This is a breastfeeding story written by a dear friend and doula client of mine. She is one of the sweetest people I have been blessed to know and is an incredible mother. Please take the time to read her story, as every woman has a story we can learn from. My friend’s story would not be in vain if, because of reading it, less women would go through what she experienced.
This is a difficult story to tell. I reckon that a few lactivists (a group I consider myself a part of) would rather I didn’t tell my breastfeeding story, since it may feed into people’s fears regarding breastfeeding. But it’s my story and I want to be heard, and perhaps it can be considered a triumphant overcoming of about every “Booby Trap” imaginable.
So here it goes.
Preparing to Breastfeed
I always knew I would breastfeed my babies when the time came. My aunts breastfed my younger cousins so I had grown up seeing babies being nursed. When I became pregnant with my River I did not take any kind of breastfeeding class or read any breastfeeding books, It seemed like a simple enough process to me, I thought we’d just wing it.
My Birth Story
River was born on a beautiful, sunny Wednesday morning at 11:47AM after an exhausting yet strangely exhilarating 12 hours of intense labor. I had kept to my goal of having a natural birth and I was pumped!
My daughter was healthy and gorgeous, barely any vernix or blood on her skin and I snuggled her to my chest while the hospital nurse placed a receiving blanket over us.
Someone helped me get my sweaty sports bra off (probably Lindsey, my amazing doula) and I put my baby to my left breast and she latched right on.
I remember it hurting a bit but I was so loaded up on endorphins and oxytocin that I think it dulled the pain somewhat. When she came off my breast I had a semi-circular mark around my areola and I remember thinking, “hunh, I wonder if that’s normal.”
Breastfeeding Immediate Postpartum
But I was hungry! And by then it was past lunchtime and there was no food. The nurse promised me ice cream, and another nurse began all the weighing and measuring and washing of River-poo, and breastfeeding was not discussed again until later when I was in our recovery room, in which we spent the next two days.
I tried nursing several times over those two days, and many times I asked the nurses and lactation consultants for help getting River latched on properly. It almost always hurt but sometimes less than others. I figured during those “less hurting” times we had a proper latch.
Oh how I wish I had communicated better that it still hurt, or that one of those medical professionals would have mentioned how breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt AT ALL!
My troubles stayed under the radar, however, because River thrived and my milk came in. She even pooped the right color. I realize now this is because I sucked up the pain and let her nurse with a poor latch, so she still got the right amount of foremilk and hindmilk.
Over the next few weeks I would drag myself to TMH’s breastfeeding support group and ask questions. I even showed the lactation consultant a bloody nipple once and she admonished that I needed to fix my latch or I would get mastitis.
I knew this, but I didn’t know how to fix the latch! She tried to show me but I only had minimal success. I knew River wasn’t getting enough of my nipple in her mouth but just couldn’t figure out how to fix it.
It Got Worse
My nipples began to resemble raw hamburger. I got some Lansinoh and walked around topless between feedings because it hurt too much to have anything rubbing against my breasts. I was engorged on top of my nipple issue, and had an oversupply and over-active letdown, especially in my left breast.
Yet I put River to my breast day and night, every time she showed signs of hunger. I remember sobbing as she latched on, the pain radiating through my breasts. I would have pain after she was finished nursing as well, a burning at my nipples. My poor breasts were a mess.
Enough is Enough
Finally when River was about 3 weeks old and things weren’t getting any better, I went in for a one-on-one lactation consultation with a licensed lactation consultant. It cost $50 and it was the best fifty bucks I ever spent.
Vicki showed me how I needed to practically shove River’s gaping mouth into my breast to get enough nipple into her mouth for a proper latch. She also addressed the hyperactive letdown and advised that I lay down on my back while nursing so River could have more control over how much milk went into her mouth.
And finally, FINALLY, though small chunks had been sucked off my nipples and they were bloodied and scabbed, it didn’t hurt to nurse. We went home and I felt that maybe I might be able to nurse River another week, or month, or 6 months, or year.
But the next morning I woke up with a raging fever and knew that I had mastitis. Thankfully, my parents were visiting and I was able to leave River with my mom while I went to my OB’s office.
It was the first time I had ever been separated from River but I felt so miserable I didn’t miss her too much. I was prescribed an antibiotic, which to my relief made me feel better within hours. Once again I looked forward to a trouble-free nursing relationship with my beautiful baby girl.
It Got Worse… Again
That night River only nursed from my left breast for one of her feedings. My right breast was full of milk so I went to the bathroom sink and hand expressed some, then went back to bed. A couple hours later I awoke to an aching pain and knot in my right breast, just under my armpit. I pulled out my heating pad, shoved it into the spot, rolled over onto my left side and went back to sleep.
The next morning the knot and pain were still there and over the next two weeks I tried remedy after remedy to try to unclog what I thought was a plugged milk duct. Massage, heat, nursing River in weird positions, even having my husband “nurse” that breast in weird positions (he didn’t mind a bit, btw).
I called the lactation consultant back and she suggested taking Lecithin to thin out my milk, as well as keep up the things I’d already been doing.
I went to my OB’s office and the doctor barely looked at it, saying it was a plugged duct. Her advice was nurse nurse nurse, pump pump pump, massage, heat.
I wish I told her I’d been doing that for the last week with no relief, but I just nodded and went on my way.
It Got Worse… And Worse… And Worse
After awhile my knot started getting red and after two weeks of having it, it was fire-engine red and hot to the touch, and of course insanely painful. I called the lactation consultant at the hospital (not the same LC I had a one-on-one with), and described what I had.
She thought it was not a plugged duct and that I should go back to my OB and have them take another look. I went to the OB’s office the next day, and my sister Danette and River came with me. I saw a different doctor than before and I showed him the big red knot on my breast.
I distinctly remember his mouth gaping open in shock. He stated that I did not have a plugged duct, that it was a breast abscess, and that inside there was puss, not milk. And also, I needed to be admitted to the hospital right away for IV antibiotics and a surgical procedure. I would need to stay there overnight, perhaps two nights.
You could have knocked me over with a nipple shield at that point, and thank Goodness my sister was with me. I began crying and she handed River over to me, knowing that I needed my baby in my arms RIGHT THEN. The doctor said I could keep her with me, even at night and I felt some relief.
A Hospital Stay
So then I was admitted to the hospital, put in a room and got my IV antibiotics started. By then my husband Charles had joined us and we wondered how it would work out having River with me through the night, since the hospital staff told us that I could have her with me as long as there was someone else there at all times.
We decided that they would leave to go get dinner and take River home for a nap, and Danette would come back later that night with River and stay with us overnight.
But when she came back between 9-10pm I realized that none of us was going to sleep well with all the checks the nursing staff would need to do, and I tearfully sent them back home since I knew that a key component of me getting better was to get some decent sleep.
I had some pumped milk in the freezer at home that I knew would get them through the night, and I would pump a couple of times that night at the hospital so I wouldn’t get too engorged.
I was a mess, to say the least. and when they left I cried and cried because I had never been away from my baby so long. My heart ached.
The next morning Danette and River came back around 9, and bless her, she stayed with me all day so I could be with River. I think Charles stopped by to visit sometimes too, but he had to work most of that time since he had already taken time off when River was born.
Breast Abscess Surgery
I didn’t get my breast abscess surgery until around 5pm. I was hungry and thirsty since I was prohibited food, in my opinion a nursing mother needs more than IV fluids to keep up her strength. I had been able to sneak some Sprite and ice chips here and there.
It turns out my breast abscess “surgical procedure” was something of an elaborate zit-popping. The surgeon actually performed it right there in my room. After giving me a couple shots of Novocain, she made a small incision in the abscess, and then began squeezing out the puss. This hurt, a lot. I cried out in pain and the surgeon curtly asked the nurse to administer morphine.
Through clenched teeth I asked if it was safe to nurse after having the morphine, and she said that after 2 hours it would be out of my system. Since I had just nursed River I figured we were okay so I said they could give me a little morphine.
Finally she was done squeezing my breast abscess, and applied a drain and a bandage. And that was it, immediate relief.
Another round of IV antibiotics and the next morning Charles picked me up. I was given a prescription for All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO), which helped my nipples finish healing.
With our latch fixed and my body healed, River and I nursed for 17 months, and it was beautiful.
Would I do it again?
I’m so glad I stuck with it and was able to give River the best food possible. If I could do it over again, would I change anything?
Of course–I would read up on breastfeeding and be more insistent about getting help with results. But I still wonder if that would have changed anything.
I’ve done a lot of research since then and have discovered (long after River weaned, unfortunately), that River has an attached upper frenulum, which may have contributed to our latch issues.
I also believe I have Reynaud’s phenomenon, which probably caused the burning pain after nursing on my damaged nipples.
At any rate, now that I am 30 weeks pregnant with another precious baby girl I am doing my breastfeeding homework, and perhaps this time it will be smooth-sailing from the get-go.
Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.