Breastfeeding: My Personal Challenges and Tips from this Past Year

Breastfeeding: My Personal Challenges and Tips from this Past Year

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With this being  “World Breastfeeding Week”, I thought it was a good time to share a bit more of my own breastfeeding journey that took place last summer. There are so many directions I could go with this story, but for this post, I’ll focus on the breastfeeding aspect, and then hopefully add another installment in the future. If you follow my blog and Facebook posts, you may know that baby #4 (born last May) took me on a completely unexpected loop in the feeding realm, and I am hoping that some of the things I learned through this experience can benefit others!

When it comes to breastfeeding, I’ll admit that I expected it to be an easy, natural process. I mean, I’m all in to natural birth, and believe strongly that a women’s body was designed to carry and bring forth life. So breastfeeding should easily be part of that, right?!? Besides, my own mother had no issues nursing seven babies, and my grandmother nursed all of her babies (back when it wasn’t the popular thing to do), so I took it for granted that it would be a piece of cake. My oldest daughter nursed fine-it wasn’t the wonderful experience I was expecting (my milk supply would drop when I did any extra activity, and she nursed frequently and gained slowly, but overall it went well). Then my son was born, and we struggled and struggled. One of his big issues was a tongue tie (and a lip tie, but I didn’t figure that out until later!) and poor latch, then the resulting milk supply issues. That is another story for another time (some of it is detailed here), but after his experience I decided that most nursing issues could be remedied if only ties would be taken care of. Not true, but it’s what I thought. And my third-born “proved it”, as I took care of her tongue and lip ties around 24 hours old, and she nursed like a champ…she was pudgy, and I had no issues with supply. So in my mind, I found the answer, and figured I was prepared for baby #4.

Baby Darius was 8# 10oz at birth, and latched on right away, so I figured this would be no problem. However, he was extremely sleepy and uninterested in eating, which meant I had to wake him and work with him to get him to eat. By day 4, I was in extreme pain from his latch, so back we went to reducing ties. This helped somewhat, but he still seemed to get worse and worse at latching. By two weeks, he was still well under birth weight, even with my nursing him frequently.  At this point I was getting desperate, and started pumping and giving him milk via dropper after he nursed (which, by the way, takes forever!). We received some amazing help from a local lactation consultant, who came to my house and stayed over 2 hours, giving great advice and support. Around 3 weeks, we ended up making the almost 3 hour one-way trip to a pediatric dentist to get baby’s ties evaluated and reduced via laser (which doesn’t leave as much scar tissue). With the help from the lactation consultant, I was able to start bringing my milk supply back up (it had really tanked at this point, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make enough milk again), and I began pumping regularly to stimulate my supply while working with baby to help him latch. With the help of a nipple shield, he was able to continue nursing for awhile, but I’ll admit it was quite a struggle. There were many times last summer where I felt like I did nothing but work on feeding a baby, which honestly was fairly accurate!

Our nursing relationship came to an end much earlier than I would have chosen, but it would have ended a lot sooner if I hadn’t received the help and support I was given. Baby’s weight gain was slow, but finally began to go up steadily, and I felt like we reached another milestone with every ounce he gained.  I never was able to completely wean him off the nipple shield (occasionally he would nurse without it, but you never knew when), and I had to keep pumping to keep my supply where it needed to be. This resulted in spending literally hours just feeding baby…nurse, pump, bottle feed, rest a bit, repeat. Maybe it could have been sustainable if he had been my first, but we eventually reached the point where the rest of the family needed mommy, too! By around 4 months, I began to exclusively pump, as this eliminated some of the time needed to feed baby. We continued this until around seven months, at which point we made the decision to discontinue pumping for the sake of mommy’s sanity. Just for the record-I now have an amazing respect for moms who exclusively pump. I honestly had NO IDEA of the dedication and time it takes. So if that is what you are finding yourself doing currently, I wish I could give you a big hug and encourage you today! If you’re interested in reading about what I did once we passed six months, you can find more on that story here.

One of the reasons I want to share my experiences is to help encourage other moms going through similar situations. In the middle of it all, I felt very alone and discouraged. It felt like something was “wrong” with my body-why else could I try so hard to feed and nurse my baby and have it not work? I researched until I felt like I couldn’t retain any more information. I tried this solution and that solution. It was really, really hard for me to be okay and at rest with the fact that this part of mothering wasn’t meeting my expectations. At the time, it felt like it was all-consuming (which it was!). But moms, from my perspective now (a full year later), in the scope of life and eternity whether you nurse your baby, pump for your baby or formula feed your baby (or all three!), it’s really okay. Your baby is not even going to remember what happened, as long as he is still getting time and a nourishing connection with his mama! I wish, in retrospect, that I could have realized that truth better in the midst of it all. I wanted so badly to find the answer (and “fix” the problem) that I significantly added to my stress level, which also influenced my little guy, and the rest of the family. Now I better realize that the important thing is how we nurture and care for our babies-they need mom, they need cuddles and physical touch (that nursing naturally provides), but you can give these to baby no matter which way the baby gets his food. So, hang in there-this time will be over eventually (though it feels like forever!), and find rest in being the mom God created you to be….which may mean that not everything “works” perfectly (this is a fallen world after all). But it doesn’t make you a failure or a bad mother if you or your baby can’t make breastfeeding work the way it was intended!

So, enough backstory! Here’s what I was getting at – some specific pointers for you moms that might be struggling with breastfeeding and milk supply:

  • At the first sign that nursing is not going well, take baby to bed, nurse frequently and keep baby skin-to-skin as much as possible. Eliminate extra stimulation, and let baby eat often, smell mama, and feel safe and secure.
  • Find a good lactation consultant, and REACH OUT and ASK FOR HELP! I know this seems obvious, but I wish I would have done it sooner. I thought I knew all the answers (hello, I’ve helped a lot of mom with breastfeeding issues…but there’s LOTS of info I don’t know like someone who exclusively focuses on breastfeeding!). For you local moms, I would highly recommend Karen Foard, and area lactation consultant with years of experience.
  • Consider the possibility of tongue and lip ties. Here’s some good information to start with here. But also remember, that while this can be the answer for one baby (and I’ve seen it work amazingly well!), there are other babies where this is not the problem. If you live in central PA, I’d be happy to pass on pediatric dentist referrals. Otherwise, find a pediatric dentist that specializes in tongue ties-not every dentist is trained to recognize and take care of this.
  • Try a nipple shield if latch is an issue. Sometimes baby just needs some help learning to latch, and this can help. The downside is that it can be hard to wean baby off of one later, but if it allows the nursing relationship to continue, I think it’s worth it-though I personally have a love/hate relationship with these things!
  • Make sure your milk supply is being stimulated. It’s easy to assume that baby is getting enough because baby is nursing frequently. But sometimes baby is nursing more frequently because he’s not getting enough! Here are some things that I found helpful for increasing my supply:
    • Maxi-Milk Tincture from Mountain Meadow Herbs
    • Mother’s Milk Tea from Traditional Medicinals
    • Moringa (powder or capsules)
    • Eating-no joke! When I started pumping exclusively, I realized for the first time how my diet intimately affected my milk supply. If I tried to cut back, my supply dropped. Honestly, it was somewhat discouraging, as the baby fat would NOT disappear, I was hungry all the time, and if I didn’t eat enough, the baby wouldn’t have enough milk. We often hear the old wives’ tale that nursing makes the baby weight fall off…well, that sure doesn’t hold true for everyone! Eating high quality fats (coconut oil, nuts, avocado, etc.) really helped, along with lots of oatmeal, coconut & brewers’ yeast. Look for two of my favorite milk-increasing recipes in a future post!
    • Pumping. It took me awhile to realize that this was going to be the way to keep from losing my supply. And then, thanks to my lactation consultant Megan, I found out that there is a whole lot more to pumping than what I realized. Having a good, new pump is a MUST. I couldn’t hardly get anything by pumping, and it turns out my previously-used pump was worn out. The way God provided a new pump for me in the midst of this struggle is another story, but it made all the difference in the world. Making sure your shields fit is also very important (I never knew that they came in different sizes!). So, do your research, ask questions, and make sure you’re actually utilizing this resource correctly.
    • Finally, consider having your thyroid checked. This did not end up being part of my inability to nurse, but in all the research I was doing, this came up multiple times. I’m becoming more aware of how many moms are affected by thyroid disorders that can have a big influence on their pregnancy and ability to produce milk. It’s worth considering!

I hope some of these suggestions can help someone out. And I’d love to hear yours…what has helped you in overcoming some of your own nursing issues? Or what kind of encouragement and support was especially helpful? Or what do you wish you would have had? I would love to give us space to learn from and encourage each other, so thanks for sharing some of your own journey!