My first breastfeeding experience
From even before I conceived, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my children. Between my nutrition courses, public health education, work experience at WIC, and a week-long lactation counselor course, I knew more than the basics and the benefits of breastfeeding. I was convinced I would have no problems breastfeeding.
That wasn’t the case.
Breastfeeding was (and still is) hard work! When my son Theodore (or “Teddy”) was born in March 2016, I insisted he be placed on my chest for at least an hour of skin-to-skin time so he could have his first feeding. I powered through a non-medicated 14-hour natural birth because I wanted my son to be born drug-free, energized, and eager to eat. I denied the newborn eye ointment because I didn’t want anything getting in the way of him finding my areola. Thankfully, he did latch (kind of) and seemed to enjoy a few sucks of colostrum, before falling asleep about 90 minutes into his new life. When we moved into the postpartum room, he wanted to eat again. I tried to get him to latch on like I had learned but his teeny tiny mouth would barely open. It hurt. It was a horrible latch and I knew it.
Over the next 48 hours, I was determined to establish a healthy breastfeeding relationship and nourish my newborn. Every time my son woke up, I put him to the breast. The nurses told me he only needed to feed 4 times in the first 24 hours but I knew that didn’t seem right. I knew about feeding “on demand” and knew the importance of frequent breast emptying to increase supply. I continued to push through the pain and even called the lactation consultant to the room twice. The latch was so shallow I ended up bleeding. Hoping that his latch would improve over time, I went home and continued to practice.
On day four, my breast milk started to come in. My breasts were getting so engorged - I was scared I would stop producing milk if he did not start to remove it more effectively. I stopped by the Breastfeeding Center of Greater Washington before his first pediatrician appointment and arranged a home visit the following day. That night, I was in so much pain I could not sleep. My newborn slept besides me but I was dreading the next feeding. I counted down the hours until the IBCLC would arrive. After my in-home consultation, I got set up with a nipple shield. I knew the evidence for and against the use of nipple shields so I was hesitant at first. Knowing that it was only temporary and would allow my baby to eat without torturing me kept me going.
A week with the nipple shield turned into two months with the nipple shield. Around then, Teddy’s weight gain had started to slow down. He was the same weight for two weeks despite what seemed like around the clock breastfeeding sessions. I started to realize that Teddy was missing out on a lot of milk that would leak out the sides of the nipple shield. I had to change shirts after almost every feeding. I decided to try letting him nurse without the shield. Although it seemed like he was getting more milk (and my clothes stayed dry) it was still quite painful. I could only nurse without the shield a couple times a day for a couple days before developing new sores on my nipples. It was then that I took a closer look and realized that his upper lip was turned in. It did not flange like it was supposed to. This was breastfeeding 101 and I was frustrated that I did not discover this earlier. No one did. Not the LC at the hospital, not the pediatrician, not the IBCLC that came to my home, and certainly not my sleep deprived self. I knew about lip and tongue ties but because no one said he had one as a newborn, I thought that it had been ruled out. Perhaps his little mouth hid his ties in the early days but at two months old, he had a very obvious upper lip tie and tongue tie.
Determined to have a pain-free breastfeeding experience, I researched local physicians and dentists that could fix his ties. When he was evaluated, they all said that he was an “older baby” so it would take some re-training once the ties were released. They advised that he be seen by a cranial sacral therapist to release some of the built up tension in his jaw. Finally, by 3 ½ months, after laser water surgery and weeks of physical therapy, Teddy’s ties were released and healed. Our breastfeeding relationship finally flourished and Teddy gained weight quickly. Feeding sessions became more efficient and Teddy was able to latch without assistance.
Now at 6 months, Teddy and I continue to face new breastfeeding challenges including teething, increased distractions, refusal of the bottle, and squirminess and pulling while nursing. It has required much persistence and dedication to keep breastfeeding but I am so thankful we have made it this far. What I have learned through this experience is that every breastfeeding experience is different and constantly evolving. What is working for mom and baby one week may change the next. Seeking out support throughout your breastfeeding experience, not just the first few days, is crucial to achieving your breastfeeding goals! I would not have made it to where we are today without the support of the LC’s, the pediatrician and pediatric dentist, my husband, my family, and my new moms groups.