In honor of National Breastfeeding Month in the US, I reached out to mom friends and asked them to share their breastfeeding stories. As with all new skills, there is a learning curve with breastfeeding. Sometimes our paths don't start as easily as we thought they would. Here is Allie's breastfeeding story.
I’ll start off with a little back story. 13 years ago, I was 17 years old trying to nurse my daughter. I had no help. I didn’t read any books, and the internet was fairly new to me. She wouldn’t latch. No matter how hard I tried, she wouldn’t do it. There were no nipple shields then either. It sounds like I was living in the dark ages, and I felt like I was. 17 year old me decided pumping would be better than nothing. Also, 17 year old me had no concept of keeping a schedule for pumping. I got mastitis. Twice. I listened to the doctors who told me I needed to stop breastfeeding. So I did. Breastfeeding lasted all of 6 weeks for me, back in 2003. Almost 30 year old me is really proud of that 17 year old girl. She didn’t have to even try, but she did. Good for her!
Continue with me on my journey, to 2014. I’m older, wiser! I’m pregnant with my second child and ready to totally rock this breastfeeding thing! I bought books, I read articles on the internet. I bought nipple shields for my difficult flat nipples! Everything was going to work out this time! Right?
Wrong. Well, partially wrong. See, I watched so many women in my life just effortlessly nurse their babies. It seemed to just come natural to them. It looked seamless and easy. The truth is, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It is natural by definition, but it certainly isn’t easy.
Rhodes was born on November 20, 2014, at home in our bed. The whole experience was empowering. There was nothing I felt I couldn’t do, until I tried to latch him. Then all of the memories of trying to latch my daughter came back to me. It was hard, it wasn’t happening. Over the next few days I remember feeling so defeated. How could this happen again? I was so ready this time! Turns out, little tiny newborn mouths are super difficult to work with, especially in combination with flat nipples. I couldn’t even get the hang of a shield. In a moment of sheer desperation and exhaustion I fixed him 1 ounce of formula. I relaxed, he relaxed. I decided if nothing else, I could pump. My husband and I slept in shifts. What little colostrum I could pump, I did. I’d pour it into a bottle, hand it to my husband and then sleep for another hour or two until I had to wake up and pump again. We weren’t getting ahead of him. Sometimes it was a rush job. I would pump just enough to satiate him, hand over the bottle and pump some more. Finally my milk came in and I got a bottle ahead of him! I formulated a plan to start exclusively pumping. I knew it wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t really what I wanted. His well-being was my number one priority. I told myself I would do it for a year. I could do anything I set my mind to. I wouldn’t get mastitis because I knew what I was doing this time. He took a bottle like a champ. At least once a day, I would try to get him to latch, either with a shield, or without. No dice. This lasted for a week. At the time, it felt like an eternity.
I had my husband drive us to Target when Rhodes was about a week old. We stayed in the car and I asked him to buy every shield that Target sold. The brand I was using wasn’t working for me. Through some internet sleuthing I found that not all shields are created equal. I still hadn’t given up. Rhodes was hungry and I didn’t have a bottle with me in the Target parking lot. I opened up one of the new shields (I didn’t sterilize it! Gasp!) and tried it. HE LATCHED! HE STAYED LATCHED. He was doing it!
We were doing it! I cried. I was convinced it was a fluke. It wasn’t. That shield saved my breastfeeding relationship with my son. I had 5 of them on hand, at all times. I had a whole drying and cleaning system for them. They were next to me on the couch, in my bed. Everywhere I was, there was a nipple shield nearby. When Rhodes got bigger, I started trying to wean him from the shield. It didn’t take long before he was nursing without it and I felt like I had won the biggest award of my life.
Rhodes is now 20 months old, and he still nurses every day with no end in sight. There are days when I feel like he’s going to twist my nipple off. There are days when he’s bitten me hard. There are days I hate breastfeeding. But the majority of days I look at him snuggled up to me, and I am so proud and happy we have come this far. We did it together.