When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to flip through any magazines, books, pamphlets…anything baby related that I could get my hands on. I’m sure most of us who have been fantasising about having a baby all cast a glance at the mothering magazines fondly. Sometimes, we’d even pretend we were actually looking at the DIY home magazine as we surreptitiously turned the glossy pages of the envied said magazine.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but each issue has those pictures of mothers gazing lovingly at a precious little head of hair as they suck gently at the breast. Oh, what a tender moment of bonding, we think, as we scan the pro’s of breastfeeding.
My colostrum came in around 24 weeks and I had a wet sensation on the inside of my pajama top. Not pleasant but I remember immediately pulling up the top and checking to see if I was just imagining things. It’s not the most decent thing to admit but I sat there, as any of us would and squeezed. Oh the joy I had watching little yellow, milky dots appear. I was so excited that I called my husband to come and witness the momentous milestone. I was really going to be a mommy and my body was getting ready.
When my little one was born, she was immediately placed on my breast before I even left recovery. I remember wondering what it would feel like to have a baby sucking on a part of my body. It certainly wasn’t as I had imagined. It was a strange sensation. The suck was a lot stronger than I had imagined. It did feel a little weird..
It seemed easy and natural.
Well, let me tell you, there is nothing natural about the thing that should be the most natural thing in the world! Maybe we’ve messed up the technique over the thousands of years mankind has been on the earth. Maybe we’ve tried to “textbook” techniques too much! There was nothing easy about lying on my back trying to latch a newborn. No one tells you that their little head falls in between your elbow and chest at a 60 degree angle to the rest of their body and somehow they can’t quite make the distance to the nipple. Alternatively, if you bring your arm closer to your chest in order to get them closer, your elbow no longer gives sufficient support to their neck and it rolls backwards. No one tell you that you may get an armpit inspection as they nuzzle in that direction. Nor that they open their mouths when they try to latch on your upper arm but, when you tug at your breast and chase their mouth with your nipple, they close those little lips or howl when they are finally in the right position.
Murphy’s law – these things did not happen too much in the hospital. My little girl decided to come early so we literally had to undress her to wake her up enough to have a feed. She stuck out her long tongue a lot and my doula praised the length of it saying she would latch well. And latch well, in the hospital of course, she did. Even the paed stuck her finger in her mouth at the one-week checkup and, as my daughter dutifully sucked, she remarked,
And of course, when the nurse showed us how to burp her, she burped. (That nurse was known as the “Baby Whisperer” and I sometimes wonder if she’d still be able to whisper her secrets in baby’s ears a week later when the baby found his/her voice!)
I’m sure I knew this subconsciously beforehand, but there are different positions to hold a baby and feed. And it’s certainly not a hands free exercise. In my case, I required three hands to feed. One to hold her body in place, another to shove the breast at her mouth and the third (my husband’s) to massage her head to get the sucking reflex going. All hands on deck!
I won’t lie, I did wonder how I would keep this up and actually get milk into her system when he returned to work and I didn’t have him there to tickle her to drink.
Why the hospital release you on the dreaded Day 3, I don’t know! Feeding is neat at the hospital. No bra required. No breast pads needed. Just a little drop of colostrum.
Day 3 was something I was warned about. Your hormones wake up and realise that the baby has left the body and so nourishment is required. Your body decides it’s a good day for overflowing not just in the milk department but also in the tears department. Apparently your brain suddenly registers the life event it’s just gone through on Day 3 as well. With the milk coming in and the tears pouring out, somehow, the weight (all 2.3 kgs of it) is too much to bear. I was okay. I actually had a reason to cry that day. And I was fine when I phoned my doula. I had already had my little (okay, not really) sob and now I just needed some guidance…as the new day was dawning. I’ll never forget sitting in my bed with a screaming baby while on the phone to her. And here’s why…
My child was screaming because my milk had come in. Yes indeed. Why, you ask…
Well I would also cry if my face was doused in a milk shower and it was shooting down my throat like a fire hydrant exploding. I wouldn’t be too pleased that my neck rolls had a somewhat damp sensation. I can’t say that I’d enjoy spluttering each time I try to drink.
So there I sat, quite calm I might add, with breasts like rocks (another thing I feel like the word ‘engorged’ does not quite describe accurately) and waterfalls flowing down my sides and forming sizable wet patches is the bed next to me, asking how I could feed my child.
I recall being quite smug once I got the hang of things. I remember being so generous and offering my abundantly rich milk supply to anyone who may need my gorgeous, nutritious milk because their body could not produce enough. My supply was bountiful! My child could gorge herself whenever she desired. And we got into a beautiful rhythm about two days in. She fed so well and she was such a happy baby. So, imagine my surprise when she yelled that evening.
Now I laugh at my naïve self. Why I thought there was such a word as ‘routine’ in the vocabulary of a new mother I don’t know. What a joke!
There is a fine line that I struggled to discover between trying to wake a prem baby to feed and not allowing them to reach that hysterical, inconsolable point where they won’t feed. So I decided to express for her so she didn’t kick up a fuss and get so worked up that I couldn’t feed. After ten minutes of watching my nipple get sucked to an impressive size, it begins to occur to me that maybe, my abundant supply may not be so abundant any more. 10ml to be exact. After ten minutes of pumping. Out of both sides.
Panic hits. I can’t feed my child! Feeling rather ashamed of my boasting but definitely more anxious, I phone my doula. She has breastmilk in her freezer. Inconvenient timing, you know, being 10 o’clock at night. Well, as it turns out, her freezer is empty. Panic level rising.
Phone a friend. I have a few I could phone. One arrives, leaving her own two, who conveniently decide that same night to be difficult and comes to sit on my nursery floor in her dressing gown and effortlessly express 150ml for me in under 15 minutes. Yes, I had to eat humble pie. I would have paid my salary for that liquid gold that night. And I will never question the success of drinking close on 4l of jungle juice again.
Another thing one doesn’t quite think possible is the pressure that forms in those little ducts. And nor can one think, as I did, that there is one neat little hole perfectly at the centre of the nipple that when sucked, lets out a gentle stream of milk. No sir!
It’s messy. Not only does it come out of the nipple like a faulty showerhead but also dribbles out of various holes in the areola (for those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s the brown circle around the nipple that darkens and grows at an alarming rate during pregnancy).
If that’s not enough, I’ll never forget laughing out loud when my child unlatched and was caught by surprise when a jet of milk drew a line across her face and continued to spray her. I was equally amused when my nipple was angled wrong and my eye was caught unawares by a similar milk surprise.
With my second baby, Day 3 occurred in the hospital. I was able to deal with my oversupply of milk by asking the nurse’s advice. I remember standing in the hospital shower bent over and raking my breasts to soften the “rocks!”
We faced a different problem with our youngest. She struggled to latch. At our wits end, we called in a lactation consultant. I sat, topless, in my baby’s room as she carefully inspected how I latched her and how she latched on. All looked in order. I knew it wasn’t. Next thing I knew, she had my teeny baby straddling my legs and feeding in a very uncomfortable position. It seemed to help. For a while. Except I knew something was still wrong.
One day, I was talking to a friend about my problems and she lifted my daughter’s top lip. And there it was – a lip tie. We took her in to the dentist and after inspecting her, he agreed to laser it – it was quite thick and pronounced. I got cold feet and although I could watch her get vaccinations and my husband couldn’t, he decided he would be able to stomach this better than I.
I thought this would be the end of our feeding woes and even maybe our colic woes. But it did not! She still wouldn’t latch properly. In my despair, I would take her off and try and get rid of her bad habit. By the end of it, we were both in tears and milk was everywhere but in her tummy.
A few months later, I lost it. I unlatched her in anger, laid her on the couch and screamed into the bed and scratched at the sheets. Later, when I was calmer, I told my husband I couldn’t do it anymore. She had had a day of dry nappies. Maybe it was better for both of us for her to be on bottles. The lactation consultant came the next day. By then, even though she’d come with an expressing machine stashed away in her car, I had changed my mind. I was prepared to stick it out.
21 months later, I was so glad I hadn’t given up!
As “glamorous” as all this sounds, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is nothing quite like seeing a baby snuffle and grunt as they look for your nipple. There is something quite satisfying about seeing a ravenous little mouth locate the target and “knaw” furiously, frowning at you as if you’re the reason they’re in a bad mood. And there is something quite precious about seeing a baby go into a milk coma, their perfect, tiny lips suck courteously every now and then.
I joke, but I do find our bodies quite remarkable. My body is designed to make that milk. Milk that changes to suit their growing needs. Food that costs nothing but my time every few hours, is portable and on tap and readily available.
My husband laughed regularly when I put on my breastfeeding shirt branded “Peekamoo”. For underneath the clever flap, printed at an appropriate place on the right and left side of my chest were the words
“Udderchino 1” and “Udderchino 2”
It’s true. I quite enjoyed being a Dairy Cow.Tags: baby, bottle, breastfeeding, breastmilk, engorged, feeding, hospital, lactation consultant, latch, milk, mom, mommy, mother, pregnant