In honor of #worldbreastfeedingweek.
My own breastfeeding journey began at birth, I suppose. My mother was one of the first wave middle-class women to return to breastfeeding in the 70s, when only the hippies were breastfeeding, and nursed all three of her children. The journey picked up again when my older sister, who had children ten years before me, breastfed her two kids and introduced me to lactivism. (Although, let's get real: at the time I was caught off guard by seeing her boob.)
Flash forward to to my own first darling baby. In my mind, there was no other option to feed her than my milk. We started right away, latched at the birth center, were proclaimed "ok" and sent home seven blissful hours after birth. At home, I struggled mightily to get a "good latch." It HURT! She didn't open her mouth wide enough, it seemed, for my large breast. I talked with the midwives about it on the phone and was encouraged to just "keep trying." My doula, and childbirth educator, came by for a post-partum visit and helped me latch her on. "OK," I thought, "I'm just not doing it right."
By day three my nipples were a straight up horrific mess of bloody cracks. I expressed my difficulty at a weigh-in visit for the baby, who wasn't gaining enough. (P.S., if this is your baby, run, don't walk, to Dr. Jay Gordon's amazing article, "Look at the Baby, Not the Scale.")
"Oh, I bet it's that tongue-tie she has," said the midwife.
Huh? This was the first I'd heard of it!
"Yeah, we spotted it at birth and wondered if it would be a problem." she followed.
I was flummoxed and frustrated. Three days in and I was in so much pain that physically breastfeeding my baby was impossible. The midwives gave me an angled syringe and taught me how to finger feed with my breastmilk because I didn't want to use a bottle.
For several weeks I'd attempt to latch the baby and, when I couldn't, pump on the fly and use the syringe. (And I'm a horrible pumper - I'm lucky to get one full ounce out of each breast.) At yet another "weigh in," the lactation consultant suggested a frenulotomy. My husband and I agonized, but decided the best decision was to have it done. Our midwife clipped our baby's maxillary frenulum and we were sent home.
Thanks to damaged nipples and deflated hopes, we still weren't getting a great latch. I bought a nipple shield one day and tried it out. Success! I had read all about them, how to be careful because at some point you have to wean off of them, how they can affect milk transfer, etc., but at the time, it saved our nursing relationship.
We nursed for five months with the shield, and every now and then I'd try to latch without it. One day I thought, "today feels different!" And we latched without it. That day, it was only one time, but the next day, it was three times. Within the week, I had thrown them away! Hallelujah.
It was around this time I also became comfortable with nursing in public. It helps if you don't have to put a piece of medical grade silicone on your nipple first! :-) I also learned to sandwich my breast in a way that helped baby learn to latch better. By six months, breastfeeding was blissful. We nursed until my milk dried up during my next pregnancy, when she was 22 months old. I was so sad not to make it to two years, but celebrated nonetheless.
Now my second baby and I are 15 months into nursing... and how different every baby is! This sweetie had a lip tie AND tongue tie, but thanks to my earlier experiences, I knew what "correct latch" felt like and how to make it happen. A few "breast" wishes:
- I wish a well-meaning midwife had never said, "Wow, I'm surprised you didn't give her formula" with my first baby.
- I wish I'd been told about my first baby's tongue tie at birth and given earlier interventions. Until her frenulotomy, even the lactation consultants told me "work on getting a better latch." I spent long hours and MANY tears trying to do that!
- I wish every nursing mother the insane amount of unrelenting support I had from my mother, "just put your nipples out in the sun! that will toughen them up!", my sister, who gave me countless hours of phone-lactation support and taught me how to shove my nipple into baby's mouth... seriously, get aggressive with it!, my GP doctor, an experienced breastfeeder (not some fresh from med school pediatrician with poor science and wrong advice), and my husband, who listened to me and baby cry - a lot - and never once said, let's get a bottle. Not once. Even when I wanted to.
So what's your breastfeeding story? Please share! Every one counts.