Feb 17 2015

Climbing with Kids: Breastfeeding

I’ve received so many questions about my breastfeeding issues that I thought it’d be worth talking about in a dedicated post. (Sorry, guys, this one probably isn’t for you!)

Breastfeeding certainly hasn’t been an easy road for me, and I’ve learned that it isn’t necessarily an easy road for every mom. Had I known that others struggle with this, I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself. I didn’t do a ton of research about breastfeeding, thinking this aspect of motherhood would just “flow” naturally, so to speak. I know some people who went to look for help online in mom forums, there are so many out there that can help you, such as the lactation experts at best for mums, you can read about how to help yourself in the best way that you can, there is no shame in not being able to get it right from the get-go, every mum goes through worries like this with their newborn.

When I was first pregnant I was under the impression that I’d be able to leave Theo with my parents, and spend a long day out in Tuolumne when he was only a few weeks old. My friend Lyn mentioned that I’d need to take either a pump or hand express while on route. I didn’t even know what that meant, and that’s when I realized I was in for a huge learning lesson.

I should preface this by saying that I feel extremely lucky that my milk came in. I’ve heard from several women who weren’t as fortunate and have struggled with this. I’ve also met women for whom breastfeeding was the easiest thing in the world. I am somewhere in between. The first five to six months were extremely tough, but with the support of lactation consultants, our midwife, Randy, my family and my own stubbornness, I didn’t stop, but was oh so close a number of times (and totally understand why people do – every mom should absolutely do what is best for them).

In those first few weeks, breastfeeding Theo was about as painful as slamming your hand in a car door. Do that enough times and you reach a point where you just don’t even want your baby to latch because it hurts so bad. My toes would curl in the pain. My nipples were bleeding, cracked and extremely sensitive. I didn’t wear shirts because I couldn’t handle anything else touching my nipples. The only time I dressed myself was when I had to go out of the house to take Theo to the doctor. Anyone who came over was a close friend or family because I had to be shirtless.

I used the Motherlove Nipple Cream, and that offered a little relief. I texted other mom friends and asked if they had experienced anything similar, yet all said they had been fine after two weeks. Once again I felt as if something was wrong with me for not getting back on my feet quickly enough.

When I was three weeks postpartum, Randy had to go to New York for business. My parents offered to come down to help. I was still at a point where I couldn’t stand up for more than a couple of minutes without severe pain and pressure from my cystocele, as if everything inside was going to just fall out. I needed help with cooking, changing and holding Theo, and to be my back up in case anything went wrong.

The night Randy left, he casually mentioned that it looked like I had bruised the underside of my right breast. I figured it was from lying on it the wrong way, or perhaps it was Theo’s impression from feeding.

Sure enough, by next morning I was feverish and both breasts were sore. Still I chalked this up to the fact that my breasts had been pretty sore with engorgement ever since my milk came in. If you have had a child and do not like your boobs then you may want to have a breast enlargement or you might want them reshaping, you can still get Natural Results. You can go to websites such as naturalresultsaz.com or another website of your choosing.

Our midwife, Jamie, came over and said she thought I had mastitis, which is essentially an inflammation of the breast tissue and can run a spectrum of many symptoms. My breasts felt like a truck had hit them. We began with a number of natural and non-antibiotic remedies including Advil, vitamin C, echinacea, and two homeopathies: belladonna and phytolacca. About 24 hours later, I had a fever of 102 degrees, so I took the antibiotics, which offered relief within 12 hours. I naively thought that would be the last I ever saw of mastitis.

Jamie suggested that I speak to a lactation consultant to understand why I got mastitis and to try to prevent it from happening again. If anyone is curious if a good lactation consultant is worth the money, my experience has been and overwhelming YES.

I learned a number of things. It turned out I actually had too much milk (the opposite of a most women), which explains why my breasts had been hurting so bad for so long – I was extremely engorged. I was also still feeding him on both breasts with each feeding, overstimulating my breasts and therefore causing the excess of milk production.

I also learned that Theo had posterior tongue tie and severe lip tie-which means that his tongue can’t lift up or out very far, and that his lip can’t flange outward, resulting in a persistently bad latch and nipple damage for me. Turns out these issues can be genetic, Randy has it, and so does his dad – neither of them can roll their R’s – a simple diagnosis.

We got these issues corrected at an oral surgeon. Subsequently, we had to massage the underside of Theo’s tongue and upper lip six times a day for a few weeks. To see your little baby screaming in discomfort every time you shove your fingers in his mouth-talk about pulling on my heartstrings. But I figured this was better than getting mastitis every week because his latch was bad. I also tried using Doctor Jack Newman’s nipple ointment to prevent infection and ease the pain.

Soon I reached a point where I could stand wearing a bra and t-shirt. Even though my nipples still hurt, this felt like an amazing accomplishment. We continued to work on Theo’s latch. I only fed on one breast at a time to control my supply.

Yet there were times I was lazy and let him nurse when I should have popped him off and tried for a better latch. With open wounds, I was introducing bacteria. Also with an oversupply of milk, he wasn’t draining the breast each time. All things that could add up to an unfortunate mastitis infection.

Around eight weeks postpartum, I was getting out of the shower and noticed some redness and itchiness on my right breast again. My heart sank. All I wanted was to start feeling well and normal again. Eight weeks felt like forever to be laid up with infections and a cystocele. I was pining to get out of the bedroom and show my little boy the world. I hoped I could kick the infection this time around without antibiotics, and immediately began a round of natural remedies and homeopathy. Once again, 24 hours later my fever had spiked and I was back on the antibiotics.

After finishing that round of antibiotics, I had five glorious days without any issues. Then, once again, I was woke up one morning with a fever, sore breast and another round of mastitis. I was devastated and defeated.

I had no desire to go on antibiotics again (before these breast infections it was so rare that I ever took antibiotics), and so I tried all the natural remedies, including acupuncture and homeopathy. I also started pumping my breasts dry every four hours. I was worried about overstimulating my breasts and making too much milk, but I figured it was better than not draining and allowing bacteria to grow. Even with Theo sound asleep, I set my alarm for every 4 hours throughout the night to wake up and pump. I continued this brutal schedule for four weeks. My phone had a dozen alarms between the pumping schedule, the herbs, vitamins, etc. I was heartbroken that my milk production was so out of sync with my baby. Shouldn’t it just be easy? It felt so unnatural to be chained to the pump, and to be sleeping in these militaristic four-hour stints. But I stuck to it.

Finally, by the third month postpartum, I thought I was doing pretty good. This is the time everyone says your milk supply begins to regulate itself and even out. I pumped for a few feedings a day, but let him nurse as well.

Then, two weeks later, I hit a low point. I woke up with a very red, very sore breast-the most sore yet. I broke down in tears to Randy. Why couldn’t I figure this out? I felt I had tried everything. I was so regimented, so diligent. I felt like a failure.

My fever spiked to 103, and hovered around 102.7 for two days, even after starting antibiotics. I had to take a cold bath to lower my temperature. I stood there, freezing, shaking, scared to touch my breasts. I was in so much pain. I was crying and told Randy I couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t do it.

I went to the doctor. I had to get an ultrasound on my left breast to make sure I didn’t get an abscess. The doctor told me some people get a portable ultrasound kit from Butterfly Network and other makers to monitor these things, but that didn’t work out for me. Then I returned for two days of heavy-duty antibiotics, the kind that they inject into your bottom. Finally, after four days of suffering, my fever subsided and I started to feel better.

During this time I pumped and dumped and gave Theo bottles of frozen milk as I couldn’t imagine nursing with such sore breasts, nor could I afford not to have him drain the breast fully. I was at my wits end. My lactation consultant also seemed to be stumped. She recommended I pump and bottle feed him till six months, then call it good. I added this to the list of options, along with starting formula. But the climber inside of me was convinced I was still just doing something wrong and figured that there must be a way.

When you climb a big-wall like El Cap, most of the days are full of suffering. You’re dehydrated, sore, bloody and scared. You have no idea if you’ll get to the top on time. And you wonder why would ever do this to yourself, and you vow that you’ll never do it again.

Yet … A couple days later your mind has a strange way of forgetting all the pain. All you remember is what an incredible experience it was to reach the top, and how good that can feel.

Randy reminded me about my breakdown in the bathtub – the tears, pain and sickness. Yet, what I realized is that I actually liked breastfeeding. I enjoyed that time with Theo. It didn’t work out all the time-ok, in fact it didn’t work out a lot of the time. But when it did, it was a great experience for me. And, I could just imagine that if I could figure it out, that it would be a great way to feed him when we were out climbing. No need to pack a bottle, etc.

I got a second opinion from another lactation consultant. She assured me that what I’d experienced thus far was extremely rare. She also told me that if breastfeeding was inhibiting me from mothering the way I wanted, then it was definitely not worth it (which it was coming very close). We started at square one. I felt like getting back to on demand breastfeeding was light years away, but we had to start somewhere. I would try to feed if I could, but also supplement with pumping and feeding him the bottle. She was worried that if I only pumped and fed, I’d give up quicker, and she was probably right; I’m sure I would have.

I learned on a few trips that going to altitude definitely makes me more engorged, so I had to work with that. I rented a hospital grade pump a few times when my normal pump wouldn’t suffice to unclog a duct, and Theo wouldn’t latch. I also learned that if I ate sugar, it increased the likelihood of clogged ducts.

Over the next three to four months, I eased into feeding just when he needed it, tapering down the pumping from every 4 to every 6 hours. I tapered down from feeding him and pumping after every feeding to only pumping after every other feeding. Then I tapered down to pumping dry just once a day. Soon, I was eventually just feeding him.

By seven months postpartum, I was only pumping if I thought I had nipple damage, but even that was getting more rare.

If you are struggling with breastfeeding, you certainly aren’t alone. I am nine months postpartum now, and I feel as though I am only beginning to feel like I’m getting a handle on it. I’m not quite as nervous about it. I still check my nipples after every feeding. I still worry if I see redness. I still have the hospital-grade pump sitting in the garage, just in case. And I very nearly gave up on several occasions.

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  • Thanks so much for sharing your story! That had to be so tough, and hopefully by sharing your story other soon to be moms will know it's not always easy but worth trying hard for! Also lactation consultants ARE worth the money!! Way to go!!

    February 18, 2015 at 3:02 am
  • Wow – you really persevered. I was able to breastfeed all three of my boys, although each experience was different and came with its own challenges. I think it's great you shared your story and hopefully it will help other new moms understand that breastfeeding can be really challenging – and it's good to expect some bumps and setbacks when you're first starting – but also super rewarding, not to mention convenient, free, and really good for your baby. On the other hand, everyone really does have to do what is best for them. With my last baby, I had to stop nursing him at 9 months because of some health issues I was having. It was really hard to feel like I was choosing between my health and his health but ultimately I decided he would be fine drinking formula for a few months and I was grateful for the nursing relationship we did have. I hope it's smooth sailing for you moving forward!

    February 18, 2015 at 3:27 am
  • Thanks so much! Yes, definitely was trying there for a while – and thank goodness for lactation consultants! 🙂 🙂

    February 18, 2015 at 4:16 am
  • Thanks so much for your comment Kathleen, I really appreciate it. You are totally right that every mom has to do what is best for them. Jaime and our lactation consultants said that to me over and over again, that if breastfeeding was inhibiting my ability to parent the way I wanted, then it was better to switch to formula. I'm glad you were able to take care of yourself, a healthy and happy mama is worth it's weight in gold!
    Thanks again for the message – and I must say that I am amazed you did it with all 3 boys! Incredible!
    All my best,

    February 18, 2015 at 4:19 am
  • Motherhood did not come as natural as I had hoped as well. My son was also partially tongue-tied but I didn't find out until he was 2 mo old and was told surgery was the only option at that point, which I didn't do. He nursed funny and I had a few bouts of mastitis as well. I just Let him nurse often, which turned out to be every half hour sometimes. So I didn't get much done but we were able to establish our BF relationship after 3 mo. Almost 3 yrs later it's still uncomfortable but he loves it and it has been a great tool through the tough toddler years. My friend says breastfeeding is like having the best first aid kit ever, strapped to your chest. So props to you for your dedication! I love your attitude and keep at it!

    February 18, 2015 at 4:20 pm
  • Thanks so much for your comment, and great job persevering with tongue tie! It definitely is painful! I have family and friends who nursed into the toddler years and said it was great 🙂 I'm not sure how long I'll nurse for, but it's good to know that they still enjoy it that long.
    Thanks again for reaching out!
    All my best,

    February 18, 2015 at 5:09 pm
  • Thank you for sharing your story! This is a topic we, mothers, are not prepared for until you actually experience it. I have a baby who is 4 months old, and I had a very difficult time adjusting to breastfeeding due to her latch. It was very painful even thinking about it, and made it very difficult, and something not enjoyable. But with perseverance and support from your loved ones, it made it all possible. The few times my husband and I have been climbing, I had to pump in the middle of the mountain for sure 🙂 You are a great mom, climber and inspiring person. Much love from NC!

    February 19, 2015 at 4:57 am
  • Hi Diana – Thank you so much for your comment and message, really appreciate it. I'm glad that you are doing better breastfeeding as well – takes some getting used to 🙂
    Thanks again, and all my best!

    February 19, 2015 at 2:53 pm
  • This sounds so much like my experience with my first babies (twins!) six years ago. It was exhausting, discouraging and painful. But, like you, my stubbornness eventually paid off. And if it's any consolation, I have a 4 month old now and have had a much, much easier time this go round. It really did only take 3 weeks for things to settle down and no mastitis! If you ever go for kiddo number two, I hope you have the same experience.

    February 27, 2015 at 9:59 pm
  • Thanks Lynn! Really appreciate it. We'll see if we go for another one or not 😉 right now Theo is keeping us busy 🙂

    March 1, 2015 at 10:42 am
  • Thank you for sharing your breastfeeding journey and your honesty. Every breastfeeding mama has their own journey, from the joys to the misery and not everyone seems to openly discuss it. I had mastitis three times, so I applaud your determination because I know how nasty mastitis can be. I believe I may mentioned it in a previous post but our journey ended a few ago, just shy of my little guy hitting a year. I always thought I would be nursing him well into toddler-hood. Not a single day has passed that I don't miss it and try to figure out how I could have done things better. Thank you again for sharing your story!! And thank you for your inspiration!!!

    March 8, 2015 at 9:36 pm
  • Thanks so much for the comment Julia, I really appreciate it. I know that it really helps me to hear from other moms out there. I hope by sharing my story it might help someone else 🙂
    Thanks again for the message – really appreciate it!

    March 10, 2015 at 11:03 am
  • Beth, you are an amazing woman! And I'm so thankful that you are sharing your motherhood journey, including your challenges with breastfeeding. I can so much identify with what you've been through. For me, those first months and years are already a ways back, but I can still remember them so vividly, and reading your story brings me right back into the feeling of that time. I, too, had so many of these challenges. Nipple damage, recurrent mastitis, and blocked ducts, and candida, and I only made it through with the dedicated support of my husband and family.
    Like so many new moms, I had expected breastfeeding to be the easiest, most natural thing, just like it had been for my mother who was able to go to the mountains with me right from the start. Instead, even leaving the house to go to the grocery store felt like it was impossibly distant in that first time of birth recovery, healing, and breastfeeding difficulties.
    I also walked around the house topless at all times, always near hot compresses for the next blocked duct. And I read every book I could find on breastfeeding, adjusted my diet to avoid sugars and yeast, drank turmeric water and took grapefruit seed extract to fend off infections whenever I had a bad blocked duct. But I also lost the infection battle in the beginning and had to take antibiotics and switch to stronger ones to fight the infection, which led to the yeast problems.
    Desperate, I exchanged personal emails with the most experienced lactation specialists, including Dr Jack Newman. And I, too, had to wake at night on schedule to pump even when my baby didn't want to nurse, and found myself way out of sync with my baby's needs with too much milk.
    And yet, after and in between the really hard and painful times, nursing was such a special time with my baby, that I was unwilling to give it up, even though I came close on several occasions and absolutely understand that choice. But I loved the peaceful moments and closeness of nursing when things were working well.
    For me it was 2 years before I climbed regularly again. I found that when I tried to climb, I'd more easily get blocked ducts, maybe from contracting muscles in the chest area. And I would more easily get blocked ducts when my baby fell asleep on my chest in the carrier. Things were definitely not as easy as I'd envisioned, but our nursing relationship lasted for 3 years and I am grateful for that time.
    I am so thankful to you for sharing your story and for making other moms feel like they are not alone when they encounter struggles. And it's also encouraging to read what Lynn said in the comments above about having a much easier time the next time around.
    Thank you for your great blog. You are an inspiring woman all around. Wishing the very best for you and your family.

    March 26, 2015 at 4:36 am
  • Thank you so much for your comment and your story! It is so great to hear from other women, especially their stories and journeys! It's great to hear that you were able to keep breastfeeding for 3 years. People keep asking me how long I am going to breastfeed for, and I really don't have an answer. But honestly, I feel as if I'd like to do it for a while because it was such a struggle in the beginning.
    Thanks again! All my best!

    March 26, 2015 at 2:42 pm
  • Wow, that is an incredible story, Beth, and you stuck with it far longer than I would have. This is probably related to how I'm the low-key "take-it easy" kind of climber and you finish big walls! My son was tongue-tied as well, and I had never heard of it before. Luckily, they figured it out in the hospital and my pediatrician gave it a quick snip at 6 days old. But wow, yeah, up to that point, breastfeeding was the most painful thing I've experienced in a long, long time. I think because of that pain, and another surgery my son went through in his first week, my milk didn't come in. So, it was a mix of breastfeeding and formula for him, and even that was a struggle. Babies are just plain hard.

    The "can't roll your 'r's" test you mentioned was a funny flash of realization for me. I always assumed that my son's tongue-tie was my husbands fault. He was a twin born in the early 70s and his mom didn't even try to breastfeed. So there was no way to know. However, he can roll 'r's just great, and I've always had trouble (especially as a kid). AND my mother told me horror stories about nursing me when I was a baby. She made it three weeks. She always said it was because she didn't know how to get a good latch at the time, and that my brothers were easier because somebody taught her. I'm suddenly (this is 4 years after my son's birth) realizing that *I'M* the tongue-tied baby! Thanks! I'll go tell my mom she didn't do anything wrong. 🙂

    March 26, 2015 at 10:13 pm
  • Hi Kate! So sorry I missed this comment somehow! But yes, so funny about the rolling the r's test! Isn't it crazy how painful it can be?
    Thanks again for reaching out, I really appreciate it and hope that you are doing great!
    All my best!

    July 10, 2015 at 3:20 am