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Dec 21 / Caro

Breast Feeding, Six Weeks In

This breast feeding thing often seems to be getting harder, not easier. I’m still waiting for the moment when it all falls in to place and all the promised, and obvious benefits, start to outweigh the negatives. I’m waiting for the day when it becomes the “easy”, “natural” and “painless” process that so many sources seem to promise.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had some days where it does begin to feel a bit like that. I am certainly feeling the benefit of having milk always readily available exactly when you need it. No messing around with bottles. No sterilising to worry about. No issues with making up feeds in advance, or ensuring the availability of facilities to do so when out and about. I’m certainly not short of confidence to feed anywhere and everywhere. And it’s free. Well, at least financially it’s free. But it is coming at a cost to my sanity at times.

When I last wrote about feeding I was planning a trip to the local breast feeding drop-in session. This was only my second solo trip out of the house with Thomas, when Ian had returned to work. (And was Thomas’s first bus ride!) The advice and support were brilliant, and really, really helpful in both a practical sense, and in making me feel more emotionally supported. My only regret was that I didn’t go a week sooner, and I can’t help but feel I’d have benefited much more from the help of breast feeding supporters in hospital than midwives for whom breast feeding advice is only a tiny part of their role. What I learned during that session was that I have somewhat the opposite problem to the one which I had most feared before giving birth: Instead of having too little milk, I have an over abundant supply. It’s something I’m still working on managing. But the most important thing that came from my first visit to this group was that I stopped beating myself up so much about it all. The guilt really diminished. I recognise that I am successfully nourishing my child, no matter how hard I am finding it. He is gaining weight and providing me with plenty of wet and dirty nappies.

It’s the anxiety I can’t shake though. At least once a day I still get the overwhelming sense of responsibility come over me. Feeling that am the only person who can provide this for my son, and that I have to find a way to keep going during that feed, because I can’t pass him to someone else in that moment. It’s hard work, making parts of my body available at a moment’s notice, any time of the day or night, and knowing they are the only things that will quieten a particular anguished cry. I’ve declared on more than one occasion already that I’m never going to do this again, never going to create a situation where a child is so totally dependent on just me.

The discomfort issues with feeding had begun to get better too. My nipples have definitely got more used to this, and I think the latch has probably improved following the intervention of breast feeding counsellors. We’ve had no bleeding issues for a couple of weeks. Latching on can still be painful, but generally for the duration of a feed, it no longer feels too bad. The issue that I‘m having lately is pain after feeding. It’s pain that gets worse throughout the day, so by the evening I can’t wait to get my clothes off and sit with no top on to relieve some of the discomfort. The only other thing that helps is putting lots of pressure on my breasts after each feed, but I can’t very well walk along the street with my hands pressed inside my own bra. At times my nipples and my whole breast feel as though they are burning, as if someone is pouring hot water in through my nipples.

I’ve restored to painkillers almost every evening this week. Those and tears. I’ve been back to the breast feeding group and we’ve talked about possible causes. I’ve wondered about thrush in the ducts and nipples, but I’m mindful of the fact that it’s often over-diagnosed. And as the breast feeding counsellor I spoke with this week pointed out, it often takes more than six weeks for thrush to really establish inside the breast, so it would be rare to start having symptoms at four or five weeks of age. Thomas also has no signs of thrush in his mouth, and I don’t have thrush anywhere else. It’s possible that this is just another side effect of over supply and a fast let-down. But if that is so, I can’t find a solution. And some nights, sitting in the dark with my son, I don’t see how I can keep going.

It’s a physical battle and an emotional one. The longer I struggle physically, the harder the emotional struggle becomes. I really hope we crack it soon, because I still don’t want to give up.

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