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Stories of Strength

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!