Breastfeeding Beginnings

Oppai or おっぱい means breast in Japanese.

Kudasai or ください means please give me.

I decided to name this blog Oppai Kudasai because I am raising my daughter in rural Japan and this is how a child might ask to nurse.

My daughter was born in Ofunato, Japan and she goes to Japanese Nursery School right now. She was exclusively breastfeed for 10 months and then started on solids. She is still a very active nurser with a healthy appetite for table food as well. I started this blog to tell our nursing story and as a support for all the other Lactivists out there.

Together we can change the image of breastfeeding and by not being afraid or ashamed to do it in public we can encourage others to join us.

So to begin I will start at the beginning of Violet and my journey as a nursing couple.

“Sit down in this chair please. I am going to squeeze your nipples and see if you have any milk in there.” “what ?!” I replied to the sweet, old, Japanese nurse. Her hands at the ready.This was the beginning of my journey in breastfeeding. I was 35 weeks pregnant and in for my weekly check up.

I had a very healthy pregnancy with no complications. The nurse explained that she needed to make sure that I was going to be able to produce breast milk before my baby was born. I didn’t understand the rationale behind it all but had no choice but to submit.

She twisted with a fierceness not like anything I would have imagined to come from such a sweet old woman. I tried to tell her that I was already leaking and had been for the past 4 weeks. She didn’t believe me though and twisted and twisted until that liquid gold seeped through my tortured nipple.

Satisfied with the results of the right she moved to the left. I flinched and said, “Mo i desu”. Which translated to, “enough already!” She smiled and said that she had to check. So she twisted again and fire ripped though my tiny un-stretched nipple and again liquid emerged.

Through the tears I smiled in victory at the little old nurse and said, “I told you so!” I don’t know why but she seemed to need to be one up on me so she said, “You are going to have trouble breastfeeding your baby because your nipples are too short. You are going to have to stretch them every day until she is born.” Again, “What?!” I said. I had never in my life heard this.

Violet Cecilia すみれ(Sumire) Craft was born on October 1, 2009. She was my miracle baby. 10 days to the date before finding out that I was pregnant by HPT. I was told by my OBGYN that I would not be able to conceive naturally. I had a pelvic exam with an internal ultrasound. My doctor wanted to start me on hormones to jump start my cycle and then start me on a regimented hormone supplement program.

But something wouldn’t let me agree. I asked if I could wait and start my period naturally just in case I was pregnant. My doctor smiled and told me that it was highly unlikely but he would allow me to wait.

10 days later I was walking past a drug store and for some reason I was drawn inside. I bought a pregnancy test and thought myself a fool for putting myself through this again. I took the test and to my shock and disbelief it turned positive. I was overwhelmed with emotion and dropped to my knees in gratitude, praying and hoping that this little life would hold on and that I would one day be able to see his/her beautiful face.

Nine months and three days later we met. She was beautiful. I was intent on having the most natural hospital birth possible but after 73 hours of natural full on labor I conceded to have a c-section. I insisted on being awake and seeing and touching her as soon as possible though.

I also made it clear that under no circumstances should she be given a pacifier or a bottle be it filled with glucose or formula. Thankfully my amazing husband stayed with her until I could be wheeled to my room. She was born at 2:32pm and she was brought to my room at 5pm. For those 2.5 hours my husband stayed by her side and sang to her and held her close. When I was finally able to hold our beautiful daughter I fell deeply in love. I knew that I would do anything to protect her and keep her safe.

From the moment I knew she was conceived I knew that I would breastfeed. I come from a family of breastfeeding mommas. I grew up watching my aunts and cousins nurse their children and although it was usually behind doors or in another room, I knew it was something natural and important. Like a secret club. I cherished the memories of sitting on the bed in the back room of my grandmother’s house with my aunts as they nursed they babies. Back there the women shared their thoughts and feelings freely as they nourished their little angels. I knew that I wanted to be just like them.

My mother breastfeed my brothers and me. She even helped my aunt, who was having trouble with latching on my cousin, by allowing my brother who was a champion nurser to breastfeed at my aunts breast to show her what it felt like and then nursed my cousin so she didn’t skip a feeding. While I have never done this myself I would do so in a heartbeat if anyone ever asked me to. How beautiful to be able to share and teach in that way. Nursing should be passed down through the generations instead of hiding it away. I fear that today’s lack of breastfeeding mothers is a result of never being around it and also lack of information.

Back to my beginning, Violet came in at 5pm. She was 2.5 hours old and I was ready to start nursing her. I was careful to make sure that I did not have any medication in my system that would affect or harm my daughter and then we began.

I had always dreamed of breastfeeding my baby one day and the time had finally come. I imagined many times what it might feel like. I read so many books before she came but still in my mind imagined it feeling like tiny butterfly kisses.

I had no idea that a newborn could suck with such vigor. It felt strange and beautiful all at the same time. It tickled a little bit and I giggled and cried and loved every moment. She latched on quite well the first time. Of course my milk had not come in yet but she was getting colostrum or “liquid gold” as it is often called. I held her to my breast and stroked her sweet face.

The first feeding was amazing. I will never forget holding my tiny baby close to my breast for the first time. Smelling her sweet scent and carefully caressing the top of her beautiful head. Her tiny tulip mouth opening in anticipation as I held her to my breast. When she finally latched on I felt the most strange and amazing feeling. It tickled and also slightly hurt. Not a bad pain more of a pinching feeling. We continued for about 10 minutes. Then she fell asleep.

The nurses came back at 7 and said that they wanted to take her back to the nursery. I informed them that I was going to be exclusively breastfeeding and did not want her given a bottle or pacifier for any reason. They seemed concerned and asked me to please rest at least for the night after my surgery but I declined with a smile and said no.

The head nurse soon came in to discuss my request with me. She told me that it was not the normal routine that they followed with cesarean births. She asked me to please reconsider. I tried to tell her as best I could despite our language barrier that my heart was set on this. She told me that it wasn’t procedure to let a baby room-in on the first night after a c-setion. The staff was worried that I might drop her or not be able to attend to her properly because of my operation. She told me that if my husband stayed in the room with me she would allow it.

She also told me that if she didn’t gain weight in a timely manner the doctor would insist upon giving her formula. I said that I would do my best. We must have talked for at least an hour. She said that I was the only mother on the floor doing this and that if I could succeed it would be an example to the rest of them and to the nurses as well. The nurse finally agreed that if my husband would sleep in the room with me I could keep Violet in the room at all times. I was thrilled that she understood my heart. Violet stayed in my room and we held her all night long.

I wish that I could say that the next feeding was the same. But alas, it was not. My breasts were so large in comparison to her tiny tulip mouth and she could not seem to latch on as hard as we tried. My milk had not come in. I had not eaten for 24 hours and I was hungry too. No one informed me that I could eat that evening as soon as I had a bowel movement. As soon as was possible my dear husband ran out to the nearest store and bought all the diary products he could find along with sandwiches and meal replacement bars. I started drinking full fat milk and eating full fat yogurt. I also had 3 meals a day provided by the hospital.

I fed Violet on demand. Every time she cried I would first check her diaper and then if that was clean we went straight to the breast. She tried so hard, the sweet baby. My right breast was larger than the other and she seemed to have an affinity for it over the left (and still to this day she nurses more on the right).

She cried when I tried to feed her on the left. She cried and she cried and she cried. I then started to cry as well. I was tired and I was hot. It was still warm outside and the hospital kept the air at around 78 degrees. I was also having all those lovely hot flashes that come after childbirth. Plus I had a little radiator attached to me at all times. The nurses brought me hot water bottles filled with ice water and I used them as pillows. My husband wrapped a hand towel around my head that he frequently refreshed with cool water. It helped a lot but I was still hot.

That night I called the nurses, desperate. She would not stop crying. They asked me if I wanted a break and if they could take her and give her a bottle. “It will give her more strength to suckle and bring down your milk,” the nurse said. “No thank you”, I replied. I just wanted them to help me get her latched. I wanted them to help me get her to stop crying.

One nurse was particularly helpful. She placed her finger in Violet’s mouth and let her suck and this helped her to stop crying. But the moment she placed her at my left breast she started to cry again. I was heartbroken but still determined. The nurse asked if she could give her a small dropper of glucose. I said yes but only a little. It seemed to help and she laid her at my left breast.

The nurse suggested that we try nursing lying down. What a brilliant idea! I never would have thought of that. (This soon became our favorite position.) She laid her down beside me and we tried again. The nurse helped to position my breast at an angle that was easier for Violet to latch on to. My breasts were so large in comparison to her little mouth though.

It was a long night. She only gave her that one dropper of glucose but she came back several times to help hold her. She was a godsend and an angel. She breastfed all three of her babies as well. And although she didn’t speak a word of English,  through actions and hands on examples I was able to glean the information that I needed.

Eventually she latched on and suckled and slept. She woke every 2 hours and fed. I was required to keep a log of input and output and also her temperature for our entire 9 day stay in the hospital. I also recorded left and right feedings and timed them.

My milk came in on the 2nd day and boy did it come! I had milk spraying out of me all the time it seemed. When I was pregnant I had several dreams about this. In one dream I was sitting on a bench outside and my baby wanted to nurse. I didn’t have a nursing cover and when I opened my shirt my breast popped out like Betty Boop and started spraying like a fire hydrant all over the street and all over my baby’s face. When I woke up I told my husband about my dream. He said “buy a nursing cover now to get it off your mind.” I did.

Back to my story, my breasts were so large and so engorged that Violet had a hard time latching on. But we worked through it.

On day three as I changed her diaper I noticed blood in her stool. I was shocked and scared. I called the nurse in and she looked at my breasts. I was bleeding from both nipples. That was why she had blood in her stool. So I applied my Lanisoh and we moved on.

I won’t say that the first few days didn’t hurt because they did. But as I type this now I can’t even remember the pain.

I am pleased to say that she never received a bottle during her entire stay at the hospital. The nurses really started to cheer me on once they realized how determined I was. Those nine days in the hospital went by so quickly and I was actually sad to say goodbye. The nurses were so kind and supportive and the food was amazing! But it was time.

Violet surpassed her birth weight by her 1 week birthday and we were on our way! We were very fortunate to settle into a wonderful nursing relationship by the time we left the hospital. Which was 9 days later. In Japan you are kept for 9 days after a c-section. I thought I would hate it but it was nice to be able to return home feeling like I could care for my baby after having major surgery.

Violet slept in a baby safe co-sleeper in between my husband and I. She nursed every 2 hours until she was 6 months old. We settled into this routine and my poor husband was kind enough to wake each time I needed to switch sides of the bed.

Violet was colicky for about 2 months. She would scream if we put her down. So we spent a lot of time bouncing while standing, sitting and when I would lay down I would sway back and forth to create a sense of movement in the bed. This seemed to be the only thing that kept her calm. I hardly remember the crying now but at the time I am sure I thought “will she ever stop crying!?” She did and now as I think back it really didn’t last that long.

I didn’t read any parenting books before Violet was born but I was certain that I didn’t ever want to let her cry alone. So we never tried the “cry it out” method. We met and continue to meet her needs as quickly as possible and this provides us more time to rest and play.

She slept in a bassinet beside the couch before we were ready for bed and then we carried her to bed with us when we went to bed ourselves. She slept right between us. After she was about 6 months old she started nursing every 3-4. And we started putting her to bed in our bedroom alone. Then we would sneak in when we were ready for bed.

Violet still sleeps with us and she still nurses at night once or twice but only until I let down and then once she has emptied my breast (which she can do at record time now) she falls back to sleep. I have always felt that keeping her in bed with me and nursing her to sleep has afforded me more sleep.

Co-sleeping is not for everyone but it definitely worked for us. If you do decide to co-sleep please be sure to do it safely. We used the Snuggle Nest and it worked perfectly.

My nursling is a healthy 31 month old. She nurses in public and at home. She nurses anywhere and everywhere. I am allowing her to continue until she decides to stop. Thankfully, my dear husband has been completely supportive of my breastfeeding.

I don’t think she will nurse forever and I am cherishing these days close to my heart. What a gift it is to be able to be close to her in this way.

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