Saturday, 4 August 2012

Breast feeding after a c-section

Probably the biggest reason that I wanted a natural, unmedicated birth was to facilitate breast feeding. I also wanted to have the quickest recovery possible and, maybe it's selfish, but I really wanted that authentic experience of bringing a child into the world without intervention. The biggest rationale for a natural birth was always to do what was best for the baby, which includes getting breast feeding off to a good start. Despite my best efforts, I ended up with a birth on the opposite side of the spectrum.

I didn't have much sense of time in the operating room (I could swear that at least 10 minutes passed from the time I first heard him cry to the time I finally laid eyes on him, Alex tells me it was considerably less) but some time shortly after I saw him, Alex and our midwives went in to the recovery room to wait for me.

Since I was unavailable, our midwives had Alex place the baby skin-to-skin on his chest. As soon as I arrived in the recovery room after the surgery, my midwife placed the baby on my chest and we tried to initiate breast feeding. The epidural left me without much feeling in my breasts and I could barely hold him with the IV in one hand and that finger clip monitor thingy on the other. Not to mention that we had to keep him from kicking me near the incision. I felt about as unnatural as I have ever felt, it's no wonder that he couldn't latch on very well. Once everyone was satisfied that the baby had something to eat, Alex, the baby and I all moved into the hospital room that would be our first home as a family of three.

For the next few days we fumbled our way through. While we were getting the latch straightened out, I was able to express some colostrum and then have the baby lick it off me. We had some helpful nurses--and one unhelpful one--and our midwife reassured us that it would all work out. As more and more tubes were removed from my body and I became more mobile, things started coming together. After we went home, we received follow-up care from our midwife, and the same question always came up, "how's breastfeeding going?"

Now that my baby is over 3 months old, and I've more or less got the hang of feeding him, I think about how easily it could have gone the other way for me. Because I had a difficult birth, there were many obstacles on the road to breast feeding success. What made the difference for me, in my opinion, was all the support I received immediately following my c-section. Even the nurse that we didn't care for, who was convinced that I wasn't feeding him properly and wanted me to express milk into a cup and then feed the baby with an eye dropper, was trying to ensure that I left the hospital capable of feeding of my baby. She asked to have a lactation consultant see me, and the lactation consultant was very helpful, and reassured me that I was doing really well. Sometimes that is all you need, someone to tell you that you're doing ok. Every nurse we had helped me breastfeed in their own way, whether it was to give me tips on how to protect my nipples, show me different positions or set me up to co-sleep.

The biggest and most important help I have received, though, has been from my partner. Like me, Alex was always committed to breastfeeding, and recognized that he had a vital role to play even though he couldn't do the actual feeding himself. In the early weeks of sore nipples and awkward latches, it's critical to have a partner who isn't quick to give up and who helps with solutions when problems arise.

There is no question that having a c-section made breast feeding more challenging, and am I grateful that I am able to breast feed in spite of having a c-section. I am also grateful that I can breast feed because I had a c-section. Being able to feed my baby the way my body was meant to has made me feel so much better about not having a natural birth. I feel like I'm doing what's best for my baby now, even if he didn't have the best start. Breastfeeding is also good for me, helping my body recover and lose the extra weight I gained during pregnancy.

Labour and delivery don't always go as planned, but it doesn't mean that all is lost. I was lucky to have support in several forms and that undoubtedly helped me to breast feed my baby. The kind of birth you have can affect your ability to breastfeed, but so can everything that happens after.

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