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2006-02-07 - 10:34 a.m.

I had, somewhat naively, assumed that breastfeeding would come fairly naturally to me. I did, after all, have some problems with colostrum leakage for over half my pregnancy. I realized that it would be sore-going at the beginning (I’m not that naive) but had expected my boobs would “toughen up” relatively quickly.

I have to give breastfeeding a mixed review so far – it’s mostly good, but there are days where I can get sore and it can get frustrating ‘cause Grom seems to want to eat for hours. I am absolutely going to continue to persevere because it is, hands-down, THE BEST THING FOR BABIES. And I know that I have had it relatively easy compared to many – no cracked nipples, no (dear GOD) bleeding nipples or blood blisters, no blocked ducts – but, two weeks in, my boobs are still relatively tender and I’d hoped they’d have adjusted by now.

Even with the cesarean, I was encouraged to try nursing right from the get-go in the recovery room. During my three days in hospital I was fortunate enough to have a number of nurses, all with different favourite nursing positions that they coached me in, all with slightly different styles and tricks for me to learn. I learned side-lying, football, and alternate arm hold, in that order, and I still use all of them at times, as well as the typical cradle hold everyone thinks of when they picture mom and baby nursing. It was also very handy to have a nurse on call when things weren’t going smoothly, and to have them around to wake me up every 3-4 hours at night for feeding when the baby wasn’t making any noise to let me know she was hungry.

Yes, that’s right, I woke a sleeping baby to make her eat. It sounds odd but that’s what you’ve gotta do at the beginning: breast-fed newborns need to nurse at least 8 times in 24 hours. Their stomachs are only the size of a chickpea for the first few days, then expanding to the size of a cherry, and a walnut after that. In other words, they have to eat often because they can’t eat a lot to sustain themselves for very long.

I had a baby that could. Not. Wait. For the damn colostrum to change to milk already! This meant that, on the third day, she started cluster feeding like nobody’s business and I ended up nursing for about 6 out of the 12 hours that day. That? Was a long, sore day. And there was just no consoling Grommet when she didn’t get what she was after. There have been a couple of days like that since, when she eats and eats and never seems to get full, but mostly she only feeds for less than ½ an hour at a time.

When my milk did come in and I got engorged, she only ate for maybe 5 or 10 minutes at a time. I imagine it must have been like going from drinking from a slowly dripping tap to drinking from a garden hose.

Let me tell you about engorgement: My friend had told me it would feel like my boobs were full of gravel. I pictured this as meaning it would be painful and sore and my boobs would get hard. It was actually more literal than that. Each individual milk duct was full to capacity and from the outside it really did feel like my boobs were kind of lumpy and full of hard pebbles. And yes, it was very uncomfortable, and I think I even ran a small fever as I kept shivering and putting on more layers, despite having raised the temperature of the house to a Grommet-friendly level (we normally keep our place very cool, especially at night). And the leakage? Not to be believed. Good thing the engorgement phase only lasted about 24 hours.

The leakage, however, continues to be a minor problem, particularly when nursing. The let-down of the milk triggered by Grommet nursing on one side affects the other side at the same time. This means that I have to have something handy to clamp over the boob not in use or I soak the Grom’s little footsie pyjamas. This let-down reflex also seems to have a hair-trigger at other times. I was in the kitchen a day or two after the initial engorgement getting a snack. ‘Let me see,’ I thought, ‘I think I’d like a glass of MILK with that.’ I felt a drop hit my belly and looked down only to find I was leaking steadily from both boobs all of a sudden. It dawned on me that it was thinking of milk that had done it. Now I may have decided I wanted to drink some milk, but I hadn’t intended to fill the glass myself!

Despite the relative ease with which the Grom took to the boob, I did have a lactation consultant in to check our progress and our latch. I have friends who’d done the same and gotten very positive results. I had some questions and I also knew that some of the soreness I was experiencing was due to not being able to get Grommet to take enough of the boob into her mouth so she was more nipple-feeding than breast-feeding. If I can offer one piece of advice this would be it: if you have ANY trouble and you can afford to get a lactation consultant, they are totally worth it. If you can pay the extra to get them to come to your home, do it ‘cause it makes life much simpler. Grom and I have made a lot of progress since then that I don’t think we would have made without the consultant’s help. I found her by calling La Leche League for a recommendation. If you don’t want to get a consultant, there are other community resources such as La Leche League and public health nurses – just look around. Breastfeeding should be enjoyable for both baby and mother. Yes, you should expect to be tender for the first while, but it shouldn’t keep hurting for weeks on end.

One last thing, the side-lying position? The BEST way to go at night: I can stay cozy under the covers and even doze while Grom eats to her heart’s content.

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