I knew long before I became pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed my child due to the benefits it offered mother and baby. I also knew that it could be challenging at first to new moms that have never done it before. So I took two different breastfeeding classes during pregnancy to prepare.
On March 11th, our son Henry was born just at 41 weeks. My labor nurse helped me latch him shortly after delivery just as I learned I should. Over the next several days I continued to nurse Henry but was experiencing pain. I knew breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt but several nurses told me that, “everything looks good” or “maybe you have sensitive skin.” I continued to nurse and the pain continued to get worse. At 5 days postpartum my nipples started to blister and bleed. Nursing was so painful at this point that I would cry each time Henry nursed. That evening I decided that I would just pump and feed him pumped milk until morning.
I called MilkWorks and made an appointment to see a lactation consultant. My first visit was very emotional for me. I was given a plan called “triple feeding”, where I would first try to latch, then pump, then feed pumped milk in a bottle. Anyone who triple feeds knows how time consuming and exhausting it can be. My son was also a very slow and sleepy nurser. He could easily nurse for 1 hour, followed my 20 minutes of pumping and then 20 minutes of bottle feeding. With a newborn that eats every 2-3 hours, feedings were starting to run together. My husband and I were exhausted! During this time, I know I cried more than my son. I was crying because my nipples hurt; I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to breastfeed and partly due to exhaustion and hormones I’m sure! I remember being extremely worried that he would never nurse. Every time I fed him a bottle I would cry because he wasn’t breastfeeding. I kept asking, “are you sure we can get him off this bottle?” I was told, “yes, but if you have no milk supply I can guarantee you won’t be able to breastfeed.” That stuck with me and I was a pumping machine. Every time I hooked up to the pump I thought of those words.
I continued to have visits with my lactation consultant, and I got better at latching Henry and my nipples were starting to heal. We also had his tongue clipped. He was very mildly tongue tied so I don’t know if this helped or my technique just improved, but at 3 weeks postpartum I was finally able to latch Henry without pain. I was so happy and thought, “I can do this.”
My son was still a very slow, sleepy nurser. The pain was now gone but Henry still would fall asleep at the breast. He would eat for 45-60 minutes and still be hungry after nursing and needed to be supplemented with the bottle; which meant I was still pumping and triple feeding. I continued this until he was 4 weeks old. At this point I would just latch him occasionally and was mostly pumping. Every time we sat down to nurse, I would hope and pray that this time things would be different and he would nurse well and get full. But he never would. Nearly all feedings ended in me and him crying. At this point I decided that I had to make a decision. I couldn’t emotionally or physically continue doing what I was doing. So I decided to exclusively pump. It was hard at first but I just kept thinking, at least he is still getting breastmilk. I would see women nursing and get jealous and teary eyed over it. After a few weeks though, it got easier.
I would occasionally (every 1-2 weeks) try and latch him but it never went well. I would get my hopes up and then be let down. He was still very inefficient at nursing. My family saw how hard it was on me and even encouraged me to stop trying. Throughout all of this people would question why I pumped. I got tired of explaining myself. I never knew how to answer the question, “Are you breastfeeding?” “Sort of I guess, pumping”, I would say. Women who exclusively pump do twice the work and I don’t feel like they get as much credit. No one ever said to me, “that is so nice you are pumping milk for your son.” But the truth is I don’t know a bigger breastfeeding advocate than someone willing to hook themselves up to a pump for 20 minutes, 8 times a day.
Finally one day when Henry was around 12 weeks of age I tried latching him again. At first he seemed confused but latched on without pain. He was nursing and seemed less sleepy this time. I tried not to get excited because I had been down that road before. After a while, (he was still slow) he was done and seemed content. I waited to see if he would fuss for more but he didn’t! He lasted 2-3 hours after only nursing. That whole day he didn’t take a single bottle! I was beyond happy but still leery if this could be true. I continued to latch him and he got better and better.
Now at 4 months of age Henry is breastfeeding. He gets better and better at it each day. It now takes him 20-30 minutes to eat and he is full after each feeding. I honestly never thought he would breastfeed, but I am so happy he is. I am thankful that I tried to latch him again and am so glad to be done with all that pumping! My supply is great too; thanks to all the pumping I did early on I’m sure! I never knew just how much I wanted to breastfeed until I couldn’t. What started as just a way of feeding my son had grown into something so much more.