World Breastfeeding Week: One Doulas Story

`Are you going to breastfeed?` asked the nurse during my intake at the hospital after my water broke at 41+1. Being a first time mom, who did all the reading but never asked questions, I thought this question was a no brainer and an overwhelming YES! Who would not want perfect temperature food available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, exclusively for the first six months and then with complimentary foods until a year (that is what the book said).

Amanda Kopcic Photography

No one told me it even COULD be hard but when it was hard (or so I thought) when my milk did not come in until day 5. I was a hormonal mess, my mom was helping as much as she knew how, I couldn’t figure out a hand pump and had a breakdown where I begged my partner to run to the store to buy bottles and premade formula. Which is something I should have prepared for but I thought breastfeeding would be easy.

Every mom does it. This is what my body is meant to do. This is what breasts are for! My thoughts about breastfeeding were naïve and I wish someone would have been there to tell me that it is normal for milk to not come in until then, that I WOULD be a hormonal mess and that breastfeeding helps your uterus shrink back to its normal size (which in some women, me included, could be just as painful as contractions). 

During all this chaos of just becoming a mom, learning all about this new tiny human, the dreaded lack of sleep and the parade of family members and friends visiting with their well wishes and to meet our new addition... I didn’t think that this itching was odd, or this small rash under my still existing baby belly was a concern.

Within a few weeks the itching got out of control, I was in tears in the bath tub between feedings, it was the only thing that was taking the edge of pain away and not making me scratch my skin off. I tried everything I had in the house to cover my skin to help, I even covered myself in Pentene cream and calamine lotion. I was beginning to worry and went to a walk in clinic after googling some rashes in pre and postnatal and coming to the conclusion of PUPPs (Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy). Walking away in tears to been given hope with some topical steroids, but that didn’t help either, I could have used the entire tube within the next few days. 

Two weeks went by and still no relief after doing a large online order of items that women said helped them deal with PUPPs and still no luck, still crying and working through this new mom and baby routine. A trip to the emergency room had a doctor tell me I couldn’t take Benadryl because I was breastfeeding and offered more topical steroids. With no answers and getting to the point of losing my sanity I looked for alternative options with a Naturopath. I finally came across someone to feel for my sanity, see my pain, wanting me to heal, show me compassion. She validated my raw emotions and allowed me to break down, and we got to talking about how your body heals from birth. Her conclusion was that my body was not filtering the drugs of the epidural through my liver efficiently, and planned on doing a very intense liver cleanse to rid my body of these foreign chemicals. 

That same week was my 6 week check up with my family doctor, the rash had got out of hand and ONTO my hands. It spread across my belly, onto my lower back, buttocks, thighs, chest, upper arms and creeping onto my lower arms and hands. I would NEVER wish this pain on my worst enemy. I was lucky enough to have a baby who was sleeping long stretches at night, an amazing latch and my supply was abundant. That was easy. This rash was overtaking my life!

My family doctor had no choice at this point to put me on oral steroids to get rid of the hives on my body, which may or may not transfer through my milk, but on first attempt I could tell her tummy was not agreeing with the drugs… And began my journey to keep up my supply, pumping and dumping for three weeks and formula feeding.

IT WAS GRUELLING! Pumping every three hours, making bottles, sterilizing pump and bottle parts, those times in the middle of the night where my daughter was not waking but I did so my supply wouldn’t decrease. I was so determined in the first few days, trying to be a supermom, proving my mom wrong who told me just to give up. No. This was supposed to be easy.

Three weeks went by and off the medication I went, within a day this rash came back with a vengeance. All I wanted to do is comfort my daughter when she cried, I hated having to make a bottle while holding a screaming child, and I wanted this `easy breastfeeding experience ` I read about. However, the hives spread to my face and back to the doctor and on the steroids I went.

LoraLayne Photography
 SIX WEEKS. The most trying six weeks of my life with the entire time being terrified of postpartum depression because it was right there, waiting for me to give up hope, waiting for that moment in the middle of night where I was falling asleep pumping, waiting until my partner left for work and I was alone, just me, a hungry child and a shadow trying to overtake me.

These six weeks shaped me as a mom. I am proud to breastfeed and would do it whenever, wherever my daughter needed. I was adamant about breastfeeding as long as my daughter wanted, which would still be happening if I did not dry up at the beginning of my second trimester with our next child. It was a sad time to me even after 2 years because I worked so hard and was determined to breastfeed. And we did. Since she had her first birthday I was bombarded by family and friends with the question about weaning, I knew I wasn’t ready and she for sure was not. 

Through our breastfeeding journey I encountered the struggle of formula feeding, exclusively pumping, low supply and eating everything suggested just to get those few extra ounces. There were many times I wanted to just give up but then I remembered those long nights, how hard I worked and how dedicated I was during those six weeks to be able to breastfeed. I made those sacrifices for my daughter but in turn have given myself an amazing gift of understanding. I have so much respect for every mom, whatever their choice of feeding may be, these tiny humans do not come with manuals and we need our village, we need support. If you are ever in need of support postpartum, whether it just be an ear to listen or help with breastfeeding you know who that here at Sweet Stella`s we can be just that for you.

Amanda Kopcic Photography
Thank you to my family and naturopathic doctors who validated that what I was going through was not normal. Thank you to my partner who stood by my side throughout our breastfeeding journey, even when he did not know how to help but his presence was all that was needed. Thank you to my mom who was there those first few days to help calm my hormones, hold my space (literally) and to support our journey however long that may have been. Thank you to the friends who listened to me complain, who were also up during those wee hours to keep me company and those who made me lactation cookies. Thank you to the many friends who have captured our journey for me to always enjoy and to share with my daughter. Thanks to you, the reader, for taking your time to share my story with, it is healing my soul sharing this journey.