Uniquely Fed: An Honest Look at the Realities of Breastfeeding, Part Three – Real Breastfeeding Stories, Vol. 3
Welcome to Vol. 3 of the Real Breastfeeding Stories part of Uniquely Fed – where I share real stories, from real moms with you!!
If you’re just joining me here, don’t miss the stories shared in Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 or the first two parts: My Journey and Common Breastfeeding Issues! To get updates each time I post in this series, just sign-up here or follow me on Facebook or Twitter!
Volume 3 – Julia, Lindsey, and Cathy
Click on the links (or images) to read today’s stories:
I’ve recently been inspired by the Fearless Formula Feeder to share my story. My hope is it will encourage a more open dialogue about the struggles that often come with breastfeeding and the challenges of being a formula feeding family in a “breast is best” culture. I have a lot to say so I’ll be writing a few posts about it. This one is about the first week of Gretchen’s life and my initial experience with breastfeeding…READ MORE about Julia’s first breastfeeding experience in her 3-part series on her personal blog.
Next, read Julia’s story on feeding her younger daughter here: Embracing a ‘Fed is Best’ Mentality.
About Julia: I’m Julia and I live in Olathe, KS with my husband of 10 years, my 4 year old daughter Gretchen, our new baby Cora, and our crazy pug Boopers. I grew up in Lawrence and went to college at John Brown University in Northwest Arkansas and then got my MSW from KU in 2010. I worked at a hospital and then hospice social worker for 6 years before becoming a full time SAHM in 2016. On my days off I enjoy meeting up with friends for play dates, exploring new parks, and checking the end caps at Target for smokin’ hot deals. I love hosting parties, Dr. Pepper, consignment sales, and watching every single Royals game. I sporadically blog about my family and other randomness over at https://pugsnotdrugs.wordpress.com/
My body sucks at breastfeeding (pun intended). It also sucks at dilating and letting babies come out non-surgically, but that’s a different story for a different day. It has taken me the better part of a decade to be okay with this, and it’s been a tough journey to come to the conclusion that fed is best. Hi, I’m Lindsey (hi, Lindsey), and I’m here to tell you that it’s okay not to breastfeed.
I have three ridiculously cool kiddos, Buggy, Buddy, and Bella. When I was pregnant with Buggy, I was a typical first-time mama. I had my birth plan (HA!), my list of things I swore I’d NEVER do, and my unwavering plan to exclusively breastfeed. My minimal-intervention plan for labor became an induction turned c-section. I felt let down and cheated, but when I held sweet Buggy girl in my arms, I was in love. And I couldn’t wait to breastfeed her! She latched on perfectly. She ate regularly, and seemed happy. I was over the moon. Except she wasn’t gaining weight. She lost a good deal before we left the hospital, and she had high bilirubin levels, so her pediatrician insisted that I give her formula. “Ok,” I thought. “It’s like medicine. I’ll use a syringe and keep breastfeeding exclusively once my milk comes in.” A few days went by, then a week. I still hadn’t experienced that engorged feeling, so I went to see the lactation consultant. We did a weight check. After nursing on both sides for 45 min, her weight increased by HALF AN OUNCE.
I was crushed, but fiercely determined. I rented a pump from the hospital. I bought the Motherlove More Milk Plus Special Blend drops and tablets that taste like the water that pools in the bottom of a planter. Blech. I nursed. I pumped to stimulate, and only drops would come out in the process. I fed her a bottle of formula. And then, in the blink of an eye later, I had to do it again. Nurse. Pump. Bottle. On and on, over and over. Nothing changed. Nothing helped. A friend, who had just finished nursing her son after 14 months, called me a cop-out. She told me I was lazy, that I wasn’t trying hard enough, and taking the easy road with formula. NOT TRYING? EASY?! I already felt ashamed that I couldn’t push my baby out, and now I couldn’t feed her, and I spent every minute of my day trying to fix it. As if shame I inflicted on myself wasn’t enough, to be belittled by a friend was just heartbreaking. I know now that my milk never truly came in. I nursed Buggy as much as I could, just for the bonding, for about 2 months, just a couple times a day. She was almost exclusively formula fed, and she thrived. I was relieved that I hadn’t ruined my kid, even though she did many of the things I swore she’d never do, like watching Dora, but she’s extremely smart, healthy, and kind.
When Buddy was born three years and some change later, I was a little wiser, but I was still optimistic that this time would be a better experience. I had a scheduled c-section this time, knowing that this was just how my babies would have to be born. He was a whopping 9 pounds, 13 ounces, and he came out ravenous. Again, I had a great latcher, and he nursed constantly. I was sure things were going better this time. I had my herbs ready, the same Motherlove capsules I’d used before, and my pump poised to stimulate. To my dismay, Buddy dropped weight like crazy before we left the hospital. The nurses encouraged me to finger-feed with a syringe once again, because he was so big and needed more milk. Ya know, “just until the milk comes in.”
But guess what. It never did. I sat in the pediatrician’s office, sobbing, because he’d dropped down to 8 lb 1 oz before he was 2 weeks old. I couldn’t figure it out. We did a before/after weight check and he gained NOTHING. He had nursed for almost an hour. The doctor finally asked if I was on any medications. I had gestational hypertension with both Buggy and Buddy, and was prescribed Labetalol, which I had continued to take. We looked it up, and one of the main reactions was an inadequate milk supply. I was shocked, but relieved to know it wasn’t just me. I felt vindicated. We started him almost exclusively on formula, and continued to nurse a few times a day. He quickly regained his birthweight, and was wearing 3-6 month clothes at just five weeks old!
When Buddy was 6 weeks old, I quit breastfeeding, abruptly. It was a week before Christmas, and my husband had a big, huge, scary medical emergency that involved lots of blood and kept him in the hospital for 12 days. I am SO thankful that Buddy was used to formula, used to bottles, and that I had a can of formula with me that day. As my dad and I followed the ambulance that carried my husband to the ER, I thought about how I could be where I needed to be, knowing he was cared for and fed. I know for sure God had His hand in all of this. I nursed Buddy one last time after that, a couple days after the ambulance ride, and my milk made him throw up. Maybe it was the stress of the past few days, maybe the milk was funky or spoiled after not coming out for days (is that a thing?), but it seemed like a peaceful, sensible place to stop.
Buddy was supposed to be our last baby. I’d packed up all the baby stuff, given away my nursing paraphernalia, and during that last nursing session, I tearfully locked that memory away in my heart, treasuring the last time I’d ever nurse a baby. He’s four years old, and probably smarter than I am. Please reference this when he solves world hunger someday.
Almost exactly three and a half years after Buddy was born, because God knows our plans better than we do, we welcomed a beautiful baby girl to finish our family (for realsies this time…we made sure!). I strategized differently this time. I wanted to try things that I’d considered before but never done. So I bought a bunch of cloth diapers, curated an impressive supply of nursing tanks and bras, and made sure that the meds I took this time around wouldn’t affect my milk supply. Bella was a surprise in so many ways, and she shocked us by putting me into labor (first time ever!) at 37 weeks. She was perfect, and took to nursing like her brother and sister. I wanted so badly to breastfeed, but I looked at it the way I looked at my pretty stash of cloth diapers: it’s cool to try, but if I don’t like it, or it doesn’t work, we will move on. This time, I absolutely refused to let my baby starve. She, like her sister, was born with elevated bili, but not as seriously. She lost some weight out of the hospital, but I was not opposed to starting formula early on to supplement, and she recouped within a couple weeks. My milk actually came in (WOOHOO!!!), though not as prolifically as I’d hoped, but hey, progress, right? I stuck to my routine of nursing, pumping, bottle feeding. I tried the Mother’s Milk Tea. I tried regular fenugreek. I tried blessed thistle. I tried both together. (That made things worse.) I took Omega-3 supplements. I made lactation cookies. I don’t think those helped, per se, but they were delicious. I added brewer’s yeast and flax to my oatmeal and ate coconut oil with everything. I drank over 100 oz of water a day. I nursed before every bottle this time, and I estimate that she got about an ounce or so per feeding. To me, this was success.
At Bella’s 2 month checkup, after seeing a week of diarrhea and mucus, her doctor recommended that if I were to continue to breastfeed, I eliminate dairy from my diet, and to give her a hypoallergenic formula. I was like, ok, so not only do I have to spend $26 on a 3-day supply of formula that smells like rotten mashed potatoes, but no CHEESE?! But I’d come this far, for the love. I didn’t want to throw in the towel until I had to. So I pinched my pennies to buy the formula, and took up my cross and said adios to dairy. It was a struggle to get enough nutrition for even the paltry amount of milk I was producing, but I persisted. I kept asking questions. Could she have a tongue/lip tie? (She didn’t.) Could genetics play a part? My Grandma informed me that none of the women in her family were able to successfully nurse, which is kinda hilarious, considering our innate Italian need to feed people. My body thoroughly stumped the lactation consultants, who told me they couldn’t do anything else for me besides tell me where to order a drug that might help but might also give me a heart attack. Ummm, no thanks, I’ll pass. My supply really began to tank, and I prepared myself to wean Bella.
Then one Sunday, in the cry room at church, I met another mama, who handed me a packet. She told me to mix it with water, drink it, and wait for the magic. She was so right. Up Spring’s Milkflow drink mix was a game changer! (They also make capsules that are supposed to be very good, too.) Within hours, I could see a change in my supply. I kept going until Bella was almost 4 months old. At that point, her appetite was increasing rapidly, and when she was on the breast, she’d just get bored. But it was ok. I felt like I’d truly, finally had the breastfeeding experience I’d hoped for, even though for a shorter time than I’d envisioned.
So one day, while the big kids were both at school, we sat down and nursed for the very last time. I took a picture. I cried. She bit me. It was special. I dried my tears, and consoled myself with cheese, real ice cream and a bottle of red wine. Bella’s almost a year old now, mercifully back on regular formula, and eats everything in sight, especially cheese. She’s healthy, smart, and hilarious.
And in the months since then, I accepted the fact that my body, despite my large breasts, just isn’t made to feed my babies more than a snack. My body also isn’t built, despite my wide hips, to let babies come out normally. But God, in His mercy, lovingly placed me in a time in history, and in a nation where I can safely, surgically give birth in a hospital, and that I can go to my local grocery store and purchase formula to feed my baby when my breasts fail to report for duty. I have three beautiful blessings. How they came out, how they were fed…it’s inconsequential. And it’s really nobody’s business. Please, mamas, don’t let anyone challenge your worth or insult your dignity for not being able (or even not wanting to) breastfeed. Do what’s right for you and your baby. It’s not a race. It’s not a sacrificial competition. Motherhood will throw you enough curveballs along the way. But feeding your baby? That (barring actual medical complications) shouldn’t be one of the hard things. Fed is best. You are enough. God created YOU to be the mommy of your kids. And don’t let anyone, especially yourself, EVER tell you otherwise. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself nuts. It’s not worth it, I promise!
(But, I’m happy to tell you that cloth diapering has been a huge success! Ask me about that next!)
My name is Cathy and I live in Australia. My son was born in January 2017. My intention is to breastfeed for the first year at least.
Initially, in hospital, the nurses told me that there must be something wrong with his latch if I was getting pain while feeding. However, the pediatrician told me that it didn’t necessarily mean that there was a problem. Breastfeeding hurts initially. I had the hospital lactation consultant come and look and said his latch looked great. The pain I experienced I think was normal, just getting used to breastfeeding. However, I did request the pediatrician check for tongue tie. She already had but amused me by checking again and assessed him as not having a tie. For the first few weeks it seemed to go okay. My baby was feeding, sleeping and pooping, that was about it. He was a pretty chilled and relaxed little man.
After a few weeks, my nipples started to sting towards the end of the feeds. Like most new mums, I Googled symptoms and thought maybe I had thrush. So off to the GP I went, who agreed it sounded like thrush and prescribed an oral thrush drop to paint on my nipples. After a week of this, the pain was still there. The drops dried out my nipples a bit, so I spoke to a pharmacist and she gave me a cream to use instead. This seemed to help for a bit.
In the meantime, my son started experiencing what seemed to be terrible wind pain. He was inconsolable. I spoke to our nurse at his 6 week appointment and she suggested draining one breast for a feed instead of offering both breasts as it could help with a possible foremilk/hindmilk imbalance. This seemed to help his wind a bit. The pain while feeding returned, always towards the end and it was a stinging pain which I also experienced when not feeding. I spoke to another pharmacist who gave me a gel for thrush. The pain remained. I saw my GP when my son was 8 weeks old and she didn’t think I had thrush, just that I was feeding for too long on one side at a time and to go back to feeding him from both breasts at each feed. I was so frustrated with the different advice I kept receiving but changed feeding up. Like everything else, it helped initially but the pain got worse again, as did his wind.
I then decided to see an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She said she thought I had thrush and gave me some tips to adjust my feeding positions. She also said she thought he may have a tongue and lip tie. However, that same afternoon at my son’s next check up, the GP said it was definitely not thrush.
The IBCLC had given me a list of doctors who assess for ties. There was only one that looked at both lips and tongues so I booked in with him. At 9 weeks my son was assessed as having a mild tongue tie and a medium lip tie and both were cut then and there. It hurt him but he recovered quite well and didn’t seem to be too worried with the sweeps that I had to do afterwards. The pain during feeding continued. Sometime during that time I decided to go back to feeding only one breast each feed as his wind pain had gotten quite bad. After the ties were released his wind seemed to slightly improve; unfortunately the pain while feeding did not improve. I got the IBCLC back to help out but she couldn’t seem to and I was at my wits end. The pain was so bad some days, especially on one side that I dreaded feeding.
I posted on a local Facebook mum’s page and someone recommended seeing a chiropractor or an osteopath. I looked around and decided a chiro would be the way to go. Someone had recommended one, however since I couldn’t get in to them straight away, I went to see another one. I didn’t feel happy after seeing her as she didn’t seem to do anything with his head/jaw. She just focused on his back and also criticised my OB (and all OB’s in general) as “they didn’t know what they were doing while birthing babies. They were too quick to intervene with suction/forceps/etc.” This made me even more uncomfortable as I really loved my OB – she was fantastic during my delivery! I did however book another appointment for the following week.
Although the pain during feeding continued, I had worked out that the pain was due to a shallow latch halfway through the feed. My son seemed to start off well and then would lose the deep latch and squish my nipples towards the end of the feeds. I ended up booking an appointment with the recommended chiropractor the following week and cancelled the appointment with the first one I had seen. The new chiro knew what she was doing since she had dealt with this quite a bit. She also thought he may have a bit of colic. I have seen her four times now and my son’s latch has slowly improved. I even had a number of days where I didn’t experience any pain! But I also experienced some terrible pain including a blister on one nipple and when that happened, I ended up expressing and bottle feeding from one side for a day. The last chiro appointment I had seemed to make my son go backwards with his latch since the pain has returned and so did a blister.
Some days I have been in so much pain feeding that I feel like I can’t go on but then it will get better again. At the moment I’m taking it week by week, however I am unsure of how long my breastfeeding journey will go as I don’t feel like I can take it for much longer. Hopefully after my next chiro appointment it will improve again!
I trialled everything I could to help me get through: creams, nipple shields, LC appointments, and chiropractic appointments. I have had a lot of tears because of pain and also because of feeling like I have failed due to wanting to give up (and not wanting to switch to formula.) I’m not sure what is next but I want to do whatever it takes to be able to continue to feed my son.
Hopefully I can find a solution to help me continue to exclusively breastfeed him. He is now 15 weeks old and in the last 2 days his wind seems to have calmed down. Hopefully this means his system is finally calming down and he doesn’t have a dairy intolerance, which I have started to suspect. This Mummy is quite over pain while feeding, but is (currently) happy to push through…
I always thought breastfeeding would be easier (not easy). I think there is too much pressure on mums to do it but I do understand the feeling of wanting to give your child the best.
Advice I would give other mums is to do what is best for you! But if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t…seek help!
UPDATE: Not long after writing this, things suddenly seemed to just click and breastfeeding is now virtually pain-free!
I hope you enjoyed reading these stories and that you feel encouraged if your journey looks like one of these! Stay tuned for more stories in tomorrow’s post.
What has your breastfeeding journey been like? Did it go the way you had planned or hoped? Let me know in the comments.