Elliott just turned three weeks old. Has it only been…three weeks? To say that our lives have changed forever is putting it mildly. I feel like we’ve been thrown onto a fast-moving roller coaster without brakes, doing 360 spins over and over again. The first night he was home, we – the new parents – barely slept. When we finally fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion, we would jolt ourselves out of bed at the first sound of his cry/whimper.
I was besieged with anxiety-filled dreams. I would fall asleep and wake up with a shock because I SWEAR I FELL ASLEEP WITH BABY IN MY ARMS! OH NO! When consciousness prevailed, I realised that it was just me hugging my pillow. The husband did not fare much better, sleeping very little and badly too.
We were getting used to having a brand new tiny human at home, as much as he was getting used to his new strange environment out of the womb. I believe I slept (slept being used very loosely here) a total of 1 hour the entire first night/day we were home.
What made it even more challenging was breastfeeding. Ah, breastfeeding. It was my greatest fear. Bigger than childbirth itself. I have heard a million stories from every new mum who breastfed and every single one told me how challenging and difficult it would be BUT TO PLEASE STICK WITH IT BECAUSE IT WOULD DO YOUR BABY GOOD! To prepare myself, I read up voraciously on breastfeeding. I listened intently at the breastfeeding classes that were part of the pre-natal classes. I asked my new mum friends who were breastfeeding. As you can tell, I’m all about being prepared before s*** hits the fan.
When Elliott was born and we were still at the hospital, it wasn’t too bad to breastfeed because the nurses were on hand to help. Suffice to say, it was a completely different ballgame the moment we got home. For each breastfeeding session, I needed help from the husband to latch him on. I would then try my darnest to get him to latch and more often than not, it took 20, 572 attempts and a screaming baby before we would succeed. It was very hit-and-miss. A typical breastfeeding session would see the both of us bathed in sweat. To say that the husband looked like he just attempted a 42km marathon (think sweat pouring down his forehead, sweat-soaked t-shirt, etc) would be the best way to describe how frazzled we were. All this took place in an AIR-CONDITIONED room.
The above scenario took place for the entire first week and I started to fear breastfeeding. I was, literally, gripped by fear whenever the time to feed came around (and we all know how often newborns need to feed!). I was also nervous by the fact that the husband was only home for one week (paternity leave needs to be at least a month, yo!) and I was going to be alone in trying to latch/breastfeed him. Throw in a lack of sleep, breastmilk-soaked clothes, the crazy hot weather and I was sure I was close to a mental breakdown. Tears were aplenty during this period. My tears, that is.
I was frustrated, scared and not sure what the hell I was doing wrong.
To make things worst, no one, NO ONE told me that the boobies would become horribly engorged and painful in the first few days. It was such a shock to my system. It was obvious that my body was also trying to adjust to the huge change that was happening. Naturally, it made breastfeeding even more challenging than it already was.
I went into google-mad mode and searched for items that could help ease the pain. Many shared that a hot towel would help in the engorgement but a hot towel becomes a room-temperature one in 5 seconds. Not very useful, I’d say. In the end, these helped to alleviate the pain for a bit. Yes, I am fully aware that they’re called “Booby Tubes” and I can’t say it without wanting to giggle but trust me when I say that you’d resort to anything when you are in pain and need to nurse your screaming newborn child. These stay warm way longer than the hot towel and helped in easing the blocked ducts.
I also got some really valuable advice from a colleague who’s a mother of 4. She assured and GUARANTEED me that this horrible state of boobies would ease off in a couple of days. It was hard to believe her in the first few hazy days but wow, she was correct. But yes, that blindsided me despite me reading up as much as I could about breastfeeding. Pfffft.
Trying to nurse Elliott was still a hit-and-miss. Sometimes, he latched the first time and we’d feel like we’ve struck the breastfeeding lottery. Sometimes, I’d stay in an awkward position for the duration of the feed because I was deathly afraid of him unlatching and we’d have to redo the latch once again (nooooooo!). In fact, I am now nursing a sore left wrist from holding him in an awkward angle because I was afraid of moving. Suffice to say, breastfeeding still did not come naturally to me. Things came to a head when he drew blood. There was a spot of bright red on the wash cloth that I was using and my heart sank.
I decided that enough is enough. I had to sort out this latching issue ASAP. I called Mount Alvernia’s Parentcraft Centre and made an appointment.
To say that the one-on-one consultation session with the lactation consultation saved our sanity is putting it mildly. For some odd reason, Elliott latched on perfectly when we were there (what the…?!). I was staring at him gobsmacked. Like, is this the same child? Is this the same one that refuses to latch properly?!
The LC showed me how to use a breastfeeding pillow. I had never considered it but when I saw how amazingly easy it was for him to latch on, I made my way to the pharmacy and bought one immediately. She also showed me how to hold the boob properly and even the correct way to “prepare” the boob for nursing. She also answered all the questions I had, i.e. how do I wake a sleepy baby when he stops nursing.
I walked out feeling happy and assured. I couldn’t wait to get home to put my “new-found skills” to use. That evening, I showed the husband how easy it was to latch him on. The smile on his face was priceless.
From then on, we no longer did the sweat-filled dance before each nursing session. It became easier. A lot easier. I could even do the night feeds without the husband’s help which means that he could sleep uninterrupted. The poor man was developing eye bags bigger than mine. I guess practise also makes perfect. Well, if you’re doing something 9-10 times a day in a 24-hour period, you would become better at it as time goes by, yes?
An important lesson I learnt from this breastfeeding episode? When all else fails and you’re frustrated, it is OK to seek professional help. Chatting with my friends helped to a certain extent (always good to know that you’re not alone!) but nothing beats getting one-on-one professional help. It cleared up all the concerns that I had and even though I had to pay about $60+ as consultation fees for a quick 20-minute session (as well as another $60+ for the breastfeeding pillow cornily named “My Brest Friend“), it was money I was happy to plonk down. Of course, I am also thankful and very aware that not everyone can afford to seek professional help. My point is: If you can afford it, do it.
I am just glad that my sanity has remained (somewhat) intact with this newfound skill. There’d be more learning to do along the way as we bumble through our new role as parents.