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Friday, February 24, 2012

My Breastfeeding Journey

*Disclaimer: This post contains the words, boob, nipple, and breast. :)

Although I haven't yet gotten to the point where breastfeeding is easy or even painless, I thought I should write this post while I'm still in the thick of it rather than later, so I can look back and really remember what this was like. Also hopefully I might be able to help someone who is struggling with my story.

Before I ever started breastfeeding, I was always perplexed by the breast is best campains I saw all the time. I always thought...well obviously. Why wouldn't I breastfeed? I really didn't understand why people wouldn't, unless they had medical reasons not to. It just seemed like if you could...well of course you would do it! That was before I was flung into the breastfeeding world...and all the problems and struggles that go a long with it. I had no idea about mastitis, thrush, plugged ducts, nipple confusion, latching issues, cracked nipples. I pretty much just thought you put the baby up by your boob and away you went. I had no idea what was waiting for me.

I feel my journey began at 37 weeks pregnant. I had a check up with my midwives where they test to see if I am strep B positive. The next week they told me that I was in fact positive, and that I had the option of getting treated with antibiotics during labor. I asked them of the risks of not having the antibiotics. They told me there was a small chance, but if the bacteria was passed to my baby there was a risk of him getting very sick. I asked what the risks were of having the antibiotics. My midwife Wendy said there was a risk of getting thrush, which is a yeast infection in your breasts. At this point I had no idea what thrush was and Wendy didn't really make it seem like a big deal. I chose the antibiotics as having a sick baby seemed awful, and if I could prevent it I would.

After laboring for 36 hours, I needless to say had a lot of antibiotics put in my system. I don't know how many bags I had...but I know it must have been quite a few. After Lucas was born he was put to my breast to feed by Wendy as soon as we could, and it seemed like he latched on without any problems. It was amazing to see his instincts in action. In the hospital Lucas did not feed very often, which is common in brand new babies. But it seemed like when he did he would fall asleep, or keep coming off. I had many nurses come in and try to help me with feeding him. Things did not seem to be going very well. One night with a particularly horrible nurse on staff, we had to end up giving him a bottle of formula. I couldn't get him latched on, he was crying and hungry, I was crying as well. The nurse was not helpful at all. We called Wendy and she said that the most important thing was getting him we did the best way we could in that moment.

When we brought Lucas home my midwives were over every day for a few days. I don't know what I would have done without them. I was still struggling to get Lucas latched on. He would get on, scrunch up his face and then pop off. It took hours to feed him, and most times we were both in tears. It was so horribly frustrating. Things would go well when the midwives were over, but when left to my own devices things did not go so great. I was an emotional mess, and so stressed out all the time. There were times when Lucas and I could just not get things figured out so we would finger feed him. Which was also time consuming and stressful. I was also in a lot of pain when I was able to feed him.

About a week after Lucas' birth the pain was almost too much to bear. Wendy was over and I told her that my nipples felt like they were burning. I asked if that was due to a bad latch...she said no. Babil our student midwife showed up. Wendy asked her, "Kailey said that her nipples are burning...what do you think is going on." She replied, "it's thrush." At the time I had no idea how much those two words would impact my life for the coming months.

Wendy advised me to get some Canesten, and to use that for the next week. She said if things didn't get better within a few days to call them. I started with the treatment and although it gave me a bit of relief...I was still in so much pain. I would have to sit with Lucas on my lap before I fed him and psyche myself up for a bit. I had to tell myself "I can do this...I can do this". When I put him on it was absolute toe curling pain. I would yelp in pain, cry throughout the whole thing, and my whole body was tense and rigid. I felt like I had glass in my nipples, and the pain was searing. I was totally preoccupied and stressed out. After I fed Lucas the only thing I could think about is when he would be hungry next and I felt absolute dread just thinking about it. I think I probably cried for a month straight. Coupled with being sleep deprived, and the emotions you go through after having a baby...I felt like a zombie. There were many nights when Lucas was brand new that Caleb and I would finger feed him. A lot of times the pain and stress were too much to bear, so I would pump, we would put the milk in a little syringe with a tube attached, he would suck on our little finger and at the same time get milk. This was very time consuming, but it apparently would help him to not develop nipple confusion...and he needed help with is latch. It also gave me a much needed break. Sometimes it was just all too much for me.

A few days after using the Canesten I still had horrible pain. I called the midwives back, they phoned in a prescription for Nyastatin for Lucas and I. I started taking it immediately...and still didn't feel much relief. I called Carol my midwife and told her I was still in so much pain. She said I needed to give the medication a few more days. I burst into tears....she said she would call in another prescription for me, this time for diflucan. I was prescribed two weeks of diflucan both for me and Lucas. I was told that this would take care of it for sure. It was the strongest drug they had to fight the thrush. I did get some relief from the diflucan, and because i was told that it for sure was going to work...I think I kind of just believed it did.

After six weeks we were discharged from the care of my midwives. It was so hard. I no longer had someone a phone call away. Or someone who at the drop of a hat would come by and help me feed Lucas. I was scared. Throughout this whole ordeal my midwives and other supports told me that this will get will get easier...and when it does you will be so glad you stuck with it...things will not be this bad forever. That is what kept me going. Deep down I knew if I gave up I would regret it...and i just couldn't live with that. So I kept going.

At the time I had developed some cracks. Breastfeeding was still very I had it boiled down to a bad latch, since everyone told me the thrush would be gone. I reached out for support. I saw two different lactation consultants at the breastfeeding clinic. I know some women have found them extremely helpful..i however did not. The first one just kind of threw a nipple shield at me without really talking to me about much. I called my midwives about it. Luba said to not feel guilty about using it...which I did....and that I was a great candidate for it's use since I had an oversupply. I used it for a few days. Lucas hated it, and so did I. Even with the shield it was still painful, and I didn't feel it was helping me heal. So I stopped using it. I went back and saw a different lactation consultant. The only thing she was concerned about was my oversupply, and wanted me to try and decrease it so Lucas could feed easier. She showed me a position to use which had his head totally turned...I knew that couldn't be good. So i gave up on the clinic.

I researched on the Internet like crazy. I talked to friends who had had problems as well, I called someone from La Leche League. I was so frustrated and I just wanted someone to tell me what was going on. Why was I in pain...why were my nipples so cracked and getting worse? I read all about latch and worked hard on trying to do it right...but something was still wrong.

At about three months I saw a retired lactation nurse in Lethbridge at the advice of one of my friends. Her name is Lana. It was close to Christmas so I wasn't sure if she would see us, but she did, and when we arrived I could tell she was passionate about helping breastfeeding mothers. She spent over an hour with us. Looking at Lucas, asking about his birth story, and watching me feed him. At the end she said his latch looked pretty good...a couple things could be tweaked and worked on. She also said that she thought I still had thrush, and that's why my cracks weren't healing. She told me I needed to be on Diflucan for at least 28 days or the treatment wouldn't work. She showed us a reference in a medical book that supported this. At the time Caleb and I had no idea why she was showing us that, but we did later. She told me to start treating myself and Lucas for thrush again.

It was Christmas, and no one was really available to get me a prescription. We called a pharmacist in my parent's ward. He said he had never heard of anyone prescribing diflucan for longer than 14 days, that 14 days would definitely take care of it and that I should just keep using the cream I had. (Which I had been using for two months) Now we knew why Lana showed us the reference. No one wanted to prescribe me more than 14 I did the only thing I could. I doctor shopped and got two different prescriptions. This however shook my confidence...I wondered if I really did have thrush. All these other professionals seemed to think that it would have been taken care of with the previous treatment.

I took the 28 days of diflucan and had little relief. At this point I was really doubting if it was thrush. I went back and forth. I was so frustrated. I was tired of being in pain and just wanted someone to tell me what was wrong! I hated nursing...I hated crying and being stressed all the time. I just needed answers.

My friend Lise-Anne knew I was having problems. She text me one day and asked if I wanted to go to a la leche league meeting with her. I did...I needed any help I could get. I went and told my story. i told them how I just wanted someone to tell me what the problem was. I talked with a couple of women afterwards who had both had issues with thrush. They gave me their phone numbers and told me to call anytime. I was so grateful for the support.

One of these women is Mindy...who is now my breast friend. haha. She is also a member of the church so I felt most comfortable reaching out to her. One day I text her after seeing a stupid family doctor who said I should stop breastfeeding. My confidence was completely shaken. She called me, listened to me cry and vent and supported me and said that things will get better. Mindy dealt with thrush for almost five months...and she was a huge help to me.

One night I text her and told her I was ready to give up...she said she was coming over. I told her she really didn't need to but she didn't take no for an answer. She showed up with a loaf of bread, and sat with me as I cried. She asked if it was ok if she looked at my breasts. At this point almost everyone had seen them, so why shouldn't she have a look as well? :) She took one look at me and said, " have yeast." I felt a wave of relief. Not because I had thrush...but because finally I felt I was getting some answers. She showed me how she could tell. She also helped me latch Lucas on and said it looked perfect. It felt a lot better too...and I think we have yet to get a latch that perfect again. But we are still trying.

It was time to start treatments again. Mindy said she did numerous rounds of Diflucan with no success...that made me feel better and less crazy. I started with gentian violet. It gave me huge relief...but I used it for a week and still had symptoms. It was clear it wasn't going to work. Mindy helped me pick out a good probiotic, which she said would help me as well. I started going to a tanning bed...even though I felt like I was in high school again, sunlight is really supposed to help. And I'm not tanning outside topless in the Canadian winter. :) All these things have seemed to help...but the thrush is smart and is sticking around. I have had numerous breakdowns recently, where i have just cried and cried. Everyone has told me it will get better...but it's been four long does it take?? The cracks in my nipples...well one has turned into more of a hole. I've been pumping on that side to try and heal it...but I'm not sure that's helping.

Yesterday I started on a wheat/sugar/dairy free diet as a last ditch effort to combat this yeast. I will tell you in a few days how it is. :) I am really hoping it works as I am almost out of ideas. Mindy said that she thinks all her treatments helped her, but in the end it was time that she needed in order for her body to balance itself out again. Not what I want to hear!

So if you've read all this you might wonder why I've stuck with breastfeeding. And to be honest...most days I wonder the same thing. I just think in the back of my mind i know if I gave up I would really regret it...something I'm not willing to live with. Also if anything positive has come out of this experience, it's that I now know how much determination I have, and how tough I am. I have honestly surprised myself. Some days I just honestly with I could let myself give up...but something inside me just won't let me. I don't know why.

I could not have made it this far if I did not have the support of my husband. He has had to deal with an emotional mess of a wife for four months. But he has been so amazing to me. He is even doing the diet with me...which I never asked him to do...but that is just supportive. He wanted me to do what is best for me. In the early days, he said, if you want to quit Kailey, you can. I just kept saying "I don't know." As the weeks passed he could tell quitting was not what I wanted to do, so he pushed me to keep going....has let me cry, and lived with a wife who doesn't do much else but survive these days. I don't know what I would have done without him.

I know breastfeeding doesn't work out for everyone, and you would think that going through all this would make me judgmental of those women who do give up...because if i have stuck with it through all this, then why can't they right?? If anything this experience has made me more sympathetic to those women who do throw in the towel. I now realize how not only physically, but mentally taxing it is. We are not all the same, and not everyone would be able to push through this same experience....and I get that. I totally do, and I could never judge anyone for it. I am only doing what deep down I feel is best for me and Lucas, and other women need to do what is best for them.

This experience, if anything, has taught me more about myself than I knew. I have always thought of myself as a quitter. If something is hard, or if I'm not good at it, i usually give up...but that label no longer fits with me. I am so happy to be able to remove that negative thought, and replace it. I am strong....and I am not a quitter.

Although we are not yet through this difficult experience, I have hope that soon....very soon! we will be. And then when we are, i hope I can be that friend that Mindy has been for me. I honestly don't know what I would have done without her. I hope I can support other Mom's who are struggling and need help.

I hope one day I will look back on this and I can think...I did it, I accomplished my goal...I did it.
But for now we are "just doing it."