My Breastfeeding Story

Since this year's World Breastfeeding Week theme is about sharing your experience, I thought I'd kick off the week by posting my story nursing E. To say it was difficult would be an understatement. I had been warned that breastfeeding was hard, but I didn't think it would be this hard.

E was born 3.5 weeks early at a hospital. I had an amazing labor and delivery experience (yes, I just called my labor experience amazing) and was able to bring E into this world naturally without any medical intervention. It was the best possible start for our nursing relationship. Somewhere after that things went awry.

Being naturally well endowed in the boob area, there was some initial difficulty in getting E to latch correctly. With the help of my fantastic doula Jamie , I was able to establish a good latch and E drank and fell asleep. A few hours later we moved to a postpartum room and I thought I was feeding E correctly. He had not had his first wet or soiled diaper, but the nurses assured me that this was not unusual. We woke every few hours to feed. E would feed and fall asleep.

A hospital lactation consultant came to the room the following morning and took a look at his chart. She then told me, "If you don't supplement your baby with formula he will not survive." She didn't explain what was going on at all. I told her I didn't want that and I would continue to wake him every few hours and feed him. She left the room very abruptly. She never asked to see him feed or offered help with my latch - just told me I was going to kill my baby. As a first time mom, I was petrified. My milk hadn't come in yet and I did not want to cause nipple confusion by introducing a bottle of formula.

I kept doing what I thought was best, which was putting him to the breast. We were discharged from the hospital the next day and brought him home. A few days later we were back at the hospital for a bilirubin test. Because he was a late term preemie, we had to get retested even though his levels were normal. The test was followed by a weighed feeding, which I did not know about. E had lost almost 10% of his weight in the few days since his birth! The LC gave me a nipple shield and also showed me how to feed him expressed breastmilk with a cup. I was beside myself at the fact that my child was hungry and had lost so much weight.

We called Jamie on the way home and she came over later that day. She brought with her a general plan of action and some of her own expressed milk. In the meanwhile, my milk had come in and I was engorged and sore. My husband had rented a hospital grade pump for me and had just brought it home.

The three of us (with the help of some of Jamie's doula and lactation savvy friends) came up with a plan. I would nurse E every 1 to 2 hours, waking him up if necessary, and then I would pump milk using the rented pump. Meanwhile, my mom (who had arrived from out of state) or my husband would syringe feed E with either my or Jamie's expressed milk. We would do this after every feed. In case you have never been around a newborn or have forgotten their schedule, they eat every 2 hours. Their stomach is the size of a marble and empties frequently.

Thus began our routine for the longest few weeks of my life. I would nurse E, then pump while he received expressed breast milk by syringe. We did this after every feeding. Every two hours. All day and night. I wanted to give up. I was sleep deprived, hormonal, and felt betrayed by my body. At least twice I told my husband I wasn't doing it anymore and to go get formula from the store.

One breakdown was worse than the other. It happened two days before Christmas. D called every local lactation consultant he could get a hold of. Some weren't available, some never called him back. Finally one was available. She came to our house and she helped me so much more than the others I had seen. She showed me the side lying position which helped with the overnight feedings - this was a game changer for me! She showed me different holds and what would work for me and how to do them with my Boppy. She was an angel. What helped the most was her showing me how to nurse in my home with my things. This wasn't an office visit, this was my couch, my bed, my stuff.

Things got a little easier after that. E was putting on weight like a champ, about a pound in 10 days at one point. Right around his one month birthday, we cut down the amount of supplements from after every feed to 3 times a day. At about 5 weeks we were able to stop supplementing all together. He received only breastmilk (mine or Jamie's) this entire time.

It was as if someone flipped a light switch at 6 weeks. It just got incredibly easier. I felt comfortable enough to nurse E in public with a coverup. We hit another rough patch when I came down with a case of thrush. E seemed fine, but I was in a world of pain when we would nurse. We made our way through that with the help of gentian violet.

E is now almost 8 months old and loves solid food. He still drinks milk, but rarely from a bottle as he prefers to nurse. It saddens me to think that we may be in the twilight of our nursing relationship. I worked so very hard to get here that I don't want it to end. I also miss the time we have together since I work full time outside the home. I don't mind all the feedings, even the middle of the night ones (thanks to the side lying position). it gives a chance to love on my baby boy.

So there you have it. That's what we went through to get to where we are today. I could not have done it without the support of my doula Jamie, my mother, and my incredible husband who knew not to stop when I said when. Looking back, a lot could have been done differently. It was a learning experience. All I can take away from everything was what to do differently for number two. I still feel physically ill when I think back to how terrible the first few days of E's life were and I think I always will. Writing all this down and sharing it in such a public way has been extremely cathartic.

This entire experience has made me become a "lactivist". I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding support for moms, nursing in public, and extended breastfeeding. I'm pretty sure I've been unfriended by a few people on Facebook for all the pro-breastfeeding stuff I post. That being said, I still feel that breastfeeding is a choice that every woman must make for herself. A woman is not a terrible mother if she is unable to or chooses not to breastfeed her child. I may not agree with her decision, but I do not know her situation or reasoning. Who am I to judge and chastise? 

Pardon any random capitalization or autocorrects, I wrote this on my phone while pumping. What's your breastfeeding story? Did it come to you naturally (lucky!!) or was it a challenge?