FRIDAY, Nov. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Heather Goetsch couldn't figure out why breast-feeding hurt so much.
Now 28 and living in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Goetsch had her first baby at 23 and always expected to breast-feed. Her mother enthusiastically supported La Leche League, an international group that supports breast-feeding, and it never entered Goetsch's mind that she might not breast-feed her own kids.
But now she'd just had a daughter, and trying to breast-feed Caitlyn was anything but the pleasant bonding experience Goetsch had imagined.
"My husband was waking me up to feed the baby, and I was crying and saying, 'Oh no, I just fed her. She can't be hungry yet,'" she recalled. "I wasn't ready to go through the process again because it was so painful. It was one of those things where you know you're doing it wrong, but you don't know what to do."
Goetsch finally complained to her mother about the pain. "I was really not wanting to go to her every five minutes to constantly seek advice from her," she said. "My mom put her foot down and said, 'You cannot be miserable breast-feeding.'"
Her mother put her in touch with a La Leche League friend, who quickly figured out the problem.
"Right away she knew what was going on, and she said everything was painful because the baby was not latching on completely," Goetsch said. "Caitlyn was latching on, and I was letting her latch on, in a way that was causing a lot of pain."
The friend coached Goetsch in a better way to breast-feed -- holding her daughter like a football, with her head a little lower and her neck supported. "That dropped her down more so she would open her mouth wider, and take more in," Goetsch said.
"I just felt so relieved," she said. "I'd grown up hearing what a beautiful thing this was, but from the beginning I hated it. I felt like I was letting my mother down. I was relieved that I wasn't one of those women who hate breast-feeding. I was relieved I wasn't going to be in pain forever."
At the time, Goetsch worked as a paramedic. And when she went back to work, she said, her co-workers were surprisingly supportive, given that it was a male-dominated business. A nearby lounge gave her all the privacy she needed for the 15 to 20 minutes needed to pump.
The only problem came from the nature of her work, where she had to be on-call during the whole shift. Some nights she couldn't break away to pump, particularly if she was out in a paramedic unit.
"I remember working 12-hour night shifts and having the opportunity to breast pump maybe once, which is a miserable feeling," she said. "But that's the nature of the beast."
One night, she said, her unit was on standby at the site of a fire. "We had been there for hours, and I was just miserable," she recalled. "I thought my chest was going to explode. I had to pump." But the prospect didn't make her male partner happy.
"You could just see the look on his face," she said. "'Are you serious? Is this happening to me?'" Goetsch said.
They taped towels over the back window for privacy, and then she set to it. "He sat in the front seat with the radio blaring, definitely trying not to think about what was happening," she said.
Goetsch said she encountered more obstacles two years later, when trying to breast-feed her son, Caden. At one point, while attending class at a community college, she found herself relegated to a bathroom stall.
She plugged in the pump on a counter and ran the tubes under a stall. "I would sit there pumping, hunched on a toilet," Goetsch said. "It bothered me because this was my son's food. It was just the idea that he was eating food I pumped in a public restroom. It made me bitter for a long time."
She said her instructors weren't always supportive, either. "When I [asked] about stepping out and pumping, I was told, 'Well, you can leave class any time you want, but I can't guarantee you that I won't give a quiz while you're gone, and you can't make those points up,'" she said. The first time she stepped out, she said, the instructor gave a 10-point quiz.
But Goetsch stuck with breast-feeding for both her children. Caitlyn consumed breast milk exclusively until she was 1 year old, and then her mother weaned her off. Caden breast-fed exclusively to 9 months old, when he began showing interest in other food, but continued partial breast-feeding until he was 15 months old, Goetsch said.
Both children, she said, got significant health benefits from breast-feeding.
"My daughter did not even have her first cold until the month after she was weaned," she said. "My son, he really didn't get sick at all for the first year of his life."
Her advice to expectant mothers thinking about breast-feeding? "Make it through the first week, and get help," Goetsch said. "You tell yourself in your mind it's a natural process so you should know how to do it, but you really do need help. It will make things so much easier for you and your baby."
A companion article offers more information on breast-feeding.
SOURCE: Heather Goetsch, Mount Pleasant, Iowa
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