After a very interesting and beautiful birth, our first latch was what dreams are made of. She had a big, wide-open mouth, perfect positioning: a perfect, painless latch. I was glowing with pride as I watched (and heard) my sweet baby getting a nice full belly. We spent two full days in the hospital, mostly on our own because my husband was home with our older son. Within those two days, we had gone from beautiful dream latch, to sleepy, lazy latch that left me with bilaterally cracked nipples and lots of pain.
I tried so hard to find a comfortable position, but the hospital just could not provide that for me. I sat in the most uncomfortable chair, crying as she latched and the pain made my toes curl. I just wanted to be home. I spent the night before we went home watching videos of babies latching, over and over; I needed to be successful, I needed to breastfeed. I had promised myself that I would exhaust all resources after not being able to breastfeed my son because I was uneducated.
That morning brought so many good things. Charlotte was more awake and ready to eat, my milk had come in strong, and, most importantly, we were going home. The few latches before we left were so great. Of course there was still excruciating pain on the initial latch but after a few seconds, it was painless. I remember telling myself I could do it, telling myself that the pain was only temporary and that I would regret it if I quit.
I was ready to take this on and get it right so I contacted a lactation consultant. I knew that my latch had improved tremendously and that feedings were progressively becoming better, but I needed that vote of confidence. I really needed someone who knew what they were doing to tell me that I had gotten it. My lactation consultant was wonderful. She made me feel comfortable, she calmed me and gave me the confidence to say that I was going to do it. She became my lifeline in what was to come. Somehow, deep down, I knew my struggles weren’t over.
Breastfeeding is the hardest thing in the world… until it becomes the easiest
I recovered from the cracked nipples and things were improving so amazingly. Until they weren’t. It started as sharp shooting pain in my left breast, it was easy to ignore, but my mind went back to something my lactation consultant said: “we just have to watch for mastitis. When cracked nipples happen in the hospital, mastitis is likely to happen”. I frantically researched mastitis, If I was going to get it; I wanted to be able to catch it as early as possible.
The next morning, I woke up in pain; my left breast was swollen and red. This was it, I knew I had mastitis. I spoke to my lactation consultant and she instructed me to start taking a probiotic, because we needed to avoid thrush after the mastitis was gone. My fever climbed to 103, which was something I had never experienced before. I am not usually the type to rest when I am sick. I always feel the need to be doing something and being sick doesn’t slow me down, but this time it did. I didn’t leave the couch.
I fed Charlotte and pumped as much as I could because that was the only thing that made me feel better. 12 hours later, things were starting to look up, the antibiotics were working on my fever. I thought I had been through the worst so I was optimistic.
That 24 hour pill was like gold to me, I was ready to be better, I was ready to enjoy breastfeeding until my fever spiked to 104. I had never felt so hot and yet so cold. Every joint in my body felt like it was going to explode, I felt like I couldn’t open my eyes because everything was offensive. “Give it time,” I reminded myself to give the medicine time to work. An hour later, I took my temperatue: 103.2. It had barely made a dent and I knew it was time to call.
Both, my midwife and lactation consultant told me to go to the emergency room immediately.
I waited in the emergency room, shivering, in horrible pain and worst of all, without my baby. There were only two feedings pumped for her, so the pressure was on to get out of there quick. My stomach was in knots thinking about her at home, that soon she would need me and I might not be there. I plead my story to every nurse, every doctor, any person who would listen to me, begging to be seen promptly. Two and a half hours later, my doctor told me it was severe and clearly the antibiotics were not working.
She set me up with IV antibiotics and fluids and asked how I would feel about being admitted. They wanted to keep me overnight. “NO” the word flew out of my mouth so fast, it was like it was not me who said it. She understood, after all, everyone in that hospital knew how desperate I was to get back to my baby.
My husband had already given her the last of the breast milk, so I couldn’t be there any longer than absolutely necessary. As the IV finished, I felt tremendously better, my fever was gone, my swelling was down, I was able to pump, (and dump, ugh) the medication out of my breastmilk.
It was still 20 minutes, at the very least, until we could be home. We had formula samples, I told my husband where they were. I knew it was necessary, I couldn’t let Charlotte suffer and be hungry because I didn’t want her to have formula. It wasn’t a defeat; I was not going to let it bother me.
My son was on formula, he was beautiful and healthy, there is nothing wrong with formula. It was just not what I wanted.
I raced back home and walked in the door. It was quiet. My sweet girl was sleeping. I asked, “You gave her formula?” and my husband replied: “No, I walked around with her and tried to give her a pacifier and keep her as calm as I could and she fell asleep”. I never told him, but I almost started to cry. I felt so loved in that moment. He did everything he could because he knew that this was so important to me. I love him with all of my heart, all of the time, but that moment, that amazing display of love and support, made me love him even more.
A week later, I took my last pill. The mastitis was over, I felt great and I loved breastfeeding. I was building a little stash in the freezer to make sure I would always have some there for her, just in case. We were in a groove and really loving everything until I noticed a spot on my arm that was getting itchy, I thought that it was a reaction to something I had eaten, so I decided to take nap with my sweet girl to sleep off the little rash.
When I awoke, I was covered from head to toe in tiny red bumps, a terrible, itchy ugly rash, it seemed like an allergic reaction. I was terrified that it was contagious so I ran to urgent care around the block from my house, just to be seen quickly. They checked me over and determined it was an allergic reaction to the antibiotic.
I could not take benedryl, since antihistamines diminish your supply incredibly. The doctor came back to me with a prescription for a steroid that would help it clear up quickly. There was a side effect that I would not be happy with: it also diminished supply. “What happens if I don’t take it?” I asked. Her look of shock was interesting. She said that I could possibly get away with not taking it, but if within the week the rash was persistent, not looking better or I were having any trouble breathing, I would have to take the medication. Deal.
I dealt with oatmeal baths, calamine lotion and jedi-mind-tricking myself into thinking I was not itchy. It worked and the rash began to clear up on its own. As the rash started to dwindle off, I noticed I was having some nipple pain. It was very odd pain though, it did not happen at the beginning of a latch, on the contrary, it was happening more towards the end of feeding and would persist even after the feedings were over.
I remembered this, I had read about this. It was thrush. My mind spiraled into self pity, how could I be this unlucky to have every single breastfeeding ailment happen to me, it was unfair, on and on. I talked myself off the ledge, because in reality, it was science. That was all it was, luck had absolutely nothing to do with it.
When you kill bacteria with antibiotics, good bacteria dies along with it, letting yeast run wild. Science and fact and it was something I had to deal with. I read everything I could on the treatment of thrush and I began a crazy regimen of vinegar rinses, my prescribed anti-fungal medication, grapefruit seed extract, constant changing of clothes, sheets and towels, with bleach or Clorox 2 as my best friend. I was going to beat thrush and it was not coming back. Sorry thrush, you are not welcome here.
A week into the exhausting treatment and I was not sure that it was getting better, the nursing discomfort had pretty much subsided but I still had redness and irritation, which of course is a side effect of nystatin as well as a sign of thrush. I wanted it to be gone, I wanted to get up and not have to prepare myself to feed her.
My six-week well visit brought so much good news. My midwife gave me a clean bill of health, everything was healing wonderfully and she believed my thrush was mostly gone. I was told continue the treatment for another week. I left the office feeling so much better, I felt renewed, like all of this hard work and determination had brought me to the point I wanted to be. Six weeks. In six weeks, I had been through the wringer; I had struggled the hardest I have ever struggled with my body. But, I had also helped my sweet baby girl grow from 8 lbs 15 oz and 20.5 inches long to 13 lbs 1 oz and 23 inches long, I had soothed my angel when she was gassy, brought her comfort in her times of need, I had bonded with her. I bonded with her in my hardest time and through all the blood sweat and tears, I came out with a smile on my face.
I stuck to what I really wanted for my daughter and I could not be prouder of myself. I hope that in telling my story, I can inspire another mom to push through the hard beginnings. My husband, my dad and my friends kept me going, kept me on my track and I hope to be that support system for another mom, the way they were for me. I will tell my daughter our story, lead by example, so that she knows, when things get tough, you never give up something that you desperately want to do. Breastfeeding is the hardest thing in the world, until it is the easiest and most wonderful thing in the world.
We’d love to hear from you: Which struggles have you encountered in your breastfeeding journey? How did you overcome them?
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