My Nursing Story
So like any young, first time, somewhat crunchy, frugal mom I decided long before I was pregnant that I was going to breastfeed. I had asked several people to share with me their breastfeeding experiences and had gathered that it was a wonderful, natural thing and that it would be the best for me and my baby. So it was a no brainer to me. When I became pregnant I bought a pump, reusable cloth nursing pads, maternity tanks, easy nursing shirts, nursing bras, creams, you name it. I was prepared, or so I thought.
I had such a rough pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidarum, loss of a job, difficult roommate situation, financial problems, various medical problems, and undiagnosed depression or what I consider pre-postpartum depression), I tried everything in my power to remain positive about the things I thought I had control over. I thought that if I wanted it bad enough, I could do it, and that’s all there is to it! Nursing was one of the things I thought I would be able to control. Little did I know I was SO wrong!
When my daughter was born the midwives told me she had a severe tongue and lip tie. My daughter’s frenulum reached the very tip of her tongue and her lip frenulum went all the way down to the very bottom of her top gum. Her tongue was completely restricted as was her lip. The midwives said that it didn’t necessarily mean she couldn’t nurse, but we would have to be very careful about making sure she was latching correctly.
She could latch on the left side all right, but the right side hurt terribly and within the first day I had an extremely bloody and cracked nipple. The midwife told me that I shouldn’t have any kind of bleeding or pain if the latch was correct and continued to show me how to “fix” her latch. Nothing I did worked and by day three I knew something was wrong. It just didn’t seem like my daughter was able to get enough to eat, she didn’t seem satisfied and it seemed like she had trouble nursing. My midwife quickly came over and gave me a nipple shield. She explained the pros and cons and we decided that the pros outweighed the cons; we needed this baby to eat. But my daughter still wasn’t able to latch with the shield.
This resulted in the decision that it was time to take her to a tongue-tie specialist and get the ties released. I called a pediatric dentist who preformed the surgeries. But we weren’t able to get into see her for two weeks. So my midwife gave us a syringe and told me to pump my milk every 90 minutes and feed my daughter the milk I just pumped with the syringe attached to my pinky. This way, she was still sucking the correct way and insured her not getting nipple confusion with a bottle.
I only had a one sided pump at the time so it was very time consuming. I pumped one side for 20-30 minutes and then the other side from 20-30 minutes. Then I filled the syringe and attempted to get my daughter to latch onto my finger. She got so mad because she was so hungry that it was hard to calm her down enough to get her to take our finger. We tried this for about a week before we ended up going to lactation consultant.
The lactation consultants were actually students in training, and we chose to go to them because it was free. Looking back now, I would not recommend going to students for “special” nursing cases because they did not have enough experience to help troubleshoot the various and unique issues we experienced.
The lactation consultants accessed her mouth and agreed that the tongue and lip tie were severe. They also mentioned that her mouth was narrow and she had a lot of tongue, cheek, neck, and jaw restriction. They suggested after her tongue and lip tie release to get some craniosacral therapy done by a special chiropractor to help loosen the restricted muscles. While at the appointment we were able to get my daughter to latch with the shield! We were ecstatic!
I was able to nurse my daughter with the shield until the surgery. A few days after the surgery we went to a 4th of July party. My daughter nursed so many times that day and I couldn’t figure out why. I had read about newborns being hungry and cluster feeding so I didn’t think much of it. While we were at the party I noticed that she was having a harder time latching, almost like she was getting extremely tired from sucking. She cried a lot and had a really hard time staying on the nipple shield. This continued for days and progressively got worse.
Before I knew it, my daughter was nursed around the clock, non-stop. It was like she never got enough milk to be full, so she nursed without ceasing. It got to the point that if she wasn’t on my boob, she screamed bloody murder. This was such a hard time. I couldn’t go to the bathroom, eat, take a shower, let my dogs out to go potty, or ANYTHING else except nurse. I had my husband take her and hold her and let her scream so that I could just go to the bathroom.
I tried explaining this issue with the lactation consultants and they just didn’t understand. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that my daughter was never satisfied and NEVER stopped nursing. They did several weighed feeds and said that she was transferring enough milk during the time given, so they ruled out the possibility that I had a low milk supply. This still didn’t solve the issue of why she nursed so much and screamed all the time. They assured me she was getting enough to eat, so her colicky behavior and was caused by something else. They had even referred to her as a “high needs” baby and told me that it was most likely her personality type.
Around this time I also realized my daughter showed many symptoms of silent reflux. I thought that maybe she cried so much because she was uncomfortable and in pain. I went on an elimination diet to try to rule out what food could be causing the reflux. I cut out gluten, corn, dairy, caffeine, gassy vegetables, and various fruits that are known to cause upset in babies. My diet was so limited and I basically stopped eating.
This was also the same time that I started to realize something wasn’t right with me. I was extremely depressed, anxious, sleep deprived, and had no time for self-care. I didn’t understand how bad the damage was, but I had severe post-partum depression.
One month after an extremely difficult family vacation, I knew something was wrong. My daughter had hardly any wet diapers, no poopy diapers, screamed more than usual, and seemed extremely lethargic. We decided to take my daughter to a pediatrician. When we went to see her they weighed her and discovered that she was 10 ounces less that she was one week ago at her normal 8-week check up. I was in shock; she lost 10 ounces in one week! I wondered how this could happen. The pediatrician told me to start supplementing with formula right away. I was hesitant to do this because I knew my lactation consultants were going to tell me it would negatively affect my supply, but I knew my daughter was starving so we bit the bullet and bought some formula.
We went back to the lactation consultants to try to figure out what to do. I told them that the pediatrician suggested letting my daughter nurse for however long she wanted, but then to supplement her with formula to insure she drank enough. The lactation consultants argued with me. They didn’t believe my daughter lost so much weight and told me all of the ‘bad’ things about formula. I was absolutely appalled! I felt attacked, like I was making poor choices. I didn’t want to give up nursing entirely, I just wanted my daughter to gain the weight back and be properly fed.
I insisted they do another weighed feed and sure enough, my daughter hardly transferred any milk at all. At this point we were able to determine that my milk supply had dropped off probably around one week before. (I suspect the milk supply was partially due to the lack of nutrition I received because of the un-diagnosed post partum depression.) They seemed to be surprised and didn’t really have any good suggestions as to what I could do to improve the situation. I left feeling like I had no nursing support and worried that this was end of the road for our nursing journey.
My daughter still screamed bloody murder all day. But I could tell that the formula made her full at least. The problem was the discomfort and constipation caused by the formula. I wrote another article on the formula journey we took and the terrible allergic reaction she had to Alimentum.
As I mentioned in the other article, we switched pediatricians and ditched the lactation consultants. When we saw the new pediatrician for the first time, my daughter was 4 months old. The pediatrician assessed my daughter’s mouth and discovered that she had a posterior tongue-tie that had not been corrected and her lip tie had reattached. She guessed that my milk supply dropped because my daughter’s mouth was not working efficiently to get milk out, therefore telling my brain I wasn’t nursing and didn’t need to produce any milk anymore.
We discussed many options of how to best feed my daughter and we came to the conclusion that I would nurse my daughter as much as my body would allow and supplement with a bottle of goat milk formula. It was also at this time I began treatment for post partum depression and really got the help I needed.
Things were looking up. My daughter’s mood and digestion slowly improved, however my milk supply was almost nonexistent. I tried to add more healthy fats, eat oats, drink more, take fenugreek, pump each day in addition to nursing my daughter but nothing seemed to help grow my supply. When I pumped, I hardly pumped an ounce. It was literally a few drops. After having to take an antibiotic that was unsafe for nursing, I was told to “pump and dump” while finishing out the dose.
When I realized my milk supply was that low, I felt it useless to even waste time pumping. I decided at that point that it was time to throw in the towel and stop nursing completely. This was a very difficult decision for me; one that wasn’t made overnight. But I knew that my daughter would be fed either way, and it would help take away a lot of the stress and guilt I felt surrounding nursing.
This was the hardest journey I have ever been on. Trying to take everyone’s advice, it was so hard not to feel guilty no matter what choices I made. I had to come to terms with knowing that as a mom, I know what’s best for my child. I had to let go of the guilt of not nursing. I had to let go of the guilt that others put on me for not “sticking it out.” I have survived, and so has my daughter. I know that I did the best I could. I have a wonderful 22-month-old daughter who is as happy as a clam.
I also know that with baby number two (coming in July) I will try my very best to nurse. I will go to a great pediatrician, better tongue-tie specialists (if needed) and a hired lactation consultant. And if it doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, I’m ok with saying, “It’s just not working for us.” I’m ok with not being able to nurse. I still want to, but I know that it’s also ok for me to give myself permission to let go of things that are out of my control. I want to be sane and I want my baby to be satisfied. Those are my priorities. I am planning on doing whatever makes us sane and full!
I want to encourage any mamas out there struggling with nursing: do what’s best for you and your baby! If that means giving formula so that you can get some rest and your baby’s tummy gets full, do it! If that means switching lactation consultants or doctors, do it! If that means just pumping and giving breast milk in a bottle, do it! Don’t worry what others may say. Don’t let other moms shame you and make you feel guilty. Do what is right for your family. Only you can make that decision. Feed on mama!