In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, we wanted to share a post from a guest blogger, Rachel:
Breastfeeding May Be “Natural,” but That Doesn’t Make It Easy
By Rachel Lipson
Like so many other pregnant woman, I spent the months leading up to my son’s arrival planning, reading, decorating the nursery, and educating myself about childbirth, breastfeeding, and raising a newborn. I took classes, read books, talked to lots of moms and moms to be to get more tips. Everyone told me that breastfeeding would be difficult, but I couldn’t believe it would be difficult for me. I couldn’t imagine that a practice passed down over so many generations, a practice that nourished newborns since the beginning of time, could be all that challenging. The pain of unmedicated childbirth should have given me a clue that just because something has been done countless times before doesn’t mean it’s easy. I took breastfeeding classes, read books, talked to anyone who would give me tips, and prepared myself for any issue that could come up with nursing.
When my son came out last November, rooting and ready to latch, it still seemed like the most natural, carefree experience a mom and baby could share. How amazing that he came out knowing just what to do! Then he latched on and I was in excruciating pain! I was breathing through every suckle like it was another contraction. The nurse told me to toughen up (ironic since this was following a thirty-hour labor, an unmedicated birth, and two very severe post-partum hemorrhages that led to massive medical interventions and two blood transfusions). I had just been through quite a lot but was feeling stronger and more capable than ever. So, I persevered. The nurses at the hospital fancied themselves lactation consultants but dished out the worst advice. It turned out, following a visit to the pediatrician after we got home, that my son was tongue-tied. I thought that sounded like a figure of speech and not a diagnosis, but as it turned out, his tongue was too attached to the bottom of his mouth and that’s what caused the painful latch. We were referred to an ENT and had it corrected when Max was five days old. We were told he would cry for a moment and then nurse painlessly immediately after. He did only cry for a few moments, but when he tried to latch, he couldn’t figure out what to do with his tongue! After two visits with a lactation consultant, we were partially able to nurse with a nipple shield. Then, at the next doctor’s visit, it turned out Max was losing too much weight. We were advised to supplement with formula, but instead I supplemented with my own pumped milk in bottles after every feed. Max’s latch was still incorrect, and it turned out he wasn’t efficiently nursing. I continued to nurse and pump and bottle feed…I was exhausted!
All of that pumping helped him to return to his birth weight but led to a massive oversupply of breast milk. Max would drink for a few moments and pop off screaming as milk squirted into his mouth. This was just getting harder and harder. I should say here that I’m the type of person who is extra motivated and somewhat of a perfectionist. It’s harder for me to give up than it is to persevere. Still, I thought about giving up, and when Max became colicky at three weeks old, I was ready to throw in the towel. I was exhausted, the latch problems were still there, and the nursing, pumping, and bottle-feeding took up way too much time and energy. That’s when things really got tricky. Max’s colic got worse and worse. He would cry and fuss from 7:00 p.m. or so until 2:00 a.m. every single night. My husband and I were losing our minds. The doctor suggested giving up dairy in my diet to see if it helped his colic. She gave us a can of hypoallergenic formula to try as well in case we wanted to see results even faster. Within just a few days, Max was a different baby. He no longer seemed to be in such intense discomfort, and the crying at night subsided. It turned out that Max had a milk protein intolerance. Problem solved! But wait! A few days later, his reflux started. He was spitting up left and right and crying out in discomfort. The doctor suggested giving up soy as well. I gave up soy, and his reflux started to improve to some extent. The hypoallergenic formula made his reflux much worse. We tried multiple other hypoallergenic formulas (to supplement), and every single one made him absolutely miserable and unable to keep any food down.
From that moment on, I knew that all I had done to continue to breastfeed my son had been worth it. I had a child who couldn’t tolerate any food other than my breast milk (as long as it was milk and soy free). We had all sorts of other ups and downs, Reynaud’s phenomenon, mastitis, etc. I constantly wished I could stop, but I knew that this wasn’t an issue of what I felt was best for my son…there was nothing else for him to eat! What would we have done if I hadn’t kept it up all those weeks before? By six months, he was thriving and loving life. The reflux started to subside, and with the help of the amazing Brooke from Sleepy on Hudson, Max started sleeping through the night. I tried every hypoallergenic formula out there once again and found that there was one ready-to-feed version (one that had failed us miserably early on) that he was able to drink and keep down. When he was seven months old, he had given up nursing (his choice) for the most part and was exclusively bottle-fed (still mostly breast milk). I knew I had given him what he really needed…food and sustenance during a time when he couldn’t tolerate anything else. I was ready to eat dairy and soy again, ready to stop pumping 4–6 times a day, and completely weaned him by the time he was eight months old. Now he’s nine months old and as happy and healthy as can be.
Pregnancy was challenging at times, childbirth was excruciatingly painful beyond words, but breastfeeding was hands down the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. It wasn’t always the amazing bonding experience I had envisioned, but I am grateful that I had the willpower and perseverance to stick with it when my son really needed me the most. I can’t believe I thought it would be easy! Of course, I’m sure it couldn’t be that hard the second time around…right?
About Guest Blogger Rachel Lipson:
Rachel Lipson is the founder and director of Blue Balloon Songwriting for Small People in Brooklyn, NY.