My Breastfeeding Story

Twelve years ago, I had never heard of La Leche League International or could even tell you that we had a local chapter in the area. Who knew that 9 months later, a group of women I had never met would save my breastfeeding relationship?

I was 23 year old when I gave birth to my first child; a daughter we named Jaina Catherine. Throughout my entire pregnancy, I was determined NOT to breastfeed. Why would I? I didn't want to be tied down with my newborn that wouldn't accept a bottle from anyone. I didn't want my breasts to be deflated balloons in my early 20's. I certainly didn't want to be like that "hippie" aunt of mine that nursed my cousins until they were old enough to walk and talk.

Formula was just as good, right?

Fortunately, my prenatal appointments were under the care and supervision of a Certified Nurse-midwife and not the head OB/GYN doctor. She encouraged me to at least learn a bit about breastfeeding... read a book, take a class. "Just try it."

My husband was very pro-breastfeeding and encouraged me as well. Latching on at the hospital with my baby Jaina was pretty easy. The Lactation Consultant checked up on us while we were there as well. I thought, "This isn't so bad... maybe we will nurse a few weeks or a few months."

Two weeks into breastfeeding my newborn and I was in tears. No one tells you how much it HURTS! Or how often newborns want to nurse! Jaina nursed for 45 minutes of every hour she was awake. I dutifully kept a log by our nursing spot on the couch. Along with my tube of lanolin, nursing pads, and a water bottle.

I sat on the couch with my newborn and my sore cracked nipples and just cried during every latch on. My husband had told some of his co-workers that I was having a lot of pain so some of the woman would call me at home to let me know that a little soreness was normal, but that everything would be fine soon. I clung to those words and vowed that I could nurse her just until the end of the week and then everything would be better.

Instead, things got worse. I started having deep shooting pains in between nursing sessions. I had a painful let-down whereas before, I couldn't even feel a let down. I discovered blood in Jaina's mouth when she spit up one time. After calling the Nurse On Call, I discovered that the blood was from ME. From nursing on my cracked and bleeding nipples.

Showering was torture. Cold packs didn't help. The lanolin was doing nothing. I resorted to pumping with a manual pump very gently and feeding her a bottle when I couldn't stand the pain.

My "hippie" aunt got word from my mom that I was having trouble and told me to immediately get in touch with a LLL leader. Jennifer was so sweet on the phone and invited me to the meeting that week.

I will never forget my first meeting. I had never met this group of women before in my life, but immediately I was welcomed and felt comfortable to share my issues with them. I even showed one of the moms at the meeting the sore spots on my nipple that were bright red and shiny.

Diagnosis? A bad case of breastfeeding yeast, or thrush, as its commonly referred to. I had never heard of it before. My midwife confirmed at my 6 week post-partum check up.  She sent me home with nystatin for me, the baby, and some diflucan as well.

The support I received from all the women at the LLL meeting is why I kept breastfeeding. They told me that you CAN recover from yeast, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, that nursing didn't have to hurt, and that I would actually enjoy it one day. I believed them. And you know what? They were right :)

I battled yeast with Jaina for our first 3 months together. I believe that a treatment of Gentian Violet (which I first heard about at an LLL meeting) was what finally made the Candida vanish. For the first time ever, I was able to nurse my baby pain free.

She was still nursing very often, though. I wasn't sure what was exactly normal, so I just went with my instinct. When she fussed, I offered her my breast. When she woke up, I fed her. I nursed her to sleep. A well meaning neighbor suggested that we try the Babywise schedule feeding method. It didn't sound like a book I really wanted to read, so I didn't end up reading it until years later. My new friends at LLL said that it was perfectly normal for her to be nursing often. She was gaining weight beautifully and I had no worries about my supply. It was important to me that she was able to take a bottle, so I pumped once daily for her. My husband would feed her a bottle of expressed breastmilk while I cooked dinner each evening.

When Jaina was between 3 and 4 months old, we traveled down to South Florida to visit  my brother and sister-in-law, who had just had a baby 9 months before Jaina was born. I picked up a book I saw on her coffee table. It was "The Breastfeeding Book" by Dr. William Sears. I flipped through it while I was nursing Jaina and agreed with everything I had read. His philosophies just made so much sense! It really was okay to nurse her on demand and hold her as much as I wanted to. I was confident in my parenting decisions, but it made me feel even better that there was a book that validated my feelings. That was the first time I had ever heard the term "Attachment Parenting".

When we returned from South Florida, I started going to the playgroup that our local LLL had put together as well. I also joined a local chapter of the MOMS Club (Moms Offering Moms Support). I was thankful to find some other friends through MOMS Club that also practiced Attachment Parenting. I met women in both groups that co-slept, bed shared, nursed on demand, practiced gentle discipline, and nursed past a year. Things I said that I would NEVER do before becoming a parent myself. How babies change us as women!

My friends and support system at LLL were there for me during Jaina's introduction to solid foods, nursing her through a case of the roto virus, night weaning, and then weaning completely a few months after her second birthday.

I conceived our second child, a boy this time, almost immediately after weaning.

I smugly announced to my close circle of friends, "Breastfeeding will go much more smoothly this time. It has to! I know so much more now!"

And while that certainly was true, and that knowledge and understanding can be vital to a breastfeeding relationship, it certainly does not guarantee one.

Jayce Carrington was born at 40 weeks and 4 days. I was able to have the intervention-free birth I had wished and worked for. I had never even had the wish to have a natural, drug-free birth before meeting my friends from LLL.

Despite being full term at birth, Jayce had major latch issues. Its like he was born not knowing how to suck. We couldn't get him latched on to my nipple, a bottle, a pacifier, or our finger. He would stick his tongue up to the roof of his mouth instead. What do you do with a baby that won't eat?

Well, first you cry. Then you pump and feed him the ounce of colostrum with a medicine syringe. Then you cup feed him an ounce of formula when it was announced that his jaundice levels were rising and the nurses threaten to not let you take him home from the hospital.

Those first two weeks home with Jayce were a nightmare. There is nothing worse than not knowing why your baby won't eat. I tried latching him each and every hour. Most of the time he wouldn't even take my nipple in his mouth at all. My good, supportive, caring friends came every day to offer support and encouragement. Finally, it was my neighbor that got Jayce to latch on. She was a Speech and Language pathologist that worked in the NICU at the local hospital. She taught me how to do exercises with Jayce's mouth to get him to put his tongue down. It worked and Jayce finally was able to nurse.

I was still not prepared for how different he would be from Jaina. Jayce never seemed to want to nurse. He would go 3, 4, sometimes even 5 hours without latching on. And he only nursed for a grand total of 7 minutes. It was no surprise that his 50th percentile birth weight started falling on the charts.

Jayce was really fussy. He didn't eat well or sleep well. I was determined not to get a case of thrush this time (but I did, anyway) so I had put myself on a Candida Diet that consisted of no fruit, no carbs, no starches. When that did not help, I also restricted myself to no dairy. Living off of free range meat and vegetables was not fun!

By four months old, we knew something was wrong. Slow weight gain, bad case of breastfeeding thrush that wouldn't go away this time, refusal of the breast, crying after feeding. Finally, the pediatrician saw Jayce push away when I tried to nurse him in her office and she ordered a barium swallow x-ray. It showed that Jayce had severe GERD.

It took a few months to get Jayce's medicine correct, but after we did, we could finally have a good nursing relationship. And thank goodness we perservered...

When Jayce was 17 months old, he stopped eating any kind of food except breakfast pancakes. We were baffled. He stopped holding his spoon or sippy cup. He started toe-walking and hand flapping. A year later, he was diagnosed with autism.

We were sent to a Special Needs Nutritionist. She commended us for our continued nursing relationship and said it was the only reason Jayce was as healthy as he was. He wasn't getting enough calories from any other food source.

I mistakenly weaned Jayce thinking that he would start eating more table food and also sleeping through the night. He was 27 months old, the same age his sister was when we weaned. Unfortunately, weaning was not the answer and one of the things I regret. 

Parenting a child with autism is very exhausting. We were not mentally or physically prepared to have anymore children for quite a while. Yet, when Jayce turned 5 years old and started Kindergarten in a regular classroom, I finally felt ready to expand our family. It took us an entire year of unexplained infertility to conceive our third baby.

This time I had planned on giving birth at the local Birth Center. But baby #3 had other plans. After failed natural induction methods at almost 42 weeks and with my water broken for 36 hours, we transferred to the local hospital instead. Our surprise baby turned out to be a girl :) We named her Jocelyn Claire.

Nursing was great in the hospital. Nursing was even great when we got home. Jocelyn nursed for about 30 minutes every two hours. The only thing that was weird was how gassy she was. And she was extremely hard to burp. Sometimes it would take me longer to get a burp out of her than it did to feed her! She was uncomfortable after nursing so I briefly had reflux as a possibility in the back of my mind.

However, she did not have the same symptoms of reflux as her brother did before.

I looked to my diet instead. I removed dairy first to see if that helped, followed by wheat. No change.

Thoughts of foremilk/hindmilk imbalance also ran through my mind. I know this is a controversial topic with research now showing that there is no such thing. Yet, searching Google took me to many breastfeeding sites that said it was possible.

Finally, around 3 weeks old, I gave Jocelyn her first bottle of pumped breastmilk. She took it easily with no complaint. The miraculous thing was that she was not fussy or gassy at all afterwards.

My goal was to only give her a bottle once a day. I started pumping twice daily to store up some milk. Then a well-meaning friend asked if maybe her fussiness could be forceful letdown or oversupply? Since this was possible, I decided to stop pumping for a bit. Jocelyn still received a bottle every day through my frozen milk storage. That time of day was the only time she was not gassy or fussy after eating.

I knew in my gut that something wasn't right. When she nursed, my nipple was compressed in that infamous "lipstick" shape. My nipple would also turn colors after nursing... white, blue, red. The LC at the hospital suggested that I might have Reynaud's Syndrome. It would make sense since my extremities are often cold as ice. Jocelyn was born in January and the cold weather definitely made my breasts hurt.

I checked and checked and re-checked her latch. My friends and LLL leader checked her latch. We could not see anything wrong from the outside.

Finally, one member of the group suggested a palate issue.

Jayce was still receiving therapy services from the local hospital, so I called in a favor from one of the SLPs that works with NICU babies. Laura confirmed that Jocelyn had what was known as a "bubble palate".

In the mean time, Jocelyn's weight gain had slowed and she was even fussier after nursing. I had increased her bottle intake to 2-3 a day and was struggling to keep up pumping. It seems that nursing was just a snack for her but a bottle was a full meal. She also seemed to start preferring the bottle by 4 months old.

My friends and I researched everything we could find on a bubble palate. Unfortunately, there are not many things you can do. Several moms on an online forum said that by 10-12 months, their babies' mouths had grown big enough to compensate for having a high, round palate and nursing no longer hurt. I was hoping to make it that long but I am sad to say that we didn't.

Along with the pain from the Reynaud's, I had a deep crack that would not heal. I was treated for candida yeast infection, fungal infection, and a bacterial infection. No medication would heal my nipple. I also had a lot of peeling skin. In fact, after we had our final nursing session at 7 months old, it took 3 long weeks for my nipples to fully heal.

Soon my meager breastmilk supply ran out and I had to turn to formula. I was very upset. This is not how I envisioned how my nursing experience with my third baby would go. I felt like a failure. I felt like Jocelyn would think that I didn't love her as much as her brother and sister because I did not nurse her as long.

The first time I gave her formula, she drank all 4 ounces quickly. I had been pumping so little before that her bottles had only been 2-3 ounces of breastmilk. I made her 4 more ounces. And then 4 more, but she only finished two. My 7 month old drank 10 ounces in one sitting. And there was no burping, spitting up, gas, or fussiness. Just contentment.

That is when I realized that my baby's happiness was more important than my own. She didn't care that we weren't nursing anymore. She just wanted a full tummy and for mommy to hold her. I could still do those things; just not the way I had planned.

I had never had a strictly bottle-fed baby before and it was uncharted territory for me. I still fed on demand and took her cues for when she was done. When she turned a year old and that arbitrary age of taking away bottles came, I still let her have one and slowly weaned her to a sippy cup of cow's milk over a period of the next 6 months.

If anything, switching Jocelyn to bottles of formula made me want to help moms succeed with breastfeeding even more. Yet, I also have a new place of understanding inside me. Sometimes breastfeeding doesn't work out. Those moms need just as much, if not more, support. It will be important for their next breastfeeding experience.

I am continually thankful for all the knowledge and support I have received from my local LLL chapter. I am looking forward to paying it forward to the next moms that come along.

2 comments:

  1. I'm on my 2nd week of breastfeeding. I am a first timer. My first daughter, I gave up after day two...it definitely hurts, but I am determined to stick with it!

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  2. I have been using a nipple shield. I am in fear of that whole blood thing you mentioned. Is that only possible without a shield or can it happen with a shield as well?

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