Wednesday, June 26, 2013

And the Main Reason I'm So Exhausted: Because my Breasts Hate Me

Go figure, this was the one thing I didn't at all bank on. I could almost laugh, really, at how in my near-mania to imagine and prepare for every possible scenario, I left a huge one out.

Such as, the one where my breasts fail me and breastfeeding becomes the biggest challenge of having a baby.

Which is exactly what has happened.

I took it for granted that my previous experience with BF (essentially, awesome, because I had an abundance of milk and Max nursed wonderfully and thrived) had guaranteed me a similar situation with Baby F. I worried about the *problems* I'd had with Max, namely, that milk would shoot out every time the baby pulled away, or that milk would soak through even my breast pads. I prayed that I wouldn't again have thrush or mastitis. I couldn't even consider that, having been so lucky the first time, the second time wouldn't be the same, or better.

Instead, I'm pretty sure that the premature delivery wonked my breasts out, and I've been struggling with a host of issues that, more than being discouraging, are really just. so. incredibly. exhausting.

To whit:

1. I delivered a baby that I could not nurse for a little over three weeks. I spent  those weeks pumping every two to three hours. In time, my nipples were raw and in constant pain, something that has not gone away. I was never able to get a single ML more than the baby needed, so an already-stressful situation was made doubly so by my inability to pump a significant amount. Every day I'd leave in his NICU fridge the exact amount he'd need until my arrival the next morning, and more than once I was in a total panic, stuck in traffic as the clock ticked closer to his feeding time. In fact, a few times I needed my sister's milk (she was still BFing her youngest), and later, milk from a kind donor. "Stressful" is too weak a word to describe that situation.

2. But finally, the baby was allowed to nurse, and he did well from the start. He latched well, took milk, and nailed the whole suck, swallow, breathe process. The thing is, in order to do so he had to use a nipple shield, which is apparently pretty common with preemies. It seemed like we'd just be on the shield for a while and that was it. I wasn't, while we were home, supplementing with pumped milk, and he was growing well.

3. But then I went back to work, and here's where it all went to hell. It was quickly evident that I couldn't pump all the milk he needed in a day, just half the amount. The immediate solution was to secure more donor milk, and I was so, so, so lucky to have my other sister's help in finding some for me (I'm now an expert in pasteurizing milk, btw). So while the baby wasn't going hungry and didn't have to have formula, there was still the issue of my poorly pumping breasts. Still, it's not easy to come by donor milk, and this can't be a permanent solution.

4. Luckily, when the baby nurses, all is fine. He gets what he needs and is satisfied. However, we realized that he has a tongue-tie that's preventing him from fully draining my breasts, which is likely not helping with the low pumping output. This also explains why it's been so hard to get him off the shield. Every time I've tried, he latches on for a short bit and ends up protesting, only to nurse normally when I put the shield back on.

So what have I done about all this, besides feel totally stressed and despaired? You name it, I've tried it. I tried a bunch of supplements that I had to stop taking after my thyroiditis diagnosis because fenugreek is contraindicated for thyroid conditions. The foods that boost lactation and drinking lots of water: check and check. Warm compresses, massage, frequent pumping: check, check and check. I've listened to music while I pump, done guided visualizations (hilariously, the first one I tried in the NICU was narrated by Ben Stein, and I just could not sit through it), and looked at pictures and videos of my sweet baby. My pump and all its pieces are fine. And all this time, I get no more than six ounces a day. Even when I add in extra pumping sessions, I  just get fewer amounts each time that add up to six at the end of the day.

Most recently, I've arrived at my last-ditch efforts: the baby's tongue-tie was clipped last week, and I've started goat's rue, which is safe for me to take and for which I've read really promising testimonials from moms with problems similar to mine.With the tongue-tie clipping, the goal and hope is that baby will have a better range of motion which will allow him to really drain each breast at every feeding, which will be good for him and will hopefully boost my supply (along with the supplement). He's already nursing without the shield 80% of the time, so things look good there, but my supply is unchanged.

And what if these latest efforts don't work? I'll die.

Actually, I'd still like donor milk, though looking through the local resources, it doesn't look too promising, especially since I need milk stat (like, for next week). So likely we'll make a slow start on solids and see how that goes. Formula is honestly a very, very, very undesired option, so I'm not even putting it on the table.

It amazes me how incredibly consuming this situation has been, the source, as I said, of the huge bulk of my exhaustion. This is mentally and emotionally draining, but it's also physically draining. I absolutely love settling down with my boy to nurse, but it's frequent and intense and when we're done I'm about ready to pass out. Pumping is painful and time-consuming, taking 30-40 minutes each time just to get two measly ounces, and it has simply become a negative, unpleasant experience for me. 

And yet, I am at peace with this. This is what is best for my baby, and that's that. I generally feel pretty discouraged, and so very exhausted, but I'm committed, and since I'm pretty tenacious when something is worth it to me, I'm not looking for a way out. 

But honestly, I can't help looking forward to the day I stop pumping, at least six months from now. And I really do wish this whole situation was easier, and that I could enjoy it. It sucks that what I looked forward to the most has become the source of so much stress and pressure and frustration.

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Posted by Tere @ 6/26/2013   | |


  • Blogger Mary Gilmour posted at 6/26/2013 5:13 PM  
    You've got so much more help and options than I had 46 years ago with much the same kind of problems.
    My doctor (who had no clue) encouraged me to give the solids before nursing the baby. Needless to say, this did not work. I was out of milk entirely at the six month mark.
    Hope things improve for you. My guess is that the exhaustion is part of your problem. Sending good, milk filled vibes and a hug!
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