Monday, September 23, 2013

Breastfeeding gets easier.....right? Still stumbling through on my fifth!

Fifth baby should be a piece of cake, right???
Sometimes as new mothers while we are still swirling, disoriented, in the midst of feeling exhausted, sleep deprived, and ill prepared for a new full time job that came without a training manual or instruction book, we fail to hear our own internal compass. As we find our way back, we learn to calm the tides of anxiety and fear and become still enough to hear our own inner voice giving us important hints and direction, and helping us sift through the entourage of advice and recommendations we receive.

When my first baby was born, despite trying to do everything right, I ended up with a nasty mastitis infection that quickly turned into an abscess. After a couple days at the hospital, the attending doctors, after I insisted that I intended on continuing to breastfeed, sent me home with two tubes inserted into my left aeriola to drain the abscess. Over the next month, we allowed the abscess to



New Baby...New Mama!
drain and I continued to nurse on one side only. Everytime my milk let down on the right side, milk would gush out of the tubes on the left side, so I had to wear about two inches of gauze padding to absorb the milk. After two weeks they removed the tubes, but left the incision open. As soon as the incision closed, the infection would return. So they reopened it twice. Meanwhile I was prescribed a narcotic for the pain (which made me feel jittery and weepy) and antibiotics for the infection (which caused thrush and a yeast infection).

I was feeling depressed, exhausted, and desperate. After many soul searching nights of tears and self-pity, I decided I needed to take ownership of my body and my baby. I had talked to many lactation specialists, doctors, and pediatricians who had given me varying degrees of useful advice. I mentally and spiritually sorted through it all and started a series of self-experimentation. I figured out early on that the pain meds were making me feel weepy and jittery and went off those within the first week. I didn't know any better than to take the antibiotics, but I did try to increase my probiotic intake. Finally, I decided to try binding myself on the left side. I wrapped my left side tight with an ace bandage, and it soon dried up completely. The incision healed, the infection left, and I was able to keep nursing on the right side for the next 12 months.

With my next three babies, I had sore nipples, engorgement, and some minor infections, but as long as I  laid low, ate well, slept when my baby slept, and drank my Nettle tea, things went well.

I thought I was pretty experienced by my fifth, but maybe with six years between my fourth and fifth baby, my body was out of practice. The pregnancy and birth went well, but my body was wiped out and didn't recover well. My baby was a strong sucker, so I had no problems with engorgement. But she was fussy and gassy almost immediately and arched her back and squirmed when she nursed and while digesting. By her second day, I decided to go off milk just in case that was causing her discomfort. From thereafter, whenever I had milk (or any milk products) she would get a bright red rash and become squirmy and gassy. Meanwhile, her strong suck in combination with my worn out body caused deep cracked nipples that didn't heal after a week. My midwife recommended various nursing positions and comfrey root compresses. The compresses worked well and knit my skin back together. But my nipples still burned, and I was experiencing sharp stabbing pains inside my breasts. When I saw my baby's white tongue, I realized I had a bad case of thrush (more about this later!)

In addition, I started bleeding again (about 10 days postpartum). My midwifes (whom I LOVE and would highly recommend to anyone giving birth in the Twin Cities) prescribed a round of medication to cause my uterus to cramp and expel anything that might be left inside. It worked! The next day I passed a large clump of tissue, and my bleeding progressively decreased. But a side affect of the medication was that it also made your milk supply decrease. While I appreciated not struggling with engorgement, I felt like I was barely making enough milk to satisfy my baby (more about this later!)

Back to the thrush ~ I tried all of the natural remedies recommended to me: vinegar, coconut oil, washing off before and after feedings and tea tree oil among others. I also tried the medical treatments, including four different kinds of topical anti-fungal creams. Nothing worked! It was really discouraging. I started thinking about the root problem. Obviously my body was out of balance and trying to treat the external symptoms was not going to fix the internal root problems. So, I did some research and some thinking and decided I needed to make some drastic changes to my diet. Not just cutting out milk and eating well (which I was already doing). I needed to do some things to re-cultivate the good bacteria in my body so it could get rid of the thrush itself. I stopped all the washing, vinegar, and anti-bacterial creams. Instead, I made smoothies with spinach, berries, nuts, and high-probiotic plain yoghurt; I fermented cabbage, carrots, and beets; I sprouted beans and nuts; I cut out refined sugar; and I drank fermented beet juice. Within a week I felt like a new person! By five months, I could return to a normal, healthy diet (including moderate milk products).

Milk supply increasing and thrush decreasing=happy baby!
Now, back to my milk supply. By the time my baby was one month old, and I was beginning to think more clearly and venture outside the house, I decided to have her placenta (which had been frozen in the freezer for the last month) encapsulated. As soon as I started taking the placenta pills, my energy level picked up, and more importantly, my milk supply increased. However, I ran out of pills around four months later. It was during this time that we moved back to the USA. I think it was the combination of having a lower milk supply to begin with, and adding on top of that the jet-lag and exhaustion of travel, but by the time I got to Minnesota (to stay with my sister's family and my parents) my milk supply was at a low point. My baby was eating every hour and crying with frustration when she couldn't get a good let down. I couldn't pump anything out (after pumping for 30 minutes, I had less than 1/2 oz in the bottle), and I was drained. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a supportive family that kept reinforcing what I already knew: that my body was designed to feed my baby. For a few days I pumped for 15 minutes on each side in between feedings. I nursed as often as I could. I ate well, took some naps, and drank some nettle tea. After some self-care and persistence (and lots of prayer!), my milk supply increased and has continued to improve (I actually feel a let down now!)

When things aren't going well, when you feel discouraged, take a deep breath. Find some quiet time to yourself (my inspiration comes while I'm taking a hot bath or shower, or practicing yoga on my own) remind yourself of what you know: that your body was designed to grow, birth, and raise your baby; that all mothers encounter challenges; it's ok to cry; and that tomorrow is a new day. Find the support you need (it's out there!!) Be persistent. Don't be afraid to experiment (within reason!) And trust yourself. You will find your answers.

4 comments:

  1. Such a great article Sarah, I can relate on so many levels. I hope that you and little Fiona are doing much better. I feel like the first 6 months of my little boys life were challenging, I was exhausted and also struggling with many issues- his allergies, asthma, excema, etc. I think things seem to have simmered down after the first 6 months. Wish you all the best :)

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