This week is World Breastfeeding Week and I thought that created a great opportunity to talk about my personal experience with breastfeeding and some of the things that helped me through it. I want to start by saying just because it’s natural does NOT mean it’s easy. I’m going to repeat it because I feel like we as women don’t talk about how difficult breastfeeding can be, we just feel pressured to do it. JUST BECAUSE IT’S NATURAL DOES NOT MEAN IT’S EASY! *Whew* Okay, lets get started.
When I got pregnant I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. It’s the healthiest option and I know formula is expensive so it was also my way of saving us a significant amount of money each month (easily $100+ a month from the very beginning). I also liked the idea of not having to pack bottles around and breastfeeding meant I always had his food with me, no matter what. I had been around breastfeeding so it wasn’t a foreign concept for me. I read about it and took the breastfeeding class offered by the hospital I was going to give birth at, I prepared as much as possible and didn’t think I would have any issues.
As I’ve covered in my previous posts, my pregnancy and delivery were far from typical. Henry, being so little and also “early term” meant he had an under developed sucking reflex. It was difficult for him to get anything once I got him latched on. When we realized his blood sugar was critically low, formula was introduced to get some calories in his system after not really eating at all the night he was born. The nurses assured me that I would still be able to breast feed, this was just to make sure he had some food in his belly to try and stabilize his blood sugar. I was trying not to feel discouraged but it was hard. The lactation consultant that was supposed to be working in that hospital that weekend had called in sick and even though my nurses and the nurses in the NICU were trying to help, I was still having a hard time. Everyone was giving me different information and contradicting each other. I felt like in my hormonal and exhausted state, I was left to sift through all the information I was being given by all these different people and see what was right for us.
I continued to try to nurse him every feeding but neither of us were happy about it. Henry’s latch was really shallow because of an upper lip tie and his small size and his sucking reflex wasn’t strong enough to transfer enough milk to satiate him. I pumped after every nursing session to be able to add some liquid gold to the bottles of formula he was taking. We tried different holds and positions, we tried with a pillow and without, we tried the SNS feeding system and nothing seemed to help. I desperately wanted to have that connection with my baby and even more so, I wanted him to have the best nutrients possible for the battle his little body was fighting within itself. I felt like I had failed him when it wasn’t working. I can’t tell you how many times I cried over those first few days as we tried and tried to nurse.
On the 3rd day is when Henry was transferred to the higher level NICU and there I FINALLY got some help. They set me up with a lactation consultant that very same evening and she was wonderful. She was so encouraging and hopeful that we would make this happen for both Henry and I. I cried again, but this time with a smile on my face. She gave me a hospital grade pump to use for 6 months and showed me how to use it as well as gave me a pumping schedule to encourage my milk to come in and my body to produce more. She worked with Henry and I on positioning and showed me how to help him get a deeper latch which made nursing more comfortable. We had the same routine every feeding, I would nurse for 15 minutes and then D would bottle feed him some previously pumped milk while I went and pumped for the next feeding. We did this for weeks, even at home. It was so much easier to try and relax and nurse at home and I finally felt like we would have some success.
Those first several months were awful. I was in horrible pain every time I nursed. I finally went to see an outside IBCLC (Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and she happened to be one of the best in Northern California. I had seen several LC’s through the hospital and all I was ever told was to just “keep trying” and “it will get better”. In addition to struggling with latch, I also struggled with supply. Henry and I had an uphill battle for sure. When I saw the IBCLC she did a visual exam and immediately told me I had thrush and that it was one of the worst cases she had ever seen. No one else was able to diagnose it, everyone else just told me to keep trying. The best way I can describe the pain I was feeling is that it felt like someone was holding lighters up to my nipples. ALL. THE. TIME. I cried from pain every time I nursed Henry. I dreaded it. She showed me how to fix his latch more effectively, suggested some supplements to help my supply and told me to email my doctor right away about getting medication for the thrush that Henry and I both had. THANK THE LORD! I took the medication as well as applied diluted grapefruit seed extract on my nipples after each nursing session and washed my clothes with hydrogen peroxide added to the wash to help kill the bacteria. After 2 weeks I felt so much better. I was pumping enough to give Henry strictly breast milk and he was finally latching better too.
Henry is now 10 months old and he no longer gets bottles, his milk is straight from the tap. Nursing is still a struggle for me at times, even 10 months into it. He still gets lazy with his latch and I still get pretty sore some times but we’re making it work. Finally my stubbornness has paid off! If Henry didn’t have the struggles he did in the beginning I doubt I would have pushed through all the pain, it was almost unbearable. I dreaded it every time he got hungry, but I am proud of how far we’ve come. I needed to know that I could do this, I needed to know that my body is capable of sustaining his life. I believe successfully nursing has been one of the most healing experiences I’ve had since we lost Jackson. It restored my faith in my body.
I believe wholeheartedly that it is the absolute best thing to give a baby and that although formula is an option, it will never be as good for babies as breast milk. It really is liquid gold and if you doubt that, I suggest reading about the benefits of breast milk. That being said, I know that breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. Some women can’t due to things like health issues and low supply. Some women can’t because the struggle in the beginning to figure things out is just too much in their already delicate state. For some women the pressure to breastfeed negatively impacts their relationship with their baby. So even though breast is best from a nutritional standpoint, it’s more important to figure out what works for your unique situation and for your family. I think that we, as women and as a society, put an incredible amount of pressure on women to breast feed their babies and I think that can have a reverse effect. We need to be accepting, understanding and loving to each other and less judgemental of each others parenting choices. Perhaps, if we create a safe place where women can come and feel accepted they would be more open about the struggles that they are having. If we offered judgement free advice and support instead of the standard “Keep trying, it will get better”, more women would be successful. If I had just “kept trying” it wouldn’t have gotten better.
As always, please feel free to comment or send me a message with your own stories or any questions.
Have a wonderful day!