On second thought.
April 12, 2010

When Charlotte was born, she was placed on my chest within minutes.  She rooted and she latched onto my nipple and THAT MOMENT remains the single most excruciating pain that I have ever endured.  I had just pushed that child out of my vagina, but the part that hurt the most was placing her at my breast and letting her suckle.  I swore more during my first nursing session than some sailors do during their entire lives.

Later, I asked the night nurse for a pack of formula.  The nurse refused.  An hour later, when another nurse came around, I begged her for formula.  She refused as well.  And oh, how I cried.  MY NIPPLES HURT, I bawled, and I WANTED TO SLEEP, and MY BABY WAS HUNGRY and and and and and.

Look, she said.  You told me that you want to breastfeed this baby.  And you can.  I promise that you can.  WE CAN HELP YOU.  But if I give you formula, then you might not.  And that would be a shame.

Breast is best, she chirped.  And you want to do what’s best and healthiest for your child, don’t you?  I know that it hurts, I know that you’re tired, but I KNOW YOU CAN DO THIS.

So I forced my husband to ask for formula.  The nurses gave in.  It’s nearly impossible to turn down a desperate new father with bags under his eyes, you know?

I complained about that experience on my blog.  I wrote an angry letter to the hospital.  It took me a month to comfortably breastfeed exclusively and the entire time, I found that nurse’s attitude absolutely infuriating.  IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY, I put in that letter, TO SUPPORT PARENTS’ CHOICES SO LONG AS THEY ARE NOT HARMING THEIR CHILDREN.

Lately, I find myself remembering those first, painful, difficult weeks of Charlotte’s suckling.  I remember the sores, the scabs, the blisters, the blood.  I remember crying for hours, straight from one feeding to the next.  I remember the weight of sheer guilt when I mixed up a bottle instead of offering my breast.  But I also remember that when nursing got better, it got SO! MUCH! BETTER!  Better than I could have ever imagined.

And then I thought, you know what?  Of all the tens, dozens, HUNDREDS of letters that I have written and not sent, THAT letter is the one that I will always be grateful I could not find an envelope for.

It took me nearly nine months to see it, but that woman I called evil?  May very well have been one of the best things to ever happen to me, to my daughter, or to my family.  By forcing me to persevere (until I cheated), she gave me the opportunity to begin building the breastfeeding relationship in which I have found such joy.

Yesterday, I wrote a different letter to the hospital.  Today, I will mail it.

*** The ever-patient and ever-awesome Amanda is featured Behind the Blog today.  If you have a chance, say hello!

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  1. By on April 12, 2010

    When I had my daughter, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. And I made sure everyone knew that. I had trouble with her latching on. Also, because I had a c-section, my milk was not coming in fast enough. The nurse I had kept saying she thought we should start supplementing my daughter with formula and the lactation consultant didn’t agree because she had enough wet diapers. We argued about this for 2 days before I gave in. I was so upset by the thought of giving her formula so soon, but realized that she had been right. Apparent;y my daughter had been crying because she was hungry and wasn’t getting enough from me. I was so afraid of formula that I didn’t want to start it, but it turned out to be the best thing for my daughter. We only had to supplement for a few weeks before my milk supply came in fully and was able to feed her appropriately.

    It’s hard right after giving birth to think rationally about these things because of being tired and the crazy hormones running around. I look back and wish I hadn’t given that nurse a hard time. She was only looking out for the best interest of my baby. And she is almost nine months old and still breastfeeding.

  2. By Sarah Christensen on April 12, 2010

    Pam - It really is.  I guess when you’re immediately postpartum and every emotion and hormone known to mankind is bombarding you, it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is.  For us, gosh, I don’t even know.  Maybe supplementing was what we needed to overcome the initial soreness, but then again maybe I could have powered through it, I don’t know.  What I do know is that formula was what I wanted and since I did not have supply or latch problems, the nurse who did not give me the formula was trying to make what I said I wanted (exclusive breastfeeding) come true.

  3. By Stephanie on April 12, 2010

    I can’t get too into this comment, because I’ll wax on emotionally for about..three days, and everyone who comes to your site will be like “wow, that girl is crazy”, but since Jazz was so early, I was so incredibly enthusiastic about pumping. Everyone was so surprised, and I was so strict about pumping on Jasper’s NICU schedule that even the NICU nurses told me it was ok if I went longer at night so I could sleep, but I pumped every 2-3 hours, right when my milk came in, because I felt like that was the closest I could get to feeding him at night while he was in the hospital. I’m already getting really emotionally typing this, but just wanted to say that even though I’m very publicly and openly at a point where I am ready for Jasper to wean, I have loved, and do love, the breastfeeding relationship. And I even tried to switch him to formula only at 6 months, and now, I’m glad he rejected it. I wasn’t worried about formula and whether or not it would hurt him, because I don’t think that it is something that will HURT babies, but the bonding that has transpired between Jazzo and I through breastfeeding…is astounding.

  4. By on April 12, 2010

    I am so glad to hear about nurses trying to help you persevere with breastfeeding.  When I had Sophie they were so quick to try to force supplementing (even though she was latching on well ) but she reached their magic % of weight loss.  I ended up giving in to 3 finger feedings just to help get her back within their guidelines so we could go home. 
    I have to say I almost gave up that first week because of pain and cracked nipples…glad I diodn’t

  5. By on April 12, 2010

    oh sarah, the crying and the bleeding and the sheer pain for the first month. i cannot believe i did not mix a bottle of formula. my husband would stand behind me and rub my shoulders for a few minutes before putting the baby to my breast just to relax me enough so i didn’t start crying BEFOREhand. and recovering from an unexpected c-section meant i only had one comfortable nursing position - the football hold…i hate football.
    my mom kept telling me “hang in there - soon it will feel like he’s just sucking on an elbow”.  it was all so worth it. 

    and i’m just curious - how is it with teeth?  8 and 1/2 month later, we still have no signs of teeth in this house. i’m thinking it’s a blessing in disguise, but why not ask you for a real answer?

  6. By on April 12, 2010

    I feel like you are writing to me right now…  I remember all of these challenges when I first started nursing my first daughter.  Almost throwing in the towel.  Long nights of trying to nurse.  Heating a bottle for a screaming baby.  Feeding the baby. Pumping.  Then doing it all again, with maybe a 15 minute nap in between the sequence. 

    And it got better… About at that 3 week/month mark. And I told friends this who would inquire about nursing their babies.  “Just hang in there!  It will get better!“  Because it does. And it did.

    Now, I have a 17 day old baby who nursed immediately.  Then we had to supplement because she lost too much weight, so she has become accustomed to the bottle.  And while I have so much milk that I do not need to give her formula anymore, I am frustrated because we have these seemingly successful nursing sessions and then she screams and takes two ounces from a bottle.  And I’m left feeling deflated (and not my breasts).  Why does it seem my baby is taking milk directly from the tap, but then starving a few short minutes later?  It’s making for challenging nights.

    So, I’m finding myself at that place again…  That place of wanting to throw in the towel and not nurse my baby anymore.  And it makes me very sad.  This feeling of not being able to nourish my child is so upsetting, even though I can pump her food (you should see my freezer). 

    But I know the better is right around the corner and I feel like I should stick it out, even though I am so tired, my boobs are so engorged constantly and my shirts are wet.  I am going to try to stick it out another little while with the hopes that the better is just a day or so away.

    OK… My little postpartum vent!

  7. By vanessa on April 12, 2010

    Oh my remembering that pain is making me re live it! Ahh oh those first few weeks, yeah….

    I loved this post :)

  8. By Sarah Christensen on April 12, 2010

    Kiki - I have a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with teeth.  Charlotte is a biter and she uses her chompers in three ways while breastfeeding: a) to draw in the breast, (only if she’s really fussy and frantic), b) to maintain the latch, (like when she’s falling asleep, sometimes she’ll just bite down so that she doesn’t lose the nipple) (can’t get too upset as I don’t think this one is intentional), and c) when reluctantly giving up a latch, she scrapes her teeth along my nipple until she releases.

    Honestly, teeth are cute and wonderful for chewing, but nursing is much tougher for me now than it was before.  She’s bruised me and left teethmarks that last half a week before - and sometimes she’s so desperate (with increased mobility, she refuses to nurse sometimes until she’s too ravenous too wait patiently for me to unsnap my bra) that she’ll just start biting me - my shoulder, the top of my breast, whatever =(

    I’ve heard that other women don’t have any problems with nursing with teeth, that all they have to do is tap the baby’s head or flick them and say no or ouch, but I haven’t really found the magic mix of actions and words just yet.  I try to be consistent with just breaking her off and telling her no firmly, but sometimes if she bites hard enough, I scream involuntarily or break the latch abruptly without thinking about it.  So that might be the problem, I might be too jumpy when I need to be more patient?

  9. By Cynthia A on April 12, 2010

    When I had Bailey, I knew without a doubt I wanted to breastfeed.  I wrote my birth plan and all with included a natural birth and no bottles or formula.  I ended up having a c-section after 25 hours of labor and being 7 cm dilated for 4 hours.  Anyhow…Bailey ended up going to the NICU, where guess what—she had 3-4 bottles!  Great, I was crushed…Breastfeeding was tough for the first days, I remember.  I was determined.  The nurses at the hospital I was at, although nice, would give formula on the spot…they were trying to push it on me.  Be thankful about your awesome nurses, because breastfeeding is a fabulous thing we can do.  Since the 3rd day in the hospital we have been EBF with no issues as of yet. YAY!!

  10. By on April 12, 2010

    Oh this brought back such memories. My first is soon to turn 10. I left the hospital before my milk came in - the problems didn’t start until day 4. It started with cracked nipples, then bleeding and scabs - then double mastitis. The pain was like no other I have ever felt. I criedfor days - just the thought of having to feed her. Thankfully I had a cousin who had been through it. (my mother passed away before my daughter was born, and I have 3 brothers, but no sisters - thus my cousin to the rescue) I would call her before latching - she would talk me down to a calmer state - she talked me through the feeding (as I cried into the phone) Myhusband was very supportive, but there wasn’t much he could do besides being supportive. It took 4 days until I was nurse without crying. Nursing was enjoyable in a weeks time.
    If you are in this position - keep trying, I promise it does get better.

    Sarah and Kiki - My second child cut his first tooth at 3 1/2 months. I had started attending lactation meetings the week before. A woman at one of the meetings said “If your baby has teeth and decides to bite down, pull the baby into your breast. They have to open their mouth to breath” The natural response it to pull baby away - this does damage to the breast. When you pull baby in, it prevents them from breathing through their nose, and they have to open their mouth. I had to do this twice to my son, and he never bit down again (unless something scared him)

  11. By Kate (This Place is Now a Home) on April 12, 2010

    These breastfeeding posts make me cringe, but now that I am pregnant I gulp them down like a cold glass of milk. One can never be too prepared, right? Although it sounds awful in the beginning, I WANT TO TRY. I think I will tell the nurses not to give us formula under any circumstances. Your nurse sounds amazing, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time.

  12. By Marisa @ where's the party? on April 12, 2010

    That is awesome that the nurses forced you to forge on.  :)

  13. By Brooke on April 12, 2010

    I had a lot of support when starting breastfeeding (awesome lactation consultant in the hospital and one of the midwives from my “failed” homebirth), but it still took 12 weeks for my baby and me to really get the hang of it. I was lucky and never got mastitis, and the bleeding and scabbing were relatively minimal, but oh, the pain. And then I had this CRAZY let down that could practically shoot across the room, which was not appreciated by my wee babe. Until Sadie could effectively latch on for herself, it was like this awfully coordinated event. Like, try to get her mouth to open wide, and stay wide, while I jammed her face onto my nipple. Yeesh. But I’m glad I stuck with it, and I can’t imagine someone who does stick with it regretting it down the road. The teeth are another story, though. Just this morning I had three very distinctive teeth marks on my nipple—yowza. Sometimes it’s intentional (though ending the session and telling her it “Hurts Mama!“ seems to be making a difference), and other times I don’t think she means to.

    I think that your nurses holding you to your decision to breastfeed is kind of awesome. There are so many stories (as we see above) where formula is pushed even when there’s not a problem. I’m not saying formula is the devil or that formula feeding is a bad decision. But I think it’s much easier to imagine the regrets of a mom who threw in the towel early on than of a mom who stuck it out.

  14. By on April 12, 2010

    Kate:  My advice is to read everything you can!  Anything and everything!  attend LLL meetings.  Get a hold of Dr Sears e book that describes the importance of the first 24 hours of breast feeding.  The more you know about the potentially difficult time many women have had in the first weeks or months - the more prepared you will be to deal with whatever comes up for you. Hopefully you will be one of the lucky ones that can breast feed with ease and simplicity.  If not I think it might help to be aware.  I dont say this to be negative or to scare you - I just wish I had known that breast feeding can be the biggest challenge of your life….

    I had no idea.  I thought that breast feeding was natural and that I would just pull out a boob and go!!  How wrong I was.  I feel as though I have walked a million miles to establish and keep up my breast feeding.  Within the first few days of Isabel’s life she was cup fed, bottle fed, finger fed, lactation aids, breast fed…Lactation consultants were coming and going and domperidone in the end was the final option.  I tried so hard to solve my issues that family and friends begged me to give up. I was obsessed with doing the best I could for my baby.  I am so proud of myself that I persevered and I have had a breast feeding relationship with my angel. The most special relationship of my life.

    Thank you everyone for these posts about breast feeding.  These posts have warmed my heart, brought tears to my eyes and have made me feel so proud to be a mother, a breast feeding mother.  After what I have been through I think this sharing is so important.

    Sarah thanks for opening up the topic and for providing a place for us to meet and share.


  15. By Elizabeth on April 12, 2010

    I’m just so glad that you stuck with it.  Way to go, you!!

  16. By Kim Tracy Prince on April 12, 2010

    Yowch!  Your post brought that pain back to me.  I don’t know that I would have gone so far as to reverse my original angry position toward that nurse, but I am glad for you that you stuck with it.  Nursing is a great feeling if it works for you.  I loved it while it lasted, but I am so glad to have my boobies (mostly) back.

    Your baby is a NUGGET.  WANT TO EAT.

  17. By Gracia Fraile Donet on April 13, 2010

    Your blog is a training course to me. Never ever take it down, at least not until I’ve had kids!

  18. By Heidi on April 13, 2010

    “Breast is best…“ Not doing so would be a shame ...

    Now I wonder what this means: my mom couldn’t breast feed any of us kids and we all turned out OK. I know you’ve had a change of heart about the nurses’ reactions to your requests for formula, but I still think they overstepped their bounds.

    Fuck, unless you insisted on feeding your daughter motor oil, the bitches should have kept their mouths shut and handed over the Enfamil.

  19. By Courtney on April 13, 2010

    Ah, this blog is why I started reading you - your honesty, your enthusiasm, your willingness to admit when you’re wrong.  Thanks for a great post!

  20. By Sarah Christensen on April 13, 2010

    Heidi - I was a formula-fed baby and I turned out alright too.  My personal take on it TODAY is that the nurse did what I asked her to do.  Maybe she should have been willing to give me the formula, probably should have, maybe she shouldn’t have given me a guilt trip, I don’t know.  But looking back on it nine months later, I’m glad she did.  If I hadn’t felt like I had to give Charlotte formula covertly, I might have given up on breastfeeding.  She would have turned out just fine, I’m sure, but I would have really missed out without ever being the wiser.  So I’m grateful that the nurse did hold up with what I wanted, even if I wasn’t at the time - and even if I probably won’t be next time around either.

  21. By Tabitha (From Single to Married) on April 18, 2010

    Oh - this is a sensitive topic for me!  So sensitive that the post I’ve been working on for my own blog still hasn’t been finished because I can’t seem to write it without sounding bitter and frustrated.  Suffice it to say, I wanted to breastfeed; I planned on breastfeeding.  But our little guy, no matter how hard I tried, would not latch on.  I met with three lactation consultants, I tried for weeks, and still nothing.  Because he had lost so much weight, my pediatrician had me go to formula and Henry never looked back.  Maybe next time things will be different.  But I will say that I still have a special relationship with my son, even though we don’t get to breastfeed.  Just yesterday, as I had the bottle to his mouth, he stopped eating and just looked at me.  So I pulled the bottle away and he broke into a huge grin before resuming eating.  I sure love that kid!





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