Breastfeeding - how it all began and how some of it ended...

I gave birth to my first son, Aqil, on August 10, 2007. There are few days in my life that I remember as vividly as that day. I'll definitely share his birth story with you all soon, but for now I'd like to share a little bit about how we began our breastfeeding journey, the difficulties we've had along the way and how part of my breastfeeding has ended.

He was born normally at dusk after around 8 hours of labor. Seeing him for the first time was the single most profound moment of my life up to that point. Nursing him for the first time...well...it wasn't as beautiful an image as I expected it to be. I was dizzy and shaky from the intensity of labor, and he was pretty groggy too. I held him for a few minutes before the nurses took him away for inspection and a bath (a standard procedure at that hospital that I later found out did not help with establishing breastfeeding at all). After we both took a short nap, I was ready to try breastfeeding.

Now, here I realize I had made mistake #1 way before he was even born - I had always assumed that breastfeeding would "come naturally" so I didn't read a single book or article about breastfeeding *banging my head on the wall*! Once I had my baby and attempted to breastfeed, I found out really fast that breastfeeding is a tricky talent to master. Between a groggy baby with a small mouth, a stressed out, clueless mom and an inability to get him latched on properly, our breastfeeding experience started out in a much-less-than-ideal way. Not only did the uterine contractions hurt, but my nipples suffered too. Each feed was excruciatingly painful and I dreaded the thought of having to nurse him. But, being the stubborn determined person that I am, I went on with it. Tried everything - nipple shield, expressing milk and rubbing it on my nipple, letting my boobies air, using Soothies and lanolin. And that was just in the first two days!


On his 2nd day on this planet, Aqil had to be placed in the NICU for what I now know was a completely small issue. Obviously, being apart from my child did nothing to help our already-suffering breastfeeding relationship. Thankfully I did not have to go home yet - that hospital did discharge me but they provided a room for me to say in, gratis. It was in the same building and same wing as the NICU, only a few floors down. So I stayed in that dark room in the hospital, traveling up and down the elevator to breastfeed my child. Except that now, not only was I in pain, Aqil was not gaining weight as much as he should. And so one of the worst phone calls came in from the doctors. They told me that they needed to give him formula so he'll gain weight fast and get better. In between sobs, I agreed. I did not know much about breastfeeding a newborn then, and I realize now that being complacent and unenlightened about the sensitive nature of the relationship between breastfeeding a newborn and my long-term milk supply was mistake #2 in my breastfeeding experience. They started "topping off" his feeding with formula - I'd feed him at my breast or with expressed breastmilk (EBM) in a bottle, and if he still seemed hungry, we'd give him formula. Supplementing with formula did no favors for my supply - how was I going to make more milk if I had less opportunity to feed him directly AND there was another food source taking my breastmilk's place??

Sure enough, a few days later I started having fever and chills. Since Aqil was in NICU,  a place where the sickest babies go to get better, I was not allowed in until I figured out what was causing my fever and get better. Tears came over me again. How can I be apart from my sick baby??! At this point I had started pumping at night and gave those bottles of milk to my hubby or mom to send to Aqil at night so that I can get more sleep. So I pumped and gave hubby the milk to feed my baby, and urgently made an appointment to see my OB-GYN. I had quickly bought and read the book The Complete Guide to Breastfeeding during our stay at the hospital and found that my symptoms seemed to indicate mastitis, a type of breast infection often caused by milk not being sufficiently expelled from the breast. So off I went to see my OB-GYN who confirmed that I had mastitis and put me on a course of antibiotics.

I got better, went to see my baby after a day apart, and tried to nurse him. Coincidentally the head NICU nurse was in the room with me - a sweet older lady who had a really maternal vibe about her. She took one look at my nipples and was like "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat??!". She went on to tell me that she has never seen nipples so injured before. "It must be torture to breastfeed your lil guy with your nipples in that condition", she exclaimed. Yeah, no kidding! She called the resident lactation consultant and told her to come up ASAP. They told me to pump instead of feeding him "straight from the tap" while my nipples heal. They also advised that I start on fenugreek and blessed thistle supplements to increase my milk supply to wean my son off formula.

Upset as I was that I couldn't nurse him anymore, I pumped for him and took those supplements. A week later - that's 10 days after he was born - we took our Aqil home. Within three days of being home, my supply was high enough to get him off formula (YAY!). I think that being free of the stress that comes with having a child in NICU and having to stay at the hospital instead of recovering in the comfort of my own home, played a huge part in the increase of my milk supply.


However, I was still pumping and not nursing my baby from the breast. In the month following his birth, I went to the lactation consultant countless times - why does it hurt so bad to nurse him? They tried all sorts of tricks, every kind of position available...and it still hurt. In the end, they pretty much just gave up and told me that I would just have to hang in there and let my nipples get tougher. What the eff, I thought, If nursing is this painful for much longer, how the hell do they expect me to keep on breastfeeding. So then I turned to the place that never fails to give me answers: the Internet. I posted this entry on the Breastfeeding community at Livejournal. Within hours, comments started pouring in. And finally, finally, breastfeeding stopped hurting! In the end, these breastfeeding mothers who've been through what I was going through, were the people who ultimately saved my breastfeeding relationship. I always give that link to new mothers going through a rough time breastfeeding their little ones, and you should feel free to do so too.


I continued to nurse Aqil despite some minor problems including an overactive letdown and one incidence of biting (I set him down and made it clear that biting means a stop to  the nursing session, and he got the message and it never happened again). We went on happily nursing for another 10 months...at which point we found out that - TA-DA- I was pregnant again! Despite being overjoyed at the thought of holding another baby in my arms, one of my first thoughts was "What will happen to Aqil and our breastfeeding?". I found out the answers...but that's a story for another day ;)

As my belly got bigger and my level of energy got lower, I decided to gently nightwean Aqil once he became a year old. After two months of giving him water in a cup when he woke up at night, and patting/rubbing his back to get him back to sleep, he finally decided that waking up at night was not worth it, and miraculously slept through the night. He nursed frequently during the day, though. And even after his brother was born in March 2009, he continued to nurse...for another 6 months :)

About a month ago, my eldest baby boy weaned himself after 24 months of breastfeeding. He now proudly informs everyone that "baby nenen" when Afraz is at my breast, as if he is passing a torch to his little brother: "Hey bro, it's your turn now".

His weaning has been a bittersweet affair for me. While I am sad that he is no longer nursing, I am relieved now that I am back to nursing only one baby again. He seems happy and, dare I say, like such a big boy now. I am glad that the decision to wean was mostly his, and that he did not do so grudgingly. I miss my little baby, but I am proud of my little man.