Content note: breastfeeding
After my experience trying (and failing) to breastfeed E, I was determined that if I was able to have another baby, I was going to breastfeed. I tried to set myself up for success when I found out I was expecting M, reading books and purchasing a new, high quality double electric pump (I wore out the motor on the one I used with E). When M was born, I worked on getting milk supply established, making sure she had a good latch and was feeding well. I was fortunate my body responded this time, and we were happy.
For the last seven and a half months, everything went well. M loved breastfeeding. I had a huge supply. I froze lots, and ultimately wound up donating to the local milk bank when I overflowed the freezer. I followed all the new guidelines that stipulated exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months. I loved breastfeeding and figured we were set.
(You can tell where this is going.)
Then, about two months ago, the first little crack in that rosy picture appeared when, out of nowhere, in the middle of a happy nursing session, my adorable baby smiled up at me…and promptly bit down. Hard.
M didn’t have any teeth at the time, so while I was startled and it hurt, I just let out a little “ow!” and stared down at her. She, seemingly oblivious, resumed nursing. I figured it was a one-off and didn’t think much of it.
Until it happened again. And again. And again. Thanks to no teeth, it didn’t bother me all that much, and eventually M quit, right around the time she got her first tooth.
Then, in late October, M started biting again. The situation escalated over about a week, culminating with Halloween, where she bit me seven times, including once that drew blood. I did some research, concluded that I needed to keep a closer eye on her when nursing and watched her latch like a hawk. She bit me one more time on November 1, then we reached a détente. M nursed. I watched. It was no longer quite the carefree, cuddly experience from before.
The peace held until Tuesday. M bit me once in the morning. I unlatched her, set her down, and told her “no” soberly. The next nursing session went fine. I went to latch her on for the afternoon session, and M bit. This time, she drew blood. I yelped, took her off, waited twenty minutes until I could see her giving hunger cues, then I gingerly started to put her onto the other breast.
Within seconds, I was bleeding again.
Because I am nothing if not persistent, I waited until I saw hunger cues again, about fifteen minutes later, and tried again on the first breast. Before I knew it, she clamped down, leaving behind a pair of bloody toothmarks.
I called the lactation consultant, who advised that I pump and let myself heal.
I went to nurse M again on Thursday morning, and found myself terrified. I could not bring myself to put my breast in that mouth, which turned out to be a correct instinct as she bit her bottle over and over. I went and saw the lactation consultant. We figured out a few things, but the upshot is, as of today, M screams whenever she sees my breast. She’s on a nursing strike.
It’s like a lock has sprung open on all those crappy feelings from infertility and prematurity and my inability to breastfeed with E. A representative sampling: This is why you’re infertile. You’re a bad mother. You caused this to happen, you reacted wrong. You aren’t trying hard enough, anyone can breastfeed. You gave up too soon with E, you know that you could have gotten her latched eventually. If you can’t breastfeed M until she’s one, you’ve failed and she’s going to have tons of health problems.
I know these are ridiculous, and also? Totally untrue. I also know something else from all the past struggles: I can set myself up for success and do the work, but sometimes, the end result is out of my hands. The problem is, it’s hard to keep reminding myself of those facts.
I have given M eight months of breastfeeding. I found ways to bond with E that had nothing to do with nursing. We are all going to be okay, regardless of the outcome, regardless of if I manage to get her back on the breast, or pump and feed for the next four months, or wind up formula feeding. In the end, fed is best.
But right now? The whole thing bites.