It is World Breastfeeding Week and I thought it would be fun to share a bit of my experience and my bumpy journey of breastfeeding.
For me once I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed but the journey to actually breastfeed was not as easy as the decision to do so. After a long labor with Asher, breastfeeding didn’t come as easily for me as I had hoped.
I delivered Asher after 50 hours of hard, exhausting labor. I hadn’t eaten in two days and had slept only 2 hours, BUT after he was here all that was a mere memory and he and I dove into our next journey together…breastfeeding.
We did the beautiful ‘golden hour’ and spent a significant bit of time skin to skin. Asher took to nursing well in the hospital and upon discharge was within normal limits of post birth weight-loss. I worked with a lactation consultant once before leaving and was assured by nurses that everything looked good.
But during our second day home, I felt as though something just wasn’t right. Asher seemed fussier than I expected and he was nursing, literally, none stop. Like didn’t want off the breast for even a second. And I remembered wondering why I didn’t “feel” my milk coming in (even though I had no idea what that was supposed to feel like, from reading I KNEW it would be an obvious thing) so I called our lactation department and spoke with a consultant who advised I come the next morning during their open hours breastfeeding class.
That meeting was one of the hardest moments of my life. Here I was a new, naive, scared, sore and TIRED mom coming in to a room full of women who looked like they were handed some “how-to” manual at discharge that I apparently didn’t get. They were all confidently sitting around a table nursing their babies that ranged from fresh-from-the-oven to full-on-toddler-gymnusrtics.
I can still recall the feeling of carrying the diaper bag (with all 4 things a newborn needs), my bobby pillow (because I had no idea what to expect) and Asher, adorable, squishy, 5-day-old Asher in his car seat. I was more nervous than I had ever been but I was greeted at the door by the most welcoming lactation consultant. She was a woman who may not even know the huge role she played in my life. She was warm and caring and gently walked me through the whole process: undress baby down to a clean diaper. Weigh baby. Feed baby. Weigh again.
Okay… this seems easy enough. So after feeding we weighed Asher…and he transferred…nothing. Literally zero! And to add injury to insult they calculated his weight lost and he had lost even more weight since leaving the hospital. He was now down 14% of his original birth weight. I lost it. I turned into a complete and utter, blubbering mess. I clutched my tiny baby to my chest and sobbed.
What was happening? Why wasn’t this working? I had done everything they said to do! Skin to skin they said-check! Golden hour I read-check! Avoid nipple confusion I knew-Check! Lots of nursing and unlimited access to breast I had learned-CHECK! WHAT HAPPENED? Where was my milk and why wasn’t he gaining?
The lactation consultant (or angel as I saw her) grabbed me a tissue and got down to business. She introduced me to supplemental nursing and using an SNS (supplemental nursing system). She evaluated my son and showed me that he had a posterior tongue and lip tie. She walked me through the idea of ‘inclusive’ breastfeeding and that it didn’t have to be “all or nothing”. My baby needed nourishment and so we supplemented with formula BUT it didn’t mean breastfeeding was through. I learned about accessory pumping to help increase milk supply. I learned about herbs and tinctures that have been shown to help. And when she was through, all those women that looked like they had it all together when I arrived, shared with me their stories of struggle. I left that meeting discouraged but with an arsenal of tools to try and make it work and a support system behind me that would help me do it!
Over the next several weeks I attended that support group every week and then as often as I could for the months to follow. For the next year I nursed, pumped after nursing, and took more supplements than I care to recount. I pumped or nursed every two hours (even into the night) until Asher was a year old. I power pumped. I drank enough water to float away. I ate every “lactation” food out there. I joined some of the best support groups on Facebook. And I researched lactation, lactation failure and lactation struggles until I became a pseudo-expert on nursing.
And I had some success. My milk came in around one week after birth. I will never forget hearing him gulp my milk for the first time! Asher had his tongue and lip tie repaired at two weeks post partum and his latch improved and he became a more efficient nurser. But I never managed to develop a supply large enough to support him fully and with time I came to accept that THAT WAS PERFECTLY FINE and I adopted the idea of ‘inclusive’ breastfeeding-my breastfeeding plan ‘included’ breastmilk but it also included formula. I feed 100% at the breast and when I supplemented it was also at the breast.
I went on to nurse Asher until I was 4 months pregnant with his sister and my milk dried up. He was 20 months old. I pumped until he was 13 months old. With time I ended up supplying him with just over 70% of his daily need and supplemented the rest with formula through an at-breast supplementer.
You see breastfeeding is an amazingly, beautiful thing with benefits that surpass just nutrition. Even the smallest amount of breast milk provides antibodies and immune support. The closeness of nursing helps children to develop attachment and bond. The hormones and chemicals released between mom and baby are a symphony of coolness that literally books have been written on.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was prepared to have struggles again and so I armed myself with tools and a plan. Her birth was a bit of curve ball but we made it work and I camped in the NICU doing skin to skin and nursing as often as possible. I pumped between sessions to encourage milk to come in (advised only to do this under the guidance of a lactation consultant as it can lead to over-supply if not done correctly). We had her evaluated and like her brother she had a lip and tongue tie that was repaired at 4 days old.
I went to the meetings, just as I had with Asher, and monitored every ounce she gained. Our journey with nursing was quite a bit easier but she did require the occasional supplemental feeding here and there. And to date she is still nursing as a feisty, sassy two year old.
You see, the thing about breastfeeding is that it isn’t always easy and it doesn’t look the same for every mother. For some it comes as natural as the air we breath, but for others, like me, it takes work. But a struggle doesn’t make it any less magical or any less beautiful. It doesn’t matter if you nursed for a day or three years…you have done a beautiful thing and given your child an amazing gift. Breastfeeding has been one of the hardest things I have ever done but also one of the greatest and even with all its struggles I am thankful for all it has taught me and given to my babies.