I wanted to nurse my Son, but it was not easy. His latch wasn’t good, and by the time he was two weeks old, I was in such pain that I couldn’t even bear it with gritted teeth. I remember sitting on the couch with tears of agony rolling down my cheeks as he tried to nurse, and watching him pull away to see blood, my blood, all over his lips.
In despair, I mentioned this to the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Son’s two week appointment. That wonderful woman sat with me for 45 minutes to work on this difficulty. The first thing she did was hand me a pair of these – silicone nipple shields. They “adhere” lightly to your skin and are pierced with holes so that your infant can nurse through them. The silicone provides a barrier to the constant abrasion that is creating wounds. And I had wounds. Deep fissures that took weeks to heal and left scars. But with these shields, I could nurse again. I didn’t have to pump to keep up the milk supply. I have given a pair of these to new mothers ever since – such a simple product that can make such an immense difference.
We made it eight more months before he started showing signs of being less interested. And biting me. Which made me less interested. By that time, I’d gone back to work, and so we weaned gradually over the course of a month. Given that I’d been ready to give up completely when he was just two weeks old, I felt like this was a total triumph.
With Daughter, things were wholly different. She was good at nursing right away. I’ve heard this is often the case, that infant girls have a better latch than newborn boys. That may have been what made her so much more successful. It may also have been that having nursed one child, I was better at it with the second. It was certainly the case that while Son woke up, nursed for 45 minutes, slept for 45 minutes, and then started again all night long (whoever defined this as “nursing every hour and a half” was clearly a man), Daughter slept a five hour stretch from the day we brought her home from the hospital. She then woke at 1am and again around 4:30. So I was sleeping, which meant it was easier to manage the discomforts of the first few weeks. (And this time, I knew to get some nipple guards to use for a few days when things got too tender, and I avoided any real injuries at all this time around.)
With Daughter, as with Son, I wanted to introduce a bottle very early, as she would have to be a daycare infant at about six months old, and I didn’t want her refusing the bottle then. But she was such a good nurser, and the process was so pleasant and intimate this time around, that I had to remind myself to give her a bottle every 5 or 6 days. (Son had gotten at least one bottle per day his whole life.) I was in what felt like a liberated universe: the diaper bag only had to hold diapers, wipes and clothes! No bottles, formula powder, water, or bibs! There weren’t nipples to wash all the time. It was wonderful.
When she was around eight months old, though, she contracted thrush, which spread to me. The yeast slowly worked its way into my milk ducts. Over the course of four months, I was on three different (increasingly stronger) oral prescriptions, and I tried two different topical creams. At its worst, a ductal yeast infection feels like you have shards of broken glass in your breasts sending sudden shivers of searing pain through the breast tissue. The only doctor I could get in to see at my
Although with both of my children there were wonderful bonding moments over nursing, and in both cases, I would say that the negatives did not outweigh the benefits, neither was completely easy. And I think stories like this are important to tell because there are so many images of nursing in our culture that contain smiling peaceful women and quiet wide-eyed babies who make it look as if anyone who struggles with nursing is either a freak or dumb. I am neither. Nursing is hard. It is work. It is good, worthwhile work. It is a struggle well worth making. But it is not a soft-focus postcard, and I think it is really important that women know that their strength, their bodies, their infants’ health, and all the other factors that come into emotional play over nursing are complicated. These are complexities that we each have to work through for ourselves, one baby at a time, and make decisions based on factors that are right for us at the time.
I am participating in this baby-feeding-story carnival because I feel very strongly that nursing should not be about guilt. It should be about bonding, passing on nutrition and health, and about love. And whatever decisions a woman and her child make throughout the nursing process should be honored. I have no patience with those who pass judgment on other women’s nursing choices. We do the best we can. And that is all anyone can ask.