Today, my little Zara is 18 days old and looks very different from the day she was born. Her cheeks are filling out and she's no longer jaundiced so she's turning out to be quite a pretty wee thing.
She's also quite a hungry baby, on good days needing to be fed about once every 4-5 hours, on not-so-good days more like every half hour!
I decided before Zara was born that I wanted to try exclusively breastfeeding my baby. What this means is that from the first hour she came into the world, she was immediately put to the breast and fed that way ever since - no bottles, no pacifiers, no formula supplementation. My paediatrician refers to this as 'breastfeeding fanaticism' but honestly, after all the research I did about breastfeeding prior to Zara's birth, I didnt see why I couldnt at least try.
Deciding to exclusively breastfeed your baby isn't an easy decision to stick to. I made every preparation before my delivery to ensure I would have realistic expectations about breastfeeding - even seeking the services of a lactation consultant - but even that couldn't prepare me for how painful and trying it would be.
The first time I tried feeding Zara, she latched on enthusiastically enough but I wasn't producing enough colostrum yet to fill her up. As a result, I spent the first two nights in the hospital without any sleep at all trying helplessly to feed my desperately hungry little girl. It was almost heartbreaking to watch her cry and wonder if I was making the right decision not to supplement her with formula. I know many mothers who have given in at this point and asked the nurses to bring on the bottle.
After two days, (heck, after the first night!) my nipples were cracked, bleeding and incredibly sore from feeding her so often. I was sure something wasn't right about the way I was feeding her because Rita, my lactation consultant, and all the breastfeeding resources I had read had assured that breastfeeding isn't supposed to hurt. Nurses at the hospital all had different opinions about how feeding should be done, from stuffing my nipple into Zara's mouth to using the scissor technique to compress the milk out. I was really at the end of my tether at this point - even beginning to doubt my abilities as a mother - but I pressed on.
Eventually, after three days of producing minute amounts of colostrum, my milk started coming in. I could have cried from joy when I finally saw evidence of the little white droplets that truly, completely, made me a mother. Zara began to calm down a little during feeds, bearing less of a resemblance to a ravenous boob monster. Still, I was constantly in pain during feeds and the process of latching Zara on felt like someone slicing my nipples off with a knife.
Two days after being discharged, Rita popped by to the house to make sure I was ok. When Zara needed to be fed, Rita observed that Zara wasn't opening her mouth wide enough to ensure a good latch, and so she ended up sucking mostly from the nipple. On top of that, I had a couple of nipple "blebs" that were also causing me quite a bit of pain. Finally, to ensure Zara was getting enough milk, Rita taught me how to compress my breast to improve my milk flow and to help remove any blockages in my ducts.
For the first time, I experienced what it was like to feed my baby without searing pain. I began reading up voraciously online for more tips and started guiding myself using breastfeeding videos online to improve my technique.
It's been 18 days now, yes. Latching on does still hurt occasionally when I'm too sleepy to focus but my feeding times with Zara have improved so much that I can actually look her in the eyes now while she's sucking away and feel not just milk but an immense amount of love flowing through me into her. It's really quite indescribable.
Would I go through all that pain again just so my Zara could have the best form of nutrition God could have created for a baby? For sure. That's what being a mother is all about, isnt it?