I have heard a lot of parents talk about how they assumed they would just put the baby to their breast and breastfeeding would be natural. It would just happen. Then they're surprised when it doesn't work like that. I did not think it would be natural. I was worried. I watched this documentary about breast milk, called appropriately Breast Milk. I read Ina May's Guide To Breastfeeding, which funnily enough has a forward by Ani Difranco. Ever wonder what she's been up to? She said fuck you to everyone and their untouchable faces, and then settled down to do some serious breastfeeding. Both the movie and the book made breastfeeding seem hard. It seemed to require an extreme level of hand eye coordination and also dumb luck. You had to get this squirmy thing onto your nipple, while holding it, and tease mouths with nipples, and check latches, and you had to have enough milk, which it seemed like lots of people didn't. I was worried about breastfeeding way before I met Baby Leif.
Baby Leif is born and he has a tongue tie. This means the membrane under his tongue is tight so he can't get his tongue out all the way. His was quite obvious because it was so tight that his tongue looked a little heart shaped at the front.
The nurse noticed it before we even left the hospital. The midwife thought we should wait and see if it was an issue. We go home and first night is all good. We stayed in the hospital a very short amount of time, not even 24 hours because who wants to be at the hospital? No one, that's who. I should say, when I woke up the morning after leaving the hospital my pelvic floor hurt so bad I though we had made a horrible mistake leaving the hospital. I had forgotten to take pain meds. After I took them my vagina felt less broken... still a little broken. Anyway, night number 2 the real feeding began. It's called cluster feeding but what it meant was that Leif ate non-stop from 10pm till 6am. Literally, I would take him off the boob and he would be asking for more. He was a good strong, week and a half late, baby so is sucking game is on point but his tongue is dinky, little and stuck because of the tongue tie. Baby's use their tongue to sort of coax the milk out of the breast. Without being able to do this he is sucking way harder. So hard that when he'd come off the breast he'd leave a suction cup mark... think like what a giant octopus would leave on your nipple if he'd been feeling you up. Or she, whatever sex octopus had been feeling you up. After two nights of this my nipples are destroyed. They are cracked and bleeding. I am using nipple balm and then covering my nipples in saran wrap. This keeps them from chapping, but it still hurts so bad I wince every time the baby goes on, but I think maybe this is normal?
So the third night home, my baby is 3 days old, he starts spitting up blood. I freak out. Why is my beautiful perfect baby spitting up blood. I call the midwife and she tries to assure me it's my blood but I'm not believing her. I actually pumped to see if it was my blood but no blood came out when I pumped. I call my mom and we all rush to the hospital. I realize almost immediately that BC Children's ER is the worst place on earth for a three day old baby. It's like a TB ward in there with sniffing, coughing children, and one has a horrible rash all over her body. Good news is they rush newborns through so we didn't need to sit in the waiting room. When did doctors get to be younger than me? The resident we get first looks like he is still the age to be a patient at Children's Hospital. He examines the baby who is at this point totally happy and not at all sick looking. Another doctor comes in and assures me the baby is fine and they've talked to a doctor on staff who has three children and breastfed them all and is sure that the blood is from me and not the baby. It probably didn't show up in the pumping because a baby is better at getting milk, and blood it would seem, than a pump. They send me on my way. I have a vampire baby, no big deal.
The next day the midwife comes over and helps us work on latch and recommends a nipple balm to help with the situation. I need a more intense nipple balm than I was using because my nipples are injured. It was this one:
This is not necessarily a product endorsement because I have tried very few nipple balms but this one did work well. Apparently it was designed by a midwife? That's what my doula said. For the first month and a half of breastfeeding I used it religiously. Baby Leif is better at nursing now and I only use it when I start to get chapped.
One of the reasons that he is better at nursing is we got his tongue tie snipped. The midwife referred us to a pediatrician. I felt a little like we were letting the midwives down by getting it snipped... like it was a sort of circumcision of the tongue and frowned upon in granola circles. I mean he was throwing up blood because of his lethal dinky tongue/vice grip latch combo, so it was probably necessary. The pediatrician took one look at his tongue and was like, "Yeah we're going to snip that." He did not cry, and he bled for like two seconds. His latch was not immediately improved, or maybe it was but my nipples were so far gone at that point everything hurt. With time his latch did soften so I think it was the right call. You need to swipe your finger under the tongue 5 times a day for a week so the tie doesn't grow back. Not a big deal. I just did it when he nursed. He nursed way more than 5 times a day, probably 18-20 times a day in the beginning, but that just meant I didn't feel bad when I missed running my finger under his tongue a couple times.
Now I have no problem whipping out a boob anywhere... it was not always like that. I have to say in Vancouver I have never felt shamed for breastfeeding in public. In fact one time someone at a Starbucks gave me a high five for breastfeeding and another time an elderly lady gave me a hug. I'm not sure the hug was because I was breastfeeding. She said it was because I was taking care of a little angel but I was breastfeeding at the time which made the hug both awkward and logistically difficult. I think that honestly people who formula feed are more often publicly shamed. I have heard a number of stories about that which is too bad. Babies need to eat, and parents need to be able to feed them without fear or shame.
The first time I had to breastfeed in public was unexpected. I fed him before we left the house and thought we could run our errands and get home before he'd eat again but he was only two and a half weeks old and ate all the time (see above). He started screaming for milk at Kingsgate Mall. It's a mall that is not the flashiest, and not aimed at rich people (which is fine because we are not rich) but I will defend it to the death as one of the most useful malls in Vancouver: pharmacy, grocery store, liquor store and a credit union debit machine. It's still not where I would have chosen to first breastfeed other than house, but when a baby needs to eat and baby needs to eat. Outside of the liquor store on Christmas Eve (so it was packed) I fed Leif.
As I was feeding the baby, a Christmas miracle happened, someone I knew happened along and also had to feed her baby and so I had this backup all of a sudden. I was way less embarrassed once there was someone else. I was no longer the lone breastfeeder but already part of the breastfeeding army that populate this country and this world. People just doing what they do, nurturing the next generation FROM THEIR BODIES. Breastfeeding is badass.