When I had SJ, I was not prepared for just how hard breastfeeding was going to be. It’s natural, we would just get it, how could something like that be difficult? Well, she was born at 9:14 PM and by the next morning, my nipples were cracked and bleeding and I wanted to cry. I dreaded having to nurse her for the first month because it hurt so bad. Thankfully at one week I had met with a lactation consultant and it was getting better, but I cannot believe I didn’t give up – and I didn’t because I knew others had been through the same thing. While it may not have been normal to go through what I went through, I knew it was common.
I hear about so many moms who just give up nursing, that want to nurse, simply because they felt alone, they didn’t have the resources, or they didn’t have the support – and my heart just breaks for them. Other mom’s decide nursing isn’t for them or try so hard to nurse but for some reason cannot, and that’s okay! But if someone wants to breastfeed their baby, and doesn’t simply for those reasons I mentioned, then they have been let down.
The first week of August every year is World Breastfeeding Week to celebrate the bond, the journey, the struggles, the absolute miracle that is breastfeeding. And one thing I love about this week is hearing all of the different journeys. No mom’s journey is the same, but there is usually someone out there who has been through something similar, which means no mom should ever feel alone in this adventure that is nourishing their baby. I talked a little bit about the end of my nursing journey with SJ in my blog about my nursing aversion while pregnant, but here is my full story a little more in full, as well as some other mom’s journeys.
Pain and Nursing Aversions
My nursing journey with Sutton did not start out the best. Just 12 short hours after she was born, my nipples were cracked and bleeding and my toes curled every time she latched on. She had a fantastic latch, but she had a high palette which means she would have a shallow latch, so she wouldn’t pull my nipple fully into her mouth which freaking hurts. When she was one week old, we went to a lactation consultant for a weighted feed and to be evaluated. A few simple position changes and easy techniques made all the difference.
It took about a month to heal (lots of coconut oil and Medela SoftShells were my saving grace) and then nursing became second nature for us. Once she hit a year, though, some of my support started to dwindle because I continued to nurse past a year. I started receiving underhanded comments about her not needing to nurse. Which were very hurtful because I knew that it was still beneficial to her, and sorry, but how long I nurse my daughter is my business. My boobs, my daughter, my business. My husband was always beyond supportive.
But everything came to a screeching halt when I was 3 months pregnant with Auden and started having nursing aversions, or BAA (Breastfeeding Anxiety and Agitation). This is one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced! I wanted to just push her off of me and run out of the room. I would start shaking just thinking about nursing her. It started only in the middle of the night, then started during the day. Our last nursing session was at 4:30 in the morning, I cried, I shook, I had a complete melt down. Once I laid her back in her bed I went in my room and cried. Not exactly the way I wanted to end our nursing journey. That led to me getting anxiety, and anxiety thinking about nursing Auden. I was absolutely terrified I would have the same feelings once she was born. Even up until I had her, I was scared. Luckily, I have not had those feelings. Nursing this time around was SO MUCH easier! I cannot wait to have our nursing photo session in September!
My story is just a small sample of a breastfeeding journey, but here are some other moms’ experiences.
Latch Troubles, Working Mom, and Milk Sensitivities
I grew up in a small town in Tennessee and I have never seen anyone breastfeeding their babies. All I ever knew was formula. As life went on, I decided to join the Navy and while in I met my husband and we had our daughter. Thankfully it was mandatory to take classes to prepare for birth and all that, and I was introduced to breastfeeding. I thought “How awesome, I would love to breastfeed!”
We had our daughter and she wouldn’t latch, she couldn’t figure it out. The lactation consultant was wonderful! She taught me to hand express and we fed my daughter by a syringe for the first day, and she helped teach me to teach her how to latch by sucking on our finger with a little bit of breast milk. Day three right as we were about to leave the hospital my daughter got hungry and latched!! I was so thankful!! I almost cried I was so happy. I pumped while at work, had a great supply, and ended up breastfeeding for about 18months.
I decided to stop when my daughter – and husband – thought it was funny to bite! During that time, we had to move from Maryland to Texas and I discovered the page human milk for babies and was able to donate over 300 ounces to another baby in need of milk! I am so thankful to be able to breastfeed! Three years later I had my son and he caught on right away. And now another three years later I am breastfeeding my youngest son, and also helping supply a few other families with milk.
This time has been a little different, though, as I learned my youngest has a milk sensitivity. I found out a few years back babies with milk sensitivities mothers would automatically switch to formula because the doctors told them to, or whatever the case may be. Well my son’s pediatrician advised me to cut out dairy and see how he acts. My son did amazing with me cutting it out and is now the happiest baby ever all the time. Unless I slip, and with potlucks that usually happens because of the hidden dairy! I am even more thankful I can breastfeed even with his sensitivities and not have to supplement with formula. I don’t mind cutting out a few foods to keep my baby happy!
C-Section, Latch Troubles, Lip and Tongue Tie
After my C-Section I tried really hard to breastfeed my LO, wth little success. The latching issue got worse after we got home. He was spitting up blood from my nipples and he would nurse for nearly 2 hours and still be hungry. I tried every Medela product out there and had my mother-in-law, whom is a LC in the NICU, stay with us to try to help, and still nothing. I ended up having to exclusively pump. I kept trying thinking maybe he would be able to as he got older. In the meantime, I got MRSA in my incision site and had to get IV antibiotics twice a day. Due to the stress and infection, my milk supply dropped drastically. I had to pump over an hour just to get 3.5oz for him to eat. My mother in law recommended I go to a Le Leche League meeting and see if they had any pointers.
I tried to nurse there and he was screaming and sweating and just couldn’t do it, even though he was trying so hard. The leader suggest I get him checked for a tongue tie. This is where we finally got our break! I took him to a pediatric dentist where it was confirmed that he had a tongue tie as well as a lip tie. He got it revised a few minutes later. Fast forward a week later and he was breastfeeding like a champ! No nipple shield, no crying (on both our ends). After being told by professionals that he was too old to learn to breastfeed, and after feeling like a failure and falling into a depression for not being able to breastfeed my baby, my little guy started nursing at 3 months old. He’s now 8 months and we’re still breastfeeding! Mamas, go with your instincts even if others discourage you, don’t be too hard on yourselves (fed is definitely best!), and know that your baby will love you no matter how they are fed.
Feeling Alone as the Sole Provider for your Baby’s Nourishment, Oversupply, Working Mom
I nursed by daughter until she was 15 or 16 months. When I first started breastfeeding a tiny, forever hungry, monster newborn who ate every 5 seconds (or so it seemed), I felt like I could MAYBE make it until one month… three if I was feeling overly ambitious in that moment. See, that’s what no one tells you when you are a new mom to a newborn baby and you desperately want your breastfeeding journey to work: that it is HARD. Harder than whatever you’ve read before. And not just due to cracked nipples, engorgement, oversupply (or undersupply), or even constant leaks. It is hard because you are the sole provider of all things nourishment for your tiny little baby. All of that responsibility falls on you. And for the first three months, it is hard. You won’t sleep and you won’t shower (ok, rarely shower), and it’s tough to find time to eat or to really do anything for yourself – because no one in your house is likely lactating. Honestly, that time was a complete blur to me.
You ask your friends how long they breastfed for and they say one year and you are thinking they are psychopaths or superhuman. I remember thinking “WHAT? A YEAR? HOW? WHAT?” and feeling horribly about myself for not being able to make it that far… or so I thought. But then it gets easier, all of a sudden. Your baby starts to stay fuller longer, you get used to the nursing positions and cues your baby is sending you when he or she is hungry. You get a little bit of freedom between feedings, and you figure out how to handle your engorgement, leaks, and clogged ducts. You even figure out how to handle the judgment from people who look at you when you are breastfeeding your baby in a restaurant or in Target’s parking lot. And here’s what else they don’t tell you… you will feel amazing. You are giving your baby everything they need to live. It’s coming from you, and they’re growing and thriving and happy. You matter, you make a difference, and your baby knows it. It’s a bond I cannot explain.
I was a working mom, so I pumped several times a day for many, many months. I would nurse my daughter morning and night, but throughout the weekdays I was hooked up to a pump. And it became my routine. It felt normal and right and I was so happy I could provide for my little girl. I produced a LOT of excess milk. I saw several lactation consultants, especially in the beginning to try and get it under control. I even ended up donating dozens of ounces to a neighbor who’s supply was low. As time went on, it got easier and easier and then I understood how people made it to a year and beyond. And you can, too.
Even if you don’t think you can at first (unless something physical or emotional is keeping you from nursing, of course). Otherwise, it is worth every tear and moment of frustration in those wee morning hours when your husband is sleeping next to you and you’re nursing a crying newborn. It passes, and it gets easier, and it’s worth it. I feel fortunate that I was able to breastfeed my daughter for so long. And I plan to with my next babies as well. It is another gift to our babies from their mommies. And hey, the benefits to our health don’t suck, either. Nurse on, mamas.
Infertility, C-Section, Clogged Ducts
Over our five year journey to become parents, one thing I was always very sure of was my desire to be able to breastfeed. The benefits of breast milk, the bond between mother and child, the fact that it’s free – that all appealed to me and it was something I knew that I would set out to do, no matter how challenging it might be, once I got pregnant.Struggling with infertility and having to go through multiple rounds of IVF and eventually use an egg donor to get pregnant, I was very skeptical about my body’s ability to produce milk. If my own eggs could not produce a baby, what would make me think my own breasts could produce milk? Once I was finally pregnant thanks to the beautiful gift of egg donation from our known donor and I realized my body could carry and sustain a healthy pregnancy, I realized the same would go for my ability to produce milk. Throughout my pregnancy I did tons of reading and researched and prepared myself as best as I could to nurse as soon as our baby girl arrived.I was very clear in my birth plan that I wanted immediate skin to skin following my unmedicated, natural, water birth so that I could start nursing right away. As most moms know, labor and birth doesn’t always go as planned. After 36 hours of unmedicated labor I was told I would have to have a cesarean section due to the positioning of the baby. I was devastated and knew that I wouldn’t be able to experience what I had always imagined and that my milk coming in was now being threatened by the fact that I would have to undergo a C-section.Two long hours after Georgia was born I was finally out of recovery and able to meet my baby. Although I was in quite a blur from lack of sleep and anesthesia, baby girl was placed on my chest and immediately took to nursing all on her own! I couldn’t believe that after all we had gone through for our baby, there I was laying in the hospital bed with her on my chest breastfeeding like such a natural. It was such a surreal moment for me and one I will always treasure. Nursing continued to go well in the hospital. We spent the next day with the lactation consultant in the room for her morning feeding and she showed me some tips, but said overall her latch was good. On day two we were sent home. I continued to nurse Georgia and although she was gaining weight and eating often, I was experiencing a lot of pain, cracked and bleeding nipples, and feeling utterly discouraged. Because of these things I desperately wanted to quit, but also kept reminding myself of the immense benefits she was getting from my breast milk so I pushed through the pain and fought through the tears. I knew in the back of my mind based on all the research and reading I had done that this type of pain was not normal.Eventually, after a night of agonizing pain and lots of tears I called the lactation consultant to reevaluate her latch. She told me to pump on the painful side for a couple days and treat the gouge in my nipple with triple antibiotic and hydro-cortisone. She also found Georgia had a lip-tie but that we could probably forego surgery. After a few days of pumping and treating my nipple the pain subsided and I began to enjoy nursing again. Although we had some really hard days in the beginning, especially as a first time mommy, I am so glad that we continued to nurse.Luckily with the support of my husband, family, lactation consultant, doula, midwife, and OB, we were able to overcome the obstacles and we became very successful with breastfeeding. Once I returned to work I began a pumping and nursing routine. It was sooo much work! I literally had to plan my entire work day around my pumping schedule, but I was very lucky to have a supportive job and work group who understood. That was very helpful as I have heard many horror stories of women who are forced to stay late to make up the time they missed while pumping, or who aren’t offered the appropriate space to pump in and are often left pumping in a bathroom stall or dingy office with no lock.My nursing goal was one year. Although the majority of the time, everything went very well, we did have some challenges throughout our journey. I was prone to clogged ducts so it was very important for me to stay on schedule. In September of 2017 when my daughter was about 7 months old, my father in law was living his last few days of life battling cancer. We were surrounding him and my mother in law and basically never left their house for over a week. During that time my pumping/nursing schedule basically went out the window and I totally felt the effects of it. My supply ended up suffering and I had multiple clogged ducts to deal with on top of the death of my father in law. It was a very stressful time for many reasons. Luckily with a lot of work and some supplements I was able to get my supply back up.I continued to nurse my daughter until she was a year old. Just a couple days after her first birthday we had our very last nursing session and it was very bittersweet. I was proud of myself for the accomplishment, but I was also sad to see that part of our journey end. I’m sure that we would’ve done extended breastfeeding as I don’t think either one of us were truly ready for it to end, however we needed to be completed weaned before we could start our next round of infertility treatment for baby number two. Wanting to extend our family cut our journey short, but Georgia took to it very well and did an amazing job of weaning quickly. I am so thankful that I was able to experience breastfeeding the way I did. I knew that it was going to come with its own set of challenges and although there were many days I wanted to quit, and by the end I hated my pump, I knew what my goal was and I set out to accomplish it no matter what.Infertility taught me a lot about achieving my goals and I did not give up on my dream to become a mother, I fought through every challenge that was presented to me so I knew that with breastfeeding, if I wanted to do it badly enough, I would do the same. Even if it ended in failure, I still knew that I would give it my all before I gave up. Breastfeeding doesn’t work out for everyone and no one should ever feel ashamed that it didn’t work for them. Feeding our babies is the most important thing, it doesn’t matter if their food comes from breast or formula, as long as we are caring for them and making sure they are thriving and growing. I am very hopeful to be able to breastfeed another baby (or maybe 2) again one day!
Delayed Milk, Low Supply, Premature Twins
Breastfeeding…where to begin! I have always been a huge proponent of breastfeeding and even helped new mothers with latching issues and CONSTANTLY reassuring that the day 2-3 cluster feedings will end and those nipples won’t fall off! I always said that if you can make it 2 weeks, you will be golden.
After having 2 rough experiences with breastfeeding, I also feel that I understand the struggles and that it may not work 100% for everyone. With my first child, Lucas, I had a schedule c-section for breech presentation and pre-eclampsia. With a c-section, you don’t get that immediate skin to skin time that I feel is so very important to successful nursing. Lucas was also given a bath before I was back in my room to hold him from recovery. Lucas did not latch for an entire 24 hours, after repeated attempts, and I was not given a breastpump until 10pm at night the day ofdelivery which I feel really hindered my supply. I also did not get any colostrum for a couple days and didn’t get my milk in until day 7 after delivery! I did not know this as I wasn’t sure what it felt like to have a let down and Lucas was nursing constantly! So much so that the first night home on day 4, he didn’t sleep at all and was literally at the breast every 20 minutes. We went back for a few weight checks and it wasn’t until he was 6lbs, born at 7lbs 15oz, that I was told that I should supplement as he was losing too much weight.
I did supplement with small amounts of formula as I still didn’t have milk when I would pump, but would finger feed him. I never gave a paci. My milk finally came in but I did not get the supply I was expecting. I was able to exclusively breastfeed for about 10 weeks but as soon as I was back at work, I was not able to pump enough to keep my supply up, working as a new nurse on a busy unit didn’t allow me proper pumping breaks and I didn’t want to be “that mom” that was always asking for someone to watch her patients while she pumped so I did on my lunch break.
By 3 months, my supply had completely dried up. I had a hard time coming to terms with this as I was told that breastfeeding was so natural and I felt like I had failed as a mother. After some reflection and seeing other mothers struggle as well, I have come to the conclusion that fed is best and am grateful for the 3 moths of breastmilk he did get.
The 2nd time around, I found out I was having TWINS and was concerned from the start about supply. Since my background is OB, I knew there are certain risk factors for a low supply, and I checked a lot of those boxes! Csection, check! Pre-eclampsia (again), check! Obesity, check! I knew before they were born that was I was going to do my best at giving them breastmilk but would start supplementing right away if they were struggling with weight gain. I decided this time I would try some skin to skin time in the OR and delay bathing until the first nursing session was established.
I was lucky to have been able to recover in my postpartum room, and no baths were given. The boys were born at 36 weeks and 3 days thanks to a high risk pregnancy, but because I was given steroids, the boys did great! The only thing that they weren’t so great at, was sucking! I was able to get Owen to latch for about 30 seconds and Evan could never really get the hang of it. I asked for a breast pump right away as I wanted to establish a supply if they weren’t nursing and do skin to skin with them. I would try to put them to breast every 3 hours, no latching, would pump and then syringe feed whatever colostrum I did get, droplets if that, and then supplement with a bottle. I chose a bottle and pacifier this time as they didn’t know how to suck due to the prematurity. They could barely take the bottle as they would tongue thrust. My milk did come in a littler sooner this time, but was still a good 4 days.
After getting home and trying to take care of twins, I knew that nursing wasn’t going to be feasable for me as they needed a lot of direction on latching and their mouths were so tiny! I pumped exclusively my entire maternity leave of 12 weeks. Towards the end, the were getting 1 or 2 formula bottles a day but I thought that was pretty good from not having much of a supply with Lucas to being able to almost exclusively give breastmilk to 2 babies! After going back to work, I was pumping every 4 hours but it started to become a struggle as my husband worked nights and having to drive to pick up the twins and get everyone home and dinner ready, didn’t leave a lot oftime for pumping and being by myself at night, was hard to pump withouth one of my 3 children needing something! My supply decreased, expectedly, and around 4.5 months, I decided to stop pumping.
I do not regret my decision to stop as it was best for my mental health and there were enough stressors with having twins that I just felt like something needed to give. I have major respect to any mom able to exclusively breastfeed, you seriously rock! But I am here for the moms that struggled to say, its okay. If any mom is even able to just give the colostrum on their journey, kudos! And if I ever have any more children, I will breastfeed again for as long as I am able 🙂 Maybe it will be 6 months or even a year!
All of these moms’ stories go to show that there are journeys of every shape and size, that there are other moms going through something similar. I have found that joining Facebook groups helps immensely in those first few months, and then I get to help other moms, which feels amazing. If you are having troubles, please find a lactation consultant! They are worth every single penny, and most of the time are covered by insurance. Talk to other moms, do research, trust your instinct. But never feel like a failure. You are a mom, you are amazing, we are in this journey together!