My Ups & Downs
When I finally got pregnant with my oldest daughter, I was determined to breastfeed. Nothing about her conception had been easy and there were certain things I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do, like breastfeed.
My mother had breastfed my siblings and I for a year each, so I grew up knowing that I wanted to do the same someday.
Towards the end of my pregnancy, I attended a breastfeeding class, full of expectant parents who planned to nurse. Over two hours, we were inundated with facts about nursing by a very intense lactation consultant who promoted the “breast is best” philosophy and offered to examine women’s nipples in the bathroom during the break to see if there were any visible issues that might cause nursing difficulties.
It was terrifying.
At that time, I had a lot of friends who had babies and heard so many different stories about breastfeeding challenges. Some friends nursed until their children were toddlers, others switched to formula quickly after bouts of mastitis or problems with milk production.
I started to realize that my goal of breastfeeding might not be as easy as my mom had made it out to be.
In the hospital, I struggled to help my daughter latch. I didn’t know how nursing was supposed to feel so it was hard to figure out what was correct.
I was lucky that my hospital had visits with a lactation consultant. The hospital also had a in house support group that I was able to go to, with my husband and daughter, only a couple of days after she was born.
My daughter was on the smaller side. She was diagnosed with IURG, or intrauterine growth restriction, when I was pregnant, meaning that she was small for her gestational age. At the end of my pregnancy, I had to go for non-stress tests twice a week and a sonogram weekly to make sure she wasn’t in distress. She was born a week before her due date, weighing in at 5 lbs., 13 oz.
She dropped 10% of that weight in the hospital. Weight loss is normal for infants, but my doctors were concerned about how much she lost. They brought me samples of formula, with extra to take home. I explained my firm stance on breastfeeding and they brought in a hospital grade pump so I could start expressing milk. Of course, my milk wasn’t in yet, so I was encouraged to give formula until I was able to pump more.
They wanted me to supplement with formula or pumped milk after every nursing session, which is exhausting when you’re dealing with a newborn and recovering from a C-section. What no one explained to me was that all the IV fluids I had been given the day of my C-section increased her birthweight so the loss that seemed scary, was likely a result of those fluids leaving her system.
When we got home, I had bruised nipples, 2 ounce bottles of formula and anxiety that I had no idea what I was doing.
I was in pain every time she latched. I was scared that she wasn’t gaining weight. We had to go into the pediatrician after two days for a weight check and were told to keep supplementing after every feed, which meant I was hooked up to a pump whenever I wasn’t nursing. I used to pump on one side every night while my daughter nursed on the other side.
Ice packs helped the bruising and made her latch more comfortable. At the time, I wasn’t aware that many smaller babies struggle to latch properly because their mouths aren’t big enough. Years later, a lactation consultant told me she recommends nipple shields for babies until they hit 6.5 or 7 lbs.
After two weeks, we started attending a breastfeeding support group, which served to get me out of the house, give me perspective on how relatively easy our nursing situation was and introduced me to some wonderful women.
That group taught me so much. I learned that it was okay to have a couple of drinks while breastfeeding. I was introduced to KellyMom, a wonderful online resource for nursing mothers. The lactation consultant who led the group warned all of us that if we felt flu like symptoms, but also had breast pain, that we likely had mastitis, which I developed when my daughter was a couple of months old.
The group taught me what tongue tie is and how to manage a dairy intolerance (both of which I dealt with after having my second daughter). I was introduced to some wonderful Facebook breastfeeding groups, where I turned to with questions after we stopped regularly attending the in person group.
I learned so much about breastfeeding.
Going into nursing, I wasn’t prepared for any of it. I was lucky that my older daughter took to nursing fairly easily even if the early days were rough. I educated myself on the go through online articles, forums and support groups. I learned enough that by the time I had my second daughter, I was armed with the appropriate resources to meet our challenges head on.
It’s currently World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7). I’m celebrating successfully nursing each of my daughters for 13 months.
To anyone thinking of nursing, here’s a little advice: join an online support group while you’re pregnant to prepare yourself for various situations.
Find a local La Leche League or other support group. Find out if your insurance covers visits to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Look at KellyMom for answers to common issues. Advocate for yourself and your baby.
I firmly believe in the health benefits of breastfeeding. I also loved the bonding experience that came with nursing. I still enjoy talking to other women about breastfeeding and being able to pass on my experience and knowledge.
However, one of my biggest takeaways of breastfeeding is that the ultimate goal should be a happy, healthy mom and baby, however that child is fed.