On breastfeeding: from peaceful to stressful

26 Jan

Editor’s note: I’ve been mulling this post for weeks. But I’ve also been avoiding it. So, thanks to Katy for the extra push to finally sit down and write it.

Breastfeeding. It’s delicate, yet complicated subject matter. And it’s very personal.

So, as much as I wanted to avoid “labeling” breastfeeding as this or that, and possibly scare or unnerve someone else, I also wanted to share my experience, and maybe help someone else not feel so alone.

Breastfeeding is really, freakin’ hard! I mean, I knew it wouldn’t exactly be a walk in the park, and that it could present some challenges – especially with twins – but I didn’t know it would be not only physically exhausting, but mentally and emotionally taxing, too.

I knew I would breastfeed my children. It has so many benefits for mother and baby. It can be an incredible bonding experience. And it just seemed like the right and best thing to do – for us. I also knew that while I would be challenged,  I would stick with it; I am too stubborn and have too much pride to give up in the face of tough times.

Our journey goes something like this…

Immediately after birth: Anna and Elise were 3 weeks early, and they were born via C-section, so we started off at a disadvantage. I had to use nipple shields to help their weak little mouths latch on to my breasts. I also had to pump after every nursing session to get every last drop of colostrum, which we then dropper-fed to the girls to ensure they were getting enough nutrition.

But, both girls latched and nursed pretty darn well, all things considered, so I was optimistic we would be successful. Breastfeeding, at that point, was tender and loving and nothing short of miraculous.

20130819_022827Over the first few weeks: Anna and Elise lost a lot of weight, hovering dangerously close to the 4-pound mark almost 2 weeks after they were born. We struggled to bring them back up to their birth weights (as documented here and here) on just breast milk and had to supplement with formula starting at about 3 weeks.

The girls were considered late pre-term babies, so they were not strong enough to get the nutrition they needed only from the breast and thus, they were not stimulating me enough to produce enough milk for two babies.

I remained insistent on exclusively breastfeeding, so we took on an aggressive feeding plan. I had to nurse every 2-3 hours, I had to nurse them for at least 10 minutes and I had to pump for 10 minutes after every feeding.

The girls gained some, but not enough weight, so we started to supplement with formula per our pediatrician’s recommendation, but much to my chagrin*. I nursed for as long as they would go, then we gave them supplemental bottles of formula, which made them phlegmy/mucousy and prone to congestion and spit-up. We constantly were sucking snot/mucous out of their noses and making sure they stayed upright for a bit after feedings.

Breastfeeding then still was tender, but it also was laced with stress and feelings of inadequacy.

By about 1 month old: Anna and Elise finally were gaining weight at an acceptable rate. We even kicked the nipple shields to the curb – until both girls, in mid-September, came down with thrush; I broke out the shields again to protect myself.

20131024_183522Over the first few months: The girls got more active and thus popped on and off the breast frequently, so the nipple shields, unfortunately, were more of a hindrance than a help; every time one of the girls would unlatch, her shield would come off, too.

I worked diligently to wean them off the shields, trying at almost every feeding to get them to latch without it. Elise kicked it first. Anna hung on for a few more weeks until, in mid-November, we visited with our lactation consultant, Kim, and the girl just nursed without it, no fussing, no nothing.

Unfortunately, I came down with thrush in my left breast in October. I dreaded nursing on that side: Whenever one of the girls would latch, it was tears-inducing painful, and then after they nursed, it would linger as a deep, burning pain. It lasted about 3 weeks.

Breastfeeding then was a true challenge and test of my patience. I hated the nipple shield – loathed it. I also dreaded feedings, at least on the left side, because it was excruciating. I wanted to continue breastfeeding, but I hated the experience so much, that I contemplated becoming an exclusive pumper.

But I knew that nothing – no machine – pulls milk from the breast better than a baby, so I knew the only option was to grin and bear it.

20131213_185535Fast forward to the last several weeks: Anna and Elise hit the phase of nursing where everything around them is a distraction, including each other. They are really fussy and almost never eat together for more than 5-7 minutes at a time (except some overnights, when they are sleepy and often eat in tandem for the whole 18-20-minute feeding). We almost always start them together, but usually end up feeding them separately. Feedings take as long as an hour and are extremely frustrating. There often is a lot of crying – both from the babies and from me.

The girls still eat really frequently, in my opinion – like every 2 1/2 hours during the day. Maybe it’s because we’re sort of programmed that when their clocks near 2:30, and if they are a little ornery around that time, we should feed them, rather than letting them tell us when they are hungry.

Breastfeeding still is difficult. It stresses me out and takes a huge toll on the mood in the house. I question many times my decision to breastfeed my girls. I think how much easier it would be to pump – or, easier yet, to formula feed them. But I remain steadfast because I firmly believe it has to get easier as they get older, eat more solids and nurse less often.

And in the last week: The girls seem to be in the midst of a big developmental growth spurt because this fussy (at least while they eat) period will not end. But, they we have made some progress.

First, I stopped watching the clock; if Anna only nurses for 9 minutes, then she only nurses for 9 minutes. I no longer am going to fret about her brief feeding. And I am no longer going to force her (and myself) to last until the clock hits 20 minutes; I aim for 12-15 minutes at minimum. Second, I am taking the distractibility in stride; if Elise looks up and me and wants to coo or giggle, then I am going to play along because she’ll go back on the boob within a minute or so and she’ll still get the nutrition she needs. And last, I am taking the fussiness in stride, too; if possible, I’ll feed them one at a time, but if not, then I’ll feed them in tandem as long as they’ll go, then feed them separately.

Also, all of a sudden, the girls now eat closer to every 3 to 3 1/2 hours during the day.

Breastfeeding, just in the last week, is better – and thus, my mood is better, which in turn, makes nursing easier and less stressful. It’s all connected. Sure, I still have moments of weakness, when I get frustrated and I want to throw in the towel. But then, I have moments of immense satisfaction, when the girls look up and me and smile so wide, my heart struggles to stay within the confines of my chest, and I remember that I have almost exclusively nursed not one, but two babies for almost 6 months.

What has gotten me through: We would be lost without Kim, our nurse/lactation consultant at the Birthing Center, who has an open-door policy and has visited with us frequently when we were (and even when we weren’t) struggling with breastfeeding, to offer pointers, praises and pick-me-ups.

I would not be able to stay sane without my mom or my friend, Amy, who always are there to listen and, when possible, offer advice.

And I would be nothing without my incredible husband, Christopher, who is supportive of me and just as committed to breastfeeding the girls as me. He is the biggest and best helper and cheerleader.

Where do we go from here? I am hopeful that as the girls exit this developmental growth spurt (just in time for the 6-month growth spurt and teething!), breastfeeding continues to get better. I am hopeful that their feedings continue to space out a bit more, closer to every 4 hours, especially as we continue to introduce solids a couple of times a day.

And I am hopeful that I can breastfeed them until they are 1 year old. I know I’ll make it to 6 months (just 2 weeks away!), which is a noble goal for any breastfeeding mother. But I don’t know that I’ll make it to a year…so I’m setting my sights on August.

“Final” thoughts: Breastfeeding really is incredible. Despite our struggles early on to bring the girls back up to their birth weights; despite our issues with the nipple shields and thrush in both the girls and in me; and despite our frustrations with distractibility and fussiness, I still enjoy nursing – because the tender, peaceful moments far outweigh the stressful times.

I marvel at the miracle that is breastfeeding. And I carry an intense amount of pride in my accomplishment.

*It goes without saying that breastfeeding vs. formula feeding is a personal decision and that there are benefits and drawbacks to both. I wanted to breastfeed, and I wanted to exclusively breastfeed, so I really struggled with the idea of introducing formula. I felt like a failure, like less of a mother. But I, of course, would do anything necessary to ensure the health of my children. All that said, we’ve really struck a nice balance. The girls get the vast majority of their nutrition from breast milk, but we have the flexibility of formula, which is handy on the road or during growth spurts.

16 Responses to “On breastfeeding: from peaceful to stressful”

  1. Karin (mom) Herd January 26, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

    You are incredible. And you have an incredible husband. I have seen you two with these girls and you have me in awe. I hope I did half as well with you and your brother.

    • kaylabee18 January 29, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

      Thanks, again, Mom. I know you did a wonderful job raising Kyle and I; if you hadn’t, I wouldn’t be able to be the mom Anna and Elise deserve and the wife Christopher deserves. Love you.

  2. mommyintraining January 26, 2014 at 10:37 pm #

    Wow Thank you for sharing. You are doing an amazing job. Breastfeeding is No walk in the park and you are doing it with twins! You go girl! I’ve had my setbacks with breastfeeding as well. I’m only a month in and sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel. I go back to work on Feb. 24th and hopefully I can stick with it because I will have to pump every 3 hours at work. You give me the motivation not to quit! Thank you for sharing.

    • kaylabee18 January 29, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

      Good luck with going back to work. I know many moms who struggle with the transition from BFing to pumping at work and BFing at home. But, they all have managed to make it work — and you can too!!

  3. Libbi January 26, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

    I wish I’d known sooner how much you were struggling. Yes, when they are small it IS every two to three hours, and very exhausted, but yes, it will eventually be four hours. I’m sure with twins it is even more stressful. I learned NOT to watch that clock, or take everyone’s advice quite so literally (mine included lol) Everyone’s experience is different, yet can be the same in some instances. RELAX is the most important thing, and yes, stop watching the clock, just enjoy it !!!! which has to be harder with two also.

    IF they become 10 mos old and not quite so interested in nursing, don’t fret about that either. By that time they will be eating a LOT of solids and won’t need it as much. My Russ (youngest) weaned himself at about 10-11 mos. I wasn’t ready to quit. BUT it’s important to follow their lead. You can hang on to that first in the morning, and last thing at night even when they aren’t interested during the day, but follow their lead and you will have no problems weaning them at 1 year.

    • kaylabee18 January 29, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

      Once again, Libbi, you offer a light at the end of the tunnel. Things already have improved since my posting; the girls are eating every 3 to 3 1/2 hours (and today 3 hours and 45 minutes). It’s provided me a bit of a break and allowed me to better maintain my patience when the going gets tough.

  4. breeowen January 27, 2014 at 6:42 am #

    Wow, you have come such a long way! I am so impressed you kept at it, i think i would have given up! I have been close to giving up so many times and i only have one baby and half the problems you seem to have had. Mums with twins amaze me with their strength and patience, you are definitely included in that!

    • kaylabee18 January 29, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

      Thanks, hon. I just hope that my openness and honesty helps other realize either that they have it good or that it is possible to persevere through the challenges. :)

  5. Renee January 28, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    Kayla, after Gaige was born I learned that breastfeeding would be an uphill battle. I had semi-inverted nipples. At the time I felt like a failure, and embarrassed to ask for help because, well, I felt like something was wrong with my own body. No one told me how common it actually is. The nurse (not lactation consultant– we didn’t have one) showed me how to use the shields. I loathed them. Gaige had a terrible time trying to latch on, I became incredibly engorged, the goofy hospital issue pump was manual and it hurt my incision something awful to use it. Gaige’s weight dropped.
    Finally after bringing him home I thought we had a grasp on latching on. Still he would only feed for a few short minutes. He became fussier and his weight kept dropping. Emotionally maxed out, I consulted my own OBgyn. He took my hand as I cried and explained (in more technical terms) that I was dried up. I had had one big push for milk when I was engorged but I wasn’t producing enough milk to meet Gaige’s demand now. I would have to formula feed. I must have cried for days. I felt like I failed at my one chance of bonding with this little blessing I hadn’t even dreamed of preparing for.
    We began formula and I won’t say it was miraculous, but he became a different child almost. Weight picked up, happiness fill the whole house… *sigh* I got over the hump of not being able to do it myself. Needless to say, when Garrett made his grand entrance we tried again knowing it probably wouldn’t work. It made not being able to so much easier to accept.
    I appreciate your story and all of your detailed honesty! These are things that every mother/ couple should know, and not just new parents. Every child is different. I haven’t met your girls but from the pictures and videos you post I know 100% that the struggle you have is rewarding you ten fold with laughter, smiles, and new experiences daily.Keep up your amazing work. As your friend I find this post inspiring, as a simple reader, I find it helpful and encouraging. <3

    • kaylabee18 January 29, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

      Renee, I know replied in brief on Facebook, but I once again have to tell you how much this comments means to me. You are wonderful for sharing your experience because it makes me feel 1,000 times better — simply to know someone else has been through a struggle and come out on the other side. You are an awesome momma. And I hope my story not only helps experienced moms, like you, not feel so alone, but also helps new moms or moms-to-be prepare for what’s to come.

  6. Kelly January 30, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    Good for you for being so determined! I promise it will pay off and get much much easier! Question for you, how did you know that you had thrush and how did you treat it? I experienced the exact same horrifically painful symptoms recently and just assumed that my daughter’s latch had changed due to possibly teething. I was so close to quitting and then one day it went back to being pain free and easy. I worry it will happen again though!

    • kaylabee18 January 30, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

      Hi Kelly, I figured it out sort of on my own. It started with some intense pain — burning and deep in my breast. I Googled “thrush” since I knew that was a possibility, especially given the girls had a month earlier, and I still wasn’t 100% sure. My nipple(s) didn’t exhibit the same characteristics described, save for an itty bitty piece of skin that was white (and came off after one of the girls unlatched … which caused a lot of pain). Anyway, I just assumed it was thrush and, instead of seeing the doctor, because I didn’t know whether to see my OB/GYN or my primary doc (which I don’t yet have — oops!), I looked up some home remedies. I marched to the store to get a topical antifungal cream (Lotrimin, Monistat, etc. all work, according to many people — I settled for Walmart brand Lotrimin, meant for treatment of athlete’s foot) and acidophilus, per a recommendation from my lactation consultant. I kicked it, then stopped using the cream and taking the pills, and it reared its ugly head again. This time, my nipple/the girls’ latch didn’t hurt as much, but my breast just throbbed after feedings. But, as soon as I started taking more probiotic and religiously applying the cream, I felt good again. So, I hope that helps!

      • Kelly February 3, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

        Thank you soooo much! That is a huge help!! I thought it was happening again yesterday, but it turns out my daughter just got her first tooth! Finally haha she is almost 9 months old! And don’t worry about your girls getting teeth… that pain was minor and only during 1 feeding. Now that the tooth broke through, I don’t feel it at all.

  7. babylute2013 February 5, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    You are a wonder woman. Seriously. You have had so many struggles and complications. The fact that you have stayed strong and determined throughout the tough times is AMAZING. You are such a great mommy!!

    • kaylabee18 February 13, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

      Thanks, Katy. It’s little boosts of confidence like that one you just gave me that help make the difference.

  8. tepelbeschermer July 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Cool blog you have! Compliments. I just visited a site http://tepelbedekkers.nl. You might want to blog about their products? I have never seen such a bra’s and tepelbedekkers in my life.

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