Breastfeeding is natural. So when my daughter Zinnia was born, I was surprised at how UNNATURAL it felt to me. Babies must have proper mouth, and nose placement in order for the “latch on” to be successful and productive. It took me a lot of trial and error to establish a good nursing relationship.
I attended my first La Leche League meeting when Zinnia was a week old. I silently gaped at all the seasoned moms calmly discussing parenting techniques as they nursed babies of all ages. Some of the children were really tucking into their evening meal, but others were just “checking in;” breastfeeding was an intimate, nurturing bond that comforted them and made mother and child feel connected.
At Zinnia’s one week check-up, she showed a slight weight gain, which is almost unheard of, since most babies actually lose weight during their first week. I was one proud mama!
Like most new moms, the first two months hurt. A lot. I cringed at the thought of the next feeding. I was a slave to Lansinoh, the lanolin nipple cream that was supposed to smooth the way and ease the pain of cracked, tender, or otherwise harassed nipples that were relentlessly utilized every four hours or so.
Most days, nursing made me feel like I donated blood. I was exhausted, and no one was there to hand me juice and cookies at the end of a session. The calories I burned did cause me to lose 30 pounds the first month, but after that the weight loss slowed way down. My sex drive stalled, too. It’s a good thing my daughter was benefiting from my milk implants (I went from B cup to D), because my husband sure as heck wasn’t.
But finally, magically, one day the pain went away. It was suddenly a nice thing. I never felt a hormone rush or deliciously sleepy or orgasmic, but I could take the time to read a book or stare down at The Doll’s face and marvel at how my milk and body had done all this (on a vegetarian diet, too!)
Sometimes as I sat there, baby held loosely in my arms, I could imagine myself as a gorilla in the forest, feeling the lush foliage grow up around me and the sun on my skin as I became one with nature. Breastfeeding was such a primitive, natural thing, and it was good.
I refused to nurse in a public bathroom. Would you want to eat lunch in there? I didn’t smother Zinnia under a blanket as she ate, either. I was discreet and matter-of-fact about my nursing, never apologized or made an issue of it. I wanted to show the world how normal it is. No one ever reacted.
My mother-in-law kindly provided me with a deluxe Medela Pump InStyle double pump for when I went back to work part-time. As fortunate as I was to have such a great machine, lugging it into work was like dragging along luggage for a week-long vacation.
About six months into our breastfeeding relationship, I suddenly had a burning, itching sensation in my nipples. They turned bright pink and flaky. Soon it felt like shards of glass were in my breasts. Panicked, I called La Leche again, and checked my reference books. I had thrush, a yeast infection. Treatment had to be aggressive, medicine for both Zinnia and myself. Even though she had none of the symptoms, she could easily pass it back to me.
For two weeks I had to put an antifungal cream on my nipples after we nursed, and wash it off before we nursed again. It took the lovely spontaneity out of it. I put her on a rigid breastfeeding schedule in order to keep up with the medicine. I had to sterilize everything she put in her mouth. It was also recommended that I stop eating sweets, even fruit, that I throw away all my makeup and buy anew, take acidopholus, and boil my bras.
Things were blissful again for a couple of weeks. And then one night, as I rolled over in my sleep-POW. My left breast, my best producer, suddenly got hot and hard. I immediately got the chills and had a fever of 102. Mastitis had snuck up on me. By the next afternoon I was on antibiotics.
I tried everything La Leche suggested–steam, massage, frequent nursing. I popped Tylenol in vain. The antibiotics took care of the fever, but my breast was becoming more and more painful.
After a few days, I dragged myself into a doctor’s office, begging for something to dry them up, amputation, whatever. She suggested that maybe I was on the wrong antibiotic. She gave me some strong pain pills, and a new antibiotic. Thankfully, it worked.
After a second bout of mastitis, I decided that I would wean Zinnia on August 1, her first birthday. It was also the day we moved to another city. I figured she might realize that she had nursing privileges at the old small house, but that we weren’t moving the cow to the new location. Anyway, I wanted my body back. With mixed feelings, I cut her off cold turkey. She fussed for a day or two, but quickly forgot about sucking on my breasts. I can’t say the same for myself.
The word “engorged” echoed in my head the next two weeks. My breasts swelled up rock hard, and large. I couldn’t do a thing without bumping one, setting off bolts of pain and milk dripping. I called the doctor to beg for help, and she suggested warm wet compresses, tight bras and Advil.
Finally my boobs got the hint and started settling down, albeit grumpily. Slowly they began shrinking, along with the rest of my body, which realized I didn’t need those extra pounds around my hips as baby food back up, and reluctantly let most of it go.
My little soldiers served me well. They put in their active duty, put up a good fight and gave their all. For all they went through, I wanted to give them a medal of honor. Maybe even a Purple Heart.
Photo credit: bobsphotography.nl
[This post was written by Kendra Holliday.]