Breastfeeding after C-Section.
I’ve already written about the birth experience and some of the breastfeeding experience, but I want to focus on breastfeeding after a C-Section. I had breastfed my three daughters all of whom were born vaginally. The first one was hard for the first week, but then we had it down. The second one was easy from the get-go. The third had a hard first week. For my fourth, I did not have a planned C-Section. I was supposed to have an easy labor. Lucas had other ideas.
Since I wasn’t expecting a C-Section, I hadn’t read up on them. I knew that they were more difficult for overweight women. That’s about all I knew. I also knew I was afraid to have one. Afraid that I would die on the operating table or from an infection. They allowed both of my doulas in the surgery, thankfully.
The C-Section happened, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I lost a lot of blood. She told me this later that because I had a lot of babies, there were a lot of blood vessels to close up. One of my Doula’s had Lucas, who I named as they upped the drugs, suck on her finger to try to preserve his natural desire to suck. I didn’t know this at the time.
It felt like eight hours before I was able to nurse him. I don’t think it was that long, I honestly don’t know how long it was.
I was in the hospital for 6 days. I nursed him the best I could, but the latch wasn’t right. I could tell. Every once in a while, I’d get a good latch. I called the Lactation Consultant multiple times, but she came in and said the latch looked good. He lost weight. At first, the pediatrician said it was fine. He said C-section babies tend to lose a little more weight at first. Then, when he kept losing, my pediatrician suggested I supplement with a little formula. So I did. I gave him scant milliliters at a time. I’d nurse, then give him a tiny amount of formula dribbled into his mouth.
I went home with the ubiquitous Formula Samples. I would nurse him, and dribble small amounts of formula in his mouth. He started to gain weight. His latches were painful. I looked at his mouth, and it was shaped right—like fish lips (he was the fourth I’ve nursed), but I was pitted and cracked. I had to start pumping on the left and not nursing because it was so damaged. The right was also damaged, but I kept up on that side to at least have milk there. I was feeding him one ounce of formula at a time to keep him from getting overly full. I felt like such a loser. What was going on? Why couldn’t I get this right? I was reading a ton on the internet, and it kept saying women with c-sections give up breastfeeding more quickly than women with vaginal births. Why? It didn’t make sense to me. I’d done this before. It wasn’t that I wasn’t producing milk, but the pain was unbearable. I was yelling at my husband. I was locking myself in my room crying because it hurt so bad, plus I felt guilty for failing. I was taking him off the breast too soon because it hurt so badly.
My mother and husband advised I just give up breastfeeding and formula feed. It’s not worth the pain. If he can’t nurse, he can’t. But I couldn’t give up. The breastfeeding/formula supplement was ensuring he was gaining weight, so I wasn’t worried about starving him. Every day was a triumph. If I can just nurse today, I can quit tomorrow. That was my thinking. I kept looking up latch issues.
I finally found a post about how to tell if a baby has a bad latch. I saw a post about “Lipstick” shaped nipples and also creased nipples. That was it! Mine were deeply creased and also lipstick shaped after nursing. It suggested the baby could be tongue tied. I asked my pediatrician, and he said Lucas was not tongue tied. Then I started really looking. He wasn’t opening his mouth very wide at all. I was tired and instead of taking the time to make him open his mouth wide, I was letting him latch on too soon. Because I let him latch on lazily, he kept doing it, and I kept letting him.
So I started working on him. It would take 20 minutes to get him to latch on properly. He would cry and scream, but even when he screamed, his mouth wasn’t open very wide. He has a small mouth, so he was going to take a little more work than my girls had. Then finally, after a couple of days of working with him and being as patient as I could, he got it. Exactly one month after his birthday. I was so happy. Within days, I stopped formula supplements. Within a week, I was healed. I was back at work a month later, and he comes to nurse 3 times a day. He is entirely breast fed.
Had I been told from the get-go that C-Section babies can’t nurse, and had I not nursed three other babies, I would have probably quit. Because I had nursed three, I knew how rewarding breastfeeding is, and how much babies like it. It took a lot of perseverance to make it, but I’m super proud of myself for working through the issues. Lucas still wants to do a lazy latch now and then, but I immediately take him off and make him latch again.
Don’t be discouraged, and don’t let others tell you that you can’t breastfeed. You probably can! Don’t be ashamed to supplement with formula while you get the hang of breastfeeding, but be very careful to not overfeed the formula. You want the baby to still want to nurse often (newborns nurse a ridiculous amount of time, but within 6-8 weeks it slows down), so just give a little at a time until the baby seems satisfied. I didn’t give more than an ounce or so. Pump after you supplement too, so your body will think the baby wants more food and will produce more since he IS eating more with the formula supplement.
It seems like a lot of work, but once you’ve got it down, it is SOOO much easier to breastfeed than formula feed. No bottles, no nipples, no mixing, no warming up water. Travel is easier with breastfeeding. I hated having to prepare formula for travel (pre-measure formula and water, but not premix it or it will go bad). Plus, babies love breastfeeding. They do not roll their eyes back when eating formula, but when breastfeeding, they roll their eyes back, and it looks like it must be the yummiest thing since New York Cheesecake!
C-Section babies CAN nurse. They just might require a bit more work. And you’ll feel like Super Woman when you persevere.