Well friends, it was bound to happen at some point. I have found myself in a relationship with someone who only loves me for my boobs. As a small breasted woman, I thought this day might never come. But babies don’t discriminate.
Any sized boob can make milk, and mine seem to be making enough milk to feed my ravenously hungry little boy for an hour, every two hours. If you do the math, that means that about half of my days and nights are spent sitting on the couch propped up by pillows and my beloved “My Brest Friend”, guzzling down water while my little one sucks every last bit of my energy out of my nipples. And although that description made it sound like I am under some sort of cruel house arrest, I love it. It is so satisfying to feel like I can give this baby everything that he needs to grow and thrive. Amidst the frustrating “learning moments” (for both of us!) there are long stretches where I just stare and stare at this beautiful creature I’ve created. Sometimes he’ll open his big, dark blue eyes and gaze back at me. These are the moments that make the others disappear. These precious, quiet moments are why people have more than one baby. They’re unbelievable.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Breastfeeding is NOT as natural or easy as one might imagine. I sort of knew this, having watched my sister struggle with nursing with her first baby, and having heard others discuss the dry, cracked nipples and mastitis and other terribly uncomfortable side effects of letting a newborn pinch and bite your breasts as he/she learns to eat. But I went into this adventure planning to try my hardest to breastfeed, and to push through the pain. Well, let me tell you something. As with labor, the pain was beyond what I expected.
A newborn baby who doesn’t know how to eat (and is STARVING)
tender nipples that have never been mushed around much before
an exhausted, slightly stressed out mama trying to do everything right without really knowing what she’s doing
recipe for disaster. Or at least some really sore boobs and a lot of tears.
Right after I gave birth and Owen was placed on my chest, the nurse helped guide his mouth to my nipple and we began what I thought was breastfeeding. His little mouth started to swallow immediately, and we all gasped and cheered as he took in the first few drops of colostrum. “He has SUCH a strong suck reflex!” “He’s going to be SUCH a great nurser!” “Wow, look at the little guy go!” exclaimed all of the nurses. I was elated. The post-pregnancy euphoria had me thinking that we had dodged some huge bullet and, miraculously, my perfect little baby already knew how to breastfeed. Go me!
Yeah, not so much. In the first two days, it seemed like things were going well… except that I was in agony. Nurses would come in and I’d say, “Does this latch look right?” and they’d smile and say, “Oh, you look great; he looks great. Don’t worry, the pain goes away pretty soon.” So I bit my lip and let Owen chew relentlessly on one of the most tender parts of my body. Perhaps since the rest of me was in pain as well, it didn’t seem so bad. But when I got home and the pain was still really intense, I began to think that maybe it shouldn’t hurt quite this much. Maybe one of us was doing something wrong. So I called my OB’s office and made an appointment with their lactation specialist. I had been visited by a lactation specialist in the hospital, but she pretty much manhandled me and the baby into various positions and said, “See how easy that was?”. Not really so helpful if I can’t recreate what she did. Anyway, the lactation specialist at my OB’s office was sweet and wonderful and calm and everything I hoped she would be. She had me nurse Owen the way I had been, and watched me very carefully. Then she gave me some tips. A little change in position here, a well-placed pillow there, etc. Slowly I began to relax my shoulders and neck and settle back into the pillows we had propped up.
After watching us for awhile, she said, “You guys are really doing great. Remember, he’s only 4 days old. It’s a learning process for both of you.” She was absolutely right. I took a deep breath and tried to remember that this isn’t going to happen overnight. Then she gave me the greatest gift I may have ever been given: NIPPLE SHIELDS.
I cannot sing their praises enough. Nipple shields saved my life. Well, at least my sanity and my poor, blister-covered nipples. Nipple shields are these soft plastic covers that go over your nipples that look like a nipple on a bottle. You suction them on to your nipples before feeding the baby, and as he sucks, your real nipple is pulled into the plastic nipple and the milk comes out of a bunch of little tiny holes, just like on your real nipple. It puts a buffer between the baby’s sucker and your nipples, but still requires the baby to suck hard and pull your milk out as he would if he were breastfeeding naturally. All I can say is…. ahhhhhh, sweet relief.
Since the nipple shields, our breastfeeding changed entirely. He eats like a champ and sleeps like, well, a baby. A perfect little baby. He still has his fussy periods, but in general, we’re a really happy family. Thanks almost entirely to my new best friend, the nipple shield. Someday (in a few weeks, most likely) we’ll have to wean him off of the nipple shields, but for now, I am relishing in my happy breastfeeding time, long sleeping periods at night and watching my baby grow chubby cheeks and adorable little fat rolls right before my eyes.