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Pink Milk, Mastitis & Mommy Guilt: The Breastfeeding Years

When going "all natural" hurts like crazy

When I became pregnant with my first child at the ripe old age of 26, I was all about going “all natural.” We signed up for Bradley Childbirth Classes. I read a book about natural births, one about breastfeeding and all of the parenting magazines I could get my hands on.

Since I planned to forego any pain medications, I was a bit concerned when we asked the doctor if he could tell how big she would be from looking at the ultrasound.

He looked at me (tall, big-boned and gigantically pregnant) and then at my husband (6’2” and 230 pounds) and dead-panned, “Well, you are not small people.”

Just what you want to hear when you’re nine months along and swollen to twice your normal size.

I should also mention that I have severe scoliosis (spinal curvature) and therefore my pelvic bones are all goofed up and asymmetrical.

That, along with gigantic babies (turns out none of us are small people), earned me 4 c-section scars.

That’s right, after wasting almost six months on natural childbirth classes, I ended up having to have an emergency c-section. So much for no drugs!

This leads me to what happened after the surgery. I felt cheated somehow. I had wanted to give birth. I wanted that rite of passage into motherhood. I was mad but determined to make up for the “non-naturalness” of the actual birth with what happened afterward.

Yes, I’m talking about the all natural, selfless act of breastfeeding.

I was all set to make up for that unplanned c-section with my brand new lacy flip-down bras, my endless supply of nursing pads, my fancy-schmancy breast pump in its stylish leather case and my two nursing cover-ups – one in brown polka dot and one in lavender paisley.

Nothing is more beautiful, more tender, more natural than breastfeeding. Breast is best. Best for the baby. Healthier for the mom. More convenient than bottles. Cheaper than formula. There’s no question about it. Right?

WRONG!

My first baby had a bit of an overbite. Her cute little upper lip stuck out over her lower one from the moment she was born. I swear I think she was ready to start teething as soon as she came out of me. Her little gums felt like razors. Razors, I tell you!  

Ack.

Not only that, but I was very insecure. As a first-time mother, I was totally intimidated by this tiny creature who was constantly hungry. I alone was supposed to provide her with all of this nourishment that was supposed to come so easily. My only question, as I cried, screamed and grit my teeth in agony while she nursed, was this:

How has mankind possibly survived for thousands of years with this madness as our primary means of sustenance?

Oh my gosh. THE PAIN. I cannot even begin to describe it.

For weeks, I cried. I howled. I banged my fist against the table. I held my breath. I used up enough Lansinoh to sacrifice a whole herd of sheep.

I wanted to quit, but I felt so guilty! The mommy guilt was tremendous. I wanted to do what was best for my baby.

My bathtub-birthing, non-immunizing, thoroughly holistic sister-in-law encouraged me as she squirted her own magical breast milk into her baby’s eye to ward off an infection: “Keep trying! You just have to get over the hump! You can do it! You NEED to do it!” Here, drink this organic tea! Take some Fenugreek! Suck it up!”

I decided to persevere. Reluctantly.

And then, THEN, I got mastitis.

Any mother who has had mastitis will tell you about it in these three little words: fever, pain, misery. I honestly thought I was going to die. I woke up ice cold, my teeth chattering and my entire body shaking.

I could barely walk to the bathroom mirror to see the bright red-streaked, burning hot skin that was showing through my beautiful (albeit worthless) nursing bra. Then I noticed the huge knot that had popped up there overnight. I immediately freaked out and called the doctor.

While I was on hold, my husband, thoroughly stressed out from two months of a crazed, sleep-deprived, hormonal wife and a starving, razor-gummed baby, made this pronouncement: “I think our daughter would be better off eating formula than growing up with a whacko mom who cries all the time.”

I realized that, in his own insensitive-male way, he was right. Then and there I decided to quit. The mastitis had effectively pushed me over the edge to Similac-land.

Then the doctor came to the phone and informed me that, no, I was not dying but that the only way to get rid of the infection and clear the plugged duct (what am I? some sort of plumbing device?!) was to – you guessed it – keep right on nursing.

I bought some kind of aqua gel soother things to put in the freezer and then stick in my bra. I smashed the “knot” in a vise-like grip between the edge of the bathtub and the palm of my hand (just writing about that pain makes me feel sick to my stomach, even now.)

I bought giant heads of cabbage and peeled the leaves off to make weird Tarzan-esque lingerie that would supposedly leech out the pain (hey, I was desperate.) My husband mentioned that he never knew having a baby would cause him to live in a pseudo-primitive village where his wife would constantly go topless.

In the mean time, I was pumping, pumping, pumping. And getting (this is gross) pink milk. Pumping is a whole other story. Expressed breast milk is like liquid gold, I tell you! And whoever said “don’t cry over spilled milk” obviously never pumped 4 ounces and then accidentally dumped it out on the carpet.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I ended up nursing Sadie for about 12 weeks, Josie for about 5 months, Adelaide for 2 ½ years, and I’m still nursing Jedidiah (and dreading the day he decides that he’s done.) If you’re a nursing mom, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s not all rainbows and roses. I'm not going to encourage you one way or the other. If it's your thing, go for it! If you struggle, give it a chance - you will eventually get over the hump (probably.) If you need a pep talk/guilt trip, let me know and I’ll have my sister-in-law call you.

If it's AWFUL and you HATE it, feed your baby a bottle. It doesn't mean you love her any less.

No, it's not all fabulous and it certainly doesn’t feel all "natural" sometimes (unless being a miserable, cabbage-covered milk cow comes naturally to you.) But once you get the hang of it, it can be wonderful.

If you can just get the hang of it.

Mel (MilkChic) April 15, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Great post! It's not easy, and sometimes it doesn't work as easily as you want it to. But when it does it's wonderful. And whatever happens, you should never feel guilty about trying your best.
Susan April 15, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Love this! I went through the same with Annabelle and Benjamin; both have overbites. Phillip I nursed Phillip for almost 2 years. There is no guilt. We do what we can. We don't live in the stone age. ;-)
gail gorby April 15, 2012 at 02:55 PM
O my lord !!! You, my child,crack me up!!! You are the best !
Callie E. April 15, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Such a great snapshot of what ACTUALLY happens! Love moms who keep it real!! ANd yes, Mastitis is the WORST!
Shanna April 17, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Love this piece! Every expecting mother should read this!!
Chelle April 21, 2012 at 08:12 PM
I appreciate that this comes from someone that did go on to breastfeeding successfully later on - but I disagree that "every expecting mother should read this". Why discourage people so badly? I was blessed to be able to have a 9 and a half pound baby naturally and breastfeed without a hitch. It doesn't work out that way for everyone but expecting moms don't need horror stories to scare them off. You do what you gotta do and women just need support through that - not people warning them about how bad it's going to be (my comment is not directed at the author, btw - I don't think she was trying to scare people...she was just sharing her experience).
Devone April 22, 2012 at 01:33 PM
You're right, Chelle - not trying to scare people at all... It IS wonderful, NOW. :) I just had a hard time -I hope most moms' experiences are like YOURS instead of mine!
Devone April 27, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Thanks Mel - you're right, when it works, it's great. I'm so glad that it worked out for me so well with my last two babies. I'm glad I tried it again. And again. :)
Devone April 27, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Thanks Sue! Those overbites are killers, aren't they?!
Devone April 27, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Thank you, Shanna! Yes, I wish someone would've told me more of what to actually expect (or at least what I MIGHT expect). I was kind of surprised that it didn't come as easily as I thought (or was trained to think) that it should! :)
Jen July 08, 2012 at 02:18 PM
With my son I breastfed him for a year, it was the rewarding feeling in the world. He also needed supplemented with formula which at first made me feel sad that I wasn't able to give him enough. Then I went in for a doctor appointment and she had told me I had an enlarged thyroid. This explained so much to me especially once I started researching this. I found out hypothyroidism one of the issues is when breastfeeding, lowers milk production. But started seeing a endocrinologist he got my thyroid straightened out but wasn't until over a year after. Now I am currently breastfeeding my daughter and she will be 1 at the end of the month and I will probably continue breastfeeding her past 1. With her I never needed to supplement except for the first few days of her life this was because she was tiny. With everyone it is different including each baby. So just take it "one day at a time" and have patience, lots of it otherwise you will get frustrated,

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