Even before we found out we were expecting, I was doing research on natural living, childbirth, etc. One recurring theme seemed to be “breast is best”. It was so interesting to see just how perfect breastmilk is for infants. I mean, literally perfect. The makeup of a mother’s breastmilk changes to meet the needs of their baby, whether it be fat content or to fight off a germ the baby has picked up. Pretty amazing, and thanks be to God!
I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Honestly, it was more like I knew I had to breastfeed. Sure I was daydreaming about the amazing bond I would have with my baby held to my breast, but it definitely felt like supplementing with formula=failure as a mother.
Breastfeeding seems like the most natural thing in the world. I had heard whispers of women struggling with breastfeeding and having to supplement or completely quit after only a few months so I read as much as I could. These are the two books I found the most useful in the early days. They seem to be the most popular ones and I checked them out of the library while I was pregnant. I ended up buying The Womanly Art and kept it next to me in the early nursing days. I knew the general methods of how to put a baby to your breast, what to look for, etc. I felt as prepared as possible without actually having a baby to practice with.
In our birth plan, we specified things that we hoped would help facilitate a great breastfeeding relationship from the start. Immediate skin-to-skin contact, don’t separate mom and baby and no visitors until baby has latched for the first time, no bath until we leave. But unfortunately that’s not how things went down.
Because she spent 75% of her first hour outside of the womb away from me, we didn’t get to initiate breastfeeding. And because the doctor was worried about her breathing/transition, the lactation consultant wouldn’t help us encourage her to breastfeed until the doctor gave the go-ahead. Which we didn’t get for six hours. The poor thing didn’t get to eat for her first six hours earthside. I think she is still making up for it by eating everything in sight!
I honestly did not feel encouraged by the LC. She would show me a hold or a way to cup my breast to make it easier for V to latch but I never felt like I could do it by myself. I felt ill-prepared and confused. She asked if it hurt, which it did, but not excruciatingly so. She felt maybe I was mistaking the natural tugging sensation for pain. Nursing seemed to sate V so we left the next afternoon and were on our way.
Quickly, things turned ugly. By week 3 I had every issue in the book except mastitis. V wasn’t gaining weight. I was crying through nursing sessions (which were frequent and often an hour long) and had to take ibuprofen to get through it. We finally made an appointment to see the lactation consultant again. She tried a few things, different positions, etc. but nothing seemed to help. Finally, we discussed a possible tongue tie. She referred us to a lactation consultant at another nearby hospital who had more experience with it.
Here is my PSA – If you are having issues nursing, if you are thinking your baby isn’t getting enough or you are in pain – find a lactation consultant who will take plenty of time with you. The second LC we saw weighed V before she nursed and then after she nursed at each side, plus she showed me how to use a pump. After nursing on both sides for 25 minutes each, I still was able to pump another ounce. My body was not failing me! This bit of information, that V was getting about 3-4oz plus the extra ounce I pumped, got me through some really tough times. It also helped us make a fully informed decision on whether or not to supplement. She agreed V had a posterior tongue tie, gave us a referral to an ENT and we had it clipped one week later.
Getting her tongue tie clipped didn’t provide the instant relief I had read some women notice. I think this is partly because by the time we saw two different LCs and the ENT, V had been nursing poorly for 6 weeks. She had bad habits and I was already in pretty rough shape. I think it is also partly because she also has a lip tie that we decided against having fixed. However, by the time she was 3 months old, I was completely off of ibuprofen for feedings, I was healing and she was climbing the weight charts. I think it just took us a little while to restart our nursing relationship, break habits and heal. At her 9 month appointment, she was in the 85th percentile for weight. She still nurses all the time, for comfort and for food, but now the pain only happens when we have a flare-up of thrush or she decides to try out her new teeth.
Every day, I come home from work and before I can even get my shoes off, she is holding out her arms for “Mama” and we snuggle up on the couch to nurse. I finally feel like I always thought I would; the bond is truly amazing. Nursing a 10 month old (how is she that old?!) is so different than nursing a newborn or even a 3 month old, but it is still amazing. Acrobatic nursing is our newest adventure. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I know all the struggles we went through in the beginning were so worth it. While I look forward to the day she no longer needs to nurse through the night, I know I will miss all the snuggling and bonding. Ah the struggles of motherhood.
So basically my point is this: nursing is natural but it is NOT easy. Get help early and if the first person doesn’t help, get a second person, or a third. Ask around you. If you have to supplement, know you have not failed. Find a support group on Facebook, at your parish or at a local Le Leche League meeting. Know that it does get better, but also know that if it hurts, something is wrong.
Nurse on, mamas!