There are so many incredible benefits to breastfeeding. Most importantly, it provides your baby with the ultimate nourishment.
My breastfeeding journey is really what motivated me to start this blog. I had to overcome so many hurdles to get to a point of success. In the first two months, we dealt with the following issues:
- Pressured to give her formula at birth
- Tongue tie
- Lip tie
- Poor latch
- Slower weight gain
- Questionable supply
- Pressure to supplement
- Dairy allergy
- Treated for thrush
- Becoming a slave to the clock
- Poor advice from medical professionals and lactation consultants
If I hadn’t been so determined, I would have thrown in the towel long ago. Along the way, I learned that a successful breastfeeding journey is based on 90% determination, and 10% supply. If you want to do it, chances are you can.
The beginning is truly the hardest. For me, it was downright difficult! I think most women (including myself) assume that nursing just happens naturally, because, well, it’s natural. But, for most women, it doesn’t. Had I known that from the beginning, I don’t think I would have been quite so hard on myself.
Every day, I read posts from moms in breastfeeding support groups who are going through the same struggles I experienced. My heart breaks for these women who want desperately to nurse their babies, and are heartbroken because they think they aren’t capable, their body isn’t functioning properly, or their baby is suffering. Or, like I was, they were told by a medical professional that their baby wasn’t gaining enough weight, and they had to supplement with formula.
I was there. I got through it. If you’re there, I hope to help you through it, even if just by sharing my story so you know you aren’t alone.
Now, I’m not a lactation consultant, or by any means, a professional. This is not medical advice. I am just a mom who figured out how to make it work.
Before I get into the negative stuff, I think it’s important to share where we are today so you’ll know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Madeline turned one in April and we are still nursing. We exclusively breastfed until six months, at which time we introduced solid food (Baby Led Weaning). She nurses on demand when we are together; at daycare, she gets pumped milk and solid food.
Early on, I had the hardest time figuring out how to hold her while feeding her. Now, it’s a breeze to do. She can latch in any position: upside down, sideways, sitting, standing, walking, lying down, while she’s sleeping, while I’m sleeping. She pulls my shirt down and my boob out whenever she wants. The little baby we thought couldn’t properly latch is a natural hoover. It’s really quite impressive.
And, to brag for just a moment, I’ve gotten pretty good too. I can breastfeed while doing just about anything: putting on my eyeliner, vacuuming, walking the dogs… I can even manage while blow drying my hair.
At Madeline’s one-year checkup, her doctor told us her weight, height and head measurements are perfect. Text book perfect, in fact. We have done an awesome job and I am extremely proud of Madeline and myself. We make a great team!
Okay. That’s the good part. But before it got easy, it was really really hard. Our struggle started minutes after Maddie was born. She was 8.6 pounds at birth. We were told that because she was so big (Really? 8.6 isn’t that big.), her sugar levels were low and we needed to give her formula.
Stan and I made it very clear that we did not want to give her formula. We said no.
The nurse said “If you don’t give her formula, when we test her again in 20 minutes, if her levels have not changed, we’re going to have to take her to the NICU and you won’t be able to see her for at least six hours.”
What? You’re going to take my baby away from me?
We didn’t know what to do, and couldn’t bear the thought of Madeline being taken away from us. So we gave in. I am still very resentful that they gave us that ultimatum. I felt bullied. There had to have been another solution.
Looking back, I should have held my ground. I should have said, “No, those are not my only options. I will first breastfeed her, hand expressing and finger feeding if I can’t get her to latch, and if that doesn’t work, then we’ll give her formula.” After all, colostrum (the first milk your breasts produce during pregnancy) should have been enough to balance her levels. It is rich in vitamins, minerals and antibodies, and meant to be baby’s first meal. That’s why they call it liquid gold!
But, I was a new, exhausted, scared mom, and I didn’t know any better.
Things didn’t really improve through the rest of our hospital stay. We discovered immediately that she had a tongue tie. This makes it difficult for baby to latch properly. Most people don’t know to check for it, but I am tongue tied and suspected Maddie would be. We had her tongue tie clipped on day two, but I still wasn’t able to get her to latch very easily.
The first two days, we weren’t sure if she was ingesting enough, so I hand expressed into a bottle as much as I could, and Stan and I took turns feeding her. We would dip our finger into the colostrum and she would suckle our finger.
I met with multiple lactation consultants. I tried nipple shields, a hospital grade pump, different holding positions, waiting longer between feedings, and anything else they suggested.
Looking back, I should have just kept her on my chest, skin to skin, and not tried to follow a schedule. That is how you build your supply. You let your baby and body naturally communicate with each other by keeping the baby latched… Not by watching the clock and waiting so many hours between feedings. It’s pure common sense.
And you gauge whether baby is ingesting enough based on how many wet diapers she has. If she has at least 6 wet diapers a day, then she is most likely getting enough.
We left the hospital on a Friday. Maddie’s weight had dropped from 8.6 to 7.13, which we were told was very normal. We first saw our pediatrician on Monday and her weight was still 7.13. The doctor thought this was great, and told me to keep up the great work. Stan and I left feeling proud and encouraged.
Four days later, we went back for a weight check, and it had dropped to 7.12 A nurse came in the room telling me how terrible this was and that we needed to put her on formula. I couldn’t believe it. Everything was so positive at the appointment on Monday, and now I was being threatened with formula? I started to cry and she backed off a little. She agreed to give it a few days, but said if Madeline’s weight didn’t increase by the next visit, we would have to put her on formula.
She also referred me to a lactation consultant who would come to my home, and help me. I called her right away, and saw her later that day.
The lactation consultant pointed out that Maddie had a lip tie, which contributed to her poor latch. She suggested we have it laser corrected, which I did not do, and I am so happy I didn’t. She told me to start pumping to build my supply, after feeding Maddie for 20 minutes on each side, and give her the pumped milk after feeding her. It was exhausting, because I was doing this every two hours around the clock, but I never gave her formula.
I was going to the doctor every few days for two months for weight checks. Maddie never gained weight at the rate they felt was acceptable.
I later discovered that the weight chart they were comparing Maddie against included formula fed babies. That is ridiculous! Of course her weight did not compare to them. It’s like comparing apples to oranges… Or a tortellini to a tortelloni. The two just are not comparable!
I understand using benchmarks and percentiles as a guide, but there has to be some common sense applied, too. Both Stan and I are tall and thin… So, it makes sense that our daughter is also tall and thin. It doesn’t mean she’s not eating enough. It just means she’s tall and thin.
In the first month, we also discovered that Maddie had a dairy allergy. So, I had to cut dairy out of my diet completely! That was hard – there is dairy in everything! – but I did it, because it was worth it to me for my daughter. It actually ended up benefiting me as well. While I was off dairy, I didn’t have the stomach issues that I’ve had my entire life. My skin was great. And I learned how gross dairy really is.
I stopped being so strict with dairy at 11 months. Maddie had outgrown the allergy by then. Now, I give her a little cheese or yogurt every once in a while, and I’ll occasionally cook with butter, but for the most part, we avoid it. And I won’t give her anything with cow’s milk. We use almond instead.
My Tipping Point:
One night, six weeks in, I was nursing Maddie in the rocking chair in her nursery, and I just started crying. I was exhausted. I didn’t want to give up, but everything I was going through was so difficult and I didn’t know what to do.
I called my girlfriend who had a daughter six months older than Maddie that she nursed. I told her how stressed out I was.
She said, “Jan, breastfeeding is really difficult. We expect it to happen naturally, but it doesn’t. It’s really hard.”
I know it doesn’t seem like much, but that’s all it took to snap me out of my funk, and get re-focused. I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m not going to let something get the best of me just because it’s difficult. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one who thought it was difficult was life-changing for me.
I looked at breastfeeding with a new perspective. I stopped doing all the unnecessary stuff I was advised to do by the nurses and lactation consultants I was seeing. I deleted the app on my phone that I was using to time myself on each boob, and stopped timing myself completely. I stopped pumping. I stopped going to the breastfeeding support group meetings, which just depressed me anyway. I also stopped going to the doctor to weigh Maddie unless it was a scheduled well visit.
At eight weeks, it started getting a lot easier. Maddie and I were both getting more used to breastfeeding, and it started to happen more naturally. I learned holding positions that worked better for us. I learned to feed her on demand rather than watch the clock. We started bed sharing, which I truly advocate, when done safely. And as she got bigger and stronger, she was able to get herself into positions that were comfortable for her. Everything just fell into place.
At Maddie’s two month visit, her weight was 10.13. She was just wonderful. When I told the nurse we were still exclusively nursing and I had never given her formula, she said “Wow! Good for you! We all thought you would have given up after everything you went through.” I was very proud.
Women have been nursing their babies since the beginning of time – long before the invention of formula, breast pumps, apps on our phones to tell us when and how long, and all the other gadgets we use to make things more “convenient.”
There is so much terrible advice out there. Many times, it can come from medical professionals, who may be well intended, but really aren’t in the position to give advice on how to successfully breastfeed. So remember, just because someone is a doctor, or a nurse, or even a lactation consultant, does not always mean they know what is best for you and baby when it comes to breastfeeding.
From the second your baby is born, put her to your bare chest, and let nature take its course. Stay skin to skin as often as you can. Your baby and body will communicate with each other and your supply will grow to accommodate your baby’s needs as she grows.
Breastfeeding can be very hard at first – especially in the first eight weeks. It does get easier with each passing day (barring occasional setbacks), and ultimately, you’ll get to the point where you don’t think about it – you just do it.