Breastfeeding is not always easy for moms and babies. We hope that the stories we have included here will inspire other mothers when the going gets rough.
A Breastfeeding Journey of Enormous Strength
By Julia, December 2012
Breastfeeding has been a journey of discovery for me and my three children. Before I became a mother, I did not really have an opinion one way or the other about breastfeeding. When my first child was born, I breastfed her because I was told it was best for my baby. I felt uneducated and unsupported and struggled with postpartum depression. My baby had trouble latching because I have flat nipples and I had to return to work outside the home. At three months I weaned my daughter to formula and did not think it was a big deal to stop.
When my son was born, I felt better about myself as a mother, and I felt supported to breastfeed. I was very confident and was surprised when my newborn son had difficulties that were different from my daughter’s. He was a slow gainer, not too interested in feeding, and was intolerant to some foods I was eating. I sought help from the lactation consultants at MilkWorks and we worked through his issues. Levi and I eventually got the hang of it and he went on to nurse beautifully until his second birthday!
My interest in breastfeeding and childbirth increased, and I started reading and learning as much as I could. By the time I was pregnant with my third child, I was very confident. I thought I would have no problems at all! Yeah right! Just when you think you have it all figured out! My third child was born at The Midwife’s Place, a birthing center in Bellevue. It was an amazing birth (one I will never forget)! Maeby was a healthy 8 lbs. 1 oz. and I was excited to put her to breast. But her mouth was so small, and my once flat nipples had now become quite large. In addition, she curled her top lip under, which made it hard for her to latch. By the time she was twelve hours old, I knew she was going to have some problems. I was determined to avoid “artificial” helpers like a nipple shield or bottles to help her feed. I wanted to breastfeed the way I was designed to do it. I tried and tried, but Maeby could not remove milk.
Over the next several weeks, I worked with the lactation consultants at MilkWorks and tried everything to help Maeby feed better. I used a nipple shield, fed her pumped milk after breastfeeding, and eliminated some foods from my diet. She started to refuse the breast because she could not get milk from me, even though I had a great supply. My vigorous let down seemed to make it harder for her! Because she had a hard time turning her upper lip out and had what is called a “lip tie”, a piece of skin attaching her lip to her gum, I even found a dentist who was willing to use a laser to loosen the tie.
Finally, one day, when Maeby was around 15 weeks old, I put her to breast, she latched and she removed milk. It was a glorious day! I came in to MilkWorks to weigh Maeby several more times, and, within a week, she was fully breastfeeding. I was so proud of her and so thankful for all of the support I had received. My husband helped wrangle my other two kiddos so I could pump and breastfeed. My employer and co-workers at CircleME were supportive of my pumping and feeding needs. I could not have done it without the amazing help and encouragement of so many people!
As I think about other moms who might face similar challenges breastfeeding, I want to tell them to take a deep breath, relax and don’t panic if breastfeeding is not perfect . Breastfeeding is not always as we picture it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Our babies need our support as they learn how to do this. I found it helpful to keep my sense of humor, even when I wanted to cry and throw in the towel, and I really depended upon others who understood that breastfeeding was important for me and my baby. Every time I see Maeby when she comes off my breast and looks up and smiles at me, my memories of all that hard work just disappear.
I realize how important it is that my older children see me breastfeed their younger sister. Maeby and I are a living biology lesson! I want to be able to talk to my children about breastfeeding. If we stop hiding how we feed our babies, more children will see breastfeeding as a normal part of life. Our culture needs to show breastfeeding on TV and in movies, not just as something a mother does right after birth or as the punch line to a joke. Breastfeeding needs to be part of every day, whether moms are out shopping, at work, or playing at the park with their kids.
Breastfeeding is so many things to me: a bond with my child, nutrition for my baby, and my connection with other mothers. It is healthy for me and my babies, and it is a daily reminder of God and how he has made me.
How Hard Can It Be?
I knew I wanted to breastfeed before I got pregnant with my daughter. While I had heard of moms who had problems breastfeeding, I was determined. After all, how hard could it be? I was excited and had very romantic ideas of how wonderful breastfeeding would be. To get ready, I took a class at MilkWorks and knew that somehow my baby and I would figure it out.
I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, Evangeline, without using any medications. In the hospital, everyone told me I had “great equipment” and Evangeline appeared to latch beautifully. However, over the next day in the hospital, I could tell something was not right. Breastfeeding hurt, and my nipples were pinched when my baby came off. But I was told my nipples would “toughen up” and everything looked good.
Once home, I fed my new daughter on demand. But she was never satisfied and seemed to be either sleeping or crying. When Evangeline was 10 days old, I started crying during a feeding. My husband looked at me and said, “It should not hurt. You need help.” The next day, we came to MilkWorks and met with Ann, one of the lactation consultants. When Ann weighed Evangeline and I realized that my baby had not gained any weight since she left the hospital, I was devastated. But I told Ann, “I will not give up unless someone tells me I have to.”
My nipples were so damaged and I hurt so much that Ann recommended I pump and bottle for several days in order to heal. She told me that if my baby does not have a perfect latch, it would help to get my nipples comfortable again. However, it was hard for me to not feed my baby at the breast, which meant that my nipples did not heal very fast. Plus, when I did return Evangeline to the breast, she became impatient with the change in flow. She would feed well for a short time and then get fussy and want a bottle of milk. So I made the decision to breastfeed and then pump and bottle the pumped milk so my daughter would get enough.
When Evangeline was 5 weeks old, I had to have emergency gall bladder surgery. Being in the hospital impacted my milk supply. This was hard because I had worked very hard to build a good supply ever since my daughter did not remove milk well in the first ten days. I had just started feeling very comfortable with my supply and now all of a sudden I was worrying about supply again! I first used some banked milk and then cried as I gave my daughter her first bottle of formula. But within days of frequent nursing and pumping, my supply was back where it needed to be.
Ann recommended that I see Dr. Leeper at MilkWorks for a second opinion. Dr. Leeper suggested a supplemental nursing system. Instead of supplementing baby with a bottle of pumped milk, the milk is put into a small container and a tube is placed alongside the nipple. As a baby suckles, she is rewarded with the extra pumped milk. This did not seem to work with Evangeline, so at about 12 weeks of age, I decided “this is as good as it gets.” I couldn’t make my daughter nurse better, and even though it broke my heart, it was time to accept what was happening. I would nurse as long as my daughter would stay latched and then pump and give her the extra milk via a bottle. It was time to acknowledge that my daughter was not great at nursing but I would give her my milk “one way or another."
The next day, it was like a switch flipped. I noticed that my daughter stayed on the breast longer and worked a bit harder. Over the next several days, Evangeline seemed more patient. Soon I noticed that when I did not give my baby a bottle of pumped milk, she went longer between feeds and seemed more satisfied. Within a month, I was no longer pumping! By four months of age, Evangeline was now doing it herself! I must admit, I still don’t think everything is perfect. My nipples still look a tiny bit creased at times and sometimes they hurt slightly. But I only pump when I am away from my baby. I would not wish breastfeeding challenges on anyone, but I have learned so much about myself and my baby. While we have been through a lot, there is not anything I would not do for my “sweet baby girl.” Evangeline is a growing, thriving breastfed baby girl and we love to attend mom’s group at MilkWorks and hang out with other babies and moms!
Note from Coleen’s lactation consultant at MilkWorks: We often see babies who do not nurse well in the first few days or weeks or months, but who go on to breastfeed well. They may get quite perfect at it, or sometimes they get “good enough." We don’t encourage moms to feed a baby at the breast if it hurts because often it means that a baby is not removing milk well either. Or, unlike Colleen, a mom will just get frustrated and quit.
Getting a mom’s nipples comfortable again often helps because then if a baby is not perfect, we have some “wiggle room”. Evangeline may have started to prefer the bottle because it worked better for her. Her poor weight gain when she left the hospital meant that she couldn’t remove milk. So once Colleen put her back to breast, she loved the initial easy let down of milk, but then got frustrated because she couldn’t make it work to get more milk out. Why did she eventually get it? Most likely she got more mature and her oral anatomy changed enough for her to create the vacuum pressure necessary without pinching her mom too much. We don’t always know why a baby gets better. But we do know that with perseverance, moms make breastfeeding happen in their own unique way. Colleen is a great example of this!
Some tears are worth shedding
Last March, I took my 12-week old daughter to day care for the first time. I nursed her exclusively, but my mom and husband had luck feeding her breastmilk from a bottle. I pumped my milk and was able to collect 20 whole ounces to take to daycare that first day. I felt great that I was able to collect enough milk for her for the day, and maybe even the next day. It was a Wednesday, I decided to go back during the middle of the week to make it easier on me. It was icy and cold. I set the milk in the cooler on the trunk of the car, while I sat in the backseat and got our daughter Matilda out of the car seat. While I was in the car, the cooler slipped and fell to the ground. I picked it up, and to my horror one 10-ounce container of breastmilk had broken open and spilled all over. Half of my milk supply that I had so diligently pumped was wasted. I started to cry.
I managed to get Matilda and all of her stuff into the daycare and then get myself to be able to leave her behind. Then I got into the car and cried some more. I got to work and cried all day long. I called daycare, and realized that it was my daughter’s cries that I heard in the background. She hadn’t eaten all day. I called my mother, she works in the same town as the daycare. Since she had success giving her a bottle, she stopped by to try to see if she were able to get her to drink some. She had an ounce or two. I had my husband stop by to do the same. Still no luck. I left work and tried to drive the speed limit the 12 miles to get to her as fast as I could. I picked her up and she was so red in the face from crying all day. We both were. I carried her to the nursing room and she ate. Now a year later, that story is almost therapeutic to me.
At six months, I left my husband and Matilda to go on an 18-day vacation in Europe with my siblings. I nursed and pumped and stored. I was able to collect over 500 ounces extra than Matilda was consuming before I left. When I returned home, she even had a couple ounces left. I took my pump with me on vacation and was able to pump on the train, on the plane and even in line to eat at a restaurant – thanks to my Medela Freestyle pump and Udder cover. There were tears cried there, too – worry that she was going to run out of milk, having to pump and dump all that milk since it was not practical to store it properly or mail it back. But in spite of that, I was able to return home and after two weeks of what seemed like constant nighttime feeding, my supply returned and I was able to feed her solely on breastmilk for the next six months – a full year!
A couple weeks ago, during the week between Christmas and New Year, I made a call to MilkWorks. I was desperate. I needed a solution. My almost 13-month-old daughter would not take the bottle from me. She never really has, but this time was different. We were used to just nursing at night, and my supply was down. Matilda had different plans. She thought she would be able to nurse whenever she wanted because I was there 24/7 with her. I was dry. I was sore, and she was getting cranky because of low milk supply. But she would not take a bottle or sippy and she wasn’t eating her regular amount of baby food. She just wanted to nurse. The ladies at MilkWorks helped me realize that this is a special time, and I need to let her know that now is not about nourishment as much as it is about our new “nursing relationship.” So Matilda and I had a little discussion about it, and when nursing is going to be okay, and when it isn’t (you would be surprised at how much a 13-month-old seems to pick up on - I was). And she then decided she would take the bottle and has just been nursing at night ever since.
Thank you MilkWorks for your support through the last year. I came to your nursing class while I was pregnant. I read your returning to work and nursing book since I was unable to attend class. I came and you helped me get the right nursing bra, the right pump shield and you helped me emotionally with the cycle of nursing.
There have been many tears shed over breastmilk in the last year. But all tears worth shedding.