she had breastfed my three brothers, so she had lots of advice for me. Of course, I didn’t heed all of that advice! I picked and chose the bits that worked for us. But it was great to know that I could talk to someone who had been through it all before.
When Little Man was six days old, my mother was the one who insisted we head down to the local breastfeeding support group. The Public Health Nurse had mentioned that this week was National Breastfeeding week, so there was a huge turnout for coffee when we arrived down there. Everyone was very friendly, and praised me for making it out of the house with a six day old baby. I wasn’t the only one though – another woman was there with a ten day old! So that was my first introduction to the Support Group that would become both lifeline and social outlet over the coming months. I looked around to all the women with their babies and toddlers and tried to get my head around the fact that I was now part of this somehow.
As the week went on, I started to get a little bit sore from all the latching on and latching off. It could take up to 30 minutes to get Little Man latched on properly. So when I did get him latched on, I was inclined to leave him there and endure any discomfort even if I felt the latch was not quite right. I came to regret that as the weeks went on.
On a Sunday evening, when Little Man was about two weeks old, I was starting to feel a bit unwell. I think I was developing mastitis. I had all the telltale signs – a hard lump that wouldn’t clear, hot red skin in the area. I felt like I had the flu – everything ached. Little Man wouldn’t latch on for his afternoon feed. I must have been trying to get him to latch on for 30 or 40 minutes. When he finally latched on and started to feed, it was really uncomfortable, but I couldn’t cope with the idea of breaking the latch and starting again. So I started doing my yoga breathing and tried to relax through it. I think Little Man fed for twenty minutes or so with that bad latch. At the end of that feed, the hard lump was gone, and my mastitis signs started to fade. But I was so sore. And I was bleeding. The thoughts of feeding again from that side made me want to cry.
Up to that point, I had been offering both sides at every feed, but in order to give the sore side a break, I started to only offer one side per feed. That helped a little. I sent hubbie out to buy nipple shields, and they helped a bit too. But there was no denying that it was difficult. This was definitely not the easy natural process I had been expecting. I was up and down from day to day. One day the feeds would go well, and I’d think – “oh great, we’re on the home stretch now”, and then the next day, we’d be back to 30 minutes just to latch on.
I started to look into what support was available. I rang a number for La Leche league and spent 30 minutes talking to a woman who advised me on proper positions. She also said that if Little Man was getting more wakeful, then I could stop waking him for feeds, and should try letting him wake himself for feeds instead. I checked with the PHN and she confirmed that since he had regained his birth weight, it was fine to start doing that. So I did. I also looked into getting a lactation consultant – but the local one who was recommended to me was unavailable. And I decided to wait until the next breastfeeding support group meeting, and talk to the girls there about the problems I was experiencing before deciding whether or not to continue breastfeeding.
Check back later this week for Part 4: The Breastfeeding Support Group.