I came from a bottle-feeding family; come to think of it growing up I don’t think I ever saw anyone breastfeed. However, when I got pregnant I knew I would breastfeed. I knew little about breastfeeding so during my pregnancy I read several breastfeeding books and took a class to educate myself the best way I knew how. I was planning to deliver in a birth center but at 41wks 1d I was induced at a hospital because my amniotic fluid levels were low, I was devastated. Though my birth had not gone as planned I refused to let breastfeeding go the same way. I would not be robbed of this experience either. Fortunately we had no complications during birth so I was able to nurse my son less than an hour after birth, which now in retrospect knowing what I know an hour is actually delayed bonding. We should have received immediate skin-to-skin.
I was confident and sure that we would be able to breastfeed. We had no latch or positioning problems. Actually, when my milk came in I didn’t even know until I saw milk dribble down his chin. I expected the rock hard full breasts like Pamela Anderson like I pictured when people told me about their milk coming in. The first few months were a breeze, not a single problem. I had intended to only nurse for one year and it seemed we would make it to that goal easily.
Somewhere around the fourth or fifth month I got my first nipple crack. I applied some breastmilk and lanolin, it healed within a weak. Then another crack, and then another. Around the 7th month I had a crack on a nipple that just wouldn’t heal. I had done everything I had done to heal the other cracks but nothing worked. After seeing two different lactation consultants three times in person and talking to 4th and 5th over the phone we finally diagnosed it as thrush. Both my baby and I had no signs except a nasty crack that would not heal and "shiny pink" nipples. The crack was excruciating, every time I nursed I wanted to holler in pain and curl my toes. Since I had thrush I couldn’t use my milk to heal the crack because of the thrush in the milk. I couldn’t use lanolin either because it's a moisture barrier. I ended up using an OTC antibiotic ointment for 4 days on the advice of another lactation consultant. I tried everything natural first to get rid of thrush for about two weeks: gentian violet, grapefruit seed extract, taking 6-10 acidophilus capsules a day, weak vinegar rinse after nursing topically, washing my bras in vinegar, boiling pacifiers, etc. Nothing worked. I ended up resorting two a two week prescription for diflucan and that finally did the job.
Around the 9th month I thought I had gotten a milk blister. A few days into what I thought was a milk blister it got increasingly worse. Fortunately, I was a Certified Breastfeeding Peer Counselor and worked directly with several lactation consultants at local hospitals, I was lucky to have access to them whenever I needed them. Two different IBCLC they said it was an abscess. An abscess? How? I haven’t even had a plugged duct or mastitis, typically a history of plugged ducts or mastitis increases your risk for a breast abscess. My OB sent me to the ER to have it treated. Fortunately it didn’t need to be drained. I was given about a week of antibiotics and had to see an LC or my Dr a few days after have taken the antibiotics to make sure it was improving. When I saw them it was getting better thankfully. Another week went by and it wasn’t getting better fast enough. After talking to two of the LC's I spoke to regularly they told me to stop applying breast milk and lanolin. After each nursing I was to wash it with soap and water then apply an OTC antibiotic cream. It took at least 4-6 weeks to fully heal. I was informed not to nurse on the side with the abscess and pump for comfort.
I had 5 consecutive months of breastfeeding problems. At times, I swore my nipples were just going to fall off! Into 17 months of nursing my nipples become very itchy and red but I had no pain during nursing. I used lanolin for several weeks but found no relief. After talking to my colleague ( an IBCLC) and comparing my nipples with pictures she suggested it was psoriasis. Psoriasis! I had never heard of such a thing, psoriasis on nipples?! Nuts. I got some OTC psoriasis treatment and after two applications the symptoms were gone. I never once supplemented during the 5 months, even when people told me I should wean because of everything I had been through in such a short amount of time.
I decided to gently encourage the weaning process when I shattered my right elbow and broke my humerus roller-blading. I was in the hospital for a few days. I had to have major arm surgery (nearly 3 hours) that lasted longer than the orthopedic surgeon anticipated because I shattered my elbow in to cornflake size pieces. I never do anything half way, ever. I needed metal plates, screws and staples. I had so much metal in my arm that I set off metal detectors. It was so bad I was on morphine and Percocet (they are safe to breastfeed on) in the hospital. Unfortunately being right handed so I didn't have use of my right arm, I couldn’t even write. I could not dress myself; I could not even grinds beans to brew coffee - talk about tragic! My husband had to help me bathe. I could not drive for 2 wks either. I had 3 months of intensive physical therapy, three times a week.
We had planned to start night weaning in mid-June but obviously it happened while I was in the hospital. I knew it was time to wean, no question about it. Before this I had been through so much during nursing. I’ve battled a handful of cracks, one after the other, thrush that was undetectable to lactation consultants, an abscess that took two months to heal that I nursed through, psoriasis on my nipple. I actually had FIVE CONSECUTIVE MONTHS of breastfeeding problems. I was exhausted.
I was scared every time I nursed my acrobatic toddler would kick my broken arm. I needed rest to recover so my arm could heal. It took us 5 months to wean because I did it very slowly and gently, I prolonged the weaning process probably longer than necessary. As irony would have it we conceived our 2nd son about a month after I shattered my elbow, perfect timing! I nursed until I was about 5 months pregnant. My first son nursed for 26 months.
When my 2nd son was 6wks old I had an emergency open appendectomy. My appendix had ruptured; it was gang-green and abscessed. The doctor wasn't sure if I was going to live; it was incredibly scary. The experience was a reminder of my humanity and how fleeting life really is. I still get emotional thinking about leaving my husband a widower with a toddler and a newborn. I digress, I was in the hospital for a week and pumped several times a day. The first day after my surgery, I wasn't able to pump at all as I was barely conscious. I would send breast milk home with my husband when he brought the boys to visit me. I would nurse my newborn when my husband came to visit. My baby was supplemented with formula after running out of the breast milk I sent home. Upon returning home my supply was compromised clearly but I continuted nursed exclusively and took herbal supplements for a few weeks. Recovery from major abdominal surgery caring for a toddler and newborn was not easy. I may not have had a cesarean but I can definitely relate to the physical challenges postpartum women face after a c-section now.
My nursing "adventures" weren't over yet. At some point I had food poisoning, a kidney infection, mastitis and a few plugged ducts. Fun stuff! In December 2008 I was diagnosed with Graves Disease, severe hyperthyroidism, when my son was 11 months old. My thyroid hormone levels were FOUR times the normal amount and my thyroid had increased twice the size. I had all the classic symptoms of Graves, including heart palpitations. I had lost about 60lbs in 4 months and was very unhealthy. I felt so ill. The picture of me below is just before I started treatment for Graves Disease. The group picture afterward is me a few months after treatment, I'm on the far end in the purple top.
The normal course of treatment for Graves is I-131, radioactive iodine, in the US. That would mean permanent weaning. I would have to be quarantined from my family for a few days, not be able to hold my children for a week and 90% chance I would eventually develop hypothyroidism. I couldn't even fathom not being able to embrace my children for a week! After a few visits to different endocrinologists and against their recommendation, through my own research, I told them I would try a low dose of PTU, an anti-thyroid drug, in addition a beta-blocker for the heart palpitations. Both safe for nursing. The endocrinologists were skeptic it would work. 7wks after starting treatment I went back and my thyroid numbers were near normal!!!! I gained weight, my menstrual cycle resumed a few months later and my symptoms went away. To those skeptical doctors I have one thing to say to them: "neener neener neener" (sticks out tongue). We know our bodies better than anyone else. Nothing is a one-size fits all approach. I'm in sub-clinical remission and haven't taken medication in a few years. You can read more details about nursing through a thyroid disorder here.
I nursed my 2nd son for 32months, 4 months into my 3rd pregnancy. My 3rd son, Silas, was born April 2011. He nursed for almost 3yrs without any issues besides a plugged duct, I consider that minor.
I am proud of all that I’ve over come and nursed through. I know most women would've give up. Breastfeeding is natural but not always easy. Some women face hurdles that others don't. I see it all the time with the women I work with. While some women are blessed with "perfect nipples" they may have a baby that has a tongue or lip tie with a high palette, others may have flat or inverted nipples thus making it difficult for baby to latch, there may be hormonal imbalances at play that contribute to low milk supply and some women lack a lot of support. They are TOUGH hurdles to overcome. However with the right support from someone truly knowledgeable they can usually be overcome!
I do not say that to be boastful but to say I know first-hand that breastfeeding isn't always easy but it is so worth it to stick at it! What obstacles did you face while breastfeeding or pumping and how did you overcome it?