Sitting in the dark of my hospital bedroom, tears welling in my eyes, my sleeping husband nearby, and this brand new little baby crying and trying desperately to find comfort and nourishment. That is how my breastfeeding journey began almost 7 years ago.
But lets back up a little farther to when I first became pregnant. I could have sworn I was prepared. I mean, I read all of the literature and watched some YouTube videos. I felt like I did my due diligence and the general message seemed to be pretty clear…"breastfeeding comes naturally." I had read so many articles about babies and mommies innately knowing what to do. Psshh… I had this!
Fast forward nine or so months, I was holding my 8lb 15ounce newborn and my arrogance was quickly squashed. My personal experience was far from what I had read. It felt more like the blind leading the blind rather than something my body was born to do. By the time the lactation consultant made it to my room, roughly 24 hours after I had given birth and we first latched, the damage was done. I will spare you the gory details and the potentially disturbing mental image of what had occurred to my poor skin in that 24 hour period. But just know, it was not pretty.
The lactation consultant that was provided to me spent about 15 minutes in my room. Looked at my damaged skin and watched my baby nurse for a couple of minutes. I was informed that her latch was probably too shallow, my equipment might not be ideal for the perfect latch, the lighting was wrong, the temperature in the room was .05 degrees off…
Ok the last two were a bit of an exaggeration. But it truly felt like I had done absolutely nothing right and the only thing I wanted to do was to be able to sooth my brand new crying baby. I should also mention this experience was not an adequate portrayal of how an assessment from a lactation consultant should go. But more on that later. On top of my personal nursing struggles. My milk did not come in as quickly as it should have. My OB at the time had informed me that it was possible the medications I was given during labor could have impacted my initial milk production. The delay in milk meant that at my baby's first follow-up appointment, I was told that she had lost a significant amount of weight. I was further informed that if she didn't start gaining, I would have to start supplementing with formula. I discovered after my second child was born and I had switched to a more holistic pediatrician, that baby weight loss after delivery is completely normal and in fact… it is expected! As long as it is monitored closely, it is not a cause for concern. But as a brand new first time mom, holy moly did that initial information hit me hard. Not only was I in excruciating pain, I was made to feel as though I was starving my child. I felt guilty. I felt like I had failed her because it was so hard and because I had considered giving up … so …. many… times. Nursing DID NOT come naturally to me, but that feeling... wanting to do anything you possible can to make your baby happy, that did come naturally. So I fought through it.
I will admit, I was stubborn and did not make things any easier on myself. I refused to pump and let anyone help me at first. I had read about nipple confusion and I didn't want my pain in the beginning to be for nothing. So I would sit, toes curled in agony, as I tried desperately to get the hang of nursing. I cried often during those first few weeks. I cried because it hurt. I cried because I wasn't sleeping….. because of course my newborn baby wasn't sleeping. I cried because I was exhausted. I cried because I felt alone even though I was surrounded by loved ones. I cried because I was too proud to ask for help. And for whatever reason, to me in that moment, asking for help meant I couldn't do it or I wasn't a good mom. The fact that I cried a lot made my poor husband think that his once strong wife was broken. He felt helpless and I felt like a failure.
After about two to three solid weeks of no sleeping and on-going nursing pain, I decided to give in and let others start helping me. So I began pumping. But in a funny (or not so funny) case of irony, my strong willed little girl wanted nothing to do with the bottle. Like absolutely nothing. We should have invested stock in array of bottle nipple companies because if it was out there, we bought it and she refused to eat out of it. My beautiful, sweet baby had decided if it wasn't directly from the tap, she didn't want it anywhere near her mouth.
My Saving Grace....
It didn't come quickly. Well… it didn't come as quickly as I would have liked. But it came, and eventually the tears became less (my baby's and mine), my skin finally started to heal, her latch became better, and it started to feel natural. Here is what I learned:
1. One of the best pieces of advice I received during my journey was from my own mother. She had told me from day one of bringing baby home that I looked so uncomfortable nursing. I was always hunching over and giving myself to baby, rather than bringing baby to me. I was so tired from not sleeping and she was a "cluster feeder." Which means I was ALWAYS nursing... always! I was constantly nursing, constantly in pain, and constantly uncomfortable. My mom eventually suggested the "side lying" position. This is where you lie down on your side (What?!... Lie Down?! ….YAAAAAS!!!!!) and have baby face you. When baby falls asleep, you can unlatch and go about your day. OMG... GAME CHANGER. This changed my general mood so much because I was able to lay down, relax, do things on my own, or sleep. Yup you heard me right... SLEEP. After learning this, I was also able to change the way I nursed in general. And it became an overall more relaxing experience.
2. The damage done to my skin in those early days would not heal because the latch was not correct and every time my baby nursed, the skin was re-damaged. I hated using the traditional cream. It was tacky, sticky, it didn't wash off easily, and I personally did not feel like it worked very well. A good friend recommended organic coconut oil. Apparently, it has healing and antibacterial properties. It absorbs quickly and it is safe for baby, so you don't have to wipe it off before baby nurses (obviously watching for potential allergies during first use). This. Was. Amazing! It really did help to heal my nursing wounds a little quicker.
3. Now to address the latch. Nursing was getting easier... and thanks to the coconut oil things were not as raw as they once were. I had a different friend come over and physically show me how to correct a poor latch based off of her personal experience. In the hospital, my lactation consultant watched me latched, told me what I was doing wrong and then left my hospital room. She never physically touched me or my baby. As you can probably sense, my first encounter with a lactation consultant was not great. So when I had issues after discharge, I was reluctant to return to the only lactation consultant I had known. My friend, although not a lactation consultant, had nursed multiple children and assisted me in correcting the shallow latch that had been plaguing us since the beginning of our nursing journey. She was curling her upper lip and lower lip inward and clamping down sooner than she should have. When she walked me through how the latch should look and feel, it was one of the best gifts I had received. I have since learned that a good IBCLC will do this as well… and much more! I only discovered this after running into nursing problems with baby number 3, which brings me to helpful tip number 4….
4. Even being a breastfeeding veteran and self-proclaimed nursing champ, my third child decided I needed to be knocked of my nursing high horse. Baby #3 came into this world with a host of different nursing issues I had not experienced before. I was in pain and baby was clicking , gulping, and sucking in air. Another friend provided me the contact information for her lactation consultant. I was so bitter from my first encounter with a lactation consultant that I was hesitant. But I was having painful flashbacks of the wounds from my first go-round and nothing I had learned with my first two kiddos was working. I hired a reputable IBCLC and she came to my home (on Thanksgiving Day) and spent about three hours evaluating my baby, her latch, and how much milk was transferring. I was informed baby 3 might have a tongue and lip tie which can create issues with nursing and can impact oral development. Ties can even contribute to breathing, eating, or speech problems later in life. We had both ties revised and she finally grew into her new mouth mechanics and out of the clicking, gulping, choking habit. After learning about tongue and lip ties, we also suspect our first may have both and will likely be getting her assessed in the near future.
I learned soooo much about nursing with each child. That being said, there was also information given to me that was absolutely not at all helpful. Not everyone will agree with me on this, and that is ok. These are my opinions based off of my personal experiences. Below are three pieces of advice that had a negative impact on my nursing experience:
"If you are doing it right, it wont hurt"
I have heard multiple friends, providers, and Lactation Specialist say, "If it hurts, you're doing it wrong." Although it may be accurate if the pain is unbearable and if it is lasting for an extended period of time, I think that particular wording can leave a mom feeling pretty crappy about her nursing abilities. It might be better to change the motto to, "It might be uncomfortable at first as your body and skin adjust to the new experience, but that is normal; if you notice the pain getting worse or not improving, it may be good idea to request an evaluation from an IBCLC." Obviously it is not as catchy… but it might help the mom feel more supported rather than feeling like a failure for "doing it wrong."
"Don't give a baby a pacifier or bottle in the first 2 to 4 weeks to prevent nipple confusion."
I am sure there is some truth to this one too… but again this was not the case for me. With my first, I refused any type of bottle or pacifier for the first two weeks. I was terrified that my baby would prefer a plastic binky over me. Well, as you've already read, she refused any foreign form of pacifying other than mommy. There were so many times during those early months where it would have been nice to reach for something else to soothe her. So with the second, I came to the hospital prepared with plenty of different paci's to try out. My second got a paci after she was done nursing for the first time and after I knew the latch was good. Didn't take. Wouldn't take it the second time. Or the third... or ever. My last baby would take a paci on very, very rare occasions… like Saturn aligning with Venus rare. So no… I'm not entirely sold on nipple confusion. Rather, I think some babies don't mind sucking on a synthetic nipple and some do.
"I have kids/nieces/nephews/puppies/etc.... so I know what your baby needs."
No! Just … NO. I know that this point might seem counterproductive to this blog post, but this post was more about my trials, tribulations and beliefs. I truly do not know what your child needs. I wish I did! Other well-intentioned individuals are more than likely just trying to be helpful. They may make think, "well this worked for me so it must be best." Here is what I have to say about experience…. I've had three children.... I nursed my first two for 18+ months each. But having had another baby, I had to clear the slate and start from square one. I may try to learn from my past experience to avoid making similar mistakes again but in the end... each baby is different. They have different personalities, different wants, different ways of soothing, different desired nursing positions, different mouth anatomy, and they may prefer a different side. No one knows better than you, on how to read your baby and what your baby might need. And the reason you know is a mixture of mommy instinct and trial and error. So make sure to take the advice as opinion rather than gospel. If it works for you... GREAT! But if it doesn't... that's fine too. Do not let anyone mommy guilt you!
Three kids and a culmination of over 4.5 years of nursing, and I still don't have all the answers. What I do have is a little life experience and a really great support system!
Until next time!